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Von Schweikert Audio at Florida Audio Expo 2022 - The Best of the Best!

03-01-2022 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 120

I know that I've already talked about The Audio Company room at FAE 2022 that hosted the Von Schweikert Audio loudspeakers in my first installment of show coverage, and on day one, I proclaimed the new Ultra 7 to be my best of show. But that proclamation was probably a tad hasty; I'll explain in just a bit. First of all, for disclosure, I'll recap the system featured in The Audio Company's room at FAE 2022. The two loudspeakers I heard were the Von Schweikert Ultra 7 (on several occasions) and the Endeavor SE's (on Saturday evening). Amplification and system control was provided by the flagship Valve Amplification Company (VAC) equipment, and it was absolutely essential to help create the larger-than-life illusion of reality with the room's differing incarnations over the three days of the show. Digital sources featured equipment from Esoteric and Aurender, and the analog source was the massively overbuilt Kronos turntable. Cables were provided by Masterbuilt Audio Cables, and racks and stands were supplied by Critical Mass Systems.

More of the monstrous complement of equipment displayed in The Audio Company room.

I consider myself a "good sound on a budget" audiophile, and my home system currently totals somewhere in the neighborhood of about $55k. That includes multiple loudspeaker designs, amps, and preamps of various design and manufacture, multiple digital and analog source setups, and a variety of AC enhancement, cables, racks, room treatments, and ancillary equipment. I have both solid-state and tube equipment, as well as planar magnetic and compression-driver loudspeakers in my room, and can generally switch between system setups on the fly with relative ease. I pride myself that my $55k room is among the best sounding rooms at that price point that I've encountered in the last couple of decades. There's an inescapable personal bias, of course, but I'm really trying to be as objective as possible.

Despite my relatively humble standing in the high end, I have ears, and I have the ability to hear and appreciate systems that cost many multiples of my own. And despite being more of a "music first" kind of guy as opposed to a "numbers" guy, I do look at certain variables present in any room displaying cost-no-object systems, especially at audio shows. For example: I try not to trash systems at shows that I perhaps felt should have sounded better than they did; room acoustics can be awful in hotel rooms, and there's always the potential for system synergy issues or incompatibilities that could contribute to less than stellar show sound. 

And the room size is definitely a contributing factor; I don't think it's an accident that often the very best systems I heard at FAE were those in the biggest rooms. The Bayshore conference room that hosted The Audio Company's system setups measures approximately 28 feet x 63 feet, with a ceiling height of 12 feet. That's a huge room (21,000 cubic feet!); for context, my listening room in my new home is 15.5 feet x 26 feet with a 9 foot ceiling (3600 cubic feet, almost double the volume of my previous room). I'm basically ecstatic, but hearing the Von Schweikert loudspeakers in the very large Bayshore room (almost 6x the volume of my current listening environment!) definitely gave me pause to consider that room dimensions (and lots of quality watts!) play a very important part in the ability of a system to portray music with truly believable scale.

As I noted on day one, even at their $180k/pair price point, when compared with other "cost-no-object" loudspeakers I've heard, the Ultra 7—in the relatively rarified air they occupy—simply have to be considered a best buy in the audiophile world. This is where things start getting a little murky for me; if you read my earlier bit about the Von Schweikerts, I mentioned that I hoped to get back when they were playing the Endeavor SE loudspeakers ($25k/pair). Which had just been awarded the 2021 Product of the Year Award by Hong Kong's HiFi Review. I was more than a bit curious to see (and hear!) how much of the Von Schweikert house sound might trickle-down to a loudspeaker that retails for less than 14 percent of the Ultra 7's MSRP. And when I walked into The Audio Company's room at 6 pm on Saturday afternoon, a huge, heavily-bearded bear of a guy was in the process of hoisting the Endeavor SE's and relocating them to a position very near the Ultra 7. That was no mean feat—even as relatively diminutive as they appeared placed alongside the Ultra 7, the Endeavor SE's still weigh 95 lbs each—I can't even begin to imagine deadlifting them like that. As the equipment and cable connections were being made to the SE, a crowd of people quickly began to fill the multiple rows of listening chairs in anticipation.

The Endeavor SE's were not embarrassed by the much larger Ultra 7.

The first track played over the Endeavor SE's was a blues number from Stevie Ray Vaughan; I stood in the back of the room behind the last row of chairs, and nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear. I know how old and cliched it is to use the "Live and in the room" expression, but I swear to God, Stevie Ray Vaughan was freaking live and in the room! And the Endeavor SE  weren't at all embarrassed by the Ultra 7 in terms of scale of sound. Granted, I heard the Utra 7 multiple times over the weekend, and the SE only once for about 30 minutes, but to steal John Atkinson's catchphrase, "I was gobsmacked!" 

And apparently, so were many of the other show attendees in the room; I noticed within moments of the cueing of the SRV track, most everyone who had taken a seat had gotten up and gone over to get literature on the Endeavor SE's. Some of them looked like giddy schoolboys, but some of them showed countenances of serious concern, seemingly along the lines of "How is this even possible?" There's a definite undercurrent throughout the high-end that if any particular piece of equipment isn't expensive enough, well then it can't possibly be that good, right? I witnessed quite a few expressions of considerable consternation during my brief audition of the Endeavor SE's, which played with power, finesse, and a scale of sound that never implied once that they retailed for one-eighth the cost of the Ultra 7. Most of the folks present in the room appeared to be in complete disbelief! (My apologies for not having photos of the Endeavor SE in the big system, later in the evening when I uploaded my photos from my camera's SD card to my laptop, something happened and they have simply vanished)

I returned the following day, and the Ultra 7 were back up and running, playing a vintage LP of highlights from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. The orchestral sound was absolutely glorious, but was also remarkably real—I'm talking front and center in Orchestra Hall real! As I left the room, I couldn't help but wonder if my impression would have been the same via the Endeavor SE—of course it would! My overall "Best of Show" absolutely has to go to the Von Schweikert Endeavor SE, and yes, they definitely benefited from the disproportionately great VAC/Esoteric/Aurender/Kronos/Masterbuilt  system feeding them. But with all that greatness, the SE's never broke a sweat, and were able to fill that gigantic room with a big, bold, glorious sound like nothing I could have possibly imagined. Could they actually compete with the Ultra 7 loudspeakers head-to head? Decidedly no, but did they present a shockingly good illusion of reality in the very large space? Absolutely!

I read another after show report of the Endeavor SE that remarked that the bass was deficient and they were outclassed by the Ultra 7 in every respect. Of course, that reviewer was situated first row, front and center; hearing the Endeavor's from further back in the room greatly enhanced the illusion of reality they presented. I personally feel the near-field listening position can be a bit more analytical, too focused on detail, and obscures the big picture. And in a room that large, there's no possibility of any comb-filtering effects from my chosen listening position—the sound was nothing less than glorious. Talk about a best buy in the audiophile world—Von Schweikert is going to sell a lot of the Endeavor SE.

All photographs courtesy of the author.