Merlin VSM Introduction – Please Read
– Due to the passing of my close friend, Bobby A Plakovic, Owner/President of Merlin Music System in August of 2015, Merlin Music Systems has ceased business operations shortly thereafter and is now closed. Without Bobby (who pretty much was Merlin) and the dire straits the company was left in, the company was not able to continue. There are no more new Merlin speakers available.
I have purposely left the info below as it was some years before that (the information and pricing here is actually circa around 2010 and does not discuss the later MMM/MXM and Black Magic Edition speaker versions as I did not get around to making updates to this page in the following years) to provide some reference information on Merlin’s speakers. I am working on resurrecting the Merlin Music Systems Website as a source of information for current and future owners of VSM and TSM speakers and as a tribute to my departed friend. For those of you (like me) who still own and love or are interested in Merlin speakers, Signature Sound is offering repair, upgrades (exactly as Bobby P would have done them), and support services for Merlin TSM, and VSM models (including repairs and upgrades on the Merlin BAM which I have been manufacturing, repairing, and upgrading for Merlin since 2014). I have spares parts, drivers, etc on hand to perform this work. Please contact me directly via phone or e-mail with any Merlin questions.
Owner, Signature Sound
Merlin Music Systems VSM Loudspeaker System (from $9,000 US Retail to $13,180 US Retail depending on model & options). The Merlin VSM has been in production over 15 years, during which time Merlin’s designer/president Bobby Palkovic has continued to refine and improve the speakers making numerous improvements and additions. Over the years, the speaker have received many rave reviews from owners, show goers, and the HiFi press (including Stereophile Class A rating both times the speaker was reviewed). Except for the Master VSM (which you can read about here), I have outlined the current VSM models below. Numerous upgrades are available for older models as well, so you can keep your speakers current if you wish.
General Overview: The VSM is basically a highly developed/refined two-way floor standing speaker system, that uses a 2nd order crossover design made from state of the art components connected to Dynaudio’s venerable, but yet to be surpassed to Merlin’s thinking, Esotar soft dome tweeter and a special version of the Scan-Speaker 8545 carbon fiber impregnated paper cone woofer in a ported enclosure. Then this stuff is placed into a highly optimized enclosure (braced, mass-loaded, rigid high Q cabinet, radius-ed edges, custom spikes and more) , which and is finished in either Studio Black finish (on VSM-MMi’s) or the much more elaborate Premium Clear-Coat finish (on the VSM-MXr’s and Master VSMs). Accompanying all VSMs is the BAM in either Super BAM spec (with VSM-MMi’s and VSM-MXr’s) or optional Master BAM (which comes standard with the Master VSMs).
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The BAM: BAM stands for Bass Augmentation Module, but it does do a lot more than that. It is a line level device that using line level interconnect connections, is placed between your preamp and power amp, placed in a tape or processor loop, or placed between source and amp (or integrated amp) in your audio system. The BAM provides a modest targeted bass boost over a small frequency range (less than 10Hz) that extends the flat frequency response of the speakers to the low 30’s AND it provides a built in subsonic filter at 28hZ which prevents low bass information (which the driver/speaker can’t reasonably produce without excessive distortion) from getting to the speakers (reducing the IM distortion of the speaker system for a cleaner more dynamic mid-range). The BAM also has a built in high frequency filter (well above the audio band – above 200Khz) to prevent passing RFI products down the line). It is packaged in a small 7″ wide by 9″ deep by 3″ tall chassis and weighs about 5 lbs. It is made from very high quality passive and active parts and has a battery based power supply (except for early/older versions which where AC powered only) that allows the unit to run on wall AC power or on internal battery power for best sound quality.
BAM Differences: There are currently two type of Merlin BAM available. The standard Super BAM features a battery based power supply with a charging system that automatically adjusts to any line voltage or frequency, high quality Cardas wiring and jacks, Caddock resistors, and Hovland capacitors. The Master BAM swaps out the Hovland caps for the very expensive and very very good hand made Deuland caps from Europe. As one could guess, the Master BAM cost more than the Super BAM and it does clearly sound better – quieter blacker background, more dynamic, and the bass sounds bigger (even though it measures the same – go figure!). The difference is not subtle as owner who have upgraded from the Super-BAM to Master BAM have discussed with me and on several internet forums. The BAM in its base form is a single ended (un-balanced) circuit, so the base versions of the BAM are RCA input and output only. For balanced operation (XLR Input & Output), another complete BAM circuit (board and all) are installed in the BAM chassis to allow for true balanced (fully differential) operation. While this adds considerably to the cost of the Balanced BAM, it is the best sounding/performing solution. This balanced version of the BAM can also have RCA inputs & outputs added – this version of the BAM is called the Dual Ops model.
