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RMAF 2015: Avantgarde trumpets the horns with Sutherland and Bergmann

I like rooms at audio shows that have combos that I’ve never seen or heard, or never seen and heard together.

Bergmann Magne air-bearing tonearm and turntable with Ortofon Cadenza Black ($18-20,000 USD)

Audio Pathways out of Richmond Hill, Ontario had an Ortofon Cadenza Black (approx. $2,729 USD) wired into a Bergmann Magne air-bearing tonearm and turntable (Approx. $18,000-$20,000 USD) feeding into a Sutherland Argentum dual-chassis, dual-mono phono stage ($14,000 USD) and had run that through an Avantgarde XA stereo integrated amplifier ($18,800 USD) into Avantgarde Duo Mezzo full-range horn loudspeakers ($68,000 USD). The set-up was loomed with python-thick Transparent Audio cabling. Not exactly your everyday kit.

When I arrived at the room Pink Floyd’s The Wall was playing at headbanging SPLs through a digital source and the place was standing-room only with several very enthusiastic, albeit slightly red-faced men gyrating in their seats with abandon. But shortly after I requested a Classic Records remaster of Billy Holiday’s Songs for Distingué Lovers, and the stylus hit the groove, the place emptied out: Bliss.

Avantgarde XA

This is a not a system I would have dreamed of matching together myself, but it was obvious that considerable thought and care had been put into developing one capable of not only delivering foundation-rattling speed and slam for rock and metal-heads alike, but one that was also able to translate the delicate air, tempo and harmonics that acoustic jazz ensembles require with a real ability to engage and grab the listener.

A synergistic system with slam

The speed accuracy of the air-bearing Magne and it’s belt-driven, DC-motor was apparent throughout the LP, with pitch spot-on to my ears, and the Candenza’s Nude Shibata stylus digging every subtlety out of the grooves, especially of note were the performances it gleaned from Jimmy Rowles piano and Barney Kessel’s guitar, giving each player plenty of space on the sound stage, with beautifully articulated attack and decay on notes.

Bergmann air-bearing linear tonearm

Sutherland’s latest upper-tier phono stage is the Argentum, and features silver wire throughout the signal path. Having owned a battery-powered Sutherland phono stage a few years ago, I can attest to his dual-mono designs and the painstaking attention to sonic detail that Ron Sutherland wrests from his aluminum and steel stages. From the Sutherland website:

“In the Argentum all the socket disruptions are eliminated. That is, the socket is eliminated and the silver wires are soldered DIRECTLY to the IC pin. There are no circuit board traces or anything else introduced in the signal path. Even the best IC sockets add layers of disruption in the signal path. There is socket material, the plating on it, the connection to the spring contacts, the spring material, the plating on it and, finally, the contact to the IC pin itself. At each interface there is a change from one material to another.”
Using silver is sometimes not an easy sell as there seems to still to a be a lingering prejudice that silver is “bright,” which is a shame because I personally, as well as others I know who run a lot of silver wring and cabling in their systems, have found that not to be the case at all. I can say that what I heard through the Argentum seemed to build on and improve all the hallmarks of Sutherland phono stages that I’ve listened to over the years which is namely air, delicacy, and nuance around voices – strings and piano in particular – coupled with real heft, weight and presence on percussion and horns.

Sutherland Argentum phono stage

The 120 watt per channel XA integrated was fleet-footed and held firmly to bass lines and complex acoustic instrument threading throughout play. According to Avantgarde the XA uses a DC flow circuit to battle cross-zero distortions, an incredibly rigid, cast, two-piece case and chassis in an effort to reject vibration and resonance, and internal primary and secondary voltage filters. These filters actively regulate the power and readies it for instantaneous use in large, onboard energy storage units within the circuit.

Avantgarde XA

The speakers really pressurized the room, which was on the small side (hotels!). I’d love to hear the Mezzo’s with more space around them, room to let them breathe so to speak. Regardless, these large horn-loaded and powered sub-woofer designs acquitted themselves with real presence and authority, and I for one love their look. All-in-all, another synergistic system put together to engage the listener and provide an open window onto the sonic performance.

Well done, Audio Pathways.

Avantgarde Mezzo

About Rafe Arnott (390 Articles)
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream
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