Review: Von Schweikert Unifield 2 MkIII
I’m not 100% sure that I’ve heard anything this transparent in my home setup. Not only has the Von Schweikert Unifield 2 MkIII transformed the output of a sterling front end, but it has perhaps even changed the way I think about, and the very meaning of definition.
But, let’s back up a bit first. This standmount is a three-way design from California-based speaker maker Von Schweikert audio. Known for big sound and big speakers at audio shows, the company actually makes a fairly wide range of audiophile offerings that actually start around the range of the subject of this review, $10k/pr. Logged in under the category of “small footprint speakers” the Unifield 2 MkIII is a three-way loudspeaker design with a soft dome tweeter concentrically mounted in the midrange woofer. I tend to gravitate to these types of 3 way setups in a bookshelf design, and the premise on paper at a minimum allows for the most drivers to inhabit the smallest amount of real-estate. On top of that logic, layer in a general notion that everything but the bass is projected from the same point of origin and you have a few conversation starters before you even warm up an amplifier.
The looks are fairly straightforward with this “entry level” unit. There is a unique peek-a-boo, visually transparent cone to the mid range woofer which allows you to see into the cabinet and driver on the top half of the array. The cabinet for the black pair of review units we reviewed isn’t overly flashy, but those looking for a more classic speaker look might opt for the wood grain veneer available. What really starts to get the build cooking is what you can’t really see. Helping to justify the upper tier pricepoint, the cabinet appears to be exceedingly overbuilt for a standmount, and even other options in the market. The weight per speaker is roughly 51 lbs, so thankfully even with the extra effort, it’s not something that is terribly difficult to move. From the company website:
VSA’s engineering team succeeded in converting our proprietary Triple-Wall Noise Cancelling technology to operate in these smaller cabinets. Three different materials with opposing Q factors are used to build the cabinet walls, resulting in clarity that must be heard to be appreciated. The 65mm (2.75″) thick walls consist of 20mm resin impregnated fiberboard, 20mm artificial stone, 20mm rubberized felt, and 5mm vibration-proof adhesive layers. This cabinet wall design is superior to aluminum, plywood, or MDF, based on measurements of panel ringing.
Regardless of how heavy you weigh website marketing speak, a simple wrap on the top of the cabinet speaks volumes to what remains hidden on the inside. In our test between several stand mounts loudspeakers of various categories and pricepoint, no speaker came even close to the low frequency, dead sound of a knock on the MkII’s tri-wall casework. Compared to the loud, high pop of the budget ELAC Uni-Fi UB5, or even the middle ground of the stellar QLN Signature 3 two way, the reduced vibration response from the Von Schweikert Unifield 2 MkIII speaker was almost eerie to behold. A clear testament that something special is going on with this speaker.
For testing purposes we paired the Von Schweikert Unifield 2 MkIII with the dCS Barktok DAC/Streamer as a source, a full loom of AudioQuest Earth cables (including the Thunderbird Zero speaker wire) and a variety of integrated amplifiers. With an impedance of 4 ohms and a sensitivity of 88dB, the recommendation for amplifier wattage was fairly high from Von Schweikert. Starting with the Pass Labs INT-250 (250 watts into 8 ohms) the sound was authoritative and transparent from the start. What I didn’t expect was the dynamics. The jump from 0 to loud was shockingly fast, so fast that under the right circumstances would scare me a little. Why? Because my body inherently thought the sound was more real than it probably should be. This gets back to the point I was making earlier. This leading edge impact has likely changed the way I think of definition. The speaker offers defined edging around instruments in a fashion that I’ve only really been witness to at audio shows with extremely high end systems (Von Schweikert’s own ballrooms included). The overall detail is defined. Small, micro nuances percolate in areas where lesser systems muddle the sonic hills and valleys to a bland paste. It was that first pulse of energy that comes through with such realism which further extends the total sum of “definition” from the driver to a whole other realm. It’s not just the three dimensional space out in front of you at this point, but the speed and impact from which that picture is derived. The idea wasn’t solely reserved for bass, where the execution is much easier to pick out, but apparent in the snap of snare drums and even the more subtle attack from the pluck of a guitar string – scary good.
There is plenty of audiophile air and treble information to go around. Compared to the QLN Signature 3, the upper frequencies had slightly more energy. This perhaps aided the appearance of a more extended soundstage both up and out from the top of the speaker cabinet. Still, the upper range appeared even, well-placed and very natural in the listening experience. One of the single, most impressive characteristics of the Von Schweikert Unifield 2 MkIII is its ability to render sonic images within the stereo field. While the PASS Labs INT-250 brought plenty of appropriate amplification to the table, it was the implementation of the LTA Z10e ZOTL amp on loan from Linear Tube Audio that snapped the center image into place with such authority that vocals hung with almost holographic tangibility. Even in a small-medium sized listening room a miniature version of what I had experienced on the big stage of audio shows (with nearly quarter million dollar systems) was achievable on a smaller scale.
Mid tone texture didn’t really stand out to me as much, likely because there wasn’t much colorization to speak of. Surely there was some type of sound unique to the drivers, but in the name of transparency very little stood out as uniquely identifiable in this case. This is somewhat interesting by itself, as very few speakers leave with this type of “clean slate” and lack of additive anything.
This may seem like heaps of praise for a standmount speaker, it is intended to be. The fully formed entity it creates on the sonic field is dimensional and deep – better than most and extensively superior than most in the category. The drawbacks? Compared to the QLN Signature 3, bass reach was a little light. It doesn’t come up short for the standmount or bookshelf vertical mind you, but light by comparison to the deep sound of the unusually low reaching QLN Signature 3. Medium-to-small sized rooms would pressurize slightly, but at low volumes there was not much chest thump to be found. The easy fix (and one that is extremely common) would be to simply employ a subwoofer to fill in the low end. The drop off wasn’t awkward in any way, but just an elegant curve to meet up with another driver, if need be. An easy remedy for a common ask. The hard part is really nailing down the rest, which the Unifield 2 offers up in spades.
The sound is undeniably hifi. Not attempting to sound like hifi, but the real deal. The cabinet work is outstanding. While not extremely flashy on the outside, the inert response to vibration is unlike any other sample we have seen come through the lab. Sure, there is always the nickel-on-the-speaker trick for the uber high end, but the box here really wraps the entire package into a space that gives the drivers the best chance they have to perform optimally. And perform they do. With all the delight to be found surrounding the imaging, it’s also important to stress the transparency and trueness to source these speakers provide. For the same reason I wouldn’t use a pair of Apple earbuds to evaluate a precision DAC, the Von Schweikert Unifield 2 MkIII allowed for some very copious amounts of information to pass through the chain. Are they forgiving? Perhaps not as much as more colored executions. They always sounded good, but that last ounce of realism tied to beautiful texture came and went with alternative front ends. When it was locked in, gorgeous. Solid state to tubes didn’t favor one flavor or another, and the LTA’s Z10e never sounded wimpy or strained. Still, 250 watts of Mr. Pass’s option provided ample authority to keep things moving along. Transparency was so distilled though the transducers that I thought I caught a whiff of improvement switching between the my house reference and the Thunderbird Zero speaker cable. But before we open that huge can of worms, I must say there might have been other factors at play – it is notable that one was terminated in banana plugs while the other was spades. Still, the importance to transparency remains a key indicator for the speaker. I felt confident in the ability of the Unifield 2 MkIII to show me things, things that might have been otherwise hidden from sonic view. It’s a compliment to give, and one that I’m not afraid to bestow on this most excellent speaker.
More info: https://www.vonschweikert.com/unifield-2-mkiii