Audiovector S3 Avantgarde. “BEYOND EXPECTATION”
While the God had packed together clouds enough for a wet shower, it hit me.
Maybe it was just me, who was mistaken. Or just remembered wrong. This happens off and on. You have to do several things, preferably at the same time, so it is easy to forget important issues. Which I must have done. Ever since I had unpacked and installed the speakers in my listening room, I was thrilled by the impressive bass reproduction. It must be the new bottom mounted sub bass, I thought, self content. But somehow a little doubt marred me while I was driving along, drumming my fingers on the wheel to an old recording with Ryan Adams, singing his version of “Always on My Mind”.
The rush hour traffic moved as slow as cattle on a cattle track over the uneven tarmac. Well home again and still with my shoes on, I kneeled down as towards Mecca. With my coat hanging like a tent around me, I lay in front of Audiovector’s top model in the S3-series- the S3 Avantgarde. I was mistaken. To call this discovery a down trip, is taking things too far. I have to admit i felt relieved – and surprised. Even on a socially correct 40 watt Rotel amplifier costing 600 Euros, the new Audiovectors played like they had a sub woofer hidden under its wood veneer.
My mistake was not totally groundless. For Audiovector’s topmodels in the more expensive Si6-series is equipped with one – or actually two – bass drivers mounted in the bottom of the slim cabinet. And it was because I felt that the new, smaller and less expensive S3 Avantgarde had such an overwhelmingly good bass reproduction, that I associated it with a sub bass like the one in the Si6. This is not the case with the S3-series, which has a bass reflex port with flared sides in the bottom of the cabinet.
The four models of the S3-series start at app. 2200 Euros and replace the Mi 3 series, and it is not just the rectangular cabinet, which is being replaced. Everything else is new – down to the smallest bolt. Viewed from the front, they have a slight resemblance with their predecessors, but the S3-series has curved sides and all parts, drivers, components and the cabinets, are brand new.
Ole Klifoth’s research into dynamics and compression shows that you can win dynamic response and reduce compression by using as little damping material as possible. This, of course, is only possible in a cabinet where there are no parrallel surfaces. This is why all S3 models use a special ”Nanopore” foam material, which is very efficient even in small doses, and dampens over a broader frequency range than normal materials.
An integrated plinth, shaped like the cabinet, has open grilles which let the energy from the bass reflex port flow out. At the front of the plinth, the spikes are mounted on a spike rail, which adapts the speaker to the floor and controls resonances.
The grille on all speakers has a frame, which is thin enough to integrate the fascia plate of the treble driver. This eliminates diffraction, when the grilles are installed and thus reduces the difference in performance with and without grilles.
On the Signature and Avantgarde models, the cabinet is reinforced with front and rear laminated baffles. The rear baffles house the vents for the rear radiation of the treble driver (which reduces distortion and creates a wider soundstage).The treble drivers are mounted with just 3 chrome screws on Avantgarde models, in rubber grommets, which reduces interaction with the cabinet. The three-point fixing method has been chosen, because Ole Klifoth and the engineers at Audiovector have found that this sounds better.
A powerful ferrite magnet drives a voice coil with the voice coil former made of titanium. The advantage, compared to aluminium or other materials is far superior quality with respect to both temperature and magnetic resistance. The drivers can take more power and move more freely because of lower inertia in the magnet gap (hysteresis). The Avantgarde model has kept the Air Motion Transformer driver from its predecessor, but in a new and improved version (Avantgarde Ultra S). The ultra light membrane has an area, which is 7 times larger than a usual 25mm dome membrane. Five powerful Neodynium magnets drive the membrane, which breathes through five horizontal apertures.
The rear of the driver is open, so the air can flow freely from the rear of the membrane, through the tuned tube which end in the two apertures on the rear baffle. Not only does this arrangement speed up the response of the treble driver, but compression is reduced drastically and you get a further bonus in the shape of an enhanced soundstage and better dispersion. Audiovector has balanced the new Avantgarde treble driver with the midrange by reducing the level 1.5 dB compared to its predecessor.
Three step upgrades.
Audiovector deserves applause for maintaining the principle of upgrade in the Si-SERIES. It is possible to upgrade the smallest version in the S3 series to, for example, a Super version. This upgrade features a better cross-over, new bass elements with kevlar/glass fibre composite membranes with 3-point fixing and a laminated front with better resonance damping.
