SMR logoAudio Spécialiste V303, V101, V-Centre II and V-Sub 112 Review
Audio Spécialiste is a relatively new name in the world of loudspeaker manufacturing, yet their designs and construction values demand respect from even the most discerning audio/videophile. Alan L. Maier was the lucky fellow who had the task of putting just one of the companys many home theatre systems through its paces.

Many thanks go to Mr. Lee Lareau for his help and for providing the review sample.

Audio Spécialiste Loudspeaker Specifications
V303

Dimensions: 29"H × 8.25"W × 11"D
Finish: Black wood grain vinyl laminate wood finishes optional
Weight: 34lbs each
Tweeter: Vifa 1" silk/coated fabric dome.
Mid-bass: 2 × Vifa 6½" Polypropylene cone
Crossover: 2.7kHz @ 12dB/octave
Frequency response: 37Hz 20kHz
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 91dB/w/m
Maximum sustained power: 175 watts
Maximum short-term peak power: 475 watts
Floor spikes: yes
Magnetic shielding: no
Bi-wire capability: yes
Origin: Canada
Price: $629/pr MSRP US

V101

Dimensions: 15"H × 8.25"W × 9"D
Finish: Black wood grain vinyl laminate wood finishes optional
Weight: 14lbs each
Tweeter: Vifa ¾" silk/coated fabric dome
Mid-bass: Vifa 6½" Polypropylene cone
Crossover: 3.7kHz @ 6dB/octave
Frequency response: 55Hz 20kHz
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 89dB/w/m
Maximum sustained power: 100 watts
Maximum short-term peak power: 210 watts
Magnetic shielding: no
Origin: Canada
Price: $299/pr MSRP US

V-Centre II

Dimensions: 6½"H × 17¾"W × 9"D
Finish: Black wood grain vinyl laminate wood finishes optional
Weight: 15lbs
Tweeter: Vifa ¾" silk/coated fabric dome
Mid-bass: 2 × Vifa 5¼" Mineral polycone
Crossover: 2.5kHz @ 6dB/octave
Frequency response: 55Hz 20kHz
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB/w/m
Maximum sustained power: 100 watts
Maximum short-term peak power: 210 watts
Magnetic shielding: yes
Origin: Canada
Price: $229 MSRP US

V-Sub 112

Dimensions: 18"H × 18"W × 18"D
Finish: Black wood grain vinyl laminate wood finishes optional
Weight: 70lbs
Driver complement: 12" Mineral polycone
Crossover: Variable 24dB/octave low pass 40Hz to 120Hz
Input/output connections: RCA line level × 2 in/out, speaker level × 2 in/out
Amplifier power output: 225 watts
Amplifier short-term peak power output: 600 watts
Magnetic shielding: no
Polarity switch: variable 0-180 degree
Automatic power: yes w/manual operation option.
Origin: Canada
Price: $599 MSRP US

(All specifications as per manufacturer)

Audio Spécialiste Virtuel Acoustique Series Loudspeakers

 

Audio Spécialiste loudspeakers and sub-woofer     Not one but four models from Canadian based loudspeaker manufacturer Audio Spécialiste are the subjects of this review.  A relative newcomer to the loudspeakers market, Audio Spécialiste offers four distinct product lines ranging from the moderate priced Virtuel Acoustique and Dimension series to the up-scale Crescendo audiophile line and premium Prophecy range.

     Just as a building is no stronger than its foundation, entry-level products should be a good indication of a loudspeaker manufacturers ability.  An analogy can be taken from the automobile market where we expect good assembly, finish and smooth operation from a $40,000 model - but a solid indication of design quality shows up in the basic $15,000 model also.  Should we expect the entry offering to perform as well as the top end?  Naturally the answer is no.  Should we expect the same attention to detail and quality of assembly?  I feel we should.   The same applies to audio equipment whether we're discussing turntables, amplifiers or loudspeakers.  We cant expect an entry-level turntable to perform as well as a $2,000 rig, but the platter should not wobble and the plinth should be solid.  On the same token we dont expect a $500 power amplifier to compete with the likes of a $3,000 purist model, but we do expect it to provide years of trouble free service.  A $10,000 home theater loudspeaker system should sound great& but what about a complete home theater loudspeaker system for under $2,000?  What can we really expect?   Audio Spécialiste has raised this question with several loudspeakers at reasonable prices in their Dimension line and those sampled here from the Virtuel Acoustique series.

    To get a "feel" for the Virtuel Acoustique line and with the help of Audio Spécialiste we assembled a home theater package consisting of& The V303 floor standing tower loudspeakers for left/right mains, V101 bookshelf monitors for the surround channels, the V-Centre II center channel loudspeaker and V-Sub 112 powered sub-woofer.  Our samples were finished in a black ash laminate, although real wood finishes are available.  This collection is a cross section of models ranging from the bottom to the top of their respective lines.

