Avatar: Reference Audio on a Budget

"Reference Audio on a Budget" was the tagline for the exhibit from Darren and Bonnie Censullo's Avatar Acoustics of Fayetteville, GA. Most important, the room featured two world premieres. First was a product you're sure to hear more about, the Axis Voicebox S loudspeaker ($3000/pair). A 5 ohm, 83dB sensitive model with a frequency response of 45Hz–20kHz ±3dB, this little baby was paired with Abbingdon Music Research's AMR AM 777 60Wpc hybrid integrated amplifier ($4500), AMR CD-777 player ($4500), Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable ($4995) with DFA 10.5 tonearm ($1000), AMR PH-77 phono preamp ($11,995, and soon to be reviewed by Michael Fremer)), and DFA premium tonearm cable ($600). Throw in $11,265 worth of cabling and power distribution from Acoustic System International and Avatar Acoustics, including the world premier of the Avatar Acoustics Mach 4 Power Distributor ($1800 with power cable), and $10,240 worth of Acoustic System International Resonators, and your hypothetical budget would top $50,000.

Happily, the system did live up to its claims of reference audio. In a small room, I was quite impressed with the marvelous size of images and compelling sense of acoustic space that this little set-up produced. In fact, I was so intrigued that I took a second listen at show's closing. That time, I played the CD layer of Revueltas' Sensemaya performed by Australia's Ebony Band on a fabulous Channel Classics hybrid SACD. The size and weight of images, as well as they placement at the rear of a huge soundstage, was mind boggling fabulous. How much the Acoustic Resonators played a part, I don't know. What is certain is that the Axis Voicebox S from Australia, with its 50mm true-ribbon tweeter and 5.5" woofer, looks and sounds like a winner.

John Atkinson adds that when he visited the room, Avatar's Daren Censullo (pictured) was playing the M•A CD of Alternesia, composed and performed by Stereophile's self-described "Web Monkey" Jon Iverson. Wonderful synchronicity and equally wonderful sound.

Tyler's picture

As a professional acoustical engineer, it pains me to see that snake oil salesmanship is now in full force with acoustical products. Those Acoustical System International "RESONATORS" are a joke. $10,000+ for a few panels with high Q resonances between 80-100 Hz (at least, according to the laughable "scientific study" I found on the web). I'm sure the ringing that the panels have at high frequencies further enhances their acoustical "benefits". I shouldn't even bother saying that $11k worth of cables in a "budget" display using $3k speakers is beyond ludicrous.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The Acoustic Resonators are not panels.

Tyler's picture

Oh my god, I just found pictures of what these things actually are. It's 100x worse than I thought. 2"x2" wooden blocks with small metal "resonator horn" on them. Gee, only $2500 for six of them, huh?I should be stunned that any sane adult with more than two brain cells to rub together would think these actually do anything, but it's the audiophile world, so I'm not. Ok,I lied, I'm still stunned.The only actual "data" on these is in a "paper" that shows them reducing the decay time in a room significantly at 80 Hz. These things are completely invisible to any sound wave below 1000 Hz. Even though I already knew it before, this shows that the paper is a complete and malicious LIE. Stereophile should be ashamed even mentioning that these ridiculous tchotkes might be improving the sound.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Dear anonymous shamer,Have you listened? If you haven't, I don't think you're in the best position for trying to control what Stereophile reports on. Note that all your outrage is over a simple act of reporting. They were there. I said they were there.

rvance's picture

Gee Tyler, thanks for blowing the lid off audio tweaks. Now if you could apply your considerable indignation to runaway Toyotas and nuclear proliferation, we could all sleep easier tonight.

Tyler's picture

The question is why aren't all of you "outraged"? Items like this should insult anyone's intelligence and are bad for the hobby. Room acoustics are finally getting the attention they deserve in audiophilia, so of course that brings the charlatans out of the wood workMy only comment on the reporting is that products like these aren't called out as the fraud jobs they are. I wish there was more J Gordon Holt attitude in Stereophile nowadays...

