Coup de Foudre…

The Avantgarde Duo gets active (and finally comes of age)!

By Roy Gregory

One minute and 56 seconds. That’s how long it should take you to realise that this is an exceptional speaker delivering an exceptional experience. That’s how long it takes David Amadio to play the 3rd Movement of Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto in A major RV. 419 (Vivaldi In Venice, VALLP008).

Or two minutes and 38 seconds if you are listening to Elvis Costello’s ‘Little Triggers’; three minutes and 57 seconds if you are playing Natalie Merchant’s ‘San Andreas Fault’; or two minutes and 59 seconds to learn that Billie Holliday can ‘Get Along Without You Very Well’.

One track – actually, way less than a whole track – is all it takes to realise that the latest version of Avantgarde’s long-running and popular Duo model hasn’t so much shifted the goal posts as started a whole new game.

But let’s be clear: when I say that this speaker is exceptional, that’s exactly what I mean. Put the Avantgarde Duo GT next to any of its popular price peers and it performs as differently as it looks – and that’s before you get to the whole question of where it fits into the market and the whole issue of price points and comparative value. The Duo GT doesn’t just look different and sound different, it’s pretty much different from the ground up. It breaks the accepted rules, it ignores conventional wisdom and believe me when I say that it’s going to challenge your assumptions. This speaker is exceptional in that it stands apart. Yes, it offers exceptional performance, but it is also the exception to so many rules that it’s a challenge knowing where to start.

So let’s start with the music and David Amadio’s cello – a cello that exists, full sized, full throated and full of vibrant energy and colour, right in front of me. This isn’t an image, or dimensionality; it’s a presence, a woody volume, rich in tone and character, with tension in its strings and a latent energy just waiting to burst out. And it’s not just the cello that’s vital and vibrant. Its response to input, the texture of the notes, the sense of the bow sawing at the strings, the energy and purpose in the playing means that you can almost see the motion of Amadio as he plays. He attacks the closing allegro with such vigorous intent that there’s an almost percussive quality to the bowing, an explosive suddenness to the pizzicato passages. The body and presence of the solo instrument is matched by the density and intensity of the small ensemble accompaniment, the explosive enthusiasm of the applause. This is one of those recordings that really capture an event. In one sense, what these speakers do is bring the creative tension and magic of that event to your room. But what they really do is take you to the event. It’s an important distinction, a bridge that is both critical and a bottleneck on the path to serious high-end performance. It marks the difference between a scale facsimile of the performance and the sense of connection that comes with actually being there.

Getting physical…

More importantly, this almost physical quality isn’t limited to small-scale acoustic recordings. Reach for something larger and the scale and musical energy increase proportionally. Play the recent Alpha Classics disc of Rautavaara and Sibelius Violin Concertos (Feldmann, Kantorow, OPR de Liege – Alpha 357) and the layered orchestration builds its density in carefully delineated dynamic steps, without an apparent upper limit. The sudden, sharply contrasting tonality of the instrumental interjections, their relationship to the solo instrument and the measured development of the Rautavaara’s slow, opening movement as a whole are beautifully clear and explicit. There’s no sense of confusion and none of distance, beyond the depth of the stage itself. It makes you realise just how easily we accept the scaling and dynamic compression that shrink the musical projection on most systems. Here, Feldmann’s violin is positioned, solid and purposeful, front and centre, the instrumental conversations taking place in the same space as you, around and beyond the standing soloist.