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Starke Sound VLOT Active Speaker Measurements & Conclusion

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VLOT outdoor testing.jpg 

The Starke Sound VLOT speakers were measured in free-air at a height of 4 feet at a 1-meter distance from the microphone, with the microphone raised to a 7’ elevation that was level with and aimed at the tweeter center. The measurements were gated at 8-milliseconds. In this time window, some resolution is lost below 400 Hz and accuracy is completely lost below 200 Hz. Measurements have been smoothed at a 1/12 octave resolution.

 VLOT frequency response 3D view.jpg

VLOT frequency response 2D view.jpg

The above graphs depict the VLOT speakers’ direct-axis and horizontal dispersion out to a 90-degree angle in ten-degree increments. Information on how to interpret these graphs can be read in our article: Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II. These measurements bode for a rather warm speaker. The tweeter level is considerably lower than that of the woofers. Such reduced treble can make for a soft or warm sound. Some people will find that pleasing, and others will find it dull. It may be a voicing made for modern sound mixing that tends to be heavily compressed as a measure to make it less fatiguing. Most popular media is mixed rather loudly. Nearly all commercial streams such as news channels, radio stations television programming, much of pop and rock music, and the noisier movies from Hollywood are deep into the loudness wars, and long bouts of exposure to this kind of sound can be wearying. I would guess that is the kind of content that the VLOT speakers would be used for most of the time, and so Starke Sound may have decided to tone down the treble for that reason. Something else that can lend the VLOT speakers a softer sound is the beaming that occurs above 10kHz. Outside of the 30-degree angle, treble output rapidly decreases, so for the fullest sound, the VLOT speakers should be listened to at the on-axis angle; make sure these speakers are angled to face the listening position directly.

When we inquired Starke about the reason for this response shape, they replied that this response should provide a natural sound in an open placement away from nearby surfaces. That seems strange since most floor-standing loudspeakers end up being placed near a wall by most people in practice- and this seems like it would be even more true of those people shopping for speakers with a small footprint. I do have to agree that these speakers would sound best if placed away from walls and corners since the boundary gain that comes from that placement will elevate the lower frequencies even more.

Manufacturer’s comments: VLOT will perform well in a wide variety of room placements including on either side of an HDTV. Our experience is that they are especially good when setup well out into the room, away from walls and with clear space all around. We are proud of their stereo imaging that presents throughout a rectangle defined by the inside edges of the speakers. Recent DACs from iFi are well matched to VLOT and raise their performance to a new level with hi-res and MQA content.

VLOT polar map.jpg 

The above polar map shows the same information in the preceding graphs but depicts it in a way that can offer new insight regarding these speakers’ behavior. Instead of using individual raised lines to illustrate amplitude, polar maps use color to portray amplitude, and this allows the use of a purely angle/frequency axis perspective. The advantage of these graphs is they can let us see broader trends of the speaker’s dispersion behavior more easily. More information about interpreting this graph can be read in our article: Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II.

Here we see how weighted the VLOT speakers are in bass and lower midrange frequencies. Something else we get a clear look at is how wide the dispersion is at lower frequency bands. As we move up in frequency, not only does the level decrease, it also narrows in dispersion. With 4” bass drivers, the VLOT does have a very wide dispersion, and it holds that wide dispersion out to 10kHz. The narrowing above 10kHz isn’t all that consequential for those who are listening far off-axis, since there just isn’t that much recorded content that high. A lowering of energy in this region may lead to some lack of “air” or sparkle in the sound if given close attention.

VLOT low frequency response.jpg 

The above graph shows the VLOT speaker’s low-frequency response captured using groundplane measurements (where the speaker and microphone are on the ground at a 2-meter distance in a wide-open area). One thing that surprised me in this measurement is that I was certain that I would find a bump centered around 100 to 150Hz based on my listening sessions, but that isn’t seen here. There is a mild bump at 200Hz, but that is a bit deceiving since it jumps up right after the pipe resonance (or rather, anti-resonance) at about 190Hz. This resonance can turn into a dip or peak depending on the angle at which this speaker is measured, and in-room is will probably average out, so in actuality, the bass response may be a bit smoother sounding than what can be measured from a few mic positions in a groundplane environment. So it turns out that the bass bump that I heard was the elevation of the entire bass range relative to treble rather than a 100hz bump. The elbow of the bass response seems to happen at around 50hz, and in-room, listeners should have pretty solid bass extension down to 40Hz since the roll-off is relatively shallow.

Conclusion

VLOT Hero.jpgWhile I enjoyed Starke Sound’s VLOT speakers, I do feel there are areas of improvement for this design. However, they feel like they are potentially opening a door to bring floor-standing loudspeaker systems back into the homes of the average person. They are a foot forward, but more work needs to be done and more products need to be developed along these lines. Before wrapping this review up, I will go over a few of the aspects that I hope get revised in future speakers of this kind.

Firstly, while I was hoping the VLOT speakers could deliver a high-fidelity speaker with something that has the ease and convenience of soundbars, these speakers do fall short in accurate sound reproduction. They place too much emphasis on bass to recreate a fully natural sound. That isn’t to say they sound bad, and I can appreciate a laid-back voicing, but it doesn’t work with everything. That being said, there are people who will enjoy this flavoring, and it does take the edge off of noisy content. Nonetheless, I feel like there was a missed opportunity here. An active speaker can easily use digital signal processing to flatten out the response for a neutral sound. What is more, it could also easily be activated or deactivated in a system that uses a passive crossover such as what has been done in the VLOT, so it could be something that could be turned off if Starke thought that the existing sound would be the preferred one.

