It all started long ago, but not in a galaxy far far away. Before the internet, before FM radio... and before Enzo Ferrari hand-crafted his first racing car. Wattage was not a "how many hundred, but simply how many as in three to maybe eight watts. Horn pioneers such as Gustavus, Webster, Klipsch and Voigt all were exploring the horn technology. Back in 1926 Paul Voigt submitted his first tractrix-type horn to the British Patent Office. This was the beginnings of high-sensitivity designs that allowed only a small handful of watts become room filling musical ecstasy. But then so-called "progress" happened...
Wattage was getting more plentiful as tube amplifiers went from triode to pentode. While life was good and wattage plentiful, some people simply did not have enough physical space in their home for these large horn speakers. Eventually the relatively small ported (or sealed) box enclosure was better perfected. While this allowed the music lover to enjoy their favorite tunes through relatively small boxes, the sensitivity of these boxes were much lower than their horn counterparts. In fact this remains true even in this modern age of computer design and engineering. You can not break the laws of mother nature. Bend them, perhaps, but not to the point where a sealed box betters an equivalent horn design.
What's Old Is New Again
Seen above in a computer generated drawing of their optimized horn structure. Finding the pre-existing designs and speaker inadequate, they bought the tooling needed to construct their new masterpieces. Not being satisfied with the usual plastics, only the purest ABS (Acryl-nitril-Butadien-Styrol) is used for their horns because of what Avantgarde Acoustics claims the "neutral resonance behavior" it provides. i will avoid all the other intricate details pertaining to the Avantgarde Acoustics Hornspeakers as it is well published, in detail, on their Web site. The bottom line here is that they found what they felt was a better way.
Now in Series Two of their complete line, more closely optimized parts and better developed self-powered subwoofers are just a few of the improvements. Having had quite some time hearing their Series One, i was very curious to review their newer model. After a few meetings with Holger in Las Vegas, Italy and the UK, plus a few calls to their USA distributor, a drop-dead gorgeous set of Avantgarde Acoustics Uno Hornspeakers in Indigo Red Metallic showed up at my doorstep. Of the six eye candy colors offered such as Zenith Blue Metallic, Catus Green Mica, Charcoal Metallic, Lake Silver Metallic and Pearlescent White, i love the Indigo Red Metallic best. While not quite a Ferrari red, it is more like the metallic flake Porsche or Mercedes cars come in. This makes sense as, after all, Avantgarde Acoustics is based out of Germany folks. My review pair also included their optional, and amazingly solid and heavy, Pro 225 subwoofer over their standard Pro 217.
While the Pro 217 was Avantgarde Acoustics optional upper line sub in the Series One models, it is now standard for the new Series Two speakers. The new Series Two woofer (optional on the UNO, standard on the DUO & TRIO) is technically called the SUB 225 CTRL PRO. It uses a pair of 225cm versus the Pro 217's 217cm drivers. While the Pro 217 includes a large 150 watt with electronic crossover amplifier, the 217 includes a 200 watt amplifier with electronic crossover... and more. These larger drivers also have a special proprietary active module PA101 "velocity control" amplifier that is specifically tuned for the drivers.
To quote their Web site's Whitepapers "In contrast to conventional amplifiers - which only compare the output signal with the input signal - our active module PA101 actually compares the speed of the driver membrane with the input signal. Thus, the feedback loop not only eliminates deviations of the amp itself, but also the deviations of the drivers. As soon as the circuitry detects a deviation, it immediately adjusts the power accordingly (e.g. the power is increased or decreased). As result the SUB225 CTRL PRO achieves an astonishingly flat frequency response of 18 - 250 Hz with only 0.8 dB deviation!"
There is no, none, zero crossover parts in the crucial midrange driver. Nothing to get between you and the music. The tweeter crossover uses only a small handful of parts that are all of very high quality. It follows the less = more philosophy which i have mentioned time and time again within my articles. i do like their slogan, too, which is "It's About the Music". Hmm, that closely resembles "Enjoy the Music" huh? So how good are these speakers? Ahhh, come and learn my friend.
