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Vandersteen Audio has long been considered one of those few companies offering extremely high values of sonic performance for exceptionally low prices. Even their previous flagship, the Model 5A, is considered to be a remarkable value at $16,900 because it easily competes with many no-holds-barred designs from other companies that cost three to five times as much.
The reason that the famous Model 5A is Vandersteen's previous flagship is because the very-long-awaited Model 7 is now available. We won't pretend that its $45,000 price tag isn't substantial and quite a bit more imposing than anything ever before produced by this company. However, let's explore what makes the Model 7 so special, and perhaps you'll begin to understand why it has to cost so much.
The heart of the new Model 7 is the design of the cones used in the midrange and woofer drivers. Richard Vandersteen has been working for over 10 years to design a cone material that would have perfect piston behavior for at least one octave (and, preferably two or three octaves) beyond its pass band. This is mandatory if one wishes to obtain perfect time and phase coherence using 6 dB/octave filters, the only way such coherence can be achieved. These new cones do not flex or vibrate internally but push the air as a unified whole, just like a perfect piston would. To achieve this, Vandersteen employs a sandwich construction consisting of the lightest available type of balsa wood layered on the front and back with carbon fiber. Balsa wood is the single, strongest material by weight available, and it is also a very good damping material for resonance control. Vandersteen hand selects the lightest types of balsa from each shipment for use in the midrange and mid/bass drivers. The cones are then carefully machined from each block of balsa wood and coated with a special type of carbon fiber called ultra-high-modulus that is primarily used for space satellites. The epoxy used to bind the carbon fiber is also ultra-high-modulus with embedded nanotubes, another exotic material. The resulting cones are the most perfect piston-like devices used in loudspeaker reproduction, the only drawback being the very high manufacturing cost. Just the midrange cones cost $2000 per pair which is about 10 times what other, top-quality complete midrange drivers cost! However, the distortion is so incredibly low that there's nothing like them. The tweeters use the same ultra-high-modulus carbon fiber and epoxy described above with the carbon fibers laid-up and layered in a unique fashion to achieve the required rigidity.
The other remarkable advance in the Model 7 is the cabinet construction. The cabinet walls are a 9-layer composite consisting of a core elastomeric membrane sandwiched on either side by high-density fiberboard, further sandwiched on either side by two layers of a graphite fiber material called "uhni", covered on both outsides by another graphite material called 3K twill. The result is a cabinet material which is very expensive to manufacture but which is 10 times more effectively damped than that used in the Model 5A. And the Model 5A's multi-layered cabinet is already no slouch in the rigidity and neutrality department!
As for the crossovers and powered woofer modules, they are essentially the same designs as those used in the Model 5A but have significant parts upgrades. Given the cost-no-object nature of the Model Seven, Vandersteen is using more exotic components such as Jensen silver-foil caps, rectangular and stacked copper-foil caps, and Teflon dielectrics. In other words, they're using the best components they can find.
The final piece of the discussion is about cosmetics. Because the graphite fiber used for the outside layer of the cabinet won't take veneers, it's necessary to finish the Model 7 loudspeakers in an automotive-quality, painted finish. When we say automotive, we aren't kidding. Every Model 7 customer can pick a custom finish of his/her choice from an automotive paint book and send that color number to Vandersteen. They will then purchase that custom color and finish the loudspeakers to the quality of a luxury automobile! Never will a Model 7 customer have to settle for a color that isn't exactly right. This means that the Model 7 is as unique cosmetically as it is in its peerless sound quality.
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