Finish Differences: Due to the nature of the design of the cabinet, its radii and their impact on the sound/performance of the enclosure, the VSMs are NOT available in wood veneer finishes. Two different high quality painted finishes are available though! Because the two different painted finishes do sound different and have very different costs associated with them, the VSM is separated into two versions/models – each model comes with a specific finish type which is described below.
The VSM-MMi is ONLY available in a finish Merlin calls Studio Black. It is a black low gloss finish with a light satin like texture. The paint is a very durable latex type finish (Poulene) that looks good and is cost effective to apply. Its water based nature means the finish is also able to be applied in-house (where automotive solvent based finishes require much more elaborate equipment and ventilation systems). It is also easy to repair & touch up this finish if a scratch or a ding happens. The finish damps the cabinet reasonable well and breaths well with pan-fiver MDF based wood enclosure (no cracking from shrinkage etc).
The VSM-MXr (and the Master VSM) only come in a Premium Clear Coat finish. It is a automotive type base coat clear coat type finish. It does require more work to prep the cabinet for this sort of finish to enure it stays looking good for many years. After the enclosures is sealed/pre-primed, then Merlin sends the cabinets off to a custom automotive paint shop for application of the primer, base coat, then clear coat finish. This vendor has been doing all Merlin clear coat finish’s for more than 10 years – each pair of cabinets is wet sanded by hand, allowed to cure for several weeks, then polished out to beautiful finish. Needless to say, this adds considerable cost to each pair of speakers. This finish does damp the cabinets to a better degree than the studio black finish. As a result, the premium finish speakers do sound different than the studio black finish models – clearly better. The Clear Coat finish VSMs sound more dynamic and clear with a quieter blacker background. While the difference is not huge, it is clearly audible and as a bonus – the care & quality that goes into the clear coat finish is awfully good looking (scroll down and take a look at the picture gallery below too see some examples of the various finish’s).
RC Networks: All Merlin VSMs come with a pair of RC Networks. What are RC Networks? They are simple a resistor capacitor network (sometimes referred to as a Zobel Network in design circles) that mounts across your speaker terminals. The network acts to terminate the speakers load out past the audio band up into RF regions (this keeps amplifiers a bit more happy) and they also act a shunt or load for RFI energy that appears at the speakers terminals (whether picked up by the speaker, the speaker cables, are fed from further up the line in your HiFi system). The result is a cleaner and more uniform sound from the speaker/amplifier system. Merlin has learned over the years that the quality and type of parts used to make the RC Network are very important and do have a impact on the sound. The Standard RC Networks are made with a Cryogenically treated Hovland capacitor and a Caddock Metal Film deposition resistor and Cardas wiring. The Master RC Networks use the (very good & expensive) hand made Deuland capacitors (see BAM Differences above for the impact these caps have in the Master BAM – they do much the same thing here) and cost much more than the Standard RC’s.
Merlin VSM Speaker System USA Retail Pricing:
- VSM-MXr WITH RCA/SINGLE ENDED SUPER BAM: $11,550 US Retail
- VSM-MXr WITH XLR/BALANCED SUPER BAM: $12,870 US Retail
- VSM-MXr WITH DUAL OPS SUPER BAM: $13.200 US Retail
- VSM-MXr WITH RCA MASTER BAM & MASTER RC’s: $13,180 US Retail
- VSM-MMi WITH RCA/SINGLE ENDED SUPER BAM: $9,020 US Retail
- VSM-MMi WITH XLR/BALANCED SUPER BAM: $10,340 US Retail
- VSM-MMi WITH DUAL OPS SUPER BAM: $10,670 US Retail
- VSM-MMi WITH RCA MASTER BAM & MASTER RC’s: $10,650 US Retail