REVIEW: VAF RESEARCH EVO1 LOUDSPEAKER
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No one can describe VAF Research as a newbie startup. Based in the city of churches, Adelaide, founder Philip Vafiadis and his company VAF Research have been in business since 1978.
While audiophiles appreciate the best effort of Australian brands the caliber of Elektra Audio, Whatmough and VAF, down below in the mass market appreciation of locally made audio gear borders on the ignorant.
Maybe this relates directly back to a cultural cringe fostered by a perception that Australian made compared to exotic imports, simply doesn’t cut the commercial muster.
Or it may be the case the local audio scene can’t afford the advertising bling supported by the imports and their condescending hi-fi media. It also doesn’t help the local producers a jot that the establishment audio press largely ignores their work. All in the interest of the advertising dollar.
Great Hi-Fi specialist stores have always supported Australian made hi-fi on its merits. Len Wallis in Sydney and Rab Turner’s Carlton Audio Visual have a long and proud history of stocking the best sounding gear around.
It says something about their integrity that both outlets carry the best of Australian made hi-fi.
More positively, models as good as the VAF EVO1 loudspeakers do more to erase our cultural cringe than ‘paid for’ advertising and sycophantic audio reviews.
Whatever way you look at VAF one thing is clear: VAF is a world-class speaker manufacturer. End of story.
The EVO1 Speaker is a bass reflex design, featuring a front port, making positioning in smaller rooms substantially easier. They can be placed a lot closer to rear walls but care needs to be taken with positioning near sidewalls.
Prices on the EVO1 are also refreshingly real worldly and begin at $2999 RRP.
VAF’s Adelaide store also retails other high quality components, typically harmonious to their own loudspeaker creations. Also supplied was the $4990 RRP Densen B130xs Integrated amplifier for the review, it’s the amp VAF sells and recommends for use with their EVO1 speakers.
Densen amplifiers are made in Denmark and distributed locally by Radiance AV.
Research and Development
An email sent to Simon Wilde, one of the VAF team heavily involved in bringing the EVO1 loudspeakers to life solicited a little more information about their genesis.
VAF has been researching high-quality compacts for more than a decade, according to Wilde.
“We released a range called ICON about ten years ago as a study into compact speakers. This taught us a lot about speakers with small volumes. They were really popular and the smallest ICON100 with its little 3” full range driver ended up being chosen over 20 other brands for use in Parliament house Canberra. This was because of the detailed voice reproduction it achieved in such a small size,’’ Wilde said.
“A few years ago now we released a new signature series speaker called the I-90, with a proprietary handmade driver from SEAS Norway. This represented the smallest speaker you can make that can seamlessly blend with a sub woofer and maintain realistic dynamic range. It’s also a dual concentric – with the tweeter mounted perfectly in the voice coil of the woofer and is therefore time aligned and phase coherent.’’
“So by our calculations a 6½” woofer is the smallest you can go with a sealed enclosure (with a 2nd order roll off at the low end) getting to 60Hz and be able to blend to a subwoofer with no ‘droop’ in the response. Of course, placement will always compromise this, however it can be done if you have that as a minimum.’’
“That speaker led into a push to make something even smaller, the I-49 which we admit compromises that ideal of the perfect blend with the sub, however the dual concentric driver in that speaker – a 4” with a FULL SIZE 1” dome tweeter in a box that no one believes is made as a fully mitred ½” HDF construction cabinet. This speaker amazes everyone.”
This experience inspired VAF to work on designing a speaker for the two-channel connoisseur that would be compact, but not require a subwoofer for a realistic sound.
It has taken VAF about 6-months to complete the prototype, audition and fine-tune this model.
Fit and finish is paramount for all VAF products and their new local craftsman has raised the bar in terms of fit and finish.
“Advanced CNC capability combined with three generations of ‘old school’ know-how are a fantastic asset, and the quality of what we’re making now has never been higher – we can boast we continue to make world class speakers,” Wilde insists.
Unboxing & Setup
Three daunting large boxes were waiting for me one evening after work. Two identically sized but not the third. Clearly two speakers and a component.
VAF had taken great care to ensure the review products arrived safely, double boxing where necessary.
The EVO1 speakers were unpacked replacing my ELAC BS 403 speakers.
Without exaggeration, anyone encountering the EVO1 will agree they’re large, at least for a stand mount speaker. Measuring in at 37cm tall, 22cm wide and 35cm deep, they towered over my ELAC BS 403’s.
Aesthetically, they aren’t for the weak hearted either, though they are available in a number of different real wood finishes to the black ash finish on the demo pair, allowing for you to better match them to your décor.
The Densen Amplifier was also packed exceptionally well.
A nice little leaflet in the box told me the Densen amplifier came with a lifetime warranty, attesting to the manufacturer’s confidence.
The Densen, while appearing quite minimal for an integrated amplifier, weighed in at a not insignificant 14kg, and was finished in a stunning brushed silver.
