Review of The Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E-3 MkII Loudspeaker
More than a few audiophiles’ first real experience with Von Schweikert Audio comes from seeing them in the big rooms at audio shows. There is usually plenty of seating, but often those conference chairs constructed of padded fabric and black metal are justifiably filled with eager attendees looking to hear some of the best sounds money can buy. Expectations are always high at these events, and as CEO Dameon Von Schwickert (son of founder Albert Von Schweikert) will admit, it creates a lot of pressure for the brand to perform at the highest level possible, in sometimes unpredictable environments.
Well, after hearing so many amazing floor standing models from VSA myself at shows, I was particularly interested and vested in getting some review samples into the lab here to experience it all on gear that I was much more familiar with. The company offered to send over some of their more entry-level options, which ultimately included the opening floorstanding model called Endeavor E-3 MkII at $10k. The three tier Endeavor line shares more in common with the bookshelf Unifield MkIII than the company’s big Ultra line usually on display at shows, but the transducer arrangement is slightly expanded along with the extra real estate they play in. Standing slightly less than 4 feet tall, the speaker formation covers a lot of ground. One of the two 7” bass woofers sits low, closer to ground level (with another set closer to the rest of the array), and the woven mid woofer and soft dome tweeter at ear level round out the 3 way design.
The Endeavor E-3 MkII is considered a base model in part, by its cost saving finish. The walnut veneer I received looked the part, but was more simple in nature than the design heavy Sonus Faber Olympica Nova III we currently have as a floorstander reference. The texture and color was still very well done, but high end aficionados might be more used to deep piano gloss finishes or your favorite sports car custom color. All that can be had from VSA on this model, but the price will likely exceed the $10k benchmark under the microscope here. It’s a very small sacrifice many will be willing to make for better sound for less money, and the sound of the Endeavors is where the real fun begins.
To easily sum up the overall feel of the Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E-3 MkII, one would need to be at least somewhat familiar with the welcoming sounds of the ultra high end of audiophilium. There is a preciseness to the delivery that feels like it belongs well above even the $10k shelf it sits on (and there are a lot of really really good sounding $10k speakers out there). But even moreso, there is a coherency to the imaging that is most unique to the high end, something to consider again when thinking about the $10k range we find ourselves in. Simply put, it’s very audiophile, very high end. Is the setup a bit more finicky as a result? Perhaps. It took a bit of fiddling to lock in the best center image. Robust focus in this arena is a holographic beauty that makes vocals hover, recreates guitars with perfect sharp outlines and layers of details that create an illusion of separation from each other in the fabricated space. It’s the kind of sound that makes you want to buy a more expensive front end to see what else might be possible.
When you compare the E3 to the slightly more expensive Sonus Faber Olympica Nova III, you can see where the benefits tend to shift around a little. While the Nova III is hands down an amazing speaker, it became slowly apparent that the VSA was able to best the entertaining delivery of the SF in transparency to source. What showed a bigger delta of difference (albeit likely more of an “illusion preference” as well) was the width and spread of the soundstage. In lighter terms, the Nova might be considered a little more “fun” leaning, with the E3 acting as more down-to-business high fidelity. The soundstage of the Nova III is slightly more sprayed out with a metaphoric recklessness than that of the E3’s approach. SF’s efforts seem wider and maybe even deeper (or at least further back) where VSA tips the hat to intimacy and a “right there” flavor of sonic icecream. Tonality for the Nova is a little more colored by comparison, which some might prefer, but overall control exerted by the VSA will likely appeal to many who are in the market for a speaker of this financial range.
It’s not a clear choice between analytical and musical here, for the Endeavor that would be far too pedestrian for its overwhelmingly good taste. One might find the finely tuned tonal density of the Nova packed a little too tight for some palates. Others might prefer the clearly stylized and themed aesthetics of the Nova and connect that with a rich instrument with a complex acoustic palate. With the VSA Endeavour E3 MkII, as with the Unifield standmount, it is easy to see a tradition of high responsiveness and dynamic slap that walks hand in hand with what most people associate the way real life sounds – even if they don’t identify the feeling within such parameters. If you like glowing tubes and turntables because “real life has surface noise” then the VSA will give you the output from that equation as well, but without adding anything extra to it. I’m not so sure the same can be said about the Sonus Faber’s in this case.
To add specifics to this context, a close look at the bass end of the spectrum really flushed out some of that precision and upper tier sound that runs fluently throughout the VSA’s frequency spectrum. In truth the performance leaned in on another well trodden reviewer cliche quite a bit – it feels like there’s a hidden sub in the room. The reach is truly something (even considering the given cabinet space) but the tightness in the response is something more. The out-and-back of the driver seemed to deftly maneuver the airflow so succinctly, that it was almost, nearly a mystery.
During the review period of the Endeavours Taylor Swift happened to release her new album Midnights. My partner happens to be a big fan of the artist and granting her request wishes while critiquing the fidelity of the production has been an interesting exercise, to say the least. Long story short, while the folky pandemic Evermore and Folklore had perhaps the greatest potential for vibrant, simplified female vocals, the vinyl copy she acquired on launch day was completely flat and riddled with unattributed surface noise. To deftly sidestep any additional issues for this review, we fired up Midnight’s electronica inspired Vigilante Shit (she swears more now apparently) in 24/96 from Quboz through the Naim Uniti Star’s more than capable digital to analog path. Not being overly familiar with the song myself, it was very inspiring to see the low electronic bass sounds descend downward as the song progressed. Each new bar presented a lower and lower tone, but the Endeavor showed no signs of breakup, weakened control or volume dips. Again, the tightness, control and snap of the drivers VSA choose really show a cohesiveness, not just of the soundstage but of the drivers themselves. The typical three part frequency spectrum performs exceptionally as one.
There is a consumer saying that implies that it is better to purchase the entry level efforts of a more expensive brand than it is to buy the most costly option from a brand that only puts out more inexpensive product lines. This seems to be true in the case of our review of the Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E3 MkII. I hesitate to use the words “trickle down tech” in response to the performance of this floorstander, but the years of experience making very high end speakers seem to find a way of attaching itself to these entry level options as well. With the Endeavor, you get to keep most of what makes VSA sound good, in exchange for some reductions to more hard costs. Still, the cabinetry passes the muster, it admittedly looks on par with most other loudspeakers on the market with the grills on. With the grills off the looks are very similar to the Unifield, which was a very much high-end, but down-to-business design. Sonically, it’s one of the best floorstanders we’ve ever had in for review with a $10k pricetag. Truth be told, we don’t usually review hifi items much over that range very often, but there is substantial evidence to suggest that the Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E3 MkII might be the best sounding speaker to cross the threshold into the listening room from any category.
After hearing Von Schweikert in so many big rooms at audio shows, my expectation for their entry level floorstander was probably unreasonably high. The good news is they were able to hit those high expectations in a personalized setting, that frankly, I wasn’t so sure they would be able to reach. If your main focus is tight, audiophile high-end sound, you owe it to yourself to check out the VSA Endeavor E3 MkII. They recreate unbelievably transparent and detailed music, and are truly a rare find even in the sea of five digit, full-size loudspeakers. Highly recommended.
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