The Smaller Advent loudspeaker Page 2
Classical music brought out the Advent's best. Listening to Tomiko Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul, from Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2), it was easy to hear the acoustic of Santa Fe's St. Francis Auditorium and the shuffling of the musicians on the stage. Although speaker designers in the early 1970s were not overly concerned with soundstaging, the Advents "disappeared" as they presented the instruments and soprano on a wide, deep soundstage. Overall, all instruments sounded fairly natural: the attack of Nancy Allen's harp was vibrant, and percussionist Tyler Mack's marimba was reproduced with subtly natural dynamics, lightning-fast transients, and shimmering body. Peter Wyrick's cello had the requisite rosiny growl, yet the instrument's natural wood sound was quite evident. Similarly, the timpani was as natural as I've heard from this revealing recording.
It was this recording's violin passages that revealed the Smaller Advent's principal coloration. As expected from a classic "New England sound" loudspeaker of the period, the extreme high frequencies were missing the upper partials; top-octave air was also absent, though not to the point that it distorted my overall perception of the instrument's overall timbre. More disturbing was a quality of the lower highs that was more textural than timbral. In this region, instruments had a grayish, grainy quality that stood out on every recording I played—a sharp deviation from the Advent's presentation of the rest of the frequency spectrum.
The solo acoustic guitar on George Crumb's Quest (CD, Bridge 9069) best exemplified the Advent's ability to develop a subtle, organic, low-level dynamic envelope with realistic articulation of transients, but the double bass revealed the speaker's second noticeable coloration: a slightly warm, round, resonant quality in the midbass. This, too, I noticed with all recordings, but as the warmth was uniformly distributed throughout the midbass region and was not severe enough to contribute any sense of overhang or sluggishness, I found it not the least bit objectionable.
Well-recorded orchestral works were stunning through the Smaller Advents. Antal Dorati and the London Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (CD, Mercury SR 90226) was explosively vibrant and dynamic, with a huge soundstage, and a sense of realism in the bass-drum fortissimos that had me wondering just how low these speakers could go. (JA?) Similarly, on David Chesky's Violin Concerto, from Area 31 (SACD/CD, Chesky SACD288, CD layer), I was able to easily follow each instrument in the Area 31 orchestra with excellent senses of ambience, transient articulation, and dynamics. John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR57-CD) revealed organic-sounding vocalists, with layers of air and realistic organ-pedal notes—and here, the slight midbass warmth added a slightly burnished quality that I found rather attractive. The lack of extreme top-end air was quite noticeable, however.
I enjoyed all jazz recordings through the Smaller Advents. Shelly Manne's drum solo on "I'm an Old Cowhand," from Sonny Rollins' Way Out West (CD, JVC VICJ 60083), had me put down my notebook as I watched the Advents "disappear." Rollins' tenor sax was breathy and burnished, though Ray Brown's double bass was a bit too warm in the instrument's bottom octave.
Voices were generally rich and vibrant, with an enticingly silky, holographic quality to both male and female singers. Madeleine Peyroux's voice on Dreamland (CD, Atlantic 82946-2) sounded as natural as I'd heard from this familiar recording. With some recordings of female vocals, however, there was a very narrow frequency range in which there seemed to be a sharp suckout, and this sometimes gave a slightly nasal quality to a voice approaching this range. I noticed this with Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (CD, Analogue Productions CAPP027) and Aimee Mann's Bachelor No. 2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo (CD, Super Ego SE002).
But when pummeled with high-energy rock music at loud volumes, the Advent could crank. On "Man Machine," from Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW-60611), the forceful bass-synth blasts and electronic percussion transients shook the room, but the speakers never sounded strained, compressed, or distorted.
Compared with the modern world
I compared the Smaller Advent with a number of my favorite speakers that are in the neighborhoods of the Advent's prices, both original ($139.90) and adjusted for inflation ($688): the Infinity Primus 150 ($198), the Epos M5 ($695), and the Amphion Helium2 ($1000). (All prices per pair.)
The Infinity Primus 150 had a bit more midrange detail than the Advent and its highs were a tad more extended, but it was somewhat less natural in the lower high frequencies. However, the Infinity's lower highs were not as grainy as the Advent's. The Infinity's bass was not as extended as the Advent's, its midbass was a little less warm, and it didn't have as much high-level dynamic bloom.
The Epos M5 had much more inner detail than the Advent, as well as clearer, crisper mid- and upper bass and highs that were more crisp and extended, though it was a bit more forward in the lower highs. The M5's highs were much more delicate, organic, and sophisticated than the Advent's, but its high-level dynamics were not as good.
The Amphion Helium2 had far more inner detail than the Smaller Advent, with airy, shimmering highs, and even better low-level dynamic articulation. The Helium2's midbass was much cleaner than the Advent's, but did not extend as deep.
Anachronism or modern treasure?
I enjoyed every minute I spent listening to the Smaller Advents driven by state-of-the-art modern gear. Although there were a few rough edges in tonal balance, I could listen around them, and they never interfered with the music. What was most surprising was that the Advents exhibited strengths in several areas that favorably compared with current affordable speakers but that had never emerged, to the best of my recollection, when the Advents were paired with equipment of the early 1970s. Finally, while there are many modern bookshelf speakers that I prefer to the Smaller Advent, if I had to live with the Advents for a year or so as my primary affordable loudspeaker, I could do so without hesitation. A pleasant surprise.
Special thanks to Lawrence DeVito of Analog Devices for the use of his Smaller Advents for this review.