Visit to Avantgarde Acoustic Factory

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#1
Yesterday my wife and I tagged along on Bonzo75's audition of the Avantgarde Trios with basshorns at the Avantgarde Acoustic factory in Frankfurt, Germany. I had never before heard horns.

The Avantgarde factory is beautiful as a matter of contemporary design. We received a comprehensive tour of the facility and we saw the research laboratory, the production area, the testing area and the shipping area. The Avantgarde facility is the cleanest, most spacious, most contemporary office space for a high-end audio company I have ever seen.

The three Avantgarde people who hosted us were incredibly gracious, experienced, helpful and patient. Each of them is a true audiophile, and not just a designer or salesman. Each of them made our audition an educational and valuable experience.

We listened to LP on a basic Dr. Feickert turntable and tonearm and a Lyra Delos. The phono preamplifier was an Avantgarde prototype which biases the moving coils of the cartridge (don't ask me for more information because I did not understand this at all). We listened to the beautifully designed, DC powered, solid-state Avantgarde amplifier, an Audio Note amplifier and an Air Tight ATM-300 amplifier. Bonzo75 arranged for the tube amps to be flown in for our demo.

Bonzo75 and I both found the Audio Note amplifier surprisingly sluggish and slightly muddy-sounding and not dynamic. It was like the amplifier drank a bottle of red wine before we put it to work.

Bonzo75 found the Avantgarde amplifier to be impressive and very detailed and dynamic, especially on orchestral symphonic music. I agreed, but I was willing to give up a bit of detail and dynamics for the sweetness and warmth of tubes in the Air Tight. On vocals and simpler acoustic music we both liked the Air Tight.

This was the first state of the art audio system with LP my wife has heard. Previously we had found some of her favorite songs on LP and we played her songs as well yesterday. She played songs by Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, Nina Simone and AC/DC. She definitely found that listening to her favorite songs made the whole experience more interesting and enjoyable for her.

The Avantgarde listening room is about 22' wide, 45' long and 14' high. An area rug lays in front of the Trios, but otherwise the room has no acoustic treatment.

The Trios, with the basshorns centered between the Trios, were pushed up almost against the front wall. I am used to having my MartinLogan speakers about 8 feet into the room in front of the front wall, with the sound developing a soundstage behind the speakers. The Avantgarde designer said the horns fire forward and that nothing is gained by moving them out from the front wall.

I found the basshorns in the middle of the room to be visually distracting. I inquired why the basshorns are not separated, with one column in the left corner and one column in the right corner. The designer said separating the left and right basshorn colums and putting them in the corners would be a sonic improvement but he wanted to show people how the system can be configured to take up less space in width.

The system, with its modest LP front-end, no room treatment, and nothing special wires, had, I thought, amazing detail and transient response and dynamics and "jump factor" and tonal density. (I am beginning to think I know what "total density" means.). On these attributes the system was at least equal to the best of the couple of the other state of the art systems I have ever heard.

I thought the tonal balance was very natural and I heard nothing bright (except when we switched to the solid-state amplifier). The transparency of the Trios was equal to what I think I heard from the Rockport Arrakis or perhaps slightly better, but the Trios were not quite as transparent in the midrange as what I hear from MartinLogans.

The basshorns sounded great and were the best, or equal to the best, low frequency drivers I've ever heard in terms of resolution and detail from drum whacks and from other bass information. I feel I heard deep and complete frequency extension but, because there were no large cones, I did not feel the physical impact which I'm used to from large woofers or subwoofers. This would be a bit of a messy addition, but I literally would put cone subwoofers on the system to cover 16 to 25Hz and to generate physical impact from drum whacks and kick drums.

I think that I am not particularly focused on "soundstaging" but I was unavoidably conscious that while I heard a beautiful wide, soundstage left to right I heard almost no depth, almost no front to back at all. Bonzo75 disagreed with me and I believe he was very happy with the soundstaging of the system, both left to right and front to back.

