Our Senior Contributing Reviewer Ron Resnick writes about his favorite room at the Los Angeles Audio Show 2017 (Von Schweikert Audio/VAC/MasterBuilt/Kronos/Artesania)

I visited the Von Schweikert Audio/VAC/MasterBuilt room twice: once during the day, and a second time for a private, after-hours demo Leif Swanson, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Designer at Von Schweikert Audio, generously arranged for us so I could play a couple of my own LPs.  When I heard about the Ultra 11 ($295,000) I remember wondering what Albert, Damon and Leif at VSA could do to improve upon the VR-11SE Mk. II.

In a report on my visit in May of 2016 to VSA’s office and my interview with Albert Von Schweikert I wrote “[s]ome of the improvements of the ULTRA 11 over the VR-11 as described on the VSA website, and as explained to me, are as follows:"

Master-Built ULTRA Internal Wiring comes standard on the ULTRA line. Each signal path is individually shielded. The wire is designed and fabricated by leaders in the aerospace industry and is made with rare and precious alloys, combined with patented winding geometries to reduce quantum noise. 
All-new ceramic-composite woofers and midranges, Beryllium tweeters, and compound woven subwoofers are used in the ULTRA line (instead of the original carbon fiber 15” drivers and carbon-kevlar-cellulose aerogel midrange drivers and soft dome tweeters used in the VR-11SE Mk2). The new drivers have one-quarter or less of the distortion than our original drivers, enhancing clarity. 
Point-to-point hand-built networks and cross-overs are enclosed in a proprietary Faraday cage which protects cross-over parts and wiring from electrical noise contamination. 
Version 2.0 Aktive Cabinet Vibration Control eliminates cabinet noise with new materials and layering techniques which reduce the noise of the cabinet via the conversion of vibration into heat. 
The VR-11SE Mk2 consists of three modules stacked on top of each other:  an M-T-M array module in the middle and a subwoofer module at the bottom and at the top. The ULTRA 11 is a one-piece cabinet. Albert says that his tests show that the one-piece cabinet manifests less resonance than the three stacked modules of the VR-11SE Mk2 due to less “wobble and roll” of the three stacked modules.

Of course I was never able to compare the VR-11SE Mk. II in the same room and with the same system as the Ultra 11s. All I know is that the improvements engineered into the Ultra 11 make sense, and the geometric cabinet is a stunning piece of industrial design. If Albert, a living legend in speaker design, says the Ultra 11’s drivers are lower in distortion than the drivers in the VR-11, then I believe him.

We played ”Send in the Clowns" by Bill Henderson, Live at the Times (Jazz Planet Records/Classic Records) and ”I've Got the Music in Me" by Thelma Houston, I've Got the Music in Me (Sheffield Lab 2).

When you are playing direct-to-disc vinyl on a state-of-the-art speaker system driven by top-of-the-line VAC tube electronics you expect to hear something amazing, and I was not disappointed! I heard life-like dynamic range and sound-staging, incredible transparency, and, as I expect with a loudspeaker as tall as the Ultra 11s, scale which leads to realistic grandeur. I would have been very happy to listen to this system all evening, but I did not want to monopolize Leif’s time.

The reproduction of these two favorite tracks of mine was as good as I have ever heard them. The Ultra 11 driven by tubes achieves a level of realism which I find very satisfying and which I would be happy to enjoy forever. This is what the highest end of high-end audio is all about.

The two best dynamic driver loudspeaker systems I have ever heard are the Rockport Technologies Arrakis and the Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 11. Unlike the Arrakis, the Ultra 11 has a great deal of adjustability to ensure a proper match to one’s listening room and to one’s listening preferences. The controls on the back of the Ultra 11 include: subwoofer level, subwoofer frequency, front tweeter level, super tweeter level and a rear ambience level control. I personally like the significant adjustability of this complex, multi-driver system. It is very comforting to me that I can turn a tweeter level adjustment knob to tame an overly reflective room or a bright recording if I so desire.

A direct comparison between the Arrakis and the Ultra 11 is one of those numerous comparisons in high-end audio which is destined never to occur. It will be interesting to see if Andy Payor inverts a Lyra on top of another Lyra to create a next-generation Arrakis.

Some speakers (and brands) generate both passionate praise and intense criticism. The Ultra 11 is not going to be one of those speakers. It is difficult for me to imagine someone honestly finding any significant sonic fault with this system.

The VSA Ultra 11 is a truly state-of-the-art loudspeaker. I cannot envision how the team at VSA will ever be able to top this.

For me the Von Schweikert Audio/VAC/MasterBuilt demo room was Best of Show at the Los Angeles Audio Show 2017.

Ron Resnick
Mono and Stereo Senior Contributing Reviewer