Avalon Eclipse loudspeaker Page 2

Sound
Setting up the Eclipses in my 20' by 17' by 9', wood-frame-construction listening room proved somewhat problematic. As one of the longer walls consists of windows permanently covered with blinds, the only way to set up a pair of loudspeakers so that their acoustic environments are symmetrical is to place them along the other long wall. This tends to place the listening chair about 7' away from the speakers, which is on the close side. Although I rarely have trouble getting a good balance between low-bass extension and upper-bass flab—two recent exceptions were the Thiel CS5, where the upper bass remained slow, and the Hales 2 Signature, which was too lean—for a long time I could neither get weighty low bass nor clean upper bass no matter where I positioned the Eclipses. I have a number of 16" Tube Traps in the room corners to mop up a honk in the lower midrange, as well as one behind the listening seat to break up any immediate reflection from the wall. I did try removing all the Tube Traps from the room to loosen up the Eclipse's LF. Unfortunately, this made the room far too live-sounding in the lower mids, so I replaced the Traps.

Avalon's excellent handbook recommends that the distances between either speaker's woofer cone and the rear wall and between it and the sidewall not be closer than 33% of each other, with minimum distances of 24" and 48", respectively. Ultimately, however, with the help of Sitting Duck Software's "Listening Room" program, I ended up with each speaker some 66" away from its sidewall and 72" away from the wall behind them (59" from the front of the LPs that line the wall), which gave a lightweight but well-defined bass with the speakers driven by the VTL Compact 100s, with enough fundamental weight for the sound still to be musically satisfying. (The sidewalls have almost floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at the points where the speakers would otherwise produce strong reflections.)

Having found the optimum positioning, I placed three brass cones from German Acoustics under each speaker (one at the front, two at the back) to couple them to the tile-on-concrete floor under the carpet, and proceeded to run the speakers in with pink noise. Avalon recommends at least 100 hours of run-in, with 200 possibly being needed. I also used the speakers for several days of informal listening before taking any notes.

For my initial auditioning, the preamp and power amps were the Mark Levinson No.26, with No.25 phono preamp, and the pair of No.20.5s that have been my reference for the last couple of years, connected to the speakers with AudioQuest Clear.

Though the Eclipses did some things very well, the overall sound was disappointing. The high treble was tizzy, the low treble bright, and the lower midrange recessed, resulting in a lean, not very satisfying balance. It was also immediately obvious that the Eclipse was not without coloration. A slight "eee" effect could be heard on both orchestral strings and male speaking voice, the latter also acquiring a somewhat "hollow" character. Both of these effects could be heard with pink noise; listening to the woofer alone revealed it to be the source of the "hollowness" noted. Both, however, were relatively minor in degree and were swamped by the coloration differences between microphones on Track 5 of the Stereophile Test CD. Pink noise also revealed a basically smooth if lightweight balance, though some emphasis in the low treble could be heard.

Replacing the AudioQuest cable with the Cardas, then the No.20.5s with either the new Mark Levinson No.23.5 or the Jeff Rowland Model 1, rendered the high treble more musically natural, though the low-treble emphasis remained. Eliminating the Mark Levinson preamp from the chain and driving the power amplifier directly from the Meridian's variable outputs also reduced the feeling of treble glare. With all these solid-state power amplifiers, the low bass was extended, though too dry, in my room. It seemed to me that the Eclipses would benefit from tubes; accordingly, the Audio Research Classic 60 found its way into the system.

That was more like it! Though the Eclipses still offered rather a prominent treble, the midrange acquired more body, better balancing the highs. The sound was particularly true on good piano recordings. A current favorite of mine is Mitsuko Uchida's performance of Mozart's Sonata in C, K.330 (Philips 412 616-2), where Miss Uchida makes the piano sing. With the Eclipses driven by the Audio Research, the piano hovered at the speaker end of my room, every note true. The "eee" coloration noted with the solid-state amps, while still present, was significantly diminished. Then I substituted the pair of VTL Compact monoblocks, with their eight KT90s, for the Audio Research's eight triode-connected 6550s: the midrange became even more fleshed out, Miss Uchida's presence joining that of the piano.

Paradoxically, though both tube amplifiers had less tidy presentations of sub-80Hz bass than the solid-state amps, they actually proved to produce a more musically accessible upper bass. One of the more confused-sounding live recordings to grace my shelves is Miles Davis's 1982 We Want Miles album (Columbia C2 36005), where the kick drum and Marcus Miller's Fender share the same frequency region. With the tube amps driving the Eclipses, particularly the Classic 60 which offered a tighter upper bass, the two instruments held on to their own identities a little better, aided by the speaker's superb presentation of space.

It also took the Audio Research or VTL amplifiers to bring the mid-to-low bass to life. Even with the optimum positioning, however, the Eclipses didn't really go down much deeper than 40Hz or so, to judge from the warble-tone tracks on the Stereophile CD (footnote 2). This was sufficient for enjoyable reproduction of organ recordings—there was just enough of the organ pedal tones on the superb Telarc recording of the Duruflé Requiem (CD-80135) to underpin the choir—but might be regarded by some audiophiles as a drawback in a speaker at this price level. Nevertheless, the quality of that bass was excellent. On Joni Mitchell's classic Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (Asylum BB-701), Jaco Pastorius announces the start of the track "Cotton Avenue" by hitting an awesome detuned C from his Fender Jazz bass. This was reproduced by the Eclipses in sufficient of its 32Hz-fundamental glory to thrill to the edge intellectually if not quite in full emotionally.

Yes, while never producing lows that approach the majesty of live rock, these Avalons probably have enough bass for all but the most picayune audiophile.



Footnote 2: I was pleased to note in the November/December 1990 issue of The Absolute Sound that Steven Stone used these tones to assess the bass extension of the speakers he was reviewing. My motive for including them on the disc was to enable any audiophile to more consistently assess bass extension and smoothness—thus being able to optimize room placement—either by ear or with no more test equipment than this CD and an inexpensive Radio Shack level meter.—John Atkinson
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