Related to the above point, I think the use of a passive crossover should have been avoided. It’s less efficient than active crossovers as well as less optimal in achieving a perfect blend in the response of the drivers. There are simply more advantages in the use of an active crossover circuit than a passive crossover, and it seems like that would have been a relatively simple step to take in the VLOT speakers seeing as how they are already self-amplified and has digital circuitry onboard.

 VLOT outdoors.jpg

Another missed area that would have been easily remedied by DSP is that while the VLOT speakers have a subwoofer signal output, they have no bass management. The subwoofer output would have been a much better feature if there was a way to high-pass filter the speakers. The speakers have fine bass extension as it is with extension to below 50Hz, so if you don’t want the system to double up on deep bass (on a loudspeaker that is already bass heavy), you would have to set the sub’s low pass filter to about 50Hz or maybe slightly lower. A 50Hz low-pass filter is a waste of headroom on a system with the VLOTs since most subs would be able to handle the range from 50Hz to 80Hz or higher with a lot more power than the VLOT’s 4” bass drivers can handle. What’s more, an internal high-pass filter on the VLOTs could take a load off of the woofers which could be driven to make some distressing noises with low-frequency signals at higher playback levels. 

VLOT label.jpgSome things that would be neat to see in future versions of a speaker along these lines would be an app control like so many subwoofers have these days. An app with volume control, EQ with tone controls, and input selectivity would be pretty neat, although I realize that app controls are expensive and complex to develop. Something else that would be nice to see included would be HDMI connectivity, although I realize that is not a simple matter either. However, the current prevalence of HDMI would make such an input to be a rather useful feature.

Something worth mentioning is that the VLOT speakers worked fine without any weird hitches or bugs. The reason why that is worth mentioning is that I half-expected that something of its complexity would have at least one thing not quite run smoothly as so often happens on so much consumer electronics these days, but the VLOT speakers really were a matter of plug and play. That was a pleasant surprise, although perhaps it shouldn’t be, but that says more about the state of the consumer electronics industry than the product under review.

As a fairly heavy-duty audio enthusiast, I am willing to make more room for loudspeakers and electronics than the kind of people that Starke Sound is aiming at with the VLOT speakers. However, I think they largely hit the mark for their intended buyer. They have the ease of use of a soundbar, but they offer a more full-bodied sound as well as an actual stereo soundstage from a floor-standing speaker. Soundbars can not really deliver a soundstage since they are essentially monoaural devices. Listeners would have to be seated ridiculously close to a soundbar to get any real sense of stereo separation. My hope is that Starke Sound can use the VLOT platform to develop the idea into more formidable speakers that can partially supplant the use of soundbars, so that more people can have actual loudspeakers in their homes again, much like the golden years of hi-fi when every middle-class home had a serious stereo system.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarhalf-star
About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Kvn_Walker posts on February 22, 2022 04:41
lovinthehd, post: 1541282, member: 61636
Did the amp actually measure 150w?
Not everybody is gonna get that, but I do.
TLS Guy posts on February 21, 2022 17:39
It is a pity this was not a better design. It is interesting that they chose a passive crossover because of noise issue.

I have now have quite a bit of experience with active speakers now.

There is an S/N issue that I have mentioned before. The best amps produce some noise. Most bass/mids have cone break up at some point and the aim is to cross before cone break up and the resulting peaks. So at the break up point the driver has an increase in sensitivity. This can and often does make amp noise audible, that would otherwise be filtered out by the passive crossover. So if you direct connect and amp to a driver with significant cone break up peaks, you will hear noise that you would not have heard with a passive design. So my practice is to place a notch filter between amp and driver, tuned to the break up peak. I can assure that does the trick perfectly and filters out noise that is easily audible without the notch filter.

I find it really hard that people fail to understand that this is often an essential part of active speaker design.

Quad 909s are very quiet amps. However direct connected to bass drivers, the hiss reproduced by the break up peaks is audible at the listening position. After installing notch filters between the amps and their connected drivers, there is absolute silence.

This should not be difficult to understand, nor its solution.
lovinthehd posts on February 21, 2022 16:57
Did the amp actually measure 150w?
Pogre posts on February 21, 2022 12:11
ryanosaur, post: 1541208, member: 86393
Thank you, Shady!
I agree with your insights into what are drawbacks in this design. It seems they are so close to getting it across the line yet willfully made some questionable choices in bringing it to market.
Cheers!
Well put man. I agree. I like the direction they're going but using passive crossovers instead of active dsp and lack of bass management is definitely a missed opportunity. I personally would be willing to pay a little bit more for those features. Lots of potential for a design like this tho, just needs to be executed a little bit better.
ryanosaur posts on February 21, 2022 11:45
Thank you, Shady!
I agree with your insights into what are drawbacks in this design. It seems they are so close to getting it across the line yet willfully made some questionable choices in bringing it to market.
Cheers!
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