As with the SR models, installation is fairly straightforward, and the usual ‘equilateral triangle, with a slight toe-in’ rules apply. But it’s here where Audiovector begins to show what it can be capable of. Just place them in the room as a ‘first fit’ as described and you’ll get good sound from them. Take time to install them with great care and attention, in particular making sure the distance from the side walls, rear wall, height and overall level are just right, and you go from ‘outstanding’ sound to ‘awesome’ sound! Of course, at this level, it’s likely you might not be the mover and installer of this loudspeaker, but make sure the person doing the installing knows what they are doing, all the same.
Also like existing Audiovectors, the R8 craves quality amplification. Not necessarily vast amounts of power, but something that combines power with some rhythmic ‘sass’. Audiovector was for the longest time Naim’s distributor in Denmark (perhaps understandably, that came to an end when Naim and Focal acted more in alignment across international distributors, and the electronics division in the hands of a rival to the loudspeaker division was never going to sit right) and that classic Naim sound blends perfectly with the R8. A NAP 300 power amp, for example, is ideal. More recently, Audiovector has been nuzzling up to fellow Danes Gryphon, and the Diablo 120 integrated from the brand makes for an awesome combination, especially when you mix in the Mohican CD player from fellow Scandiwegians, Hegel. But more on that later...
In a way, the review is easy. This does all the things the top of the SR range does, but more so and a lot, lot better. Most notable is the increased dynamic headroom. This will stump some of Audiovector’s detractors, who mistake control and grip for foreshortened dynamic range. The R8 proves them wrong in spectacular fashion, combining as it does edge-of-the-seat dynamics with the control and precision we have come to expect from the best Audiovectors.
This dynamic range comes across as a sense of unforced and effortless energy and scale to any recording. Play ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ [King Curtis Live at Fillmore West,ATCO] and when that brass section of the Memphis Horns kick in, instinct pushes you back in the seat. This track also highlights the freedom of the R8’s sound; Bernard Purdie’s powerful, rhythmically complicated yet deceptively simple shuffle pattern not only requires some muscle, but also needs a light touch to prevent it sounding like a distant and disorganised military band. On the R8, he’s in such good form, anyone with some drumming chops nearby will ‘just happen to pop round’ listen to him play those triplets against a half-time back-beat, look at their hands and feet, and start crying. It’s that effortless.
The R8 is also extremely detailed, and it’s here the Freedom earthing makes its mark. It ‘disappears’ the loudspeakers, leaving you with a soundfield of good, solid instruments in a physical space. It doesn’t sound like there are electronics, wood, and drive units in the way because that noise floor that you barely perceive, but underpins and undermines everything you hear drops further into the background. Vocal articulation, especially of solo female voices, is exceptional, even the syrupy close-miked Malia singing ‘Celestial Echo’ [Convergence, Universal] sounds less processed and more ‘in the room’.
I threw all kinds of music at the R8, from Richard Wagner to Kurt Wagner and back again, and nothing phased the R8. In comparison to the biggest of the SR series and the R11 context was quickly established. The R11 had more bass depth and ‘slam’, but the R8 had better finesse and control over that bass. Put another way, the R11 was the loudspeaker with the on-paper advantage of a few more bass pedal tones, but the R8 is the speaker you would happily prefer to live with. Meanwhile the SR series showed just how big a jump you make when going for the R8. It’s still a great – make that ‘outstanding’ loudspeaker system, but the R8 betters it in every respect. Tonally all three are close to one another, but the R8 just sings more in key.
Back to Hegel for the last blast. While the companies bigger amps would be a good match, the little Röst integrated amplifier couldn’t be a good match for the massive R8, could it? Actually, it worked extremely well. OK, so at anything beyond a reasonable early-evening chill-out volume level, the Röst began to run out of steam, hardening the top end and thinning down the bass slightly, and the overall package lost a lot of the finesse of the Gryphon-Audiovector combination, but the performance was still perfectly acceptable. OK, no-one is likely to plant a top-notch speaker with an amplifier this affordable, no matter how good the partnership, but it shows the R8’s ease of drive is not simply confined to the spec sheet. I’d still not use it with a low-power tube amp no matter how highly regarded, because I think the relative lack of damping factor valves bring may make those cones flap around too much, but in all other aspects of performance, the R8 is genuinely amp-agnostic.