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.”