By the time you read this, what was the Music Vault will be no more than what you’ve read in the pages of the old Ultra Audio, now SoundStage! Ultra. The new owners of my old house have ripped off its roof and are adding a full second story. The remains of the Music Vault are in some dumpster somewhere.
If those shattered walls could talk . . .
Construction is well underway. The box on the floor is construction adhesive. Everything in the room was glued and screwed. No rattles, ever.
I won’t bore you with the technical details -- longtime readers will have read all about it. But since this is likely the last time I’ll ever write about the Vault, here are the articles you should check out if you want to know more about its design: “Building the Music Vault -- Part One,” “Building the Music Vault -- Part Two,” and “Building the Music Vault -- Part Three.”
Terry Montlick at work
After having read many horror stories involving so-called experts in acoustic design, I took no chances. The Vault was designed by the best acoustics guy I could find: Terry Montlick, long since retired. Terry had graduated from MIT, and had written his own software to model the acoustics of small rooms. He took on my project, and I followed his prescriptive advice to the letter.
Well, when I say I, I really mean we. Construction of the Music Vault was handled by my friend Randall Smith, who reviewed products for the SoundStage! sites for several years before getting married, having a kid, and leaving the world of high-end audio in his rearview mirror. Without him, the Music Vault wouldn’t have happened.
The completed Music Vault
Terry and Randall got to work, and before I knew it, I had a state-of-the-art listening room. Soon after, Randall and I began our monthly treks up and down the stairs, hauling review samples of gear up and down and in and out. We’d set an upper limit on the weight of what we were willing to schlep up and down those stairs ourselves: anything over the 350 pounds of a crated Wilson Audio Specialties WATCH Dog was too much. When the Rockport Technologies Altair loudspeakers arrived in mid-2007, I hired some movers to lug them up the stairs. In the crate, a single Altair weighed about 750 pounds. And as we all know, it’s much safer to move expensive things in their crates. When the movers arrived, it quickly became obvious that maneuvering a crated Altair around the turn on the landing -- a sharp left about a quarter of the way up the stairs -- simply wasn’t possible. My wife wasn’t home for all this -- that was a good thing.
Randall: “Let’s just cut a hole in the wall -- then we can go straight up the stairs.”
Me: “Yeah, let’s do it!”
Wife: [later that night] “You did what!?”
I can’t begin to add up the total cost of all the products I reviewed in the Vault, but it would be well into eight figures. I heard some amazing sounds in that room in the 12 years I inhabited it, from many products that, when I reviewed them, were considered the state of the art. The Music Vault greatly helped in establishing my reviewer’s frame of reference.
The following recollections of some of the groundbreaking moments that occurred in the Music Vault in those 12 years are somewhat off the cuff, so don’t read too much into them. But each moment was a high point -- or low point -- of my audio experience.
Precise Imaging: YG Acoustics Kipod Studio. I wrote: “I concluded that three things had to be in place for this type of vocal-imaging magic to happen: the voice had to be precisely positioned, exactly the correct size, and with flawless midrange purity. The Kipods did all three perfectly.” This was a moment when really good minimonitor precision and symmetrical, near-perfect room acoustics intersected to make magic.
Depth of Bass: Rockport Technologies Arrakis. The Arrakises moved the air in my room as had no speakers before them. In fact, in terms of sheer power in the lowest octave, I think no other speaker ever equaled them in the Music Vault. They were . . . seismic.
Randall Smith helping to move the Magico Q7 Mk.IIs in
Most Resolving Sound: Magico Q7 Mk.II. No other speaker that ever graced the Music Vault had the extreme level of transparency achieved by the second generation of the big Magicos. In that sense they were the perfect reviewer’s tool -- but only when driven by the absolute best amplification.
Most Humbling Moment: Randall and I were present when the bass cabinets of the original Wilson Audio Specialties X-2 Alexandrias were carried up the stairs. We figured they weighed about 500 pounds in their crates, a bit above our self-imposed limit. The moving company was supposed to send three big guys to do the job. Instead, one big guy and a little fella about a buck-fifty showed up (think Hans Wetzel). I think we were both hoping they couldn’t do the job -- so we wouldn’t feel like, well, you know. But they wrestled those bad boys right up the stairs in no time flat.
Me: “Randall, you gotta start working out, man.”
Randall: [rolls eyes].
Craziest Product: The Sound Fusion Luna speakers were made by some expert Canadian furniture makers and looked it. Oddly, they actually sounded pretty good. I don’t think, however, that their looks were all that timeless. I’d hate to see them next to a pair of today’s KEF Blades.
A few photos from the vault of the Vault . . .
First setup in the Music Vault: a system based on Wilson Audio Specialties’ X-2 Alexandria speakers.
The biggest speakers ever to grace the Music Vault: the Rockport Arrakis, 900 pounds apiece.
Brain power: Andy Payor of Rockport Technologies and Ralf Ballman of Behold.
Hard to please: Me, Alon Wolf, and Hans Ole Vitus in the midst of setup.
So long, Music Vault.
As they say, onward and upward. See you from my next listening room.
. . . Jeff Fritz