In a professional recording studio, loudspeakers are like reality TV - they tell all, show all. These powered speakers, known as studio monitors, play to glass-shattering volume while remaining accurate enough to reveal, ruthlessly, the slightest quirk in the music.
Engineers can't afford to miss a thing, sort of like home-theater enthusiasts who prefer their soundtracks a notch above loud and squarely in their face, as close to reality as it can get.
Hafler, a boldface name in the history of home audio but known in recent years for its amplifiers and studio monitors, obviously did. It designed a series of home-theater speakers based on its professional studio monitors, available principally through its Web site (www.hafler.com).
The VRM5 satellite speaker, in fact, is a consumer version of Hafler's M5 nearfield studio monitor. A set of four VRM5 satellites ($249 each), a VRM25 center channel ($359) and a VRM12s subwoofer ($649) costs $2,004, excluding shipping, but the price reflects a direct-from-the-manufacturer savings.
This system is an industrial-strength powerhouse that turns "Jurassic Park" into a rib-rattling (yours) adventure and yet plays your favorite CDs without strafing your ears.
Like its studio brother, the VRM5 is plain (black) and compact (12 inches high, 7 wide and deep), its only concession to fashion a prism-shaped snap-on grille. It has that obvious studio ruggedness, too, a 10-pounder with 5/8-inch-thick walls of medium density fiberboard. The VRM25 is an elongated version of the VRM5, stretching out to 22 inches and weighing 21 pounds. They're all dwarfed by the VRM12s subwoofer, however, with its down-firing 12-inch woofer driven by a 200-watt amplifier in a 74-pound block that measures 17 inches high, 18½ wide and 19½ deep.
Removing the VRM5's grille reveals a toggle switch near the tweeter that lowers the high-frequency output by 3 decibels. Most home-theater speaker systems are designed strictly for home theater. In their more demanding role reproducing music, they often sound harsh and, with a sluggish subwoofer, out of step. Hafler's tweeter-level switch removes the most aggravating high-frequency glare on bright-sounding CDs. I found the feature most helpful on recordings from the early days of CD, almost uniformly awful, those with female vocals and on some older soundtracks artificially enhanced for today's tastes.
The satellites' sound could be characterized as up-front but not overbearing, with almost no bass. On DVD movies, the VRM's studio heritage was particularly evident. It could play loud, then even louder. With just about any audio-video receiver, volume levels reaching 100-decibel levels are there for the asking. Those readings, of course, are possible only with the VRM12s sub. Though priced only slightly higher than a budget subwoofer, it pumps out a tremendous amount of energy. I could actually feel the force of special effects pressing against my rib cage.
For sheer realism, this VRM series system wiped out, by a large margin, any budget system in the $1,000 to $1,400 category I've heard. This is what you get for that extra money.
The Hafler name has been a home-audio fixture since the 1950s, beginning with David Hafler's amplifier designs and later at Dynaco with electronics built from kits. The Rockford Corp., known for its mobile audio equipment, acquired the company's product line and name in 1987. Hafler remains a made-in-America operation: It designs and manufactures the VRM series woofers and assembles the speakers at its plant in Tempe, Ariz.
The VRM series can't be seen or heard anywhere except in your home - it's available only from Hafler and select e-commerce sites. Hafler offers a 30-day, in-home trial, so the only risk is shipping charges.
This VRM package, at about $2,000, is a heavy dose of reality.
Test drive: Hafler studio-quality sound
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.