 

V303 Tower Loudspeakers

     At 29" tall, the V303 is a compact tower loudspeaker system that resides in the middle ground of the Virtuel Acoustique loudspeaker lineup.   Their build quality grew on me as I looked deeper into the V303s construction; on the surface we had another plain black ash laminate over MDF cabinet, but with my handy power screwdriver and a clutch bit I found surprises inside.  The fiberboard used is quite solid and dense, carpentry work is exceptional and mounted inside are two very substantial braces as well as ample damping material all neat and tidy.  The driver complement, a pair of Vifa port loaded 6½" mid-bass drivers flanking a single 1" fabric dome tweeter are not magnetically shielded.   Bi-wiring is an option via twin sets of gold plated five-way binding posts.  A knit fabric over wood product grill covers all but the lower 6" of the front baffle and fittings are provided to install carpet spikes or leveling feet directly into the bottom of the cabinet.

     I initially placed the V303s directly on the floor, installed 1 out into the room and 8 apart and it was here where I gained my first impression of the V303s performance.  "Hey these have bass!" I thought.   Full bodied and nicely extended.  Treble had a natural, open quality with a hint of being polite or "laid back".  Upon removal of the grills I noted a subtle uplift at the top end which, given the finished fronts means that either way is correct and simply a matter of taste I preferred the grills on during my listening.  Speaking of uplifting, I did later opt to elevate the V303s to allow the tweeter to be level with the center channel in my installation.  I used Lovan Jazz 1800 18" stands, yes a bit tall but they were a great fit and worked very well.

     The V303 aged to my liking - after a healthy break-in period of course.  Bass was extended with good "attack" and impressive power handling in particular I was pleased with the lack of dynamic compression in either the bass or midrange region when pressed hard.  My casual bass extension evaluation using the Stereophile Test Disc Audio Spécialiste V303 loudspeakersdemonstrated a smooth and clean low frequency output down to the 40Hz band with ample usable output from the 32Hz band.  Using the organ works CD "Pomp and Pipes" (Reference Recordings RR-58CD) as a source of musical low bass material, the V303 could keep up their end of the bargain without complaining.

     The V303 have an open midrange character with good overall presentation that did not call attention to the loudspeaker.  The spatial soundstage is anchored primarily between the enclosures and little forward into the room, taking the middle ground between ultra-wide holographic and in your face.  Vocals are natural as typified with Amanda McBroom on the 'Gossamer' track found on "Words & Wings" (Sheffield Lab CD-15).  Upper midrange blended nicely to the treble output, which is very neutral.   The V303s treble quality is purely source dependent with a clean CD or LP the top end can be sweet and airy.  Cymbals are reproduced with a crisp leading edge provided the source offers it.

     After listening to the V303 on a daily basis I have come to the conclusion that these are speakers that are happiest when you let them boogie.   Provide them with a good dose of blazing jazz such as Dave Grusin Presents "GRP All-Star Big Band Live!" (GRD-9740) and you be jamn.  Ultimately, they lit up my room far more than I expected from my first impression.  An example: I recently acquired "Boston - Greatest Hits" (Epic 67622) and I found myself playing the V303s louder and louder and louder until I happened to glance at the volume setting and thought "whoa!", yet no complaints!

     A key pass/fail aspect of a moderate priced loudspeaker is a positive balance between the lack of audible sins and audible omission.  What is missing?  Impressively little, however the ultimate detail across the midrange is not up to what I would expect, although perhaps only from a costlier system and the V303 do not vanish into the room sonically.  However as soon as I take into account the price of the V303 I can be very forgiving.

     During my audition period a friend stopped over so that I could setup and adjust his turntable and subsequently we played an LP on it through the V303s.  He was really taken by surprise and wished his system sounded as good.  As a matter of fact I received a call just yesterday from that friend who is now pulling his hair out trying to improve his system.  What he did not know was the speakers he was so impressed by are a very affordable $629 per pair!

 

V101 Bookshelf Monitors

     The V101 are an entry-level traditional full range loudspeaker from Virtuel Acoustique, and at a mere $299 per pair really affordable.  In todays market you can select from three distinct loudspeaker groups all around $300 per pair.  First is the group that will rock your socks off with boosted bass and crisp treble but sacrifice smoothness and musical detail.  Second is the mini-monitor set providing a sweet treble, wonderful imaging and midrange detail, albeit limited in bass and overall output capability.  Third is the bookshelf group which takes a step back in overall capability but makes an attempt to deliver most of the goods.  Many capable loudspeakers fit into the third group, the V101 being one of them.