But it wasn’t supplied with a remote control, so for anyone who can’t deal with getting up to adjust volume or switch sources, you might best look elsewhere for your amplification needs.
For the first couple of weeks I had the VAF EVO1 speakers in my possession, I had them connected to my usual Vincent CD-S7DAC/SV-237 combo.
Even though the EVO1 Speakers were sent to be used in tandem with the Densen, it was vital to evaluate each on its own merit. Initially noticeable was the VAF’s lower sensitivity compared to my ELAC’s.
Even though there was only a 1.5dB difference in claimed sensitivity, the volume dial on my amp needed to be pushed noticeably higher. As VAF suggests, probably not the right fit for someone running a low powered valve amplifier.
It’s difficult to describe the sound that the VAF EVO1’s produce.
They are incredibly detailed. The kind of micro detail that they bring to the surface is uncanny, yet there is a svelte-like smoothness that can be listened to for hours.
They also have incredible bass response in my room that is effectively a standard sized bedroom (3mx3m). The new EVO1 never seemed to sacrifice midrange or high frequency reproduction.
The addition of the Densen B-130xs raised the bar further still. Overall, there was a far greater sense of soundstage width and refinement.
Streaming Noah Gundersen’s “Day Is Gone” via Tidal through Roon on my MacBook Pro, I could almost hear the actual studio in the background of Gundersen’s vocal. The amount of detail retrieval was absolutely superb.
There also seemed to be far greater separation of the vocals and instruments too, as was evident when listening to Jack Savoretti’s “Soldier’s Eyes”. His vocal sat in a very clear space, not getting caught up with the acoustic guitar playing just to the right of centre.
“Two Weeks” by FKA Twigs demonstrated the almost unbelievable bass response of the EVO1s. Even at a relatively moderate listening level, the VAF’s slammed their way through the chorus passages, a big growl of bass launching each one.
I did manage to get the VAF’s to bottom out during this particular track, but it was at a far higher volume than I would comfortably listen to. It was also only then that I noticed any kind of port noise from the speakers.
I’m a big fan of Gerry Rafferty’s “City to City” on vinyl. I own a current repressing and also recently picked up an early German pressing from 1978.
Spinning via my Marantz TT-15s1 and running through my Pro-Ject Phono/Power Box RS combo, the sound was simply sublime.
So transparent, I could almost smell the booze coming off Gerry’s breath!
On the classic track “Baker Street”, the saxophone exploded into my room, blasting my eardrums full of rich, brassy goodness and when Rafferty’s vocal took centre stage, it descended back into a very satisfying intimacy.
My copy of recent favourite “22, A Million” by Bon Iver also sounded engaging.
I’ve made a bit of a habit of cleaning every new record I buy with some Record Revirginizer before even the first playback. I feel like my record listening has benefitted as a result, because oh my! the bass attack in track 2, “10dEAThbREast” was outstanding. Not only that, but the sound imaged incredibly wide, like I was cocooned within a wall of sound.
Track 1 on side B, “666” also sounded excellent, with great dynamics, vocal sitting front and centre and just a wonderful sense of musicality.
As I listened further on, I thought to myself, “this is music”. The way the VAF speakers conveyed their message was pretty astonishing really.
I then pulled out my LP of City & Colour’s “Bring Me Your Love”.
Track 3 on Side A, “The Death of Me” had a real life presence with Dallas Green’s well captured, intimate vocal presenting itself fully and entirely separate from the doubled up acoustic guitar tracks.
The same could be said about track 4, “Body In a Box”.
It didn’t seem to matter what the source material was. Rock, classical, indie, electronic, jazz, the VAF/Densen combination handled it with aplomb. Nor did it seem to matter whether the content was digital or analogue, the VAF EVO1 with the Densen had a very enjoyable musicality.
Listening to the VAF’s compared to my usual ELAC BS403 speakers, showed a touch less bite. There was an obvious smoothness in the sound that bordered on relaxed, compared to the ELACs.
The ELAC’s were a touch tighter in low-end response, but didn’t have nearly as much extension. Compared to say, the KEF LS50’s the EVO1 has substantially better bass response. They don’t have quite the midrange “push” that the LS50’s do, but they do still retain excellent midrange detail. Which led to the assessment that the VAF’s are a very well rounded, balanced sounding speaker.
The VAF EVO1 Speakers and the Densen B-130xs amplifier are going to be tough to send back. On their own, they each stack up well. Combined, they take the performance to another level. So much so, I’m finding it difficult to go back to my regular system.
What that says is the VAF and Densen combination is stunning.
Those looking for virtually reference level performance for their small to mid-sized listening environment, should certainly hear the VAF EVO1 speakers. And if an amplifier is on your shopping list, or if you’re looking to upgrade the one you have, put the Densen on your short list too.
For more information contact VAF Research.
Lover of Hi-Fi, Music and Recording Engineering. I particularly like the affordable and value-packed products; finding that diamond in the rough.
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