Avantgarde Acoustic Uno Series Two loudspeaker Robert Deutsch Series 3.0 Uno Followup
Time sure flies when you're having fun. Seems like yesterday, but it was about two years ago that I received the Avantgarde Uno Series 2.0 loudspeakers for review. Readers familiar with that review (September 2000, Vol.23 No.8)) may recall that I liked the speakers so much that I decided to buy them, my stated intention being to keep my long-term reference Dunlavy SC-IV/As in my dedicated listening-room system, and to set up the Avantgardes in a separate system in the living room.
However, as I thought more about it, I realized that this was not a good plan. The Avantgardes look anything but unobtrusive, and having a system in the living room plus another in the main listening room upstairs, not to mention the home-theater system in the basement, would have made our house seem like one of those home-based audio dealerships. Forced to choose, I reluctantly said goodbye to the SC-IV/As—speakers that I still hold in high regard—and the Unos stayed in the listening room. Although the Unos' high sensitivity and the fact that they incorporate a powered subwoofer makes them less than ideal for reviewing purposes—they're not much good for evaluating 200Wpc amplifiers—I wasn't willing to give up the sense of dynamic "aliveness" that these speakers are able to communicate. I've heard some exceedingly fine-sounding speakers in the past two years, but nothing that would make me think seriously about getting rid of the Unos (footnote 1).
And now Avantgarde's Series 3.0 Uno has made its appearance. According to Jim Smith, president of Avantgarde-USA, the changes are evolutionary, refining the design rather than changing it in any fundamental way. The tweeter and midrange horn drivers are the same as before, but the SUB 225 subwoofer has been reworked, and the internal wiring (and the external jumpers providing connections from the midrange to the tweeter and the subwoofer) and the connectors have been changed. The SUB 225's 10" drivers now have butyl rubber rather than urethane foam surrounds, and the subwoofer amplifier has a new input board that features better resistance to RFI/EMI, higher sensitivity, and now has line-level (balanced and unbalanced) as well as speaker-level inputs. All binding posts have been changed from WBTs to what Avantgarde claims are better-sounding Cardas rhodium-plated connectors, and the internal wiring and jumpers are from Cardas. (Casey McKee, Avantgarde-USA's national sales manager, told me that he spent three weeks auditioning cables before selecting this one.)
The Series 3.0 Uno is available only in the markets served by Avantgarde-USA: North and Central America. The Unos sold elsewhere are all Series 2.0s, albeit with the improvements to the subwoofer incorporated. The price of the Uno has risen from $10,970-$12,970 (depending on the finish of the horns and subwoofer) to $11,970-$13,970. Kits to upgrade from Series 2.0 to Series 3.0 will be available in late summer.
With McKee's help (these speakers are heavy!), I set up a new pair of Uno 3.0s in my listening room as close as possible to the positions of the speakers they replaced. After compensating for the new subwoofer amp's higher sensitivity, I set the crossover point and subwoofer level to be the same as the Series 2.0s'. The amplifiers were Air Tight ATM-211 monoblocks (review to come in October); speaker cables were the same Nordost Valhallas I'd used with the 2.0s.
When I'd received the original Uno 2.0s, I'd initially set them up in a casual way in the living room, with associated equipment that I happened to have on hand. I played this system for a few weeks before moving the speakers to the upstairs listening room, but didn't pay much attention to a possible break-in effect while the speakers were in the living room, and by the time I'd moved them upstairs, any break-in period had probably passed—I noticed very little change in the speakers' sound with continued use.
This time, the situation was more optimal for identifying a possible break-in phenomenon, and, indeed, the sound of the speakers improved considerably over those first three weeks. (I played the Uno 3.0s every day for several hours, and left them playing at high level when no one was at home.) They became smoother, more delicate in the upper midrange and treble. Comparing the performance of the broken-in 3.0s with the 2.0s, I noted three areas of improvement.
First, the bass was cleaner, better integrated with the rest of the range, and seemed slightly more extended. The organ in Dubois' Sept Paroles du Christ (Fidelio FACD008, a musically and technically superb recording that I picked up at the Montreal Festival Son & Image, and available from Fidelio's website) shook the room more convincingly and was more clearly delineated than with the Series 2.0s. Some of these improvements could have been due to a more optimal physical setup: Casey McKee and I tried to place the 3.0s in the same positions as the 2.0s, but sometimes a small difference in speaker placement can have a significant sonic effect, and it's possible that the adjustment of the spikes for the new speakers may have been more optimal, producing better coupling to the floor. My guess is that, putting aside the possible role of minor setup differences, the improvements in the bass were at least partly a function of the changes in the subwoofer amplifier, driver surround, and connectors and cables.
The second improvement was in subwoofer noise level. With the 2.0s, when I walked into the listening room with the main amplifiers turned off but the subwoofer amplifiers on, I could hear a bit of buzz or hum coming from the subwoofers. There was still some noise apparent with the 3.0s under the same conditions, but it was much subdued; if I concentrated, I could just hear it from the listening seat. With a speaker as sensitive as the Uno, noise from associated electronics and ground loops remains potentially problematic, but at least the Series 3.0's revised amplifier module reduces the subwoofer's contribution to this sort of problem.
The third area of improvement was more subtle but, for me, even more important: enhanced transparency throughout the midrange and treble. The Uno 2.0's level of transparency was already excellent, so I didn't anticipate any improvement in this area, but as I kept listening to the 3.0s I had a persistent feeling that I was hearing more of what was on the recording and less "speaker sound." There was no obvious change in tonal balance—no added brightness or "presence rise" in the frequency response—just a greater sense that the sound was that of real musical instruments and voices, not an electromechanical contrivance. Since the Uno's midrange driver and tweeter have not been changed, this improvement must be a function of the new connectors and wiring.
The Avantgarde Uno Series 2.0 was rated Class A in the last "Recommended Components" (April 2002), and was named Joint Loudspeaker of the Year for 2000. Now, with the Series 3.0 improvements, this excellent speaker has been made even better.—Robert Deutsch
Footnote 1: I have been tempted by Avantgarde's Duo (which, with the Trio, has also been upgraded to Series 3.0 status), but I'm afraid that its larger midrange horn might not be as good a match with my 14' by 16' by 7.5' listening room.—Robert Deutsch