These speakers are unquestionably the best I’ve ever owned. I have yet to hear their equal.
It’s taken me a few months to pluck up the courage to write down what I think about them because I’m simply not doing them justice at the moment. I just *know* there’s so much more to come, provided I can find partnering equipment that suits them, and a room where I can turn the volume up a bit and revel in the dynamic range.
First of all the primary reason I like them so much is musicality. Frankly most hi-fi systems get more and more revealing as you upgrade, and somehow the music gets lost in the process. Now, that’s a glib statement that’s bandied around so often it’s just guaranteed to put some people off reading any further. Well, persevere if you can. What I mean is I sit: and listen and enjoy just about everything, and sometime get up and jig a bit to the music. I don’t know why, but with my old Wilsons I heard what was going on, colouration was minimal and dynamics could be awesome, and yet... and yet... I just sat and watched TV instead.
The Duos make me want to listen to music again. Even CD!
Other strengths... the dynamics are simply superb, both micro and macro. It feels like there’s no dynamic ceiling for a start - volume changes are simply effortless. Secondly, slight changes in volume are faithfully reproduced, which adds to the realism. A phrase breathed into the microphone captures the initial HUFFfffff of breath as though it were right there in the room... wonderful, very real.
Part of the reason for this has to be how easy they are to drive. Not only is the impedance very high and fairly flat across the frequency range, the sensitivity is exceptionally high, so you can (in theory; see disadvantages below) get away with just about any amp. I’m currently using a couple of old Quad II monoblocks that I bought 2ndhand and are probably 30 years old if not more - original valves too - and they work very, very well.
Soundstaging is excellent. In my room I’ve never been able to get wonderful stages that extend beyond the boundaries of the speakers from either the Duos or the Wilsons, which are supposed to get excellent results, but they are each at least as good as the other. Depthwise as well, even pressed close to the wall as I’m unfortunately forced to put them, I get some good depth out of the soundstage.
Transparency is top class. Slight changes in the system are faithfully reproduced, where feasible, by which I mean the Quads and SP8 preamp are not the latest word in transparency... but change the amp (as I have done for a trial, see below) and you’ll soon see there’s little to criticise here. Change a cable, tweak this or that and you’re going to hear something. Also, slight sounds aren’t hidden in the mix of louder sounds and come through when the amps let them. These aren’t one-note speakers; they’re transparent to all sorts of sound, whatever the volume or frequency.
Tonality is excellent. The midrange and treble are a particular strength. Midrange is smooth, creamy, very natural, if not quite at LS3/5a levels of BBC accuracy. Treble is very extended, perhaps a tiny bit rolled off at the ultimate extreme, but extended without being harsh or hard in the slightest bit. OK, maybe just the tiniest bit hard, but that’s being super-critical and may very well be a fault elsewhere in my system.
Integration is good plus to very good, but the design starts to show its’ flaws here. Frankly, the midrange, treble and bass are coming out of separate enclosures, so it’s a miracle it’s as good as it is. If you bother to sit and disassemble the sound you can start to tell where the bass is coming from, and if you sit too close to the speakers you might also be able to separate treble and midrange sounds too. If, like me, you start to disassemble and then forget 10 seconds later and enjoy the music instead, it’s a very, very worthwhile trade-off.
Compared to the rest of the speaker, the bass is not in the same league. Compared to anything else it’s extremely good, but it’s not as quick, as dynamic, or as transparent as the midrange and treble. But, on the whole, it doesn’t matter because the whole speaker is so good you just forget it. I understand the very latest 2002 sub units are even better than the ones I have, which are a substantial improvement over the original subs shipped when the speaker was first launched, but I’m not inclined to change up because I’m not a bass head and they’re just so good anyway!
