Avantgarde Acoustics Trio/Basshorn Loudspeaker System

When She Was Good

Equipment report
Avantgarde Trio/Basshorn Loudspeaker System
Avantgarde Acoustics Trio/Basshorn Loudspeaker System

I am an analog guy (as if you didn’t know), and both the Avantgarde Zero and the Magico Ultimate are digital loudspeakers, which is to say they digitally process all source signals that are fed to them, before turning those signals back to analog ahead of the amplifiers (built-in in the case of the Zeros, and supplied by you—all five pairs of them—in the case of the Ultimates). Now, to my admittedly prejudiced ear this A-to-D and D-to-A comes at a sonic cost. To put this plainly, sources (be they native zeros and ones, or analog waveforms turned into zeros and ones) sound, well, just a bit more digital—just the slightest bit “processed”—once they’re DSP’d. (For the exact opposite view, see REG’s review of the Lyngdorf Audio TDAI-2170 in this very issue.)

Frankly I heard this effect more clearly with the Ultimate 3 than with the Zero-1 Pro, as the thirty-times-more-expensive Magico is just that much more transparent-to-sources than the much-more-affordable Avantgarde. But to a degree it is there in both—a little bit of dynamic constraint, a little loss of dimensionality and air, a little rolling-off of the top treble, a little over-tightening of the bass. If you’re not addicted to analog warmth, bloom, and body (that “white magic” REG describes as pitiful self-delusion), you probably won’t care about these side effects. But if you are, and you’re wedded to horn loudspeakers, you’ll either have to live with them, which isn’t as hard to do as I might be making this sound, or keep searching for a horn speaker that doesn’t have ’em.

Which, oddly enough, brings me to the subject of this review—the all-new, enormously improved, all-analog Avantgarde Trio-G2/Basshorn system.

The new Trio-G2, like the old one I reviewed almost two decades ago in Fi magazine, is a classic horn loudspeaker, which is to say that there is no built-in digital correction of its drivers or their alignment. If you leave out the humongous stack of Basshorns that supplies low end below about 100Hz (we will come to this anon), in appearance the new Trio-G2 looks identical to the old one: three, progressively larger spherical horns (injection-molded from low-resonance ABS plastic) hanging from a spare but sturdy, lattice-like framework of steel supports, like a spray of three different-sized magnolia blossoms. Thanks to this flower-like look (and the multitude of colors the horns come in), the Avantgarde Trio was, is, and remains one of the most strikingly beautiful loudspeakers in the world.

However, though it appears to be the same loudspeaker that I reviewed nearly twenty years ago, it isn’t. In fact, almost everything about the Trio has changed, save for the ABS plastic used for its horns.

First, all three of the Trio-G2’s drivers are now higher in impedance. In the earliest version of the Trios, the tweeter, midrange, and woofer were 8 ohms. Now, the bass horn and tweeter are 16 ohms and the midrange 27 ohms, making for a 19-ohm speaker overall. This change in impedance not only makes it easier to use low-powered SETs to drive the Trio; it also allows for better damping by any amplifier. (Avantgarde claims that an amp’s grip on the voice coils is doubled.) Of course, higher impedances halve the power output of many transistor amplifiers (and some tube ones), but with a speaker that boasts the new Trio-G2’s 109dB sensitivity, you can give away a lot of power reserve and still have way more than enough juice to play back any kind of music at ear-splitting levels.

Second, the drivers themselves have been redesigned by Avantgarde’s Technical Director, motorcycle maven, and resident engineering genius, Matthias Ruff. The original bass horn used a paper-cone driver and a ferrite magnet. The current one uses a Kevlar diaphragm and a strontium-ferrite magnet. (The new Kevlar diaphragm features a big carbon-fiber dome on top to reshape the waveform so that it better mates with the horn’s throat.) The original Mylar midrange driver is now made of PEEK (polyether ketone thermoplastic), which is lighter than Mylar, resulting in a thinner diaphragm with the same stiffness and stability as the original. Its magnet has also been changed from ferrite to strontium. Finally, the compression-driver tweeter features a Mylar diaphragm (it had been aluminium), has a stronger ferrite magnet, and its voice coil is built to higher tolerances.

Third, the spherical horns have a new mounting mechanism. Where all three used to be directly attached to the drivers via bolts, they are now screwed on by means of a damping ring and a spring mechanism capable of extremely high pressure and an air-tight seal, rather like the lid on a jar of preserves. Damping the intersection of cone and horn is said to result in considerably lower resonance.

Fourth, the crossover has been adapted to the new higher-impedance drivers, and the crossover parts are of much higher quality. In addition, the dielectric material of every signal-bearing capacitor is polarized via a proprietary Avantgarde CPC circuit (capacitor polarization circuit). (When a signal changes polarity the dielectric material of a capacitor also changes polarity, resulting in dielectric polarization—a sort of slip/stick effect that creates a latency that can add time-domain distortion. The polarization voltage provided by the CPC circuit prevents these dielectrics from flipping polarity and producing this distortion.)

Fifth, the internal wiring has been changed. In the old Trio, all three drivers were driven from a single input. In the new Trio-G2, each driver has its own input terminals, allowing the speaker to be tri-wired or tri-amped. Of course, this also means that each driver has its own crossover board, so the signal no longer passes through the single board from which all three of the original Trio’s drivers were supplied. (The midrange driver sees only one capacitor in the signal path.) Additionally, in the first version of the loudspeaker Avantgarde used coaxial copper wire; today the wire is silver-plated copper.

However, the biggest change, quite literally, is this new Trio-G2 system’s low-bass driver.

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