One of my last real jobs in audio was to let down what would become Lavardin. I was working in a well-known audio retailer at the time, and we already had more than our fair share of amplifiers. Although we were always interested in new designs, the chances of the store taking on a new brand (both new to the store and new to audio) were limited. I had become very good at saying ‘no’ to companies, but this prototype French integrated amplifier sang so sweetly on anything we hooked it to, ‘no’ was not in the vocabulary. Sadly, we still had no choice but to turn down Lavardin, but in fairness, it was still very much a work in progress.
Fast-forward to the present, and Lavardin has built a small, but loyal, following in the audiophile community. Its Model IT, the entry Model IS, and IS Reference integrated amps are popular choices among those who listen judiciously. The preamps and power amps are excellent too, but it’s the integrated amps that justly get a lot of the credit. So, when the opportunity arose to test the latest Model ISx integrated from the brand, we jumped at the chance.
The ‘x’ circuit upgrade is the first change to the Lavardin Model IS (or the Model IT) this century. This isn’t ‘lazy designer syndrome’: Lavardin has often polled its customers regarding changes to the existing line, and the phrase “don’t change a thing!” kept coming back, and in careful listening tests, many innovations on circuit design were tried, and rejected, because no matter how good the new tech might look on paper, it didn’t live up to the hype in listening tests. The ‘x’ developments are the result of that painstaking listening protocol; they are the ones that made it.
Lavardin remains suitably gnomic about the new models, having made no announcement on its site and having virtually no information about the new product made available to the public as yet. As a result, it’s also unclear whether the ISx will push the IS Reference out of the catalogue. Given it’s taken the company decades to revise the Model IS, these points should all be addressed sometime in the next four or five years, if they do it as a rush job!
All we can glean about the new ‘x’ circuit is that the company reworked the existing Lavardin design for greater linearity, which improves overall transparency and micro-dynamic resolution. This goal has taken some time to roll out, because the original design so focuses its attention on ‘memory distortion’. This is an attempt to overcome the memory effect inherent to semiconductors, where a large signal leaves a small after-effect that can influence the following signal. This, Lavardin has long postulated, is one of the reasons why people like products that sound like single-ended triode amps; the memory effect is gone, and the sound is more immediate. This is a stance – unique to Lavardin – that stands very much at odds with current (no pun intended) thinking, and methods of investigating the effect on audio circuitry stand outside the normal corpus of audio measurement. So, improving linearity without falling foul of memory effect issues is the reason Lavardin has taken so long to come out with a replacement to its integrated amps. I do applaud Lavardin for taking this ‘trickle up’ instead of ‘trickle down’ approach, as the ‘x’ circuit improvements started with the integrated amps and are working their way up through the company’s pre/power range, instead of the other way round.