Don’t think of these speakers like horn speakers in the Lowther sense. For a short while I was enraptured by some Lowther-esque designs - Carfrae, Beauhorn, Hedlund, Rethm et al - which display an astounding set of qualities that in some ways eclipse the Avantgarde designs; driver integration (there is only one driver), dynamics, etc. In my opinion the trade offs in limited bass, the inevitable papery midrange and treble and an inability to deal with modern pop or rock music simply knock them out of contention, unless you ONLY listen to four-piece jazz combos or Balinese klong music.
To my mind that’s an interesting comment; no really good speaker can be truly bad on all types of music, whether classical or baroque or thrash metal or (sigh) gagsta rap. Whilst some recordings are revealed to be crappy rubbish that only appeals to the pre-teen masses, at least it’s some sort of musical crappy rubbish and unlistenable only for the content, not the reproduction. Score 1 big point for the Duo, which gives several horn strengths and avoids most of the usual trade offs.
A key test is the piano, which is in reality a percussion instrument. Through the Wilson WATT a piano sounds like a piano and does a damn good job of helping your imagination think that there’s a piano nearby. The Duo is better. All right, I have to admit a piano doesn’t sound like it’s in the room with you... but from the kitchen it does sound, on occasion, like the piano is in the living room... and well-recorded piano sounds more real than with any other speaker I have ever heard. I like that.
I have read criticism that the speaker will not soundstage unless you clamp your head in one place. Well, this isn’t true; good setup fixes it. You DO need to make sure you take the time to set them up right. Having said that, I think they are more directional that conventional speakers, so you could chalk that up as a disadvantage. Once again I simply don’t care because I enjoy them so much, and they DO soundstage very well.
I think you have to sit some way away from them to make the soundstaging and driver integration work. You can set them up in a small room and enjoy the dynamics and musicality, but sitting too close you will lose out a bit, which is a shame. A curiosity is that they sound quieter when you’re in the listening hotspot (or hot-sofa) but if you get up you may suddenly realise just how loud they’re actually playing.
Another criticism I have read is that they simply sound crap. Again this is just untrue. I can’t believe anyone could mark them down, because they do so much so well. OK, someone else might prefer a Wilson design, a Revel or a Talon or Martin Logan; whatever you prefer. I hear what’s good in those designs and appreciate it; what intrigues me is how anyone could simply hear Avantgarde speakers sounding awful.
Well, IMHO the answer is partnering equipment every time. That easy load and high sensitivity is its’ Achilles heel, because a whole load of amps are suprisingly noisy, and in fact surprisingly bad at the low power the Duos need to achieve reasonable volumes. I have a Sony AV amp I use for home theatre duties and which I tried out for a laugh; immediately it was connected I heard a loud hiss through the speakers, and hard, harsh sounds. Through conventional 8 ohm, 89db floorstanding two-way speakers that same Sony had come across as one of the best sub-£600 amps I had heard, with some nice musicality and a degree of warmth other Japanese AV amps didn’t display. But, on the Duos, unacceptably bad.
The Duo’s transparency reveals harshness and brightness and hardness and timing flaws in a whole bunch of equipment that can sound pretty good with more conventional speakers, for a whole bunch of technical reasons. That doesn’t necessarily mean you must have valve amps - they sounded great with my old Jeff Rowland Coherence II / Model 2 & BPS pre/power amps, solid-state but really fast and quiet and natural, alas I couldn’t afford to keep them and buy the Duos - but valve equipment tends to be what works and what’s sold for them because....... well, I guess just “because”......
So if you go somewhere and hear crap Avantgardes, suspect (a) the setup and (b) the equipment.
I’m not averse to upgrading my equipment if I can find something that works well. However, I value the musicality and enjoyment I currently get from SCD1-> SP8 -> QuadII -> Duos even though I know more modern amps will probably give me more detail, more dynamics, more tone and more soundstage.
For example, I was able to home dem an Acoustic Masterpiece M101 power amp, an 8W SET with Tamura output transformers that is essentially an Air Tight design on a smaller budget. It was great; very quiet, adjustable gain on the input (I have a gain problem with the SP8/Quad II since only a couple of notches on the pre is as much volume as I want to get in my flat) and lots of so-called SET magic.
