A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
The model 5A reference speaker occupies the top tier of the Vandersteen product line-up. Considering the excellent performance of its siblings, it must be something very special to have earned this position. The four-way, five-driver model 5 has been in production since 1997 and has earned many accolades since its debut. It utilizes all the familiar Vandersteen design aspects, such as a single-order crossover to preserve phase, a minimal baffle to reduce image smearing and multi-plane driver locations to preserve timing. The model 5 also includes a unique subwoofer driver, which consists of two motor structures driving a single 12-inch aluminum cone in a push-pull configuration. As impressive as the model 5 was, Richard Vandersteen is not one to rest on any laurels, so he set about to push the model 5 further towards sonic nirvana and created the 5A.
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The $16,900 per pair and up 5A still maintains the signature Vandersteen philosophies of time and phase coherence, but improves upon the previous version in several ways. Of particular importance is an improved crossover, which is now matched specifically to the drivers in an anechoic chamber. The tweeter and midrange drive units are also upgraded, as is the 400-watt subwoofer amplifier.
The sound of the 5A is pure Vandersteen, which is to say that its most obvious qualities are its transparency and imaging. The 5A ranks among the very best at recreating details that are lost with lesser speakers and presenting those details in a soundstage that is wide and deep. I hate to use the word "holographic," as it has been so abused that it carries little meaning, but in this instance, it applies. What was a surprise was the incredible bass performance that the 5A can produce. Vandersteen reports that the 5A plays to 20 Hertz within one-and-a-half decibels, and I have no reason to doubt this claim. They are phenomenal on the low end in my listening tests, especially compared to other speakers in the ballpark of their price.
Read the High Points, The Low Points and The Conclusion on Page 2