Vienna Acoustics Mozart SE

Vienna Acoustics takes pride in doing things somewhat differently than the rest of the pack.  Most manufacturers refer to their SE models as “special editions,” yet the new Mozart is a “Symphony Edition.”  A nice touch.  Also, whereas many speakers utilize a ring radiator or metallic dome of some sort, Vienna chooses a 1.1-inch silk dome tweeter, produced to the company’s specs in the Scan-Speak factory.

“We kept the front faceplate from a standard Scan-Speak tweeter to keep cost down,” says Kevin Wolff, Vienna Acoustics’ International Sales Director.  “But inside, it’s all different.  We pushed for a handful of design changes to make this tweeter really special.”  And special it is.  The tweeter is the same one used in the $6,500-per-pair Beethoven Concert Grand speakers and, like those pricier models, the $3,500 Mozart SEs redefine “sweet spot.”

A visit from Wolff underlines just how good these speakers are and how critical it is to fine-tune speaker placement.  The Mozarts sound great right out of the box, but 20 minutes of careful fine-tuning takes them from great to sublime.  Think, for a minute, how your car’s ride is affected with one tire underinflated.  The crisp steering response you’re used to is diminished, but a quick trip to the air pump makes a substantial difference, making things right again.  It’s the same with speaker placement.  Once the Mozart’s are right, they disappear in the room like a great pair of mini monitors, but with a much more robust LF response.

Satisfied that things are performing properly, we audition a number of different tracks.  At the end of our listening session, the MoFi LP of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On makes its way to the turntable and Wolff smiles.  The Mozarts definitely have the juju, revealing the magic of the Lyra Atlas cartridge—quite impressive for any speaker, but even more so considering their reasonable price.

Comfortable Playing Everything

The ultra-wide stereo effect of Lou Donaldson’s LD+3 immediately captivates, accentuating the improved sound of the Audio Wave remaster, as well as the timbral accuracy that the Mozart SEs bring to the presentation.  While we can blather on about crossover slopes and the like, suffice it to say that everything works together brilliantly—in seconds you forget such tedious technical details and concentrate on the music.  Gene Harris’ piano sounds wonderful and Donaldson’s sax commands the soundstage.  The Mozart’s simply let the music shine through, leaving you to just enjoy rather than analyze.

Students of PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) will be instantly smitten with the Mozart SEs.  Changing the pace from classic Blue Note jazz to the title track of Frank Zappa’s Jazz From Hell is equally fascinating.  The Mozart SEs do not miss a lick of Zappa’s rapid time changes and dissonant textures.  Donald Fagen’s new release, Sunken Condos, provides a calm middle ground.  The highly textured and stylized studio recording illustrates how well the Mozart SEs effortlessly keep everything sorted.

Don Henley’s “Not Enough Love in the World,” from his album Building the Perfect Beast, is similarly rendered.  This slightly compressed, over-processed and totally ’80s classic divulges new treasures.  Henley’s voice has major depth, combined with layer upon layer of synthesizers—you can almost feel someone bending the pitch wheel on that Yamaha DX7.  Leaving this ’80s genre for some heavier tunes proves an important point about the Mozarts:  They give a riveting performance of less-than-primo recordings, an important consideration for those of us living in the real world.

U2’s Rattle and Hum has to be one of the most poorly recorded live albums in history.  But, when cranking up “All Along the Watchtower” to what has to be the Mozarts’ breaking point (the meters on the ARC REF 250’s pushing close to the “caution” zone), the speakers handle it effortlessly, proving that these are not speakers limited to only a handful of audiophile-approved pressings.  In the midst of this gigantic ball of midrange, you can distinctly pick out the Edge’s backup vocals over the distorted guitars and throttling bass line.  The Mozarts are clearly just as comfortable playing it casual or formal.

The review wouldn’t be complete without playing a bit of the music for which these speakers are named—and Kathleen Battle performing “Motet; Exsultate, Jubilate, K.165” (from Kathleen Battle Sings Mozart) adequately fits the bill.  Battle’s pure soprano gently fills the soundstage, going rapidly up and down the scale.  Here, speakers lacking the Mozarts’ transient speed would blur horribly.  Again, the Mozarts maintain the pace perfectly with complex fare, even at low volumes.  The speakers realistically reproduce the violins while still giving more than enough weight to the orchestra.

Moving into a heavier and more-modern realm of musical selections, I was impressed with the level of bass output of the two 6.5-inch drivers.  A long playlist of electronica and hip-hop tracks proves that these speakers are only limited by the accompanying amplifiers’ power reserve.  Deadmau5’ “Right This Second” from the 4×4=12 album goes down very deep, forcing the Mozart SEs to move a serious amount of air, which they handle impeccably.  Before bouncing back to Daft Punk, a quick interlude of Pink Floyd, Genesis and Mickey Hart confirms the speakers’ major bass output.