Alas, I preferred the Quads. Whilst the M101 was more transparent, more detailed, more modern in that regard, it was quieter and didn’t rock like the Quads. So I gave up the extra hi-fi in favour of the music. Long live music!
If you’re in the market for a speaker like the Duos, or the Unos or Trios, I’d thoroughly recommend you listen to them and try going back to a conventional speaker afterwards. The only speaker I could tolerate afterwards is a good mini-monitor like a ProAc, or an LS3/5a, or possibly a Guarneri Homage; for some reason they work for me since they’re probably not trying to be full range and so I don’t mentally compare them to my own Duos and find them wanting.
If you must listen to another speaker, or you need another metaphor to gain an insight into how they sound, then try listening to a cheaper speaker and put your budget into a mega powerful superamp, possibly one of the new digital amps that’re getting so much good press these days. I have a sneaking suspicion I never did the old Wilsons justice with a Model 2, and might have woken them up with a mega Krell or Levinson or something like that. Trouble is, I don’t like Krells, at least not the modern ones, and I still don’t think I’d enjoy them as much as I’m enjoying these Duos with some fairly cheap partnering equipment.
Go listen for yourselves......
Sony SCD-1 Audio Research SP8 (2ndhand, valves are Golden Dragons I think) Quad II monoblocks, original valves Avantgarde Duos, Porsche Jade Green metallic, silver wired Van Den Hul D102 mkIII interconnects throughout Maplin silver/copper speaker wire (yes, really!) Russ Andrews power cables & silencers Ben Duncan mains conditioner thingy
I LOVED THE DYNAMICS AND INHERENT NATURAL SOUND THAT THE SPEAKER OFFERED WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE A PA SYSTEM. IT REACTED WELL TO A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT AMPS INCLUDING A JEFF ROWLAND MODEL 9 A MARK LEVINSON 333 AND SOME BAT VALVES
Simply outstanding. Turn the lights out and you will not locate the speaker as a source - just music portrayed in space with an incredibly stable image. Instruments and voices have a timbre that conveys nuances that are rare. Add to this the ability to effortlessly move from quiet detail to full dynamics and this is simply one of the best all around speakers for conveying music emotionally that I have ever listened to.
So how to make this make sense versus some of the more critical reviews below? A couple of points:
First, these are incredibly responsive to both set up and the other electronics. While good sound can be obtained with relative ease, fine tuning the listening triangle will really bring out the best, as will matching with musical tube amps.
As for the inability to turn your head without losing the image, I simply do not have that problem. Most likely due to the work done on the set up. The image remains stable in space whether I move my head up, down or turn to the sides. Yes, this is a directional speaker so there is some loss of image if you move away from the center, but there is no loss of the rest of the sound quality (full range balance, dynamics, musical involvemnet, etc.)
So my recommendation is that if you are interested, make sure you listen where the dealer knows the product well and the set up is right. Then make sure that they also provide the service to insure that you get everything possible from these speakers in your home. It is well worth it!
These speakers will definatly make a good first impression; they look like a piece of art and are very dynamic.
However, anyone used to a line source speaker (such as dipoles and planars, etc) will soon become very disappointed. Even turning your head will effect the sound. You must adjust the horns to your seating height (or vice versa) and not move from that position. In contrast, line source speakers allow you to move around with very little change in sound - just like a real concert event. Unfortunately, these are point source speakers to the extreme.
The do have great dynamic sound that gives some semblance of a true rock concert (once you and the speakers are positioned correctly). They also are not as bright sounding as similar brands and appear to have very low distortion.
However, the horn / woofer integration could be better, and the horns and woofer should not be mounted on the same frame, because of doppler effects on strong bass notes. The Tri model has the correct implementation.
Overall, I think these would be very good in a home theatre application, but not serious hifi. This review is based on the model with the 217PRO subwoofer.