Avantgarde Acoustic Uno Nano loudspeaker Page 2

The Uno Nanos, while they didn't quite succeed in matching this type of sound, came closer than any other speakers I've had in my listening room. There is no commercial recording of the Stratford fanfares; the nearest thing I have is the overture to Man of La Mancha, which begins with a trumpet fanfare. Played at the right level on the Nanos, it has much the same startling effect as the Stratford fanfares heard live. As I turned up the volume, the sound just got louder, without the compression of dynamics or distortion that you'd get at these levels with conventional speakers. I'm sure there's a limit to the volume the Nanos are able to produce without distorting, but my ears gave up before I got there.

But being able to produce high sound levels without strain was only one of the Nano's positive attributes. Contrary to the impression I might have given in the last couple of paragraphs, I seldom play music loudly; in fact, much of my listening for pleasure is late in the evening, at levels most people would describe as "background." This kind of listening—which is best with recordings that present a "you are there" rather than a "they are here" aural illusion—illustrated the Nano's ability to maintain the tonal balance and dynamic contrasts at such low levels. One such recording I'm very fond of is Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni's Live, a concert given in 1990 in Modena, Italy (CD, London 421 862-2). The perspective is distant, as if the listener is a good way back in the arena; played back through the Nanos at a level that placed the singers well in the distance, the recording had a convincing sense of reality. Listening to this recording, I was both saddened by the thought that Pavarotti is no longer with us, and grateful for the recorded legacy he has left us.

The reproduction of voices was a special strength of the Uno Nano. Whether the creamy soprano of Sylvia McNair singing "All the Things You Are," from her Sure Thing: The Jerome Kern Songbook (CD, Philips 442 129-2), or Frank Sinatra belting out "On the Road to Mandalay," from Come Fly With Me (CD, Capitol CDP 7 48469 2), the Nano was able to communicate the unique character of each voice as well as the nuances of the singer's expressions. If the reproduction of voices—in operas, musicals, pop, jazz, rock, whatever genre you like—is important to you, and you can afford to spend $16,500/pair on speakers, you must listen to the Uno Nano.

Taking a more analytic, audiophile approach, the first point to consider is the matter of horn coloration—a distinctive sonic character that's a function of the drivers' horn loading. I'm not as put off by horn coloration as some people—I usually find that while the coloration may be apparent when I first start listening to a set of horn speakers, it seems to disappear fairly quickly as the music continues playing. But I know that there are people who, while attracted to what horns do really well (dynamics, a sense of "aliveness"), just can't get past that horn character.

I'd thought the Uno's level of horn coloration already quite small, but the Nano's was lower still—one of the Nano's significant improvements over the older model (maybe it's the smaller midrange and tweeter horns). So while the Nano couldn't be mistaken for a speaker using cone, ribbon, or electrostatic drivers—each of which type, of course, has its own distinctive colorations—its level of horn coloration was about the lowest I've heard.

Compared with the Uno's distribution of frequencies across the audioband, the Nano sounded closer to the ideal of balanced frequency response and tonal neutrality. The bass pumped out by its SUB225-N woofer was deep and powerful; the synthesizer that begins "Temple Caves," from Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10206), shook the room with its power. The bass was tighter than the Uno's, bass drums sounding crisper but no less extended, with a more seamless integration of the midrange and subwoofer outputs. The midrange was close to neutral in tonal character, sounding much like the voices and instruments it was reproducing, and blending smoothly with the treble as well as with the bass. The Nano's treble was more extended and more revealing of high-frequency detail than the Uno's, but without sounding harsh or clinical. There was a sense of transparency throughout the frequency range, the Nano effectively getting out of the way of the music.

The Nanos, like the Unos before them, were able to present a wide, deep soundstage with excellent focus on images within the soundstage. However, even with the speakers tilted back as far as was practical, the soundstage wasn't as high as I'm used to with the Unos. It's not that it was low—nothing like the feeling of looking down from a balcony that I get with some speakers—but I do prefer the Unos' higher soundstage. This is a matter of taste; I know that some listeners find the Unos' high soundstage a bit intimidating.

As good as the Avantgarde Uno is—it was named Stereophile's "Joint Loudspeaker of the Year" for 2000—the Uno Nano represents an improvement in just about every aspect of performance that contributes to the realistic reproduction of music. The reduction of distinctive horn colorations is particularly welcome, and should make the Nano appeal to those who otherwise liked the sound of the Uno but considered this a stumbling block.

$16,500/pair isn't exactly pocket change, but the Uno Nano is actually Avantgarde's least expensive three-way floorstander. (The top-of-the-line Trio Classic, with six Bass Horns, will set you back $149,000.) As such, and for what it offers in sound quality, the Uno Nano can be considered something of a bargain in today's high-end marketplace. Another factor that needs to be kept in mind is the Uno Nano's 104dB sensitivity—it can be driven by an amplifier of just about any power output, including those "flea-watt" single-ended-triode tube amps Sam Tellig is so fond of.

Then there's the matter of size. If you liked the sound of the Avantgarde Uno or Duo but felt those speakers were too big for your space, the Uno Nano's smaller footprint and less intimidating appearance might be enough to tempt you to open your wallet. The fact that Avantgarde Acoustic has been able to produce a speaker substantially smaller than the Uno that not only retains the Uno's positive qualities, but actually improves on them, is a major achievement.

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Avantgarde North America
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