This is certainly my favorite room in the UK. Apart from the horns, and comparisons to competition, I will also compare amps with:
Gu81 valves, two GM70 amps, EL84, EL34 (compared with KT90 and 6L6G on the same amp), etc. This took place over a few months and 4 visits
First up, I am quoting from my own 2016 Munich notes here My Munich Notes
“Unlike in 204 and 2015 where this was the best room, the WE disappointed, this year they had some 11a (he brings in new ones each year from his museum) and these were nothing like the previous ones. So that gave me more time for the rest of the rooms in Munich (in 2017 they were sounding amazing again).
– I then first heard AMG with aesthetix atlas hybrids and verity, and compared it to the aesthetix romulus and the TT was much better.
– Then Brinkmann spyder and Wilson Sasha with audio research. Pre was some other company had an A to D built in. AR 150SE as usual sounding great till orchestra started
– Then went to the Kaiser Kawero with kondo g1000 which is much costlier and supposedly better than m1000. With kondo TT, arm and cart. Took out the Artur Rubinstein. Bummer. Super low resolution on the rubinstein. No dynamics. Scheherazade. Nothing. This is probably a good system but show conditions are challenging.
– Also went to the Goebbel with the kronos and zyx omega premium.
– Then I went to the horns autotec