What is it with audiophiles, even casual ones, and bass? Sure, good low-frequency reproduction is necessary to satisfy some key “reality triggers” that many critical listeners hold dear—the weight of a symphony orchestra, the concussive slam of well-recorded electric bass plus kick drum, the thundering 32-foot stops of a massive pipe organ. But several factors limit what’s possible with most consumer loudspeakers in most domestic environments when it comes to the recreation of deep bass, including the speakers’ size, cost, and—most of all—the laws of physics. So, it’s something of a mystery why the effective rendering of high-frequency musical content doesn’t seem to count nearly as much as “good bass.” Perhaps it’s due to the belief that audio frequencies past 20kHz (and a lot lower than that for older listeners) are “beyond the range of human hearing.” The fact is that top-octave treble content is of importance not just to dogs and bats. The Danish loudspeaker manufacturer Audiovector, in business for more than four decades, builds all its own drivers in Denmark, including a range of advanced high-frequency devices that have increasingly impressed me with each new exposure to the company’s products.
Audiovector’s R Series loudspeakers include the $69,995 R8 Arreté and, for just shy of a cool quarter-million, the no-holds-barred R11. In a less-rarified realm, audiophiles can choose among the R1, R3, and R6, each available in Signature, Avantgarde, and Arreté versions, the main differences being the high-frequency driver utilized and the inclusion of Audiovector’s Freedom Grounding Concept (FGC) technology in the Arreté models. I reviewed the 2.5-way R3 Arreté ($9999/pr.) in TAS 305 and, eight issues later, Matt Clott considered the R6 Arreté ($35,000/pr.) The baby of this loudspeaker family is the stand-mountable R1 Arreté, priced at $6250 in a standard finish.
The R1 Arreté is a two-way monitor, 14.6″ tall with a 7.7″ x 11.4″ footprint. The speaker has a gently tapering teardrop shape from front to back and measures just 4 inches in width behind. Magnetically attached grilles are provided, but they remained in their packaging for the Arretés time with me. To the rear is a pair of substantial 3-way binding posts and a third identical-appearing terminal that accepts the Freedom grounding cable. The binding posts are mounted on a carbon-fiber plate to eliminate electrical interaction with the crossover residing nearby. Above them are two ports, one venting the midrange/woofer compartment and the other communicating with the treble driver, as detailed below. The enclosures are fabricated with HDF derived from bits of oak and maple, two exceptionally hard kinds of wood. Standard finishes include Italian Walnut, African Rosewood, and Black Ash veneers, as well as a painted White Silk option. For a $600 upcharge, Audiovector will have the HDF painted by a Danish Porsche paint shop, a seven-coat process that results in these gloss finishes having the same thickness as a veneer. The review samples were a sumptuous British Racing Green that turned quite a few heads.
Audiovector makes a dedicated stand for R1s in gunmetal grey, a three-pillar steel structure with a top plate that matches the contour of the loudspeaker’s bottom surface. The two front-facing pillars are sealed and cannot be filled with sand or shot, although the rear one has openings at the top and bottom to permit the routing of the speaker and FGC cables. The stands, which will increase your outlay by $979 for the pair, are supplied with spikes that are—as is usually the case with European products—inadequate in length to fully pierce a typical North American carpet and pad, but are easily replaced with longer ones. Also supplied are eight compressible plastic discs to keep the R1s from sliding off their stands and, presumably, couple the speaker acoustically to the supporting structure. I immediately lost them but found the perfect substitute in the furniture department at my local hardware store.
The 6.5″ midrange/woofer is common to most of the loudspeakers in the R Series. Its cone has a sandwich structure with a cross-woven carbon membrane between outer layers of artificial wood fiber. All Audiovector loudspeakers with the “Arreté” designation have a discreet grounding circuit that conducts mechanical energy away from the baskets of the mid/woof drive units, delivering it to that third binding post on the rear of the speaker. The Freedom Grounding cable that connects to each R1 Arreté joins its companion from the other channel to arrive at a hefty Shunko connector that plugs into the wall, the outlet serving as a reliable ground. The R1 Arreté has the necessary grounding circuitry built in, but to use it, one must purchase the cable at a cost of $850. I’d had plenty of experience with the R3 Arreté and knew that FGC subjectively improved the dynamic life of all stripes of music; I did all my listening with the grounding cables connected. Audiovector encourages its dealers to A/B the R1 and R3 Arretés to potential customers, with and without the FGC circuit functioning. Nineteen out of 20 listeners, the company reports, will end up spending the $850.
