Calling a line of loudspeaker products the “Visual Performance Series” is a bit peculiar, no? Then again, when you’re dealing with architectural speakers and interior-design minded clients, looks are almost as important as sonics. In the case of Sonance’s updated Visual Performance Series, the company has addressed both aspects in rather solid fashion.
Originally introduced in 2007, the revamped Visual Performance Series now comes in a variety of flavors: round, square, rectangle, 4- and 6-inch (2-way), 8-inch (3-way), single stereo, LCR, surround, ThinLine, Extreme, woofers and subwoofers. I got to spend time with what I expect is a pretty representative model of the wide-ranging line, swapping in a pair of VP66R (R for round grilles) in-ceiling speakers for my living room.
It was a relatively pain-free swap, as I put on my installer hat and removed the NuVo Technologies AccentPLUS speakers that were installed with a NuVo Renovia multiroom audio system several years ago. With the VP66Rs being slightly larger, I managed to cut into my ceiling and match the 8¼-inch diameter of the cutout guide Sonance provides with the speaker. Sonance says the updated VP Series products are easier to install than the previous generation, and while I can’t speak to that, I can say that they screwed and snapped in effortlessly after I connected the speaker wires.
Getting back to the name, the VP66Rs look really elegant on my ceiling. Obviously they’re not meant to be “invisible” as some architectural speakers are, including others from Sonance, but the micro-trim grille softens their appearance to keep them somewhat unobtrusive. They’re also a stark visual contrast from the AccentPLUS speakers, which have that older-generation wide bezel that surrounds the grille and gives it more of a commercial aesthetic, like that of a retail or restaurant setting. The magnetic grille pops over the VP66R and presents itself as a smooth, design-friendly façade.
The grille conceals some serious speaker driver technology, and here Sonance gives dealers a good opportunity to sell clients up or down a line. The VP Series offers four performance levels in each range (2, 4, 6 and 8), with driver materials and power handling being the key differentiators. So while the first number in the SKU represents the woofer size, the second is the performance level — in this case, level 6 and its corresponding 1-inch powder-coated aluminum tweeter and 6½-inch Kevlar/Nomex laminated cone woofer (at the highest end, level 8, for example, tweeters are ceramic dome and woofers are carbon fiber/Rohacell laminated).
With power handling rated at 140 watts the VP66Rs can handle the power of beefier amps than my compact Renovia system (2x25W), but this arrangement works well nevertheless. Tied to a system that pulls from my iTunes library, Pandora and TuneIn, I mainly listened to 320kbps MP3 files and streaming audio, regardless of the content however — the VP66Rs have the chops to make it all highly listenable and fun.
My two sticking points with in-ceiling speakers are bass and clarity, because too often in-ceilings fall short. The Sonance models deliver generously on both fronts. The heavy funk bass line that follows the intro of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” came in with authority, and other tracks from his Head Hunters demonstrated similar thwack. More subtly impactful, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” benefitted nicely from the warm undertones that round it out (as do other tracks on that percussion-infused album).
In terms of clarity, a couple of tracks caught me by surprise in how well the VP66Rs handled background sounds that might otherwise be a muddled mess. More pronounced definition to all the glass clinking and chatter on Phish’s “Bathtub Gin,” for example, really enhanced that song’s speakeasy-like feel. Similarly, Simon and Garfunkel’s somber “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” can be a tough listen with its dueling carol chorus opposite a news bulletin reading, but both came across prominently here.
Two features I did not touch, but are worth noting are that you can paint the grilles and you can pivot the woofer and tweeter up to 13 degrees. My speakers are smack-dab in the middle of my room, and with a loveseat and sofa on the back and side walls, I did not adjust the drivers — but having said that, I found the speakers to provide very even, very wide dispersion that blankets the room. However you install them, it’s apparent that Sonance has updated the Visual Performance Series with both the integrator and consumer in mind, and both have good reason to feel satisfied.