REVIEW: VAF RESEARCH DC-7 MK3 FLOORSTANDING LOUDSPEAKERS
Too often overlooked is the fact that we're fortunate to have a world-class loudspeaker manufacturer right here in Australia. While there are more than a handful, the one I would like to bring to your attention to is VAF Research, based in Adelaide, South Australia.
2-Way Floor Standing Loudspeakers
VAF has been designing and building speakers for over 40 years, so they are not exactly an upstart. They have a great team of people who are music lovers themselves and are passionate about giving you the best possible music or movie experience.
As for recognition, there's plenty. VAF loudspeakers have been chosen by The Conservatory of Music (Elder Hall), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Microsoft, School of Audio Engineering, Telstra, Kojo Productions and Parliament House Canberra, to name just a few. So, they are independently recognised for the great products that they produce.
The VAF approach to loudspeaker design is outlined in a whitepaper sent to me by the knowledgeable Simon Wilde, the lead designer and General Manager of VAF.
According to the whitepaper, VAF has adhered to a design philosophy based on accuracy, the reproduction of the original waveform as closely as possible to the original. Budding DIY speaker builders pay attention.
Stored energy, (or delayed energy) has always been the Achilles heel of sound reproduction. Controlling stored energy and getting the timing right is both incredibly important to achieving accuracy. This means several things must align in quite complex ways. The physical timing from each driver and the electrical phase relationship are two crucial elements. To that end, a lot of work has gone into the crossover to ensure it is working as required and not introducing additional abnormalities.
VAF and I must say plenty of other talented designers, believe that the most linear phase crossover network, is the first order type. Being inherently simpler in what it achieves and importantly in the way it’s implemented, with fewer components, it can maintain linear phase and therefore correctly reconstruct complex harmonic structures accurately.
Of course, this is only achievable if the chosen drivers are linear over a wide enough frequency range, which necessitates using outstanding drivers in the first place.
Controlling diffraction is also an important consideration. It’s especially important and audible with the shorter wavelengths that come from the tweeter. Thankfully these are relatively easy to control, and VAF uses acoustic treatments to prevent secondary diffraction waves.
To precisely time align the drivers within the cabinet, you first need to determine where the sound originates from. VAF measures each speaker driver to determine the acoustic centres of each of the drivers to find out where that point is. The acoustic centre is generally in line with the front of the voice coil and is unseen behind the cone. It is not at the cone where most of us would usually expect it.
The point I am making is that VAF has put decades of experience using physics and acoustics along with impressive measuring equipment, and lots of research and development into each of their designs.
The range from VAF includes subwoofers, the top line Signature series and the affordable DC series. The subject of our review is the popular DC-7 Mk3 which is rather obviously the third generation of its type and has been refined over many years.
VAF DC-7 Mk3
The VAF DC-7 Mk3 retails in Australia for $2,482 and what you get is a reasonably straightforward floor standing box design with slim proportions.
The front face has a full-length detachable cloth grille. The cabinet is available in a variety of finishes including Black Oak, Natural Oak, Brown Oak, and Jarrah Oak to suit various tastes. My sample is Natural Oak, but personally speaking, with a choice I'd opt for Black Oak to match my décor.
The cabinet is hand finished with a double-sided veneer. The front baffle is manufactured from 30mm thick timber, but interestingly has a rather deep recess for the tweeter so that the bass and tweeter drivers are precisely time aligned. The tweeter is also blanketed or shrouded in a thick star-shaped acoustic felt. It acts as effective diffraction control for the high frequencies emanating from the tweeter and interacting with the cabinet, as mentioned earlier.
It is a bass reflex design with a port on the front of the cabinet which is a common design element with other models in the VAF range. This allows the loudspeaker to be placed closer to the front wall than a rear port design, without sounding overblown in the bass region.
The DC-7 Mk3 is an elegant two-way design that uses a 170mm natural fibre cone bass-mid driver that incorporates a unique vented alloy chassis and vented voice coil former. Venting is an important addition, effectively reducing the heat generated in the voice coil and allows it to operate harder for longer.
The matched tweeter is a little unique in that it uses a dual concentric diaphragm with a specially formed central phase plug. The idea behind this is to control the cone and to give it better on and off-axis performance. It also incorporates an inbuilt heat sink to help keep the voice coil cool.
The bass-mid driver hands off to the tweeter at about 2000Hz and uses a gentle first order crossover for accurate phase, with plenty of attention paid to the components of the crossover to keep the signal path as simple and as short as possible.