A dome tweeter handles the highs in the Signature version of the R1, while two different Heil Air-Motion Transformer (AMT) drivers serve this function for the Avantgarde and Arreté models. Ole Klifoth, Audiovector’s founder, who still oversees R&D for the company, wrote to me about his enthusiasm for the “Heil tweeter,” noting that the membrane area of an AMT is eight times that of a dome, even as the weight of the former is just 70% of the latter. Klifoth remarked that he found it “easy to differentiate between a high-quality dome tweeter and an AMT because we hear the overtones, the harmonics of the fundamental tones, much more clearly through the AMT. For example, a double bass sounds more detailed and real through an AMT, as does a piccolo. The fact that the upper limit of an AMT exceeds 50kHz means that the phase change, which is a result of the rapid roll-off at the upper-limit frequency, is well away from our hearing range. Not so with a typical dome tweeter, which rolls off at 25kHz (no matter what is claimed). In that case, the phase distortion associated with the roll-off plays an important role way down into the hearing range.”
AMT drivers manifest both horizontal and vertical dispersion similar to that of a small dome tweeter, but without the vertical dispersion issues of a ribbon, which requires a listener to be seated at precisely the same height as the transducer to get the superior detail that technology promises. Audiovector further improves its AMT driver by implementing the “Soundstage Enhancement Concept,” sending 30% of the tweeter’s energy backwards—through a long tube so there won’t be any negative interaction with the radiation to the front. There’s less compression and distortion. Klifoth declared proudly: “The technology creates openness, better harmonics, and a generally more lifelike presentation.” Well, of course, he’d say that: They’re his speakers. Time to report on my own experience with the R1 Arretés—and the experience of three other listeners especially qualified to have informed opinions about the Audiovector’s high-frequency reproduction.
The electronics employed for critical listening were the Pass XP-22 preamplifier and XA-60.8 monoblock power amps. Music files were retrieved from a Synology NAS by my Baetis Reference music computer, recently updated to 3A status, and discs were played by an Oppo BDP-103 functioning as a transport. Both sent data to the Ideon Absolute DAC, in the case of the USB interface, by way of an Ideon Master Time Black Star reclocker. Analog cables were Transparent; digital wires included models from Revelation Audio (AES/EBU and USB), Transparent (USB), and Apogee Wyde Eye (coaxial SPDIF).
With the R1s 88 inches apart, a bit under two feet out from the wall behind them, and canted in toward the prime listening position, the soundstage was expansive and continuous with imaging naturally specific—virtues expected from small, stand-mounted loudspeakers. On well-made orchestral recordings (Bernard Haitink’s 2010 performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 on the RCO Live label, for example) the scaling of solo instruments was very convincing. The presentation may not have been as “big” as with large floorstanders, but the mid-movement orchestral climax unfurled grandly and gracefully. The speakers detailed complex textures as one processes them from a good seat in a concert hall or club, a very different sort of detail than what comes from overly “clinical” miking and mixing. On a track from the Yellowjacket’s Lifecycle album, a bass clarinet is submerged deep in a mix where sax is the dominant reed voice; yet it fully registered its musical significance through the little Audiovectors. Tonally, the R1 Arretés were coherent from bottom to top, the crossover executed seamlessly at 2.9kHz.
And such a top! Transient speed was exceptional, as heard on a CD of Indonesian gamelan music recorded by Wayne Vitale (Music of Bali, Lyrichord LYRCD 7408)— metallophones of various sizes, struck with mallets with amazing precision, produced a scintillating sonority like nothing else on earth. The same attribute assured that orchestral bells registered with pristine clarity, even when their sound originated from the back of a large ensemble, as with the Shostakovich symphony. Another album I’ve periodically pulled out to judge HF capabilities is Take Wing, a recital of solo and accompanied piccolo pieces on the Crystal Records label performed by Lois Bliss Herbine, a highly regarded soloist and national clinician for Powell Flutes.