No Pain, No Gain
What first struck me is how very dynamic these speakers are. Not just the ability to play loud with a few watts, which they can, but the amazing ability to go from zero to one hundred instantly. Maybe Holger used some of that high-speed Porsche magic inside each speaker? Visitors to my listening room commented how wonderfully free the dynamics were portrayed as used with my Wavelength Audio Cardinal 300B-based single-ended eight watt tube amplifier. The same dynamics were also obtained when using the amazing 25 watt per channel 47 Labs Gaincard as previously reviewed within these pages. As many of us say, if the first watt is not good then there is no point in having ten (or two hundred) more like them. The >100 db/w/m sensitivity of the Uno speakers will easily show you all the faults in your system too.
Those of you with hum ridden, RFI inflicted, tube roaring, solid-state semiconductor sterile upstream equipment will be frantically resolving those problems as high-sensitivity speakers are like a microscope. A microscope which enlarges your systems strengths... and weaknesses. My Furman IT-1220 Balanced Power unit again works wonders at insuring a nice quiet system. The interconnects which i felt had the best synergy were the Audio Note all silver AN-Vx. As for speaker cabling, again the impressive Nirvana Audio S-L Series copper cabling received the nod. Alright already... enough with the teasing, let's get to the pleasing!
I'm in the high-fidelity first class traveling
The rewards of schlepping those heavy speakers up the two flights of stairs in my home were well worth it! i knew the Unos were dynamic so first up was the very well recorded Electric Blues Doctor Drink Small (Mapleshade 01832). This is one of the most dynamically realistic acoustic blues album my ears have ever heard. While it sounded incredible on my fave modified KEF 104/2, and slightly less so with the Magnepan 3.6 planer speakers i recently reviewed for the now defunct Ultimate Audio, on the Avantgarde Acoustics Unos the music was scary! Scary in that the clarity and high-resolution combined with effortless dynamics gave Drink Small's guitar such a realistic sound that i could swear he was in the room with me! Funny, "These speakers are scary" is the phrase Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio told Stephen Creamer of Nirvana Audio (Gordon recently bought himself a pair of Unos which will be used in their CES 2000 showroom).
Moving along to something a bit more mellow (as carrying these beasts took much energy out of me) it was time for the sexy Lavern Butler No Looking Back (Chesky Records JD91). My favorite song on this album is "Isn't It A Pity". Laverne's voice is recorded so clearly that in most very good systems she is transported into the dead center of your music room. What the Uno speakers seemed to add, or should i say reveal, was the very small inflections within her singing. Of course the accompanying piano was impressively portrayed. This is a fun CD filled with many enjoyable tunes that should keep your toes tapping. Music is fun!
Wanting to mellow out further, Chesky Records Carla Lowther Ephemera (JD 183) went into my transport. Carla's gentle and serene voice is one of nature's gifts to us. i love the way she seamlessly mixes pop, folk with New Age into very emotionally endearing songs. As played through the Unos, the delicacy was outstanding as i felt transported into another time (and space). You know a system is really good when it has the ability to wash over your soul. Of course one needs good music for this, too, and Carla delivers! Too bad most of the mainstream female pop singers today are no talent fronts for commercialized contrived music. Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez anyone?
As far as soundscape and imaging goes, the Unos ability to "pressurize", or fill my room with full a complete soundscape was awe inspiring. Until you have fully experienced this effect, you are simply like an outsider looking into a bubble versus the full soundscape and being totally encapsulated within the music's aura. Imaging was NOT simply pinpoint, which is unrealistic. It was properly sized and each instrument also had its own sphere of acoustic reverb (or "hall sound"). This helps to give amazing detail to where individual instruments are positioned within the front stage. Depth was realistically portrayed of course. Even more amazing was how well my pair of Uno in my room disappeared to the point that, when dictated, instruments/sounds were easily produced outside the speakers (and not just between them).
After a few more albums i decided to grab for the vinyl. Ahhhh yes! Sonny Rollins Way Out West (Analogue Productions APL 008) time baby! Baby, you have not lived until you hear a great sax recording like through horn loudspeakers. Synergy you say? Perhaps. Yet when Sonny's sax has this much depth and true sax sound i do not care what the reasons. Sometimes in life we need to turn off the mind and follow our soul. The same comments can be said about the absolutely incredible Analogue Productions Miles Davis The Great Prestige Recordings. If you ever get a chance to hear the Unos i can highly recommend playing the song "My Funny Valentine" on them. In my system most of this four album set so virtually real i felt like getting Myles a glass of water half way through the (box) set. Of course these speaker can rock too.
