Avalon Eclipse loudspeaker Arnis Balgalvis
In the Altis room at the 1991 Summer CES, an impromptu press conference was called to demonstrate Jadis's brand-new Digital Processor, flown in from France the night before. Jean-Paul Caffi, Mr. Jadis himself, was present, as was US Jadis importer Victor Goldstein and, of course, Altis's Howie Mandel. As good as their intentions were to demonstrate the masterful abilities of the Altis Bitstream processor when mated to a tube analog stage, what ended up impressing me most was the loudspeaker they'd chosen—the Avalon Eclipse (footnote 1).
The sound I heard was truly outstanding. It was obvious from the complimentary comments that they'd shattered the CES norm of sonically mediocre demos. The sonic presentation was like a billowing white cloud etched against the bluest of blue skies. The speakers projected a sonorous, multi-hued, forceful description of the music. The soundstage, while hovering in the speakers' general vicinity, seemed completely disassociated from them. Talk about a disappearing act! Details abounded; the speakers were alive with jaunty airiness, and very true, very tuneful timbres (footnote 2).
My first encounter with the Eclipses took place in JA's Santa Fe listening room during a Stereophile Writers' Conference two years ago. Was I impressed? Absolutely! But, truth to tell, not to the degree that these speakers had apparently managed to tickle JA's fancy. Now, having spent some time with the Eclipses on my own terms, I can tell you that they are nothing but astounding. As JA pointed out in his original review, the Eclipses do certain things—imaging, soundstaging, and tonality—exceedingly well. In fact, as well as, and sometimes much better than, any other speaker in Class A. To my mind, the desire to reward the Eclipses for these truly remarkable deeds can be so overwhelming that a digression from a purely analytical evaluation is easy to understand.
What mainly kept the Eclipses from achieving a Class A rating was their limited bass performance and, to a lesser degree, their slightly curtailed dynamics (footnote 3). Putting all thoughts of ratings aside, the Eclipses endeared themselves to me because they shone in the one aspect I respect above all: they made listening to music an absolutely enchanting preoccupation. I found the Eclipse's way with musicality and accuracy to be a very special experience.
The soundstage mapped out by the Eclipses was simply phenomenal—wide, deep, and detailed. It was also aglow with a pervasive sense of space, a unifying presence that did not intrude, but was sorely missed when gone. Next to be noticed (if you can divert your attention at all to pay attention to other aspects) was a very well-proportioned spectral distribution. This allowed the speaker to portray instruments naturally, in tune with my expectations of proper timbres. The third endearing quality was the Eclipse's very low coloration. It's not that it was without sin in this area, but within the context of overall loudspeaker performance, particularly box loudspeakers, Avalon has succeeded exceedingly well.
The Eclipses' all-inclusive soundstaging abilities set them apart from the crowd. I was impressed by the wealth of ambient information I heard merged with the exact replication of how the instruments were distributed in space, all enhancing the marvelously mapped-out soundstage. What developed before me was a space alive with extremely compelling three-dimensionality, comprising a carefully reconstructed portrayal of the recorded event and a credible sense of the surrounding space.
In a concert hall, the performers are a given and the music's the thing. No music can exist without the performers, of course. In audio, however, the music is the given; our imaginations are taxed with having to recreate the visual portion of our experience to accompany the music. Obviously this illusion stops before we feel we can literally reach toward the artists' physical presence. The visual sense of an instrumental presence is derived from a set of auditory clues only—and this is where the system comes in.
The Avalons' soundstage mapping was often so compelling that my eyes darted from one clearly delineated point in the soundstage to another, in step with the various performers.
Equally impressive was the disappearing act these speakers were capable of performing. The music never appeared to emanate specifically from each of the speakers—unless, of course, the recording called for it. Instead, the space in front of the listener welled up with a striking soundspace. This vivid panorama's depth and breadth sounded like they went on forever. The sonic presentation was so wholesome and appealing that it appeared to exist completely independent of any contribution from the speakers themselves.
Since my enthusiasm for the Eclipses far exceeds what JA reported, let me point out that the acoustic setting, ancillary components, and the speakers themselves differed significantly from what JA had. These differences help explain our respective reactions.
Let's start with room acoustics. Though both JA and I played the speakers into the short dimensions of our rooms, in my setup, I suspect, the Eclipses benefited from lots of space. They were positioned 70" from the wall behind them, 78" from each of the side walls, and 10' from each other. Toed-in to face the listener, the distance from the listening position to each tweeter was 9'. This placed me very close to the speakers, similar to JA's setup.
The Eclipses required a lot more room damping than the Apogee Divas I normally use had. My room was thus generously draped with a quilt, some thin foam sheets, and five Sonex panels covering a 4' by 14' portion of the wall behind the speakers. This was in complete contrast to the completely bare wall behind the Divas. I placed Tube Traps in the two corners facing the listener, and damped the side walls with Sonex panels on one side, a thin sheet of foam on the other. The floor is carpeted wall to wall, but I placed three Audio Selection cones under each speaker, coupling the speakers to my listening room's concrete basement floor. The damping materials were distributed empirically, with no attempt to achieve a LEDE design. Before delivery to me, the review samples had been very well broken in at the summer CES.
Footnote 1: Although I mentioned in my original review that Charles Hansen played a major role in the design of the Eclipse, he has since left Avalon to pursue other interests. Avalon's speakers are now designed by Neil Patel.—John Atkinson
Footnote 2: This kind of performance would have been impossible had everything before the speakers not been par excellence: Altis CD drive, Jadis processor, Jadis JPL line stage, two Jadis DEFY-7s strapped for mono, and XLO cables throughout.—Arnis Balgalvis
Footnote 3: Curiously enough, it depends what one's reference is. I recently spoke to someone who had just set up a pair of Eclipses. He commented that, besides the soundstaging and some other improvements, the dynamics were very impressive. "Impressive dynamics?" I queried. "Sure. Didn't you know I've been listening to electrostatics all along?"—Arnis Balgalvis