The move from Signature to Avantgarde is basically a change from the R Evotech soft dome tweeter to Audiovector’s AMT (Air Motion Transducer) folded magneto-planar design. The move to Arreté changes the tweeter yet again (to the higher spec. Arreté AMT driver), and adds the company’s unique Freedom Grounding network, with a ‘DFF’ crossover and the use of cryogenics in the ‘NCS Freeze technology’ applied to important components in the loudspeaker itself. There is also a special ‘nanopore’ damping material usedexclusively in the Arreté model. The bass drivers and the rear-firing treble system (as well as the laminated baffle and the titanium coils) are retained throughout.
This ability to pimp out your speaker’s innards applies to Audiovector’s R and SR speaker lines (except the top R8 and R11, which are only supplied in Arreté grade). The upgrade path is a unique and extremely clever aspect of Audiovector’s design criteria, but it means Audiovector needs to get the basics right; a so-so design might be masked by OK drivers, crossover network and so on, but if you then upgrade those elements that so-so design becomes all the more exposed. In more ‘fruity’ terms, if the R3 Signature was a bit of a turd, then polishing it to Avantgarde levels – or effectively belt-sanding and then polishing it to Arreté grade – would not be advisable. Fortunately, the raw material that Audiovector has to work with is excellent, and the R3 is a more than competent platform to enjoy some quality pimping sessions.
Set-up, installation, and general care and feeding are not too problematic. The loudspeaker needs a good 50 hours or more of a varied music programme played at a good lick to come on song, and I’d suggest in those first 50 hours consider any installation as a ‘first fit’. There’s a sudden general loosening up of the drivers around that 50-hour mark and if you spent a long time getting the perfect position for the loudspeakers before this loosening up moment, expect to reposition them afterwards as the bass just got that bit fuller. Things may continue to improve beyond this magic 50-hour spot, but 50 hours is the point where the magic happens!
Positioning isn’t an Olympic sport here, and the usual 1m from the rear and side walls will give a good sound. Fine tuning (post run-in) can turn that good sound into a far better one, with more cohesion across the mid-range and a precise balance between bass depth and precision. Toe-in in particular seems to be the key component in that balance between good and great and be mindful of side-wall first reflection points, as the tweeter has excellent dispersion properties. If anything, I’d say this becomes less impactful as you move up to the AMT high-frequency units of Avantgarde and Arreté. As discussed earlier, the choice of amplifier partners is pretty open thanks to the driving characteristics of the loudspeakers, however, I think the choice will tend toward solid-state rather than valve designs. Not through some gross incompatibility – no flapping cones or immovable tweeters – just that the tight, tidy, big and beaty bass lends itself to use with solid-state designs. Doubtless, there will be dozens of people who not only disagree, but also have the system to back up that disagreement. But that’s the joy of audio… it’s a broad church.
That term – ‘it’s a broad church’ – could neatly sum up almost everything about the Audiovector R3, especially in its Signature guise. Just as it isn’t that amp or position fussy, so the R3 Signature is hugely accommodating of music played. With no Glastonbury this year, the BBC has been running a sort of ‘best of’ both on BBC 2 and on its iPlayer. Many of these are ‘must see’ events (Pulp, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie) but some are not so hot. Lily Allen’s 2009 appearance – in her wannabe wardrobe malfunction dress – is a fine example, and a fine example of what the R3 Signature does so right. Played with charm and gusto, tracks like ‘The Fear’ put you in with the crowd, where more ‘prissy’ loudspeakers will highlight the weaknesses in her voice and the occasional mixing hiccups. The R3 Signatures manage to convey just how high she sounds, where a lot of other speakers at this level either soften the impact of her smashedness or highlight it like an anti-drugs campaign. I prefer the R3 Signature’s more entertaining and musically enlightening approach.
This is helped by an infectious sense of rhythm, if we’re still allowed to use the word ‘infectious’ right now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more ‘boppy’ sounding loudspeaker when you play something with a solid 4/4 beat and you’d find it difficult to spot a better speaker at playing anything with a backbeat than the R3 Signature at anything like the money. OK, let’s rein that in a little; you would struggle to find any loudspeaker that revels in a backbeat that didn’t mess up some aspect of the rest of the performance. In other words, when playing ‘Depth Charge’ by King Tubby and The Barrett Bros [Pick-A-Dub, Jusik, TIDAL] it plays deep and powerful, but that is not emphasised so much that it makes Mozart’s trumpet concerto sound like it was mixed Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. You could easily dance around a wide and varied collection of recordings and think the R3 Signature perfectly acclimated for that music, exposing the myth of ‘that’s a good speaker for classical music’.
Some of this comes from an excellent dynamic range and headroom. Once again, the real-world strikes. Having a loudspeaker with infinite dynamic range is not only the stuff of legend... it would actively get in the way of the performance in a smaller room. The R3 Signature’s dynamic range is powerful enough to cope with the big swings of orchestral music and the microdynamic swings of more audiophile-approved jazz combos, but does so in a way that seems all the more real and relevant in context. In other words, the R3 Signature is ‘dynamic’, not ‘twitchy’.
The R3’s tonal balance is just about spot-on, too. The treble isn’t too soft or too aggressive, the mid-range disappears nicely, and the bass is deep and controlled without sounding too dry or too fat. Of course, there is room for growth here, thanks to the upgrade path. But primarily, the sound of the loudspeakers is both tonally accurate and perfectly pitched for the sort of moderate-sized listening spaces often found in UK, European, and Asian homes. While the R3 Signature scales well into larger or smaller rooms, it’s ideal for that 12’x 6’ listening space.
Imaging is also good in that context. The R3 Signature gets out of the boxes well, making a wider sound than it is deep or tall, but also projects well into the room. You don’t feel like you are playing on stage with the musicians, but it’s very much ‘third row of the stalls’ soundstaging.