Audio Physic Avanti III loudspeaker
The problem for Audio Physic was that the Virgo was so good at doing the things this well-regarded German company is noted for that the almost-twice-the-price Avanti (originally introduced in 1989 and twice revised), though superior in many respects, was simply not competitive on the showroom floor.
Not that the Virgo is perfect: Its warmish midbass coloration was bothersome to some listeners, and its top end, though detailed, could sound somewhat smoothed-over. The keys to the Virgo's success have been its uncanny overall performance balance, the "disappearing" act it pulls, and the huge soundfield it generates, which never fails to excite the senses. You just want to keep listening to it. Add to that its surprisingly small, very narrow, and stylish package, and it's not hard to understand the Virgo's continued popularity.
Raising the Bar High
With his $2495/pair Spark III a big hit in the marketplace, and the stratospherically priced Caldera ($19,000/pair) and Medea ($50,000/pair, now discontinued) out of the financial reach of most audiophiles, Audio Physic founder Joachim Gerhard needed a fresh midprice star in the company's speaker lineup, both to attract new customers to the brand and to give longtime Virgo owners a meaningful choice of upgrades. (The current $6295 Libra, another highly regarded design, doesn't seem to offer sufficient trade-up enticement for the large population of Virgo lovers.)
Gerhard and design partner Manfred Diesterich set out to create a new Avanti at or above the important $10,000/pair price point. That's expensive, but in today's marketplace, such a price is affordable for many well-heeled audiophiles, and it's a comfortable financial stepping stone for Virgo owners looking to move up within the brand.
When I wanted to move beyond the Virgos after four happy years, I didn't see (or hear) the second-generation Avanti as my path to sonic fulfillment, nor did the accomplished but somewhat staid-sounding Caldera attract my attention. But when I learned about the new Avanti III and saw and heard prototypes during a factory visit in spring 2000, I needed some questions answered right away: Is the Avanti twice as good as the Virgo? More than twice as good? Or is just another competent but undistinguished design?
The physical and sonic vibes I got from the prototype, and the sense of direction and commitment I felt from Joachim Gerhard during my visit, led me to believe that the Avanti III might be a breakthrough product.
Like many small manufacturers, Audio Physic doesn't build its own drivers or cabinets. Instead, it relies on the R&D of speaker companies like Vifa, SEAS, and ScanSpeak for the raw driver technology, which it then often modifies (and usually improves) to fit its particular needs. The Avanti III uses a new non-ferrofluid dual-concentric ring-radiator tweeter, developed by Vifa, that appears to be essentially flat to 30kHz and is said to extend all the way out to 40kHz. The version used by Audio Physic appears similar that used by Krell in its new LAT-1, that I heard demonstrated at the Home Entertainment 2001 Show in May.
This brings up an important point: Just because two drivers look the same on the outside doesn't mean they're identical inside. Vifa's ring tweeter is apparently available at several different levels of performance and price. A modified version of the expensive edition is used on the Avanti III, mounted on a custom precision-turned, diamond-finished aluminum front plate.
Gerhard's take on metal-cone drivers has shifted 180 degrees since he designed the Virgo. Back then, he told me he was more comfortable with paper cones; that while metal had certain theoretical advantages in terms of stiffness and low mass that could lead to improved dynamics and linearity, its resonance problems had not yet been sufficiently addressed to make it worth using.