Attention audiophiles: If you win the lottery and conspicuous consumption is your goal, you really need another hobby. Should you suddenly find you’re rolling in it and want the world to know, you can buy a Lamborghini and drive slowly around the neighborhood. Or you can pick up a Patek Philippe Grand Complication Perpetual Tourbillon and wait for someone to ask for the time. Generally speaking, expensive audio equipment isn’t nearly as good a bet when it comes to “pride of ownership” (otherwise known as “showing off”). You just can’t take your new French monoblock tube amplifiers or four-box digital playback system out into the world, hoping to be noticed.
Even if a non-audiophile makes it to your listening room, an imposing pair of loudspeakers may go unremarked—a civilian may not even know what your MBL Radialstrahlers are, much less that they represent a pinnacle of music reproduction technology. (Oh, I think he might notice, Andy—JV.) The situation may be even more fraught with disappointment if the speakers are manufactured by the venerable Danish company, Audiovector, whose unassuming R3 Arreté floorstanders measure 7.5" wide x 41" tall (spiked) x 13" deep, and weigh in at a paltry 53 pounds per side. To the untrained eye, they’re just…speakers. But attractive ones. The review pair was beautifully finished with a gorgeous redwood veneer, the grain appealingly matched, right and left. Their appearance will likely gain them admittance to a shared living space, even if the aesthetic keeper-of-the-gates is chronically suspicious of all things audio. In fact, the Audiovector product brochure goes so far as to state that the R3 Arreté’s “wife acceptance factor…ranks high.” Not exactly a “woke” comment in 2020, but probably true.
Ole Klifoth founded Audiovector in 1979 and continues to oversee R&D at the company. His son, Mads Klifoth, is Managing Director and CEO. Audiovector manufactures more than two-dozen loudspeakers—everything is made in Denmark—ranging from the economical QR series (the QR 1 bookshelf model is priced at $1500 per pair) all the way up to the flagship R11, which has an MSRP of $227,000. The company also offers on-wall and in-wall products, as well as speaker cables. At $9999 per pair, the R3 Arretés are positioned at the midpoint of the dealer price sheet.
The R3 Arreté is a 2.5-way design that has an AMT (air motion transformer) handling the uppermost portion of the frequency spectrum. This type of transducer was developed by Dr. Oskar Heil in the early 1970s. The diaphragm of a Heil driver is a pleated polyethylene membrane with the path conducting the audio signal bonded to it. This structure is suspended in a magnetic field and, when current is flowing, it moves like the bellows of an accordion to squeeze air out of the membrane’s pleats at a speed considerably faster than that at which the membrane itself is moving—the driver has the acoustic output of a much larger dynamic cone. Audiovector builds its own air motion transformers from scratch in-house, manufacturing several versions of the driver for different products. The R3 Arreté’s AMT has an “acoustic lens” that improves its dispersion characteristics and integration with the mid/bass drivers. Audiovector’s AMTs operate out to about 52kHz and function as dipoles, which may be unique for this kind of driver. This, Mads Klifoth explained, moves roll-off-related phase shifts well out of the audible range. Audiovector refers to the “Soundstage Enhancement Concept” in its marketing materials—the AMT fires backwards at a frequency range limited to 3kHz to 8kHz via two rear-facing ports at the top of the speaker, which benefits the R3’s spatiality.
The two dynamic drivers in the R3 Arreté look identical to each other and, indeed, both are 6.5" cones with a membrane made of cross-woven Aramid fibers in a sandwich structure with an artificial wood resin. Voice-coil formers are made from titanium to minimize hysteresis effects. But the upper driver is designed to integrate with the light-on-its-feet AMT, while the lower one, equipped with a different magnet structure and voice coil, has a higher moving mass optimized for bass reproduction. The cones are made to Audiovector’s specifications by ScanSpeak, in Denmark; crossover points are specified as 2.9kHz and 320Hz, the latter between the two mid/bass units. Two sets of 5-way binding posts (to allow for bi-wiring) are mounted on a carbon-fiber plate, this material serving to eliminate unwanted electrical interactions with the nearby crossover elements.
Audiovector’s enclosures are fabricated from solid-core HDF, with substantial internal bracing. The R3’s cabinet is configured in a teardrop shape that, the company says, eliminates standing waves inside the box and obviates the need for a material like wool taking up valuable real estate within the box. Audiovector does employ broad-frequency Nano Pore damping plates that Mads Klifoth tells me are “strategically positioned and fixed to the cabinet.” Inside the cabinet are separate compartments for the two mid/bass drivers that communicate via an internal port. Klifoth maintained that this allows the two drivers to “control each other and play very loud without losing control.” The lower bass compartment is ported downward toward the floor through a “ventilated” plinth. That plinth—higher behind than in front—at first appears to be just an appealing design element, but actually helps to prevent a top-to-bottom standing wave inside the cabinet, as it’s not parallel with the R3’s top surface.
All of Audiovector’s speakers with the Arreté designation offer a proprietary technology the company calls the “Freedom Grounding Concept” that, according to Mads Klifoth, “eliminates motional feedback distortion in the baskets of the drive units.” This energy is routed away from the drivers through a separate grounding circuit and out of the R3 via a terminal found on the rear panel below the speaker-cable binding posts. Note that this is an entirely different electroacoustic design feature than the grounding terminal found on the back of a number of other loudspeakers—Tannoys are a well-known example—where the intent is to get RFI away from the voice coils. In the case of the Audiovector Arreté series speakers, two single cables, one from each loudspeaker, join together in a substantial Shunko connector that plugs into the wall. No power goes to the speakers, of course—the wall outlet connection is just a reliable ground. Each limb of the grounding cable that I was provided with was five meters in length, which would allow for the desired separation of right and left channels in any imaginable domestic listening space. The grounding circuit is standard with the R3 Arreté, but the cable is an additional $750. If you’re not interested in the Freedom Grounding feature, there are versions of the R3 that don’t have it.
Setup didn’t take long. The R3 Arretés worked well positioned near where other speakers of their approximate size had previously succeeded in my 225-square-foot room. They ended up 102" apart, center-to-center, with the front baffles 112" from the central listening position and slightly canted in. The backs of the speakers were 18" from the front wall. The provided spikes didn’t make it through the not-especially-thick carpet and underlying acoustical pad to contact the concrete slab beneath. Purchasers encountering this problem can surely substitute longer spikes that will do the trick. For non-spikers, Audiovector supplies plastic feet that fit snugly into another set of threaded holes that accommodate the spikes. Grille covers, black fabric on plastic frames that are held in place magnetically, were removed for serious listening.