If you already own a Super and want to upgrade to an S3 Signature, there are several changes. New and better cross-over, the new Evotech 2008 treble driver and a reinforced laminated rear baffle. The cabinets now feature a Superstand – a plinth, where the front spikes sit on a steel spring. As on all models, the internal damping is fine tuned for each of the four models in the range. You can also skip all of the upgrades and go directly to an S3 Avantgarde, even if you started with an S3 Standard. Audiovector guarantees that they will have parts for upgrades for at least 10 years. So, you can upgrade for a lot of years.
A mentioned before, from the start, I was always sure that there was a sub bass element in the bottom. Not at all strange. When you see the loudspeaker, it is easy to become preconcieved and think that there must be limits as to how much sub bass is possible. But it is a fact, that apart from Piega CL90X and Sonus Faber Amati Anniversario (app 25.000 Euros), I have never heard such deep and controlled bass in my listening room. This ability is not just great, when you want to impress your friends, but also very useful when you listen to music. Here lies the foundation of musical experience. A recording, which I have thought of as mediocre, with lean bass, is Ricky Lee Jones’ ”The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard”. The Audiovectors manage to dig up more information from the mix than I have heard before, and they put the bass in the front. Old Verve recordings with Ella Fitzgerald gained new life, not just because the Audiovectors clarified the slap bass extremely, but also because I was able to hear the lady’s unique vocal phrasings more clearly. Live recordings from the 40s and 50s appeared with an almost impertinent clarity.
Fresh is hardly covering the guitar fireworks from Rodrigues and Gabriala (Rubyworks Records). The two acoustic guitars sometimes sound as if there were twenty of them and the guitars sound sparkling. Very seldom have I heard such total control with such demanding contrasts. You shiver off and on when the fingers strike fast over the guitar strings – at least I did. Dynamic explosions almost explode in the room around you, regardless of whether it was the Arcam or the Adyton which was in charge. Something which tells me that these speakers are unusually easy to drive.
The size of the speakers lie. I cannot remember any comparably compact speaker which is able to lay out such an enormously realistic and three-dimensional soundstage. Of concert and studio recordings with Keith Jarrett, solo or with company, have I only heard a more lively reproduction with Piega CL 90, Martin Logan Summit, Sonus Faber Cremona M and Sonus Faber Amati Anniversario. And then only by a very small margin. Soft strokes on the tangents are reproduced with a rich spectrum of sound, even if I play very softly. And when the volume goes up dramatically, the sound pressure just follows. The speakers succeed in something which is very rare: to expand the scale to a realistsic size, even when you play softly.
When you have put on your security glasses and your bulletproof vest and jack up the sound level to stadium level, I can sense a delicate cabinet resonance which adds a slight coloration to the lower midrange. Bob Dylans ”Oh Mercy”, on SACD is an example where the speakers adds a slight accentuation to the bass. But if I turn down the volume marginally, it is gone again. On Van Morrison’s album ”Keep it simple” it is gone. The vocal of Van the Man is precise as if cut with a laser, the speakers manage to unfold the otherwise mediocre recording and add an airyness to the whole picture and, with the sparkling dynamics they produce, they create a party atmosphere even though the recording is far from good.
Small details in recordings like Mike Oldfield’s ”Music of the Spheres”, do not sound clear on most speakers, but the coherent midrange and weightless treble reproduction of the S3’s brought forth more nuances than I have heard before. Something which added depth to the music and made it more interesting to listen to further. This recording contains a lot of informtion in the treble range, and a crystal clear vocal from a young lady by the name of Hayley Westenra, who would have caused Sissel Kyrkebø til blush, can challenge any treble driver’s control, when played loud. The Avantgarde treble driver did not fall apart with distorted and shrieking sounds tossed all over the room. Nor did this happen on the Opus 3 recording with Eric Westberg Vocal Ensemble, a lavish choir recording from a church, where voices in the choir can blend with the acoustics of the difficult church room. The S3 Avantgarde managed to perform the magical feat it is to make this choir sound both bigger and more detailed than I have heard it on a Martin Logan Summit at twice the price. The sound picture was focused with laser precision, and I could sense the size of the church room and the many sub harmonics, which the speakers brought forth in the soundstage.
Worth every cent
Some speakers succeed beyond expectation. The Audiovector S3 Avantgarde is one of them and is one of the few. Audiovector has a clear winner in the S3 Avantgarde. This speaker is something so rare as an easy-to-position floorstander which manages almost everything and plays extremely well, no matter what music you play and no matter where you position them. A more sparkling and genuine joy of listening is hard to find in this price class. They have no downsides to speak of.They set a new standard for sound quality in their price class, and – best of all –these speakers you may never get tired of…..(finito)
”Audiovector has overtaken the competition in their price class with the S3 Avantgarde. These speakers are a study in the art of exemplary balance.”