Listening #2 Page 2

On the less mathematical side of things we have New Yorker Bob Visintainer, the man behind Avantgarde Music & Cinema. In his own Victor Kiam-esque way, Visintainer liked his first pair of Avantgarde Duos so much that he bought a second pair, and he liked them so much he approached the speaker's US distributor, Jim Smith, and suggested giving the speakers their own store in a city where some audio dealers are notorious for their arrogance, condescension, and unstinting efforts on behalf of the cult of the trophy system. Smith said yes, and on November 13 he and some associates gathered at Avantgarde Music & Cinema for a meet'n'greet.

AM&C is on the edge of New York's Chelsea district (footnote 1), a perennially interesting area that offers the shopper a number of offbeat but generally friendly and affordable choices for antiques, houseplants, and other home furnishings. Bob Visintainer's spacious new place fits right in, with its nice oriental rugs and subtle lighting. And then there's the music...

The large main room at AM&C has a poor end and a rich end, the former set aside for Avantgarde's second-newest loudspeaker, the Solo. This is a compact, self-powered, concentric two-way, with an active equalizer that brings the Solo's low-frequency response down to an impressive 30Hz. Unusually for a concentric, the 1" high-frequency driver doesn't use the bass cone as its horn; instead, it's nestled at the throat of its own 4" polyurethane horn, which itself doubles as a phase plug for the 12" treated-paper bass driver. Solos cost $7000/pair and up, depending on finish; custom stands are additional.

At the other end of the room, literally and figuratively, is Matthias Ruf's latest creation: an enormous bass horn called, ta-da, the Basshorn. It's a modular, self-powered hornspeaker: You can have two, four, or six of them in your room (more than six will kill you), the minimum space requirement for two being approximately 270 square feet. Each single module contains a pair of Avantgarde's proprietary 12" drivers firing into a horn whose shape is part spherical, part exponential.

Onboard electronics provide 200W for each individual driver, but more than that, they contain Ruf's new patent-pending ADRIC circuit. This is intended to allow the use of a horn mouth of moderate size while electronically simulating the radiation resistance of a larger one. (Radiation resistance is the acoustic equivalent of electrical resistance in an amplifier circuit: It is the frequency-dependent load that is required in order to generate power.) Thus is it possible for designer Ruf to get an 18Hz tone out of a bass horn that has "only" a 9ft2 mouth.

So what does half a ton of lightning-fast, ultra-efficient (over 109dB!), 18Hz-deep, true horn bass sound like? Avantgarde Acoustic's founder, the usually soft-spoken Holger Fromme, says the six-module Basshorn system he's presently enjoying in his home "relegates other commercial bass systems to the Kindergarten." (There's something cool about hearing a real German use that word.) The Basshorns cost $20,000/pair—but if you're already in the market for Avantgarde's top-of-the-line Trio loudspeakers, you can skip the powered subwoofers that are normally a part of the package, and Avantgarde will give you $16,000 credit toward a pair of Basshorns instead.

In between those extremes at AM&C are upgraded versions of the three mainstays of Avantgarde Acoustic's hornspeaker line: the three-way Uno ($12,000 and up), the slightly larger three-way Duo ($17,000 and up), and the four-way Trio ($43,000 and up). All three are now being sold in 3.0 versions, and Matthias Ruf makes a point of saying that all existing Avantgarde products are fully upgradeable. All are available in a range of automotive colors that are deeply gorgeous but hellaciously expensive: The ABS plastic horns are devilishly difficult to finish, I'm told. My favorite is Zenith Blue Metallic, probably because it matches a certain car I want to buy.

Also in use at AM&C are accessories from Cardas, RPG, Grand Prix Audio, and Elrod Power Systems, and electronics from Audio Aero (France), Viva (Italy), and Audiopax (Brazil). All range from at least mildly interesting to downright exotic—especially Amadeo Schembri's beautiful Viva tube amps, which can be ordered with custom automotive finishes to match a given pair of Avantgarde loudspeakers. But of the electronics on display, it was the Audiopax Model 88 amplifier that most intrigued me. [Bob Deutsch will be reviewing this amplifier in the May 2003 issue.—Ed.] Yes, the Audiopax is a tube amp, and yes, it's single-ended. But beyond that, it's a bit hard to describe...

The Audiopax Model 88 is a $9970/pair monoblock rated for 30W a side, with a stated frequency response that goes all the way to 95kHz. It uses KT88 output tubes, but doesn't split the music signal about its axis, à la push-pull operation. It uses a clever way of using asymmetry to cancel out distortion at its output. The Model 88 doesn't have tube rectification per se, but it does have...

Footnote 1: Avantgarde Music & Cinema, 27 West 24th Street, Suite 502, New York. Tel: (212) 229-1842. E-mail