Audiovector has something of a gap problem. The Copenhagen-based brand has a couple of ranges of superb loudspeakers that cover the entry-level and attainably-priced regions of the audio market, it has the R11 flagship that costs an order of magnitude more than anything else the company makes, and then it has… nothing in between. Until now, as the R8 is perfectly designed to fill that gap.
However, filling in gaps in the portfolio is not Audiovector’s style; a good thing because too often those range-fillers in rival lines seem to be more about the ‘filler’ than adding something worthwhile to a loudspeaker line-up. As a result, the R8 pulls together the best of both Audiovector-shaped worlds; bringing much of the R11’s performance and technology to a wider audience both in terms of pricing and installation concerns, while distilling the best of what the more affordable SR-Series has to offer. In the process, the R8 allows Audiovector to take stock of developments in design and also becomes a platform to give us a taste of what might trickle down (and trickle up) into future designs.
The slim floorstanding design is very much Audiovector, so much so that the launch of the R8 at this year’s Munich High-End Show almost passed unnoticed. Unless you are an eagle-eyed follower of the brand, or see the models sitting side-by-side, you might be forgiven for mistaking the R8 as perhaps an SR6 Avantgarde Arreté in a rich and glossy burr walnut. Those eagle-eyed brand-followers would spot the extra bass unit and the increased height of the R8, but still might associate it with the SR6 line. This is quite remarkable because up close, you begin to realise just how physically imposing the R8 really is. It’s a tall, deep standmount that stands a smidgeon or two higher than a pair of Wilson Alexias, but because of the narrow front baffle and the boat-tailed rear, you simply don’t notice that size. It’s only when wheeling out the R8 and wheeling in the SR6 do you realise just how big they really are. The same holds to a lesser extent for the R11 flagship, but they stand noticeably tall. The R8’s advantage here is that you are not buying a visually arresting, room-dominating loudspeaker, unlike many of its up-scale contemporaries. OK, those who buy audio by the yard may want something more ostentatious to show off just how much they spent, but those of us who have shared listening rooms instead of dedicated man caves will relish the notion of outstanding sound without that constant ‘it’s too big and ugly’ complaint from your non-audiophile other half.
Audiovector isn’t a company that makes changes without good reason. It does have a consistent view of how to make a good sound and this is realised by its engineering. And like many companies, this corpus of engineering standards is improved upon with each successive product, adding its own innovations into the mix. The R8 is no different; it brings several important additions to the Audiovector canon.
For example, its new ‘Cross Woven Sandwich Carbon Driver’ was developed specifically for the R8 to improve upon the existing drivers found in the SR and R models: these have much lighter, stiffer, and more acoustically ‘dead’ membranes made from precision woven aramid fibres, sandwiched with artificial wood resin. Aramid is a term used in describing a range of extremely heat-resistant and exceptionally strong aromatic polymers. Audiovector claims this new membrane material produces faster, more uncoloured midrange and bass performance, and that certainly seems to be proved out in the listening.
Similarly, the company’s clever cabinet with an internal isobaric compound bass system uses hand-built 100mm rear-firing mid-bass drivers. This once again builds on the technology used in previous Audiovector designs (in this case the R11), but develops upon the previous model’s strengths. Also, the quasi-rear-firing Air Motion Transformer folded ribbon tweeter driver (Audiovector’s own, now in its third generation) is incorporated from the top Avantgarde Arreté models of the SR series and the R11. Internally, the R11 features cryogenically treated, ‘seven nines’ (99.99999% pure) copper wiring, in an asymmetrical loom and using the company’s own ‘Nanopore’ damping material, which is again developed from existing models, and is designed “to give a smooth and natural musical reproduction”.
The big development at present unique to the R8 is what Audiovector calls its ‘Freedom’ earth grounding system. This uses an extra terminal on the rear panel, designed to accept an earth cable, running to either an electrical or floating ground (such as Entreq). A notionally similar star-earthing arrangement was developed by Tannoy some years ago, but Audiovector’s Freedom system takes the concept and runs with it.
Freedom has the kind of across-the-range potential that companies like Audiovector crave. And, given the company’s strong adherence to an upgrade path in the SR series, don’t be surprised if an extra ‘speaker’ terminal begins to trickle down to more attainably-priced models in the portfolio. This might require a high degree of performance from the loudspeaker (I’m working with a sample of one here, and it’s a bit of a good one at that), but notionally this might be the kind of upgrade that only works with the biggest and best Audiovector has to offer. Or it might become a part of every product in the range. It’s certainly extremely audible, and that is easy to check – plug it into an earth, and the sound lifts further out of an already extremely quiet background. Unplug it and it drops back a couple of notches. And it does it instantly. I won’t say it’s audible to all or idiot-proof, because there are some remarkably resistant ears in audio, and nature has a way of constantly designing a better idiot, but if you can’t hear the difference between an earthed and unearthed speaker with the Freedom grounding system, you probably don’t need a loudspeaker as resolving as the R8. Or any of the SR range. Or a clock radio. Hell, if you can’t hear Freedom in action, stick with car alarms and klaxons. That’s about all your ears are good for... sorry!