While I could happily live with the sound from this system for the rest of my life, I was disappointed in the rigidity of the frame on to which the horns are attached. Even a small amount of lateral pressure applied to the frame would move the thin skeletal structure of the Trios. When the Trios are playing music the frame vibrates, and when I touched the tubular cases of the horns they were vibrating also. I think this is another example of an unconventional speaker technology where the designer relies so strongly on what he believes to be the inherent technological and sonic superiority of his design that he doesn't focus on some of the basic things which conventional dynamic driver companies have focused on for years, such as solid frames and structures and maximizing inertness and minimizing resonance.

When I asked the designer about this, he said that he agrees with making the frame more solid and the tubular horn cases more inert but that the owner of the company is very happy with the sound produced by the current design and is not inclined to make the system heavier, clunkier-looking or more complex or more expensive.

I would like to see the horns mounted on a truly rigid, rock-solid frame of some sort with much thicker and heavier horn cases such that the frame does not vibrate and the horn cases do not resonate when music is playing.

My auditions of these state of the art speaker systems confirm for me the widely-held view that no speaker system is perfect. Which speaker system is the "best" in the world for each of us is going to be a very individualized answer to our respective personal and idiosyncratic listening preferences.

My wife and I thank Bonzo75 for inviting us to join him on this audition. We are grateful to the three gentlemen at Avantgarde who hosted us graciously for a fascinating and wonderful tour and a lengthy listening experience!
 
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asiufy

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Jul 8, 2011
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#2
Hi Ron!

I know I'll sound silly contradicting Avantgarde's own people, but I found out that if you place the speakers clear from the back wall they will produce deeper soundstage, just like a regular box speaker would. This is how we positioned them for THE Show @ Newport:

IMG_4309.jpg

Positioned like that, we got the speakers to (almost) disappear, and the center image to be stable and a good few meters behind the actual speakers.

As for the Trio frames, there are two kinds:

Trios.jpg

I found out the "straight" one to be sturdier, while the one that draws an arc looks better, but is prone to the effect you noticed.

Oh, and I do agree with you, no speaker will ever be perfect, for all situations. But the Avantgardes do certain things that few other speakers/systems do, like immediacy, involvement and that "jump factor"...

Anyway, we do have an older Duo 2.2 in the store, with upgraded Duo Omega drivers, as well as a Duo Mezzo with basshorns, with Audiopax tube amps. If you'd like to check them out, let me know!


cheers,
Alex
 
Jan 29, 2014
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#3
I went to our local AG dealer to hear the Trios , he didnt have enough space for the basshorns , so used the bass towers from a set of gryphon pendragons , unison research amps
Amazing dynamics. stunning bass , great coherence , flat yet wide soundstage , superb detail , jump factor , can go seriously loudly cleanly.. but I felt under dynamic attack.. relentless .. blitzkrieg.. shock and awe
I would love a set in a different (BIG) room , for the times I want the music to take me on a roller coaster ride...
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#4
Dear Alex, actually I was referring to the vertically-oriented Trios. The circularly-oriented Trios frame was even more flexible in the left to right dimension.
 
May 30, 2010
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#5
Yesterday my wife and I tagged along on Bonzo75's audition of the Avantgarde Trios with basshorns at the Avantgarde Acoustic factory in Frankfurt, Germany. (...)
Great to read your report on a speaker I have little experience but great expectations. Although most of the time the systems using Avantgarde that I have listened sounded poor, an experience with their own electronics sounded so "natural" , effortless and fluid that it overcome all other experiences. At that time (an Audio Show in an hotel, no audio treatments) the system was set by the Avantgarde designer and he managed to get a fantastic result. Even old rock music, of the type we often say that sounds poor on digital because of inadequate digitalization and mastering, sounded enjoyable. Unfortunately the only Trio's (in beautiful cheery finish) I have listened a few times are playing background music in an bar ...

BTW, it is possible that stiffening the frames could create new resonances at other frequencies, less visible at eye sight but with nasty audible consequences.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#6
Dear Keith, Just to be clear the designer agreed that the frames could be made sturdier and the tubular cases for the horns could be made more inert. He did not say anything about the horn pieces themselves.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#7
Thank you Ron for sharing what must have been a fascinating visit. You sure have been getting around lately and hearing some great systems. You seem also to have visited a few factories. Lucky you. It's great to read of your adventures.