Audio Spécialiste V101 loudspeakers     A single 6½" mid-bass driver is mated with a ¾" fabric dome tweeter in a compact 15" high vented enclosure which as with the V303, is not magnetically shielded.  Gold plated 5 way binding posts are provided and ample space is given for the fumble-fingered.  Build quality is fairly good for the money not a heavy speaker to pick up at 11 pounds but solidly built and tightly assembled.  During my audition I installed them on 24" tall stands, 1 out from the wall behind and 6 apart.  Best imaging was obtained by toeing the pair inward and like the V303 the treble level is effected a bit by the use of the grill.

     My casual bass tests using the Stereophile Test Disc revealed bass output to be effective down to the 60Hz point, at which point output diminished quickly.  The remaining bass was natural, free of artificial "bloom" and with respectable power handling ability before the gradual onset of audible strain.   Playing demanding jazz and big band tracks is my favorite test for "boogie-ability", and here was where the omissions vs. the traits-retained came to surface.  The Dave Grusin Presents "GRP All-Star Big Band Live!" CD could still light up the room through the V101s, but midrange impact was compressed when compared to their bigger brother.  Vocals exhibited a somewhat congested character from time to time I suspect there is a bit of roughness in the response of the mid-bass driver that is not masked by a boosted bass.   For my own curiosity I made a casual comparison between the V101 and a similarly priced pair of loudspeakers I had on hand (which will remain anonymous to protect the guilty).  The other system had a "pumped up" bass and treble which over-powered the ragged sounding midrange.  Clearly the V101 makes no attempt to cover up its own shortcomings, the best way in my opinion.  Treble response was quite good following the character of the V303.

     Overall the V101 does a credible job and offers a fair trade in the balance between omission and commission, while covering nearly the full audible spectrum.

 

V-Centre II

     Here comes a curve in the road of music reproduction.  As the key performer in a home theatre installation, the center channel loudspeaker is placed in a different light.  The V-Centre II is the entry model of two center channel loudspeakers, the larger of which consists of a driver complement similar to the V101 and V303.  The V-Centre II has a pair of 5¼" mid-bass drivers flanking a single ¾" fabric done tweeter as found in the V101.  The cabinet is vented and Audio Spécialiste V-Centre II loudspeakerfeatures gold plated 5-ways binding posts and the same solid build quality of the V101 and V303.  Naturally the V-Centre II is a magnetically shielded design, unlike the other two on test here.

     First up a quick check for bass limitation using the Stereophile Test Disc resulted in a useable bass extension to 60Hz before heading south.   This was so similar to the results I received from the V101 that I compared the two directly indeed they offer virtually the same bass performance.  When balancing the system levels I noted the identical high frequency end as well a given since the tweeters are the same.  However the midrange is where the V-Centre II really comes through.  With the Amanda McBroom CD I noted good clarity with female vocals but just a bit of a "chesty" character could be heard during male speech on video sound tracks, but I did not find this offensive.  Midrange dynamic impact remained respectable when playing big-band music tracks, keeping up with the V303.  Horizontal dispersion remained good from even the most extreme angles you will loose the picture before the sound.

     With video soundtracks the V-Centre II does the job very well.   Good vocal clarity allows difficult dialogue to become as intelligible as possible.   I am impressed at the quality of sound from this loudspeaker, priced at a modest $229.

 

V-sub 112

     The V-Sub 112 is the larger of two powered sub-woofers offered in the Audio Spécialiste Virtuel Acoustique line.  Boasting a 12" driver and 225-watt MOSFET power amplifier, this powered sub-woofer has a lot of extras to make installation and setup easier.  Both line and speaker level pass-through connections for both left and right channels, a gain control, a variable phase control (0 180º) and a 24dB/octave variable high-pass filter with a range of 40Hz to 120Hz are provided and are easy to adjust.  Automatic and manual power-up is offered, as is a thoughtful ground select switch (floating/grounded) to eliminate ground loop problems.   A unique feature is the physical design of this 70lb sub-woofer, the forward radiation of the bass driver is loaded into a sealed sub-enclosure, leaving the rear radiation to face what is a band-pass enclosure.  All bass output emanates from a 3" × 15" opening on the rear of the 18" Audio Spécialiste V-Sub 112 sub-woofersquare cabinet.  Build quality is on a par with the other models in this review, however here even more details have been dealt with.  This box is tight and solid like the V303, V101 and V-Centre II but Audio Spécialiste have added mass and little details like radiused edges at the band-pass opening.  Even the amplifier is installed in a sturdy sub-enclosure.

