Avalon Eclipse loudspeaker
"Who is Charles Hansen?" I hear you muse. "And who are Avalon Acoustics?"
Charles is a whimsical-looking Coloradan with a penchant for loudspeaker design; Avalon Acoustics is the company formed to manufacture and sell those designs. Those with a nose for recent history will remember the excellent sound to be found in the CES rooms shared by Avalon Acoustics and the Jeff Rowland Design Group (footnote 1). Such sonic fussbudgets as Lewis Lipnick were witnessed retreating to the Avalon/Rowland room for vital musical restimulation before proceeding on their rounds. Even a heart-hardened show stalwart like me was to be found hanging out in these rooms, enjoying such sonic delights as Thomas Dolby's Aliens Ate My Buick or Kraftwerk's Electric Cafe albums before heading back to the "zoo," the hi-fi journalist's not-so-affectionate term for the main display area of a CES.
The loudspeaker gracing these sonic oases was the first design produced by Charles Hansen for Avalon Acoustics, the three-way Ascent, selling in the more lofty high-end emporia for a whopping $15,000. Such diverse reviewers as Bebo Moroni, writing for AudioReview in Italy, and Michael Gindi, in the US's Sounds Like..., have proclaimed the Ascent to be just about the best—ie, most neutral, most revealing, most sonically transparent—loudspeaker to be found around.
Nevertheless, a company's fortunes are not to be built with a model selling well into five figures—one reason why David Wilson introduced the WATT—and it was an eminently sensible move for Avalon to expand their line with a more affordable model. (Though the word "affordable" needs to be equipped with more than the usual degree of elasticity when the new model, in its most basic guise, is to sell for more than $5000/pair.)
The Eclipse shares the same "leaning-backward" styling of the Ascent, though its crossover is internal rather than being in a separate box. The Eclipse also shares the Ascent's unique beveled front baffle, which at its maximum is 4.5" thick. This contouring minimizes the baffle area in the vicinity of the tweeter, aiding a wide, smooth dispersion in the treble. The rigidly braced cabinet is built by Avalon, and to the knuckle test seems to resemble granite rather than some ligneous substance. It is available in two finishes: a gray Nextel selling for $5600/pair, and a superb, North-American hardwood veneer—Charles will not use a rain-forest veneer—on all surfaces except the base, which raises the price to $7200/pair.
Despite these high prices, the Eclipse is a two-way design. The tweeter is a modified version of the much-praised titanium-dome unit from MB in Germany, while the woofer is an expensive Eton driver featuring an edge-wound voice-coil, a cast basket, and a honeycomb cone fabricated from Kevlar and Nomex with a 7" radiating diameter. Unlike many high-end speakers, the Eclipses are recommended to be used with their grilles on. These consist of a vestigial graphite-reinforced nylon frame covered with black material. The entire space between the speaker baffle and the cloth is filled with felt, with holes cut in it for the drive-units to speak through. (That for the tweeter is beveled to minimize any cavity effect.) As supplied, the tweeters have wire-mesh cages over them. These are held on by the driver's magnetic field, and once the Eclipses have been optimally positioned, Avalon recommends carefully removing these grilles.
The crossover is contained within a sealed chamber in the Eclipse's base, with electrical connection via a downward-facing terminal strip within the speaker's black-painted, 1.5"-deep plinth. Though this makes rapid cable changes awkward, the terminals do allow spade lugs to be firmly torqued down. (Since Audio Research's Classic 60 became a more-or-less permanent fixture in my listening room, I have become a big fan of terminal strips rather than binding posts.)
Although I didn't examine the crossover, Avalon says that it's made from very high-quality components, including air-cored, Litz-wired inductors and selected polypropylene-dielectric capacitors throughout. Supplied with each pair of Eclipses are individual TDS frequency sweeps and a handsome hardbound book rather than a "manual." As well as including comprehensive (and sensible) instructions on how to set up the Eclipses, this book contains an excellent essay on choosing a loudspeaker's bass alignment. The sealed-box Eclipse's bass alignment has a Q (quality factor) of 0.5, which Charles feels to be optimum for bass transient performance.
Footnote 1: For a while, Avalon Acoustics was a division of the JRDG, though it is now owned by one Neil Patel, an amiable Philadelphia audiophile, businessman, and classical guitarist.—John Atkinson