Remember, you are invited to the Boston area. MadFloyd and I will demo Magico/Pass/analog for you and the Rockport, Basis, and Transparent Audio factories are not far away.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#8
Thank you, Peter. As soon as we both are back in the USA I will be calling you to schedule the auditions with you and MadFloyd!
 

Bill Hart

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May 11, 2012
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#9
I assume you heard the latest Trio, with digital room correction and cross-overs? My experience with older Duos is that they are incredibly dependent on the associated equipment to a greater degree than many speakers-- I was using Crosby Quads before the Duos, and they were far less revealing in some ways. The old Trio was not everyone's cup of tea, from what I gather (I never heard them). I know some people Frankensteined the Avantgardes to improve stand rigidity, realign the horns, change or reposition woofers, etc. I never touched mine: i will just replace them with something else at some point. They make great music with the Lamm SET amps. I'm vinyl only....
Thanks for report. I've seen photos of their factory- those guys have a very good sense of design.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#11
Yes, we heard the latest Trios with basshorn EQ.
 

LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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#12
Thank you Ron for sharing what must have been a fascinating visit. You sure have been getting around lately and hearing some great systems. You seem also to have visited a few factories. Lucky you. It's great to read of your adventures.

Remember, you are invited to the Boston area. MadFloyd and I will demo Magico/Pass/analog for you and the Rockport, Basis, and Transparent Audio factories are not far away.
Good call!!! I had a great time a few years ago visiting with MadFloyd at a local dealer in Boston and listening to Rockport Altairs, Constellation amps and DCS Vivaldi.
 

marslo

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May 2, 2014
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#13
Nice write up Ron, thank you.
We spent with my wife a day in Avantgarde HQ in June.
I have Duo Omega already for five years and I wanted to compare Duo Mezzo to Trios with 231 subs to consider the best way for the upgrade. I do not consider basshorns for my living room , there is not enough space for them.
Long story short , our preference goes for Duo Mezzo.
I was a bit desappointed by the lack of coherence between deep bass from subs and upper bass and midrange reproduced by the big horn.
I expect the audition at home of Duo Mezzo within a few weeks to be organized by our local Avantgarde dealer.
In the Avantgarde listenning room we only checked the sound with the home pre/ amp XA series, we did not auditionne the valve amp with Mezzos nor Trios.
I am very happy with the sound of Duo with Ayon Crossfire ( integrated SET) and I would like to keep the amplification unchanged with Duo Mezzo. My main front end is digital and represent around 80% of listenning time , the rest is TT and vinyls.
 
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bonzo75

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Feb 26, 2014
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Hi Mariusz, they really won't integrate well with 231 or an other subs. You need to get the bass horns. If space is a problem, think of putting them up vertically. That can be done. But then I am of the school where I don't really like other AG models, I find horn compromises too steep a drop to be worth it. Unlike with boxes and panels, I find that in horns one has to go all out or not at all.

To add to Ron's excellent report, the Audionote 9w was too colored to sound natural, it was not soundstaging well, and the bass was weak. The Airtight 9w 300b integrated was much more open, transparent, nice tone, but the bass was still slightly weaker than I would have liked.

AG's own amps were initially a bit harsh, but it was surprising how less harsh the music became once the preamp was disconnected from the main supply and switched to battery powered DC. The SS 150w class A monos really gripped the bass horn well. I preferred the Airtight tone and the SS bass.

The TT was not really a good set up. The rest of the set up too had no isolation, grounding, power treatment, or cabling. Pure simple speakers. Yet it was more dynamic with better integration, wider soundstage and details than other systems I have heard. I listened to Mahler 2 longest on this during an audition, and that is because even though it did the lound parts well, as expected, the lows and quiet passages of the symphony were being played really well. The transients were excellent.

Yes the frames can be sturdier, and Jim Smith and others who have set uo this regularly would recommend adding damping/isolation to various parts of the body and the bass.

This is no WE tonality, but has more bottom end integration.

