Pros: Gorgeous looking & sounding! Well built in USA! Reasonable price!
Cons: May be too obtrusive in a small dormitory room.
It was May of 1997 and I had just received word that my top-notch blue-collar pharmaceutical job was about to be outsourced overseas. I decided to Drown my sorrows in the nearby audio salon...John Rutan's Audio Connection Of Verona, NJ where I took solace and my severance pay spending it on a Rega Planar 2 w/upgraded glass platter and a nice new pair of my favorite floorstanders...the Vandersteen Model 1C Towers.
Added recently at that time to my humble system was a top-of-the line Kenwood A/V receiver which boasted well over one hundred watts of clean power per channel and a plethora of audio preeamp in/outputs. The Kenwood weighed a ton but I purchased the $800 unit at the blowout price of $200 as it was a store demo from another stereo discounter. So I then had my Rega P2/U, Kenwood receiver and Vandersteen 1Cs on sand-filled pedestals. Completing the system was an HK FL8300 Compact Disc Player and Teac 10" Open-Reel tape deck that was passed on to me by a fellow employee before the axe came down on us.
As it sat in our converted basement/entertainment room...we enjoyed music like never before! At that time I was able to make the purchase of these top-rated Vandersteens w/stands for $840/pr. Nowadays...some fifteen years later...remarkably it still sells for just under a grand and must be considered the premier speaker system in its price class. A decent used pair should run you about $600 on Audiogon.Com.. It is also an amazing testimonial that it is still crafted and built right here in the good ol' USA by America's number one speaker builder...Richard Vandersteen.
This is a speaker system that now is in its third series as it was introduced as the Model 1 by Vandersteen with mail order ads in the back of the popular audio magazines circa 1976. Model 1B was introduced in the mid 80's and finally 1C in 1996. The 1C is by far the most popular speaker system ever produced by Richard as it has stood the test of time and is a benchmark system for the thousand dollar per pair bracket. Just in case you were wondering...although all three versions are excellent transducers...there are marked improvements in midrange and high frequencies as the model progresses.
These are incredibly cool-looking loudspeakers that bespeak droves of high end appearances and performance! Vandersteen places two solid pieces of oakwood top and bottom with a rectangular cutout for proper venting at the top. It is a two-way system featuring time aligned drivers...an 8" front firing woofer and 1" metal alloy dome tweeter. This is about the only metal domed tweeter I know of that refreshingly sounds smooth and silky.
There is no wood on the front or back of the speaker as Vandersteen uses a black wrap around sock cloth that is very appealing to the eye while minimizing driver interference. The crossover is well considered and the drivers are angled for correct phase linearity and coherency while really deep bass can be experienced via the transmission line cabinets. The speakers are rated at a solid 8 ohms and for use with amplifiers rated between twenty and one hundred watts per channel. The impedance is extremely stable across the board for this system rendering an easy load for any quality amplifier.
The Owner's Manual ranks as the all-time best ever written by any speaker maker I have ever encountered and pertains soley to the 1C. Much of the extremely well written document devotes itself to room placement as Mr. Vandersteen seems to embrace more awareness of the frequency node effects of various room designs on loudspeaker performance. For our 15' x 20' carpeted concrete room w/wood wall paneling...the speakers were angled backward on their sand-filled pedestals keeping a two foot distance from the rear while towed inward. In larger rooms the speakers can be placed even more outward from the rear walls to fill the room with rich spacious sound that only seems to be coming from front and rear like a bi-polar design. The 1Cs are not bi-polars or direct/reflectors! However...you wouldn't know that as they are amazingly open spacious sounding three dimensional forward radiators giving that school of thought perhaps its best performer...at least at a thousand bucks per pair!
The rear of the three foot high enclosure sports banana plugs [left and right inputs] plus a variable tweeter level control above and slightly off to the right. The tweeter control is limited and subtle in its action as well it should be. I used the chain-like Kimber Kable 4PR heavy gauge ofc interconnects measuring ten feet per side. They are incredibly wonderful transparent sounding wires that only served to bring out the best in the Vandersteens at that time. The interconnects were then paired to the Kenwood's red and black banana terminals. The speakers are built in California, USA and carry a One Year Warranty that is upgraded to five full years once registration is complete.