Going into my head stash and grabbing the original UK pressing of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon proved how well these speakers can rock with the best of 'em too. i will not go into details about playing Prodigy, Napalm Death or the Red Hot Chili Peppers and simply say that yes Virginia, horns can play louder and cleaner than most anything else their size. Of course this could also be because these speakers are highly sensitive and present a sane load to your amplifier. And before i forget to mention this, the Uno is the very first speaker where i felt my prized M+K MX2000 subwoofer was never needed during pipe organ or music's other low frequency needs. In fact i did not miss during the recent total replacement of the old electronics for new ones.
The upgraded SUB 225 CTRL PRO as supplied with my pair of Unos sounded very fast and clean. From acoustic bass as on the Way Out West album to syntho-trance as in Prodigy's song "Breathe", the subwoofer never seems to lag behind or turn into mush. This is a very rare beat indeed and is why i have kept my now 8+ year old M+K MX2000 around. The MX2000 is one of the very rare subwoofers that has the versatility my musical preferences demand. As we all know, the best system are capable of playing ALL genre of music equally well. For if it can not do this, then the system is inherently flawed.
While the Uno's subs do cover quite a bit of range, from 220 Hz on down to 25 Hz, the only thing i really wish for is that the midrange could go down a bit deeper. My ears seemed to perceive a small dip right about where the mid rolls off and the self-powered woofer enters. Avantgarde Acoustics next in line Duo is claimed to go down to 170 Hz and this could easily be the solution. Fortunately this frequency dip is not so distracting as to distract from the overall musical enjoyment. In fact it is quite hard to detect and only nit picky review types such as myself would probably notice this in any case. As for other minor quibbles, one of my SUB 225 CTRL PRO seemed to "bottom out" when the music was playing music at, how shall i say this, very loud volume levels. Maybe i am asking too much from the woofers as the upper frequency drivers can easily project extreme volume levels due to horn loading? Most people would probably never notice this, too, unless they are prone to throwing block parties and using their music reproduction system at near-concert volume levels.
Benny pointed at a HiFi shop
Now you are probably saying to yourself, "Myself, why is Steve going on and on about these speakers. Ok, we can tell he has fallen in love, yet this has got to be the longest review he's ever written." And i'd reply "Well, when you know you have found something so good, so much better than anything else your ears have heard, you would just go on and on and on talking about them." Makes sense, yes? This review is virtually all inspirations and very little perspiration. Do i need to tell you that i bought the review pair? Of course not! (Said like a madman) These babies are mine, mine, mine i tell you!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
The main flaw for me is... (Said with some humor and some truth) They do not come in Ferrari red to match the Nimis Italian tube amplifier i commissioned to be made for me. How do you convince Germans to make an Italian color? (Sigh) Oh well. In life we all must give in to imperfections. More seriously, i would like a little more support for the lower midrange, but then again that is Duo territory for which one day i hope to review (or upgrade my upper frequency horns to one day). Of course if i was rich it would be Trio time baby! Seems only the truly lucky guys like Fi Magazine's Michael Guindi get to enjoy the great stuff like that. Little guys like me have to ?settle? for Unos... and happily so i might add!
So if you have the means i can strongly suggest an audition of the Unos. Proper setup is a must as at Sound by Singer in New York City i heard the Series One Unos sound worse than a Sony $1,000 rack system! While i was in Paris a while back, a visit to a wonderful store called Triode and hearing the Series One Duo speakers was Eargasm City folks! Philippe Heitz of Triode was a wonderful and gracious host. As i recall he was using Audio Note wire and their Meishu integrated 300B single-ended eight watt amplifier and VOYD turntable. Stereophile's own Martin Colloms went ga-ga with praise in his review of the Avantgarde Acoustics Duo Hornspeakers. Their technical measurements showed proof of the incredibly low distortion these horn loudspeakers produce.
What i am trying to say here is that beware... these speakers are so transparent that they will, i repeat, will tell you about the synergy of your system or lack thereof. In my listening room the Unos unbelievable all out clarity and immense dynamic capabilities was enough for me to part with my own hard earned cash. You just might too. In the end what really matters is that you... Enjoy the Music.
New 2.0 Series
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