Avalon Eclipse loudspeaker Arnis Balgalvis part 2
This is not to say that I recommend a solid-state amplifier for the Eclipses to perform their magic. The Jadis DEFY-7, used with XLO interconnects and Type 5 speaker wire, also elicited wonderful sonics (footnote 4). And if you want to hear something special, listen to two DEFY-7s, each power amp's channels strapped in parallel for 200Wpc output. In my experience, the Eclipses really thrived on large power reserves. The results were very much to my liking when the Krell MDA-300s went to work, their 500W just waiting to pounce on the Eclipses' 6 ohm load.
The speakers discussed here have been updated to what is being currently shipped from the Boulder factory. Since Avalon is, for obvious reasons, loath to go public with the exact nature of their current configuration—believe me, it's no simple tweak—I'll honor their wishes and remain mum about update details.
Having been privy, however, to hearing the Eclipses "before" and "after," I can attest that the difference is not subtle. It was apparent that Avalon has not been sitting on its hands the last two years. There were obvious gains in dynamics, speed, and transparency, but it all added up to more than just "cleaner and better." The speakers had a compelling underlying assertiveness, an overall refined quality that imparted a sense of sonic candor. They also conveyed a more clearly defined image in the "after" state. All in all, it was apparent that less of the speaker's personality was now there, allowing more pertinent musical information to shine through. This is another reason why I've found the Avalons to be even more formidable than previously reported.
The grilles had to stay on. No surprise there—that's exactly what the factory recommends, as the grilles are functional as well as decorative. Remove them, and some of that wonderful midrange essence just flies out the window, causing diminished focus and coherence. Images became diffused, the soundstage confused. Without the grilles, the balance acquired an upper-frequency roughness that bordered on annoying. I used Stevie Ray Vaughan's Couldn't Stand the Weather CD (Epic EK 39304), track 6, to finalize my impressions here. The guitar snaps went from dramatic, quick, and clear with the grilles, to near shrill, almost piercing without. What at first hearing might have seemed like a more open soundstage turned out to be a bright prominence begging for the volume to be turned down—for starters. The speaker continued to call attention to itself by revealing a distorted spectral balance. The voice lost its richness and instead became somewhat coarse and congested. Stevie Ray's hoarse, whisper-like shouts lost much of their allure, now sounding higher in pitch.
Reinstalling the grilles restored the speaker's marvelously appealing midrange, though the Eclipses' tonal balance could now be misinterpreted as being slightly on the dull side. However, this speaker is not part of the disturbing trend in which a certain amount of treble exuberance is marketed as the norm instead of the hi-fi spectacle I think it is.
The Avalon Eclipses appeared to be balanced more along the lines of what I hear in the concert hall: that sedate, calming tonality possessed by live music, every jaunty sparkle nevertheless strongly present, and where any loss of speed or articulation is unthinkable. Even though things can get quite dicey in the fervor of a live performance, a certain muted—sometimes even dull—calm prevails that does not intrude on the natural order of our expectations.
My experience of the Eclipse's treble performance bore no resemblance to JA's. My tolerance for high-frequency excesses is very low, so the discrepancy between our value judgments cannot be resolved on that basis. And I can't call to task the solid-state amps I used with the Eclipses. Neither the Krell MDA-300 nor the Classé DR-25, when mated to the Purist Audio cables, produced the hardened treble described by JA.
As much as I was taken by the Eclipse, I'm not going to declare it to be the ideal transducer. It lacked that airy, feather-like effortlessness that only electrostatics have. It didn't delve into the very lows, and even its latest incarnation still held back in dynamics. Nor did it perform without revealing some of its own personality.
The Eclipse was not boxy. It didn't honk or sound nasal, the usual ills of box loudspeakers. The Eclipse's transgressions were far more refined. It imparted a little heaviness to upper-bass notes, and a treble aberration surfaced that at times added a slight glistening or shimmer to the music.
Bass performance was paradoxical. I knew that this speaker did not go low, yet I could listen to it easily and usually not miss whatever it couldn't do. I never felt that the Eclipses sounded light or even limited in the lows, unless I played something very demanding in the very low octave.
My listening position for the Eclipses must have put me in some sort of null; the bass response there was nothing like what JA had reported. But I know what he's talking about—on other occasions the speaker did much better than what I ended up living with. I still came away liking the performance overall. (It also goes to show how differently planars couple into the room. In practically the same speaker positions, the Divas successfully produced very low bass for the same basic listening position.)
Most music sounded balanced and appropriately weighted through the Eclipses; Avalon is also to be commended for creating a seamless midrange/bass transition. Bass signals fed to the Eclipses are well defined and do not interfere with the rest of the spectrum, even though the speakers are incapable of reproducing all of this information into audible energy. Richard Strauss's Dance of the Seven Veils (Chesky CD36), for example, is scored for full orchestra. A full orchestra is what I got, its power, volume, and instrumental integrity conveyed in spades. What it lacked in force and heft was made up for by the wonderfully fulfilling soundstage presentation. The music's rhythmic fervor shone through compellingly. As the score settled into the more sedate portions of the music, sheer lyricism and ample musicality stepped in to overwhelm me. Wave after wave of Strauss's drama rolled forward, alternating between beautifully detailed massed strings and fierce brass salvos.
To be sure, the strings could stand some taming—burnishing, if you will (after all, this is a CD)—but the metal of cymbals and brass was unmistakable and welcome. The sound was not bright or overbearing. Could more dynamics and some extension of the lower frequencies add to the overall impact? Obviously. But if there was any suggestion that the soundstage presentation would then in any way suffer, I would be dead set against such a change. This is a case of "in addition to" only, not "instead of."
I suspect that there is a tradeoff taking place here, however. It's easy to obtain enough cues of authenticity in imaging and tonality, while abridging low-frequency performance, in order to satisfy our needs for adequate authenticity in soundstaging. I find the exactitude of the Avalons' point-source imaging very exciting; the Divas' soundstaging no longer sounds as clearly pinpointed. But when I recently set up the Divas again, I was simply blown away by their low-frequency extension and heft, their huge and forceful way of presenting the feel of a large orchestra: the Divas' soundstage was as magnificent as ever. But when it came to precisely zeroing in on the last ounce of a performer's presence, the Eclipses led the way. The Divas may be very capable at setting the stage aglow with virtual imaging, but the result is slightly diffused when compared to a point-source origin.
I cannot pay the Eclipses a higher compliment than this. Despite the compromised state of the playback art, the Eclipse did several things so well that, at the right time, at the right place, with the right music, it was capable of some stunning sonic feats. It significantly contributes to our efforts to recapture some measure of that authenticity which helps make our playback pursuits more rewarding. I look forward to hearing Avalon's Ascent—Arnis Balgalvis
Footnote 4: The XLO cables and solid-state power amplifiers did not mate successfully, producing a somewhat confused soundstage and adding more uneven energy to upper-frequency regions—with the Eclipses. Do the same thing with the Divas, and the reverse results—the XLO cables do better. Go figure.—Arnis Balgalvis