I think biamping could be a possibility to grip the bass. Geoffrey armstrong, a Trio dealer based in Monaco, a dealer whose ears I respect because he knows his symphonies and his gear well and does not hard sell at all, likes Audiopax the best on the Trios. I believe it is a 30w valve amp. I haven't heard it but would try that and Lamm (latter costlier) and such 30w valves before biamping.

Those who read Ron's report and mine should note we audition very different music. For him conal excursion on bass is an important thing
 

asiufy

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Jul 8, 2011
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#15
Dear Alex, actually I was referring to the vertically-oriented Trios. The circularly-oriented Trios frame was even more flexible in the left to right dimension.
Yeah, we agree then :) The vertically-oriented model is sturdier than the other, the circularly-oriented. But IMHO, the circular frame looks better to me.

bonzo,

Audiopax and Avantgarde is a well-known pairing, as Geoffrey and Jim Smith can attest.
The 30W amp is the Model 88, and they have now 50W and 100W monoblocs. They are truly magical with Avantgarde.
 
#16
Amazing dynamics. stunning bass , great coherence , flat yet wide soundstage , superb detail , jump factor , can go seriously loudly cleanly.. but I felt under dynamic attack.. relentless .. blitzkrieg.. shock and awe
Best description I have ever read of what Avantgardes sound like. You are either a fan or you are not - they are quite polarizing speakers. Must admit I prefer the smaller Avantgardes, the Trios are too much of a good thing.
 

bonzo75

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#17
Best description I have ever read of what Avantgardes sound like. You are either a fan or you are not - they are quite polarizing speakers. Must admit I prefer the smaller Avantgardes, the Trios are too much of a good thing.
The smaller ones face more bass issues and to me they sound harsher
 
#18
Not sure which amp you heard with the smaller Avantgardes which you thought were harsh, bonzo. I have found AVG's to be incredibly sensitive to amps. I was thinking of buying a pair and heard a really unconvincing demo in the hifi shop. They changed the amp and it went from soft and flabby to harsh but dynamic. I have never heard such a dramatic difference in amps before, it was as if I was listening to a completely different speaker. It was a secondhand speaker in a shop that doesn't sell Avantgardes, so the sales guy admitted that he was surprised by how amp sensitive they were, and that he didn't know which amp to recommend for them.

Since then, I have heard more than a half a dozen Avantgarde systems. I am convinced that it is not possible to comment on the tone of these speakers, they simply pass through what is fed to it. I also suspect they are more demanding of amplifier power than their high sensitivity would lead you to believe. About the only thing all these systems had in common was the dynamic attack that you spoke of - relentless, blitzkrieg, shock and awe :)
 

bonzo75

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#20
Not sure which amp you heard with the smaller Avantgardes which you thought were harsh, bonzo. I have found AVG's to be incredibly sensitive to amps. I was thinking of buying a pair and heard a really unconvincing demo in the hifi shop. They changed the amp and it went from soft and flabby to harsh but dynamic. I have never heard such a dramatic difference in amps before, it was as if I was listening to a completely different speaker. It was a secondhand speaker in a shop that doesn't sell Avantgardes, so the sales guy admitted that he was surprised by how amp sensitive they were, and that he didn't know which amp to recommend for them.

Since then, I have heard more than a half a dozen Avantgarde systems. I am convinced that it is not possible to comment on the tone of these speakers, they simply pass through what is fed to it. I also suspect they are more demanding of amplifier power than their high sensitivity would lead you to believe. About the only thing all these systems had in common was the dynamic attack that you spoke of - relentless, blitzkrieg, shock and awe :)
Actually, I have heard them in 3 different rooms with 3 different amps plus at hifi shows.

Btw, it is not just AG, I just don't like the compromised lower down models of any horn system, whether it be Tune Audio, Cessaro, or Acapella. I like the Cessaro and Acapella midrange, and have never heard their full ranges.

But because of the way all the lower down models of the various horn brands compromise their bass crossing over to a cabinet, puts me off from any crossover based music. I don't see those problems with trios with bass horns. So for those who currently like their Unos, Duos, Acapella Violons, Liszt (different price ranges), that should not be an issue.

All I will say is that if someone does NOT like the duos, please do not extrapolate that dislike to trios with basshorns. Listen to the trios with basshorns separately, they are a totally different speaker.