M-20 MKIII Receives high praise from British Loudspeaker Expert Peter Duminy

V.A.L. M-20 MKIII Test Report

The VAL Technology M-20 MK3 Tube Multimedia Speaker System appears to be a unique product employing the audio purist’s ideal of vacuum tubes for amplification. Indeed, the EL84 output stage tubes date back to the early 1950’s when Philips (Mullard) in the U.K. and Holland could hardly keep up demand. The tube in the VAL product appears to be of the same high quality. The pre-amp tube appears to be a replica of the classic ECC83 double triode design, and is also of the same high caliber.

One is struck upon setting up these speakers of the weight, and excellent fit and finish. The piano black lacquer front baffle is especially pleasing to the eye. Thoughtful finishing touches include an acrylic tube cover, black sparkle finish on the enclosure, machined Allen bolts on the front baffle, and two switchable gold plated inputs on the rear.

After a brief 20 second warm up, the system is ready for operation, with a delightful warm glow from the tubes being visible. In initial listening tests, one is struck by the soft laid back midrange, with a tuneful deep bass, and slightly prominent detailed treble. In the PC environment, the system exhibited superb imaging on all sources, with excellent front to back ambiance of the sound stage. Video games were resolved with an inner detail normally heard on high quality monitors. Bass was always well controlled with good punch and timing, although hard core gamers will tend to wish for an external subwoofer for the thunder and drama they crave. Mid-band frequencies were quite neutral on most material with good control of coloration. Voices in particular were most lifelike. The upper midrange could produce a rather “pinched” and “cuplike” coloration in horn and brass instruments at times in orchestral renditions however, although this was fairly mild in nature. High frequencies were nicely detailed, although somewhat forward. This trait did provide nice cymbal and violin textures, with an open, airy quality that was never fatiguing. In all, an excellent performance for the PC user.

This system really excelled however when mounted on 24” spiked stands, and fed with DVD and CD sources from Hi-Fi components. Imaging and staging were superb once more, with accurate instrument placement and depth. Solo singing voices both male and female were a treat to listen to. Symphonies and general orchestral works had just the right amount of bite and timing to engage the listener in the performance. However, slight to moderate coloration was heard at times in the brass and horn instruments. Jazz and Rock renditions were rich in detail with percussion in particular and voices once more sounding accurate. Some hard rock recordings were a little too laid back at times in the upper midrange to sound totally convincing, but were never tiring to the ear however. Movie sound effects were nicely reproduced with fine precision, and if needed with lots of punch and slam. For a small bookshelf system, the bass always carried enough weight to make the system sound larger than it really is when placed carefully in the listening room. Overall power and maximum listening levels were adequate for most situations, with decent dynamic range. Distortion was never heard unless the system was driven into clipping. Hum and noise were barely perceptible with one’s ear inches from the drivers.

The following curves were obtained with LMS 4.5 to illustrate frequency response in a normal domestic environment. For these tests the speaker was moved 2 meters away from any nearby wall.

Fig 1 - Room response. Blue curve taken at 1meter distance from microphone. Red curve taken at 2 meter distance from microphone.

The above curves show a fine bass and midrange response. The upper midrange has a mild “suckout” centered at around 5Khz. This area is where horns and brass instruments exhibited mild colorations. An adjustment in the crossover/phase of the tweeter should rectify this anomaly if required. However, many listeners prefer a rather laid back upper midrange to their sound sources, and find the sound less fatiguing over long periods of time. The mild high frequency emphasis as noted from 8Khz-15Khz is shown, although this characteristic seemed to add more detail without harshness to the overall sound, and is less noticeable as distance is increased from the speaker. It is noteworthy that the VAL M-20 performed exceedingly well in these measurements given its intended use as a very high quality multimedia speaker system.

Conclusion and Summary.

There is no doubt the VAL M-20 Tube multimedia system performed with poise and finesse throughout the tests, and has no peers as of yet in this market segment of PC multimedia speaker systems utilizing tubes. Listeners in general found all sources to be beautifully clear and non fatiguing for hours at a time. Movies in particular were a rendered with authority and first rate imaging, adding to the long list of positive attributes. These qualities added to the unique styling, excellent fit and finish, and famous “Tube Sound” so many enthusiasts adore, will surely make this product a sought after item for many purchasers of high quality sound.

Overall Score out of 5 Stars.


Peter Duminy 2004-05-2004

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