     The review sample V-Sub 112 supplied to us had spring-clip terminals to facilitate high-level loudspeaker connections, the production version however features binding posts - a welcome change.

     In operation I had to try a number of locations and faced the rear of the cabinet in numerous directions to obtain the best performance.  A little effort pays off, at worst I had thunderous bass without good definition or speed.   The best result was a powerful, robust bass that extended easily to the lower limit of the Stereophile Test Disc (20Hz).  Ditto for everything I feed it from "Pomp and Pipes" (Reference Recordings RR-58CD) and even track the "Jurassic Lunch" track (#20) from "Top 20: The Very Best of Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops" (Telarc CD-80401).  On that last track I rattled the room before ruffling the V-Sub 112.

     The sub-woofers can often be classified as those that "do music", those that "do home theater" and those that "do it all".   Overall I do feel this sub-woofer is best in a home theater setup.  It delivers a great deal of thunderous bass at high levels without strain.  A lesser or more compact sub-woofer can deal with musical bass such as organ works or handling the missing lower limit of mini-monitors; here we have the muscle to deal with the LFE output of a Dolby Digital® setup with ease.  The cost for this sub-woofer is a modest $599 a price point where we are getting a lot of bang for the buck.

 

As a home theater system

     As luck has it, I received these loudspeakers while reviewing a DVD player and had use of a Lexicon DC-1 version v3.10 digital processor.  I lived with the Audio Spécialiste system while putting the DVD player through its paces viewing video after video and also working with the DC-1 settings.  I appreciated the overall musical reproduction of the V303 mains when all I wanted was 2-channel audio and they also did a fine job as home theater mains.  My Audio Spécialiste loudspeakers and sub-wooferreservations for the V101 vanished both in opinion and sonically when put to the task of side (a Lexicon feature) or rear surround use a good compromise in cost for a compete system that works well together.  On videos featuring a good amount of ambient surround information such as "Top Gun" and "Air Force One", the encompasing surround image remained natural and convincing.   It was when I selected 2-channel mode that I fully appreciated the fine integration between the V303 and V101.

     The V-Centre II excelled when covering dialogue, however it was not a perfect acoustic match for music with the V303 or V101 as the sound character was a little different.  I recommend serious consideration for the larger V-Centre III (not reviewed here) as it more closely matches the V101/V303 driver complement - I assume is a closer sonic match too.  Also note there is a satellite loudspeaker in the Virtuel Acoustique line known as the V-Sat II that does share the V-Centre II drivers, and at a very low cost.  A pair of V-Sat II are likely to be the best front L/R pair to partner the V-Centre II.  One match that does work is the V-Sub 112.  If I had any doubt of what it could do for music, I quickly forgot about it when playing video soundtracks!  LFE channel audio was handled well and with authority during every exploding spacecraft, fly-by and Jurrasic burp.  The overall playback level was impressive from all loudspeakers I never over-taxed the system at any point.

     This brings me to another aspect I have not covered yet efficiency. I used a Harman/Kardon PA-5800 multi-channel power amplifier (80w × 5) for home theater use, and achieved very high volumes without a hint of overload.  This is an aspect of this system that can not be accomplished with a typical satellite and powered sub-woofer home theater package due to the relatively low sensitivity of the satellites and I would much rather live with this combination.

 

Conclusion

     Audio Spécialiste may be a newcomer to the loudspeaker scene but they should soon make a splash.  Construction quality and the attention to detail is a key positive note which sets these loudspeakers apart from many offerings on the market.  Price is most affordable our system, complete with a full-range tower loudspeakers for the main channels and the largest sub-woofer offered in the product line still totaled only $1,756 MSRP.  As a dedicated home theater package we could have opted for V101s all the way around and been happy at $1,426 MSRP and retained the thunderous V- Sub 112, but I am quite pleased with the musical performance of the V303 and would rather go that route.  In the time I had these loudspeakers at home, I did a fair bit of shopping around, comparing them with a number of their prime competitors in marketplace.  I could match the overall sound quality easily enough but the total system cost was always consistently higher or a sonic compromise had to be made.   That leaves the Virtuel Acoustique lineup from Audio Spécialiste a serious contender in todays home theatre speaker scene, and an enjoyable one to live with too.

 

© 1999.

 

More information about Audio Spécialiste products can be found upon the offical Audio Spécialiste web site

Audio Spécialiste
1060, Provancher, Suite 100
Quebec,
Quebec G1N 4M9
Canada.
Canada Tel: 418-687-3202 Fax: 418-687-4046
US Tel: 207-373-0996

Text © Alan L. Maier; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © Alan L. Maier & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission.  Dolby Digital is a registered trademark of Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation.  The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 06 June, 1999

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