Audiovector S1 Avantgarde
Normally I hate surprises. I have to admit that this time it was a pleasure to be surprised. Or rather: Overwhelmed!
My initial feeling was that this review would almost write itself. The speakers, I thought, would play exactly like the floorstanding S3 Avantgardes from the the same manufacturer. The much smaller S1 Avantgardes would sound exactly the same. After all they share the same midrange and treble driver, and it has been developed by the same team as the much bigger S3’s.
Do you want to guess if I was surprised when I learned that the smaller speakers were actually better?
For those who do not already know, the S3 Avantgarde is the topmodel in a new range of Danish manufacturer Audiovector. The S3 Avantgarde was reviewed this summer and the compact S1 Avantgarde looks as if somebody cut off a pair of S3’s right below the midrange driver. The phenomenally fine ribbon tweeter (actually an AMT, ed.) is the same. The bass midrange driver has a different tuning because it works in a smaller enclosure. This normally means less bass. The rest should sound the same. I thought!
So I was surprised when I started the review with the same Rotel amplifier, with which I started the S3 Avantgarde review. Even with the speaker positioned close to the rear wall, it played with a neutral balance and a rock-solid stereo perspective – Just like the S3 Avantgardes – but a little bit more focus and with an even clearer midrange. Strange.
FOUR STEPS INTO HEAVEN
Just like the S3-series, the compact S1-series consists of four models. The first three models are upgradable all the way up to Avantgarde level. They all share the same curved sides made from NRFB, but all parts, drivers, components and cross overs distinguish the four models from each other. The S1s are available in Standard, Super, Signature and Avantgarde, the one we review here. The bass midrange driver is a Kevlar re-inforced membrane, which also consists of 20 per cent glass fibres. The rear side of the membrane is made from a light, stiff type of Nomes and the whole arrangement is mounted in a specially cast Audiovector designed chassis produced by Tymphani (the people behind Scan Speak, Peerless, Vifa).
The Evotech P 2009 CS bass midrange is unique in the range and has a phase plug in the middle in order to achive a broader dispersion and a more even frequency response. The small aperture between membrane and phase plug is a potential source of distortion, but Audiovector has avoided this by adding small holes on the rear side of the suspension, which vents the membrane efficiently. A powerful ferrite magnet drives a voice coil wound on a titanium former. The advantages, compared to the ubiquitous aluminium former, are much better heat dissipation and far lower magnetic resistance.
The Avantgarde models include a new, updated version of the Avantgarde tweter, called Avantgarde Ultra S. The extremely light membrane is 7 times larger than that of a dome tweeter and corrugated in a new shape in order to exploit the membrane area even better. Five powerful Neodynium magnets drive the membrane, which breathes forward through five horisontal vents, and creates excellent horizontal dispersion.
The rear of this treble driver is open, too, so the membrane can breathe through a vent with two round apertures on the rear of the rear baffle. The result is not only that the treble response becomes faster, but you also get rid of compression and get a bonus in the form of a bigger soundstage.
After a couple of weeks with the Rotel amplifier, both the speakers and I were ready for new challenges. While the small 40 watt Rotel sounded like a cosy little party everytime we played it, I felt that the time was ripe for a real stadium concert. The much more powerful and ten times more expensive McIntosh amplifier brought new life to the music. Its unstrained control and massive power simply gave the speakers an extra dimension.
And better bass. The dark nuances of Allison Krauss’ and Robert Plant’s duet recording often spreads a dark fog over the details and the bass is sometimes uncontrolled. But, like the bigger S3 Avantgarde, the S1 Avantgarde is an excellent tool for digging out more nuances and details from the music. Vocal harmonies become clearer and bass guitars sound tighter, while I get a wonderful depth in the soundstage, which fills the 30m3 room in a way only big speakers are able to.
Male vocals like Van Morison’s on Keep It Simple or that of Ryan Adams on Two, often sound uncomfortably sharp when you play loud, but I got a total focus on the power of voices, which brought warmth to the vocal experience. This happened on for example Bob Dylan’s Man With The Long Black Coat, where the soundstage opened up with a striking three-dimensionality just like that of an expensive Martin Logan electrostatic.
What really raises these speakers from the phenomenal to the fantastic, is how controlled and balanced they sound. No matter which music you play and no matter how loud you play them.
The John Scofield Trio live invites to turn the volume up. A lot. Here it becomes pure madness with a drive, which will make a death metal rocker breakdown in spasms, and this album is a speaker killer. For this reason it was pure magic to hear the small white speakers behave almost like a small PA system on speed. I swear that I heard real subbass, even though I didn’t hear myself think.
Reflection came with discs like Standards Live by the Keith Jarrett Trio, where fine tuned musicians allowed me to hear wonderful harmonies and colours of sound without me missing anything at all. These speakers have a special ability to play controlled and sparkingly dynamic when they play loud, without losing focus and the very rare ability to create an almost total transparence. They explode with joy.
These speakers play so cleanly and so neutrally that the white lacquer our test samples were supplied in could not be a better match. The bigger floorstanding S3 Avantgarde goes deeper in the bass and plays louder in a normal room. There are more similarities than things setting them apart, with one exception: The smaller S1 Avantgarde has a more neutral midrange reproduction. With a little more focus on details and vocals. What luck; while you save a good deal of money, you actually get an extra quality from these small speakers, which other speakers are unable to match.