Affordability. Affordability. Affordability. Vandersteen Audio offers almost 20 loudspeakers in its 2021 lineup but very few of them are still very affordable. The Vandersteen 1Ci is the only floor standing model below $2,000 which is certainly on the higher side for many people getting into better quality audio for the first time.
There is no shortage of competition in the category between $1,000 – $2,000 with some excellent loudspeakers available from Elac, Polk Audio, Fyne Audio, Q Acoustics, Sonus Faber, PSB, and Paradigm.
Vandersteen is hit-or-miss with a lot of audiophiles and that’s rather typical for a lot of loudspeaker brands. I wouldn’t take any of the negativity directed towards the Vandersteen 1Ci speakers on some audio forums as any form of gospel; they are good loudspeakers that are worth finding used if you can and they benefit enormously from proper setup and better amplification.
A new pair of Vandersteen 1Ci will run you at least $1,600 from most online dealers plus shipping.
What makes the Vandersteen 1Ci so compelling is that you can find it used rather easily if you are prepared to look and you are unlikely to spend more than $900 for them even if they are in excellent condition.
Since its inception, Vandersteen has always focused on putting better quality woofers and tweeters and crossover components into its designs and less on the cabinet
Richard Vandersteen has always been performance driven in regard to the Model 1Ci focusing on the internals, with a first-order crossover, minimum front baffle, and time-aligned design.
The Model 1Ci is a time and phase-correct speaker designed so that the alignment and positioning of the drivers allow a point-source wave front and maximize the phase coherence of the loudspeaker at the listening position. This is critical to better sound quality and that philosophy runs through the entire Vandersteen lineup.
The listening position and loudspeaker setup are critical with every Vandersteen design but the Model 1Ci benefits from very careful set-up; more than most speakers I’ve tried over the years regardless of cost.
Really small changes create a significant difference in sound quality; moving the speakers 1-2 inches further away from the side walls and getting the rake and listening height correct for your specific listening position are key.
The active components used in the Model 1Ci combine classic strength and durability with innovative design and construction. The 8-inch woofer uses the same type of cast-metal basket used in costly esoteric loudspeakers. The cast-metal basket’s inherent rigidity and superior vibration resistance increase cone movement accuracy and reduce sympathetic resonances for cleaner and more natural sound.
The 1-inch metal alloy dome tweeter is a dual chamber design to improve range and linearity. It is critically damped to extend the high frequencies past audibility without the excessive ringing associated with open or underdamped metal dome tweeters.
The Vandersteen 1Ci are a chunky 44 pounds and 36″H x 12″W x 10″D; making them a rather hefty 2-way floorstanding loudspeaker on custom stands manufactured by Sound Anchors.
The 1Ci are 90 dB and a relatively benign 6.8 ohm load making them a very easy loudspeaker to drive. Tubes and solid state work great with these speakers.
Can you drive them with 35-50 watts of power? In a smaller room, you won’t need any more power than that and the focus should be more on the quality of those watts versus looking for a blowtorch to open these loudspeakers up. A slightly larger room can work but 50-100 watts might be a better scenario.
The 1Ci are rather neutral sounding and the treble can get a little hot if you don’t setup the rake properly; the included instructions are excellent and should be considered mandatory.
They definitely look rather conventional but they can reproduce a huge stereo image with sufficient impact in the right room; not in terms of overall low end bass response but their sense of scale. Place them too close to the wall and the bass can become boomy.
The “sock” that replaces a traditional cabinet doesn’t interfere with the sound very much and there is a tweeter adjustment dial that helps enormously after you’re finished adjusting the rake and listening height.
Do not use the tweeter control until after you’ve achieved the proper height. You may find the top end too dull for your tastes and you can boost it by 2 dB.
The tonal balance of the 1Ci makes them rather fun to play with. If you try 4 different amplifiers, you will definitely get 4 very different results. The high sensitivity also makes them easier to use with a range of affordable amplifiers below $2,000.
These are speakers that exemplify clarity with a tinge of warmth and get most of the fundamentals right.
While there a lot of integrated amplifiers below $2,000 that make a lot of sense for the 1Ci, we’re going to focus on a specific one that has more than enough power and a phono preamp for both MM/MC cartridges.
Rogue Audio Sphinx v3
Pennsylvania-based Rogue Audio have been manufacturing excellent tube and hybrid amplifiers for many years and their products deliver both excellent sound quality and value for the money. You won’t find 2-inch thick faceplates on any of their products; you get reliability, excellent build quality, and a presentation that works really well with the Vandersteen 1Ci.
The Sphinx v3 is a hybrid integrated amplifier that can deliver 100 watts/channel and also includes a discrete MOSFET headphone amplifier capable of driving even the most demanding headphones.
It’s a class-D (switching) amplifier, with a linear (not switching) power supply, that outputs 100Wpc into 8 ohms or 200Wpc into 4 ohms. This is not a timid sounding amplifier that will run out of gas driving the 1Ci.
An excellent user adjustable phono with 44/60dB of gain will accommodate your favorite MM or MC cartridges.
Active and fixed outputs allow for the addition of a subwoofer, and the active output is driven by the two 12AU7 tubes for the best possible sound.
The machined aluminum faceplate is available in either black or silver to compliment the rest of your components and the optional remote further adds the convenience of remote volume operation.
The Sphinx v3 reminds me very much of the 1Ci; it gets the fundamentals right and helps the 1Ci in the bass department with excellent low end control, drive, and definition. The Vandersteen speakers are not bass monsters and they need all the help they can get in that department.
From a tonal perspective, the Sphinx v3 delivers a very smooth and nuanced presentation that is definitely on the warmer side. All of that warmth does not come at the expense of detail, transparency, or a relatively large sounding soundstage.
Both products compliment the other rather well and the combination ticks off almost every box if you’re looking for the heart of an excellent two-channel system below $5,200.
As American as Apple Pie
Vandersteen Audio 1Ci Loudspeakers ($1,629.00)
Rogue Audio Sphinx v3 Integrated Amplifier ($1,595.00)
Bluesound NODE Network Streamer ($549.00)