Labeled a 2.5-way system, the speakers are equipped with two woofers, which handle the deepest bass tones and combine the speed of smaller drivers but have the output of a single larger one.  The lower driver gently rolls off as frequencies rise, offering the pinpoint imaging and low upper-bass coloration of a mini monitor.

Beautiful Inside and Out

Relying on gentle crossover slopes and wideband drivers, the Mozart SEs achieve a 90-dB sensitivity rating and are tremendously easy to drive.  Crossover capacitors are matched to 1% tolerance and the inductors to .7%.  You’d expect this kind of fanaticism in a $20,000 pair of speakers, but it’s unheard of in a $3,500 pair.  “We only know how to build a speaker one way,” Wolff says with a smile, as way of explanation.

The cabinets of these beauties are equally sumptuous yet understated.  The radius on the front baffle is hand-finished—the piano-black finish puts the paint job of an S-Class Mercedes to shame.  The binding posts are unique to Vienna Acoustics, and they’re not those dreadful plastic-coated binding items that so many manufacturers have adopted.  Even the front grille takes a different approach:  The crease down the middle helps to channel tweeter energy, in “all but the most critical listening situations,” according to the company.

The drivers are VA’s own design, assembled at the Scan-Speak factory, and it’s worth noting that the woofers show an equal level of obsession on behalf of the manufacturer.  The company utilizes its own X3P composite, which can vary in consistency to the intended application, so these are far from being off-the-shelf polypropylene cones.  The transparent cone used for the Mozarts has become a VA design cue, blending visually into the design of the black speakers.

This extreme attention to detail reminds me of when Porsche introduced the first water-cooled 911.  Comedian and freelance Porsche spokesperson Jerry Seinfeld commented on the “density of thought” that goes into the manufacturing of Porsche automobiles. Similarly, in sea of mass-produced speaker systems, the Mozart SEs exude quality, regardless of how far you dissect them.

Sure, the bigger VA speakers play louder and go deeper, but the sonic quality of these speakers is tremendous for $3,500.  The Mozarts prove a phenomenal match for the new Primare I22 integrated DAC/amplifier that Wolff happens to have on hand.  (A full review of that piece of gear is in the works.)  At $2,499, the Primare is an awesome match to the Mozarts, as are the various other reasonably priced amplifiers we have at our disposal.  Yet, when connected to a full complement of ARC reference components, the speakers deliver even greater performance, well beyond what you’d expect for $3,500 a pair.

Pick Your Finish

You can get your own pair of Mozart SEs in Rosewood, Maple, Cherry or the Piano Black that our review sample arrived in.  For an additional charge, a stunning Piano White is also available.  The beautiful finishes of these speakers serve to remind that, in a world where a $20,000 price tag is more common than not, it’s refreshing to find a pair of $3,500 speakers that are built with the same level of care and attention to detail as those with a five-figure price tag.

The Vienna Acoustics Mozart SEs combine musical accuracy with dynamic ability in a compact and stylish package.  They are not only worthy of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2012, they are one of the best speaker values this writer has encountered in a long time.

Vienna Acoustics Mozart SE loudspeakers

MSRP:  $3,500/pair (cherry and piano black)  $3,850 (rosewood and piano white)


Analog Source VPI Classic 1    Lyra Kleos
Preamplifier ARC REF 5SE
Phonostage  ARC REF Phono 2SE
Power Amplifier ARC REF 250 monoblocks    Pass XA200.5 monoblocks  Pass Aleph 3    Prima Luna Dialogue 6 monoblocks    Carver VTM20, Primare I22 (integrated)
Digital Source  dCS Paganini    Wadia 121    Sooloos Control 15    Aurender S10   Wadia 171 w/iPod Touch
Cable Cardas Clear

Vienna Acoustics Haydn Grand Symphony Loudspeaker

Known for naming its speakers after famous German composers, Vienna’s latest model should be rechristened the Schenker or the Jabs—as they were the two German guitarists whose music I blasted at the beginning of the review process. Small speakers often struggle to play rock music, so, to gauge potential, the Scorpions’ Blackout and Love at First Sting were first on my agenda. Powered by the mighty McIntosh MC1.2kw monoblocks and capable of delivering 1200 watts each, what better way to start a listening session?

Pondering KISS’ Alive! as my next choice, I instead stayed with Schenker, this time Michael Schenker from UFO, while turning the volume control perilously higher for a majority of Lights Out, the band’s powerful double live set. As I completely ignored the 180-watt maximum power rating on the spec sheet, the thought of reaching for my checkbook to buy the Vienna review samples crossed my mind. But not for the usual reasons; the meters on the MC1.2kws were moving way up the scale. You probably won’t hook your Haydns up to a pair of 1200-watt behemoths, but if you do, rest assured that their robust construction is up to snuff.

High Tech, Easy Setup

These elegant $1,800 mini-monitors have a small footprint. They are only 6.85 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and just over 14 inches tall. With the appropriate stands, perfect for a small-to-medium-size room. My review pair arrived in an optional piano white finish that was simply beautiful. No part of these understated speakers is done by chance. Featuring a 6-inch woofer made from the company’s clear X3P material and latest-generation 1-inch soft dome tweeter, the Hayden also takes advantage of enhanced technology gleaned from Vienna’s top-of-the-line speakers.

