In the last few years, Avantgarde Acoustics' horn loudspeakers wowed not only our own publisher with his review of the Unos (as seen here) and his review of the Duos in the no longer published Ultimate Audio magazine, but also the editors at other magazines. Each publication gave the glossy spherical horns their top awards for 200 and 2001.
Now there is a place in the Big Apple where you can see, and listen to, the most popular high-end horns available in the country, in the refined shop of a music cognoscente. After traipsing the country as a high-technology salesperson, while buying and listening to many fine music systems along the way, Bob Visintainer recently opened a Manhattan location devoted to the Avant-garde’s big ol’ horns.
Avantgarde Music & Cinema, on 24th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, is at the northern edge of Chelsea, in the Flatiron district. Vistinater’s office space divides into two rooms. The first, separated into two sections, shows off two large Avantgarde systems. It is big enough for an office party. All of the rooms are artfully arranged, like museum showcases. The equipment, trees, light, curtains, carpet, and a few select seats, are skillfully placed. Each setting devoted to the fragrance of music.
We are invited into the second room, of average size. Subtle low-lying lights splay the patterns of ornamental trees upward into the corners. A pair of shiny green horns, Avantgarde Unos as large as tubas, stand patiently like geishas in their private rooms, waiting to perform. An Oriental rug covers the floor. Its contrast of colors and rich details creates the area for the performance stage. Curtains envelop the room. Acoustic panels buffer the side and rear walls. The loudspeakers pose on their marks like actors on a stage. Decorative trees balance the stage with equidistant symmetry.
The system consists of the single Uno horns with Audio Aero’s Prima player, Viva’s Linea 45 pre-amplifier and a Viva Solista, as the amplifier. There is nothing else in the room but an inviting chair. Visintainer slides June Tabor’s rich voice, as warmly melancholy as the embrace of a cello, into the first system.
Tabor’s folk melodies from “A Quiet Eye” (Green Linnet, 1997) fill the center stage cleanly, without a hint of electronic interference. The un-crowded recording of just a few instruments plays with aplomb on the system. There is magical 3D imaging. Their ultra high sensitivity brings delicate articulation and tasty details. Elegantly simple recordings by the wonderful jazz/folk singer/songwriter, and actress, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Nills Lofgren “Live” (backing Neil Young, Bruce Springstein and Ringo Starr in one career!) confirm this. There is a lack of artifice, “aw” sounding honky coloration, haze and smear in the mid-range which mark lesser horn offerings. In these sybaritic rooms, the vocal reproduction is flawless. I hold my breath: this is the way to enjoy the music.
Alas, I am limited in my musical experiments, by the daytime restrictions of working neighbors. No raucous discology is performed. No other tracks are played. But in this selection, and other samples, of the critical mid-range venue, the Avantgarde and Viva combination is outstandingly superb: among the very best dream systems I have heard. This means that, in these respects anyway, the big new horns are “on par” with the several times more expensive Nearfield Pipedream line driver arrays and the Martin-Logan electrostatic Statements, both tall towers heard with superlative electronics.
In the main room, a trio of gleaming candy red horns are arranged in a semi-circular Alexander Calder constellation. Although the Trio Classico model measures only 53 inches across, they look as wide as a sofa. A flat black steel tube floats one large, one medium and one small horn in mid-air. Indeed, they are a type of mobile sculpture. They do consist of calibrated parts that move, in response to electronic currents. They are music incarnate. Musical art, which you will either love or hate, for the price of a luxury sedan.
Large injected resin horns, without any space saving bends or curves, the Trios are staggeringly efficient, at an amazing 107dB from one watt per meter with quite high nominal impedance, 19 ohms. This makes them not only incredibly easy to drive, (indeed minimum power required is a minuscule single watt) but also astonishingly dynamic. Trios breathe music as easily with one watt as a feather floats on air. Avantgarde horns reproduce sounds as low as 100 Hz without any of the non-linear response peaks and phase shifts that give other horns their honky coloration.
In addition to the remarkably looking horns, Visintainer provides incredibly looking amplifiers as well. The Trio constellations are powered by small engine blocks of gorgeous Cobra red. The Viva 845 tube amplifiers are among the very best looking amplifiers available today.