When these speakers are placed properly...they in no way call attention to themselves sonically...imposing very little of their own character upon the listener. Their full range impact and clarity is awesome! There is very little nasal quality to the lower midrange unlike their counterparts from Bose, Polk, PSB, Paradigm and Definitive Technologies. Yet they lack the upper brightness of the Sonys or Spendors and sound very close to the better B&Ws. Each frequency is presented naturally with correct instrument timbre while the soundstage is most generous giving the impression of a live performance that appears to emerge from beyond the room's walls and dimensions. Air and space is well articulated.
Whether massive chorale works like the "Carmina" or softer classics like "Atmospheres-Celtic Voices" the Vandersteen 1C seems to shine with authority and wonderful timbre! Mids are superbly thrusted at the listener proving that you do not always need to purchase a speaker with a dedicated midrange driver. My reference Boston Acoustics A-70s also show how a good two-way system can equal or better a more involved multi-driver array. But the A-70s no longer are in production and even if they were...they would be three to four times their original price leaving the 1Cs as stand-alone modern day bargains.
The high frequencies are surprisingly well interpreted and dispersed for a metal tweeter speaker although I still feel that the A-70's soft dome to be the best. Most metal domed tweeters although extended in their response...tend to give off a harsh stringent quality on some program material. Fortunately...the 1C will have no part of that bugaboo! Compare the more expensive Paradigms and PSBs to the Vandersteen and see or should I say...HEAR what I mean.
The Vandersteen 1C system seems to place you somewhere around row twenty in a small theater or music hall. On Jazz ensembles...the speakers disappear with a cozy warm feel to the musical performance. The female voice is well reproduced as are male voices. Boomy broadcaster voices don't seem to have overdone bass undereline to the extent other systems portray. About the only way I could fault these speakers is that they don't carry the weight and impact on music of their larger brethren..the model 2CE Signature IIs. Then again...those taller siblings are twice the price!
The deep bass performance of the 1C is really something special...not only rivaling the 2CE II's but also the better more expensive subwoofers that are now available. It is a very discrete driver pushing just the right amount of air when it is called upon to do so. The effect is quite striking when a lower bass drum note is hit. It can and will literally shake your gut and the room! The extension is such that a 40Hz fundamental is reproduced effortlessly and the system's 8" rubber surrounded composite woofers can probably reach down to 30Hz. Think twice before adding a sub for home theater purposes and choose wisely should you decide on the added expense.
Can this speaker rock? Sure it can! There is no genre of music that it cannot do justice to easily. Twangin' guitar attack is no obstacle as the 1C is a fast reproducer of sound. When the music stops...so does the speaker with little or no "ringing" effect. Subtleties are a must for a good system and here is where the 1C exposes itself for what it is. It can reproduce the soft tingle of a triangle, a musician turning a page or the clash of a cymbal or even the striking of a tubular bell amongst an onslaught of other instruments playing simultaneously. Give Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" on Epic Records a whirl and see if the 1C doesn't invite every subtlety and invoke emotion from your body and soul!
The Vandersteen 1C loudspeakers are a class act for sure offering terrific naturalistic sound at a reasonable price. They are quite efficient and durable as long as your amplifier isn't strained or called upon to produce unusually distorted sounds. I enjoyed mine for sure until I was forced to let them go. Oh...if only I could get them back again! The 1Cs are very well suited for open living rooms...unlike acoustic suspension types e.g. my Boston A-70s that are better matched to enclosed areas such as my current listerning room Take note apartment dwellers!
In their price class...you should be tempted to listen to the Def Tech Sixes and Eights along with towers from Sony, PSB, Polk plus the endearing low efficiency Maggies. For my money...none of the others match the efficiency along with the aesthetically pleasing and most emotionally satisfying performance of the well established forerunner at this price point...the Vandersteen 1C. It is a reference loudspeaker for sure. Thank you Richard Vandersteen and John Rutan for your passionate approach to music reproduction...Enjoy the music!...PJSII