FRARF's picture

Tyler, I too am outraged that audiophile journalists abuse the notion of keeping an open mind to encouraging others to be open to what is basically fraud. The audiophile community needs to be open to input from reputable engineers and psychoacoustics experts, even if it ridicules fashionable accessories.

John Atkinson's picture

Tyler and FRARF, show coverage like this reportage, pure and simple. It is not the place for editorializing of the kind you are wishing for. For opinions, you need to read the paper magazine. (I assume that you are Stereophile readers?) See, for example, my thoughts from some years back at http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/787/ .

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I'm glad to make the acquaintance of John's old editorial. Of course, what was $50 back then costs a lot more now. Both John and I have written at shows about our experiences with the Synergistic Research ART system. It purports to work similarly to the Acoustic Resonators. Although a full system is in the four figures, it costs a hell of a lot less that a full acoustic resonator system.

Paul's picture

Visiting the Avatar room over the last weekend was a pleasure. The reproduction of music was most enjoyable. To top off the experience the representatives from Avatar (both adults and children) added to the experience. My friends who accompanied me share my comments.

Bill's picture

I don't know about the resonators, frankly I would have liked to hear one room with them, and one without. What I do know is those Axis Voicebox speakers were amazing.

FRARF's picture

Thank you for your replies. I respect the dilemma journalists find themselves in when reporting on things they can't know for sure. Any reasonable adult carries the burden of deciding what to buy or believe. This reason is stifled when journalists are predisposed to accept pseudoscience in the vain hope that it might some day be validated, if not by science then at least by aesthetic appeal. Worse yet is when audiophile publications provide endless coverage for these shams with nary a peep about the science of acoustics and how it directly contradicts the claims made by the marketing you pass on to your readers.Perusing your website incites an odd mixture of joy and intermittent disgust.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Isn't it wonderful that neither this journalist nor Stereophile is "guilty" of the things that concern you.

Cleo's picture

This has to be a joke right?

Ken's picture

After reading Tyler’s comments, it’s obvious that (at least) one of three conditions is at play: 1. Tyler has a financial interest in a competing product to the Acoustic Systems Resonator’s; 2. Tyler has never heard the Resonator’s and simply doesn’t know what he is talking about; or 3. Tyler hearing range is limited and thus he is unable to recognize the improvements made by the Resonator’s.As someone who uses them and without any financial interest, I can attest to their effectiveness. I first listened to the Resonator’s at CES a little over a year ago. Franck Tchang (who developed the resonators) gave a demonstration of them the last night of the show. Before the demonstration, I was very skeptical that these tiny cups could do anything – boy was I wrong! Apparently each of these Resonator’s is made of different metals, and has a distinct affect upon how it changes sound. In my own listening room, I use a Basic and Silver. The Basic make the low end tighter and more pronounced, while the Silver substantially improves definition and clarity in the upper midrange. I have even experimented in moving the Silver up and down by as little as an inch, and the changes, while subtle, are discernable. I have done this both on my own and “blind” with someone else moving the Resonator so that I could remain objective. In fact, one evening I had removed the Silver Resonator altogether and was listening to a CD. My son (who is 18 years old and has exc

Ken's picture

Since the last portion of my post was cut off, here’s the rest: My son had walked into the listening room unaware that the Silver Resonator had been removed. Within just a few moments he commented (to the effect) “something doesn’t sound right”. I quickly replaced the Resonator and we both agreed that the system then sounded much better. The clarity of Allison Krauss’ voice (the CD I had been listening to) was brought into focus. The only negative comment I have about the Resonators is the price – they are certainly not cheap. But then of course, they are way less expensive than replacing major components of a system, and the changes they make are just as dramatic. I have no doubt that eventually I will have a complete set of Resonators in my listening room. The Resonators are an outstanding product!

Omar's picture

I'll take three of them.