I’d corresponded occasionally with Herbine for several years but had never actually met her, even though she lives just 45 minutes away. Listening to Take Wing and her subsequent 2018 release, Alight, motivated me to invite Herbine to hear her recordings played back via the Audiovectors. Lois graciously agreed and, in addition to a couple of piccolos for “Live or Memorex” sorts of comparisons, she brought along Drew Taurisano, the engineer who recorded and mastered Alight, plus Bill Schaffer, a flute student of Herbine’s and a TAS subscriber for 40 years. These three listeners, expert in different fashions, agreed that the playback system faithfully represented the spacious yet clarifying acoustic of the recording venue (a church in a Philadelphia suburb) as well as the shifting color of Herbine’s playing. I largely credit the extended treble of the R1 Arretés. It’s now widely recognized that, while most individuals can hear pure tones only up to the 15–20kHz region, higher-frequency information contributes importantly to the timbre of a musical sonority. Lois Bliss Herbine has an enduring interest in objectively characterizing the way she and other elite players modify the overtone structure of their sound in the tradition of the great Philadelphia Orchestra woodwind section. To this end, Herbine has produced frequency plots in Taurisano’s studio. The results are fascinating, and a topic I anticipate covering in depth in a future article.
In terms of low-frequency reproduction, it’s true that you won’t be rattling the china if you attempt to play J.S. Bach’s D minor Toccata and Fugue at lifelike levels. But well-recorded electric bass and kick drum—”Every Step You Take” from Kevyn Lettau’s Songs of the Police is a perennial test track—had punchiness and rhythmic propulsiveness that remained intact even as the volume was turned up.
Augmentation of the R1s low end with a good subwoofer will occur to many, and I recommend it—something I don’t do with plenty of otherwise excellent smaller monitors, lest you ruin the tonal balance of the main speakers. There’s a ritual I look forward to with every loudspeaker I review, integrating the product with my Magico S-Sub with the help of Yair Tammam, Chief Technical Officer for Magico. The S-Sub, a powered behemoth weighing 250 pounds, has its own software to adjust volume, phase, and equalization parameters. Needless to say, Yair can get the job done in minutes. With Tammam operating the Magico software remotely from either California or Israel, I set up a Dayton Audio calibrated microphone and we first play frequency sweeps through the main speakers so that the engineer can get a sense of their interaction with the room. The sub is then activated and Yair works his Magico magic. Looking at the graphic representation of the R1 Arreté’s in-room frequency response, Tammam predicted that the integration of the subwoofer would be good: “The slope of the bass in-room was very even,” he said admiringly. Yair was right. Listening with the subwoofer—the Audiovectors, of course, were run full-range—I essentially had at my disposal an exceptionally coherent three-way loudspeaker that was suited for pretty much anything you’d care to send its way. With monumental symphonic music (Mahler’s Third, from MTT and San Francisco), full-on big band jazz (Gordon Goodwin), and power pop (The Tubes’ “Talk To Ya Later”), the little R1s had nothing to fear.
The potential to readily integrate the modest-sized Audiovectors with a subwoofer will be of consequence to many audiophiles with real-world rooms and real-world loudspeaker budgets. Honestly, I don’t feel that a sub with the bulk and price tag of a Magico is required to get the results that I did: Any number of models from REL, JL, and others (including Audiovector) should do the trick. The R1 Arretés, with their dedicated stands could form the basis of a loudspeaker system for audio perfectionists with broad musical tastes and speaker budgets of $10k—or a lot more. Even without low-frequency support, the Audiovector R1 Arreté is an all-around star performer with reproduction of complex top-octave sonorities, air, and detail that is second to none. I’m quite confident of this conclusion: Piccolos don’t lie.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Stand-mounted, two-way bass-reflex
Driver complement: Air-Motion Transformer tweeter, 6.5″ bass/midrange
Frequency response: 38Hz–53kHz
Impedance: 8 ohms
Dimensions: 7.7″ x 14.6″ (38″ on stands with no spikes) x 11.4″
Weight: 22 lbs.
Price: $6250/pr. (gloss finish, add $600; Freedom Grounding Concept (FGC) cable, add $850; stands, add $979)
Brand Manager USA
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