They are divided into two smooth, thoroughbred long, flanks with a deep V crotch at the center. The V between the legs is filled with the chunky beer bottles of 845 tubes. Glossy automotive lacquer, available in many colors, presents a visually stunning finish. Think Shelby Cobra with wide, fat tires, curving wheel wells and silver pipes. Beefy looking, but still capable of tactful play. One can not power up these amplifiers without caressing their flanks. Here are functional works of art: amplifiers that look as good as they sound. Though the photos at their web site flatten the dimensions of these beauties, look to see more of these instant classics in the future. More musical craft, also for the price of a Korean car.
Where Pipedreams and Statements are columnar expressions of musical might, the big round horns united to the Viva works of craft have joyous exuberance of melody and rhythm - natural dynamics of snap and pop. Even with a brief audition, one suspects that they do have excellent clarity, detail, separation and naturalness, with a majestically broad soundstage and inaudible distortion. Without the obvious tuba sound of the analogy, Avantgarde horns are as real as an excited high school band, marching proudly through hometown crowds, on a sunny day. Their sound is an effortless expression of the freedom of music. Without a serious audition, there is no Enjoy the Music.com scorecard, but marks of 100 are certain for these few categories: no “money is no object” dream system could do better.
Since the imposing wall of bass tubes, which comprise Avantgarde’s ultimate subwoofer, was not there yet, the WAF scores with “little miss sensitive ears” for both the looks and the sound of Visintainer’s solutions were quite high. Though she quickly saved us $48,000 and change by pointing out that my modest solution of big old horns and flea-powered tubes was almost as good... considering the paltry budget.
You should make an effort to hear these big ol’ horns yourself. You should experience the craft of music reproduction as good as it gets. If you are near the Big Apple, you are invited to experience this ultimate music salon. The best private audition times are when the neighboring occupants are away: nights and weekends. Visintainer also supplies AUDIOPAX, Elrod Power Systems, Cardas cables and Grand Prix Audio equipment.
Can’t get to the Big Apple any time soon? Then at least check out the useful information available at the Avantgarde USA website. In addition to some plain English white papers explaining why Avantgarde horns should sound so good, the site includes President Jim Smith’s experienced take on many aspects of quality sound reproduction in the home. His “31 Secrets to Better Sound” is available in Adobe pdf format by simply emailing either his web site or Bob Visintainer.
The valuable booklet is worth the read for any tweaking audiophile ready to inch his music reproduction system forward to the next level. It includes helpful many hints on room treatments, bi-amping, filtration, turntable tuning, room cancellations, and more. The hints and suggestions should help you enjoy the music while taking your system to the next level. For example:
1) Why you should be sour on a wide “Sweet Spot”
4) A simple three-step speaker installation technique for satisfying results
5) Don’t forget to listen at different seating heights
6) Don’t consider speaker placement final until you’ve discovered the correct AC polarity for all components
9) Thou shalt have no reflective surfaces before you
11) It really does sound better at night
13) Bi-amp and get five times the effective power
20) Equalization vs. notch filters — or — no band boosters here
26) Don’t believe the “experts” when they tell you that, since bass is omni-directional, you only need one subwoofer
28) Why a woofer’s “speed” is irrelevant to bass quality
29) Low driver mass alone doesn’t determine loud-speaker transient response
30) Why wide dispersion might be a bad idea
Good stuff there. Avantgarde’s white papers explain the history and principle benefits of simple and tractrix horns: “Distortion is reduced. Maximum power handling is increased. Music's dynamics are reproduced intact. Sudden musical transients are startling. Frequency response instrumental timbres don't change with level. Details emerge from your music that you never heard before.” All true. Even a brief audition in Visintainer’s sartorial loft revealed that.
The online papers also explain the ultra-high efficiency, technology, components, materials and quality of Avantgarde’s big old horns. Nice stuff to browse either if you are curious about horns, whether Avantgarde or others, or you simply want to see what all mega-buck dream systems should look like; colorful sculptures of musical craft.
Avantgarde Music & Cinema, Ltd.