This, my third foray into this new generation of Avalon speakers, could easily be presented as a cutdown Isis. The heavily facetted, immaculately veneered and rear tilted cabinet is a given. The downward firing port with its U-shaped egress to channel the output is a familiar marker. The ceramic midrange bowl and twin bass drivers echo the lineup in the larger speaker too. But in many ways the physical similarities in the choice and arrangement of the hard wear are actually little more than superficial. The Indra is very much a little-Isis, but it’s actually the thinking – more precisely, the understanding – behind it that makes it so.
We tend to think about speakers and their performance in terms of what they do – they go loud, they go deep, they image (or not) and all the other hi-fi sub-divisions that inform the review or audition process. Yet, as transducers, along with the source components in a system, they stand to wreak the greatest havoc on the music’s content. Perhaps we’d be better off concentrating on what they don’t do (to the signal) – at least if we want to improve the breed. Where damage is concerned, less is definitely more and you only need to look at the distortion figures on a range of different loudspeaker designs to know that, as a category, they leave a lot to be desired.
Avalon’s speakers have always been low-impact in nature. Some would say they’ve taken sonic invisibility too far, that lightness of touch infecting the realm of dynamic authority. But that’s to miss the point. There are two major mechanisms at work in a loudspeaker: the mechanical and the electrical. The former is the one that gets the most attention and it’s also the one that’s most visible, concerned as it is with all the bits that you want to move (like the drivers) and all the bits you want to stay still (like the cabinet). But it’s the latter, the electrical element represented by the crossover, where the damage is often most insidious and ultimately critical. It’s also where the designer, particularly the designer using OEM drivers, can have the greatest influence – not always for good. But with speakers, by their very nature, we tend to assume that the bits we can see are the bits that matter, a tendency that’s underlined by their also being reasonably intuitive to understand. So we look at a massive front baffle and can appreciate the role it plays in resisting resonance. We can understand how the sculpted faceting on that baffle reduces diffractive effects that destroy focus. We can look at a drive unit and actually see the fancy diaphragm, or flat surround or whatever it is that makes it so special. And don’t get me wrong: these things are special and they do matter. We can see that from the sonic success of earlier Avalon designs. But something happened with the Isis – something fundamental and wonderful. You can hear it albeit to a lesser extent in the NP2, but boy can you hear it in the Indra. And I don’t know what that something is but it’s to do with how effectively the speaker steps back behind the music and my gut tells me that has to do with the crossover.