The Haydn’s unique wedge bass port places the tweeter directly in the front of the angled port. Successfully eliminating port noise, which can be a problem with small monitors featuring a high excursion woofer, the Haydn delivers the goods when called upon to reproduce lower bass frequencies. Kraftwerk’s “Boing Boom Tschak” is an excellent test for such a task. Many small, ported speakers make a muffled groan when asked to handle the deep bass on this record, but the Haydens sailed through without issue. The MC1.2kws were reading about 600 watts on the power output meters before the woofers hit their stops—indicating an end to the madness.

Bass fun aside, paying careful attention to speaker rake is key to extracting the maximum performance from the Haydns. Tilting them back slightly, about a degree at a time, reveals a spot where they just disappear from the listening position. As a result, the soundstage dramatically increases. If you have DualLevelPro on your iPhone, you can quickly get the speakers within a half-degree of one another. You’ll know when you have it right: the stereo image will extend well beyond the speaker boundaries. If it’s not perfect, the image just hovers between the speakers. Take 30 minutes, and grab a friend to help, and you will be in heaven.

After getting read on the speakers, I replaced the MC1.2kws with the Conrad Johnson MV-50C1. This EL-34 powered amplifier produces 45 watts per channel, more than enough for all but the most ambitious listening. It proved an excellent match for the Haydns’ 89dB sensitivity. Similarly, the Rega Brio-R (also reviewed in this issue) made for an excellent solid-state choice and logged a fair amount of listening time as well.

Fatigue Free

While I preferred the scrumptious match of the CJ amp with the Haydns—I really enjoy the hyperrealism of listening nearfield with a pair of high-performance monitors driven by a great vacuum tube amplifier—the Haydns’ smooth albeit resolving soft dome tweeter was never harsh. So those with solid-state amplification need not fear. Audiophiles that love solo vocalists will be very pleased with these speakers. To wit, play Keren Ann’s recent 101. The breathy, expansive vocals will melt even the most diehard Patricia Barber fan and really show off the midrange clarity offered up by the Haydens.

When moving to electronica from Deadmaus, Kruder & Dorfmeister, and Tosca, the music underscored the small speakers’ ability to produce a substantial amount of bass, even in my main listening room (16 x 24 feet). “Bug Powder Dust” from The K&D Sessions goes very deep. Yet the Haydns captured most of the fundamental tone, with a bit of sub-harmonics as well. The single 6-inch driver performed impressively, yielding solid bass reproduction and quite a bit of texture. Of all the speakers we auditioned for this issue, the Haydns were the only pair that went toe to toe with my Magenpan 1.6s in terms of upper bass detail—no small feat. I was consistently surprised at the amount of low-frequency oomph they mustered.

Great small monitor speakers also excel at pinpoint imaging, and the Haydns didn’t shirk in this area, either. Listening to the soundtrack to the 1981 animated classic Heavy Metal, the main vocals of “All of You” hovered out in front of my face, with the guitars far behind the imaginary line between the speakers. Moreover, the spacey electronic effects were distinctly placed from left to right, without ever losing the bass line.

As much as I punished these speakers at the beginning of the review, they did an equally excellent job playing music at very low levels—a great example of their linearity. Should you happen to be an apartment dweller that lacks both space and the luxury to really wind up your system, these speakers can keep you very happy until you don’t have neighbors behind your adjoining walls.

While I wouldn’t generally pair 89dB speakers with an SET, the Haydns were so easy to drive, my 9-watt-per-channel Woo Audio amplifier proved a delicious partner. Listening to Tomita’s Live at Linz, 1984–The Mind of the Universe at low-level in the nearfield made me feel like I was sitting in a gigantic pair of headphones, with synthesizer effects sounding as if they were coming right from the middle of my head.

Please Please Me

If you have a modest-sized room and won’t miss that last octave of bass, the Vienna Acoustics Haydns practically have no faults, especially at this price. There are a handful of small monitors that offer more bass and resolution, but they cost three-to-five times as much. Kept in the context of the components with which they will probably be paired, these speakers should be able to satisfy the fussiest of budget audiophiles. And, considering their small size, multiple finish options, and fact that they present a load that is easy to drive, the Haydens’ versatility seems to know no bounds.

Vienna Acoustics Haydn Grand Symphony Edition

MSRP: $1,850/pair (standard finish) $2,000/pair (piano white and rosewood)


Analog Source Rega P9 turntable    Sumiko Palo Santos cartridge
Digital Source Sooloos Control 15    dCS Paganini
Preamplifier McIntosh C500    Croft Micro 25
Power Amplifier McIntosh MC1.2kw    Conrad Johnson MV-50C1    Croft Series 7   Rega Brio-R (integrated)
Cable Audioquest Columbia