SETUP AND IN USE
Opening the large carton was a touch difficult as both loudspeakers are shipped in the one sizeable 36Kg carton. The Styrofoam packaging has an evil predisposition to litter your lounge room. After Dyson came to my rescue, I set aside the large grills and took a good look at the finish.
The overall size and internal volume are serious enough to provide a healthy dose of bass and yet not look too large or bulky for a floor stander. It’s slim and elegant, with the tweeter located at 900mm from the floor (without spikes) which is typically at or near ear level.
Connection to an amplifier is straightforward with a single pair of binding posts. My review pair had a large “Wired with Analysis Plus” sticker on the rear of each loudspeaker, indicating that the internal wiring had been upgraded with the US made Analysis Plus cables, as well as having upgraded signal path capacitors in the crossovers. This upgrade is just $150 extra.
VAF offers three upgrade options, the upgraded caps and internal wiring as already discussed, floor spikes for $48, and the addition of internal damping material to the insides of the cabinet at $200. In my opinion, these are all mandatory if you want to maximise performance for a realistic investment.
From the moment that the VAF DC-7 Mk3 loudspeakers came to life, I was greeted with a room-filling sound. There's an immediate sense of ease and pleasantness about them that invites you to listen longer and to play all your favourite music over again.
There's also a smooth and balanced full-range coverage and an apparent ability to spread a large stereo image almost anywhere in the listening room. The tweeter is no doubt responsible for the soundstage and image size, but, it’s the sum of its parts and VAF has got it right.
When you sit to the outside of the left or right loudspeaker, you still get a stereo image from both speakers, rather than just the closest one. The off-axis dispersion is excellent and is useful in the real world. Of course, when you do sit in the centre, with a little added toe-in, you are rewarded with a large and accurate soundstage and a holographic image that is spot on and easily comparable to speakers I've heard that are many times the price.
THE RIGHT SPOT
The location and placement of loudspeakers within a room can often be difficult without a one-size-fits-all solution. The good news is finding the position for the DC-7 Mk3 was very simple. I had them set about 350mm away from the front wall, and they played cleanly with a slightly helpful touch of boundary effect, but without the bloat or additional timing issues that can occur from having a rear ported design close to the wall.
Setting them up in a second system in another room around 1500mm from the front wall (out of convenience) also worked fine, which leads me to the conclusion that they are not overly sensitive to placement. Naturally, they will sound best with a little care and by making considered choices.
The bass from the DC-7 Mk3 is solid, fast, tight and extended, and very good for the size of the enclosures. It lays a solid foundation to music and provides a healthy thump in the bottom end when the music calls for it, with no evidence of being overblown. This is especially true if you have a good 100 watts or more amplifier power available. They lap it up, and they're not shy in the delivery.
The mids are reasonably forward and are smoothly handled, with voices and instruments clear, well defined, and with tons of detail. The same is true for the treble. There is perhaps a slight touch of added bite but not in an unpleasant way.
The transition from top to bottom is balanced, and there's no rawness or 'edge' that makes them difficult to listen to. They're easy to listen to all day long, which I can testify to as I’m writing this review. All of this confirms to me that the design of the loudspeakers has been very well considered and well optimised.
VAF says that the DC-7 Mk3 loudspeakers have been made to suit small to medium size rooms particularly and I would agree. I would also venture to say that with a good amplifier they'll still deliver in larger rooms too. Similarly, you wouldn't be left disappointed using the DC-7s as the front or surround channels in a larger home theatre system.
Australian audio designers are often overlooked for their engineering prowess and ability to design and manufacture world-class equipment for what is usually a fraction of the price of some of the more prominent imported brands.
We live in a competitive world, and only the worthy have any longevity. VAF Research has over 40 years of uninterrupted production, and you cannot minimise that effort or achievement.
I’m impressed with the engineering that goes into all the VAF loudspeakers and the DC-7 Mk3 in particular. They perform beautifully with a singular voice and do everything that a speaker of this design is meant to do. They deliver a wonderfully large and open soundstage and have enough low-end thump to keep you engaged.
If VAF's 'DC' series is this good, I can only imagine what the more expensive ‘Signature’ series sounds like!
UPGRADES & SPECIAL OFFER
For a limited time, VAF is offering its DC-7 Mk3 Loudspeakers at an introductory price of $1,899 (Normally $2,482) including all three upgrade options at no additional cost! ($466 saving).
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.
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