It seems like lately, I’ve been reconsidering some past held audio prejudices. For one, I have started to re-evaluate low power amps and what they are capable of. Two, I am understanding in more detail how everything on a turntable matters following a purchase of the astounding VPI 3D tonearm. Third, I am realizing that there are, in fact, some special qualities to horn speakers. In the past, my ears have been very sensitive to any “honky” sounds that horns make. Now, I am finding that the better manufacturers have solved this completely and now we get the real-life dynamics that impress so many fans of horn speakers. When I visited Mike Bovaird’s Suncoast Audio store last year, I did not spend much time with his Avantgarde loudspeakers. At the Florida show in Tampa this year, however, this was the room that Mike occupied, the other Suncoast room being run by Peter Mackay from Magico, shown with some awesome Luxman products (show report to follow). In this room, the Avantgarde Duos were making magic. I visited twice and heard great sound both times. There was a realism and richness to the sound that was seductive. I think it comes down to a few factors.
First, Mike was serving up digital with the new MSB Premiere DAC and power supply. Oh boy. This is some of the best digital I have heard. Honestly, I wish I could afford it. The dynamics were superb. The detail retrieval was magnificent but never etched like digital can sound. The soundstage had lots of depth and width. But what impresses me about the MSB is how flexible the gear is. You can add modules to adjust functionality and inputs. You can also add power supplies to improve sound quality. This configuration had the “77” femtoclock and USB for inputs. And the front panel display uses large LEDs that are very easy to see from across the room. It appears to be a fully thought-out product and it looks good. Also playing a role was the Aurender N10 feeding a quality stream of bits into the MSB DAC. Mike also had the Lumin T2 server/DAC with support for Tidal, Qobuz and MQA. We listened to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The texture of Bob Dylan’s gravely voice was spot on. The guitar picking had great tone and the harmonica was dynamic and textured. A very enjoyable listen.
The second factor was the Italian hand-built Viva Audio amplifier Classico Integrated 300B driving the Avantgardes. These amps are beautiful and seemed to drive the speakers very well even with 10 watts of power. But the sound of 300Bs remains magical and the Viva was delivering. I love the gorgeous notch in the case and the way the Suncoast logo was reflecting in the gloss black finish. Solid. Tube complement was 2x 300B, 2x 5U4GB, 1x 6N1P, 1x 6SN7. Designer Amedeo Schembri has put his background in recording studio work to good us for us audiophiles.
The third factor was the quality of the Avantgarde speakers themselves. This was the Avantgarde Acoustic UNO Fino Edition with two prominent horns on the front with one for tweeter and one for the midrange. Efficiency is a whopping 107 db. A ten-inch downward-firing subwoofer and 500 watt Class D subwoofer amp are embedded in the cabinet. Mike says these speaker are “like a chameleon” and by that he means that you can use built-in DSP and EQ to tailor the system to your room and sound preferences. This includes adjusting the sub crossover point which is usually around 290 hz but Mike use 310 hz. Equalization can be adjusted for tube or solid state amplification. You can adjust the crossover in infinite ways but Mike says he prefers a BBC-like curve such as a Harbeth sound. All this can be adjusted from the listener’s chair, on a mac or windows laptop, via ethernet or USB into the speakers. Each speaker even has its own IP address!
Finally, Shunyata Research had placed a Denali tower for line conditioning and then cabled the system with the top of the line Sigma cables. This created a super low noise floor which enabled us to hear more bass, mids, and highs. The Denali is beautiful to look at in its convenient tower form but the performance is fantastic.
This was one of my favorite rooms at the shows and it is fitting that Mike, one of the show sponsors, was able to showcase the amazing gear he carries in his Sarasota store. The sound was musical and detailed. It did not sound digitally sourced. It had that elusive flow of analog continuity. I can’t wait to visit his store again and I can’t wait to attend next year’s show in Tampa!
Lee wrote: “I am realizing that there are, in fact, some special qualities to horn speakers. In the past, my ears have been very sensitive to any “honky” sounds that horns make. Now, I am finding that the better manufacturers have solved this completely and now we get the real-life dynamics that impress so many fans of horn speakers.” Well about time, Lee! And not just the dynamics — the whole *reality* thing. The three best systems I have access to are all horn-based, but none of them is an available commercial product, nor do I operate horns myself. Good review, thanks. Just one quibble: I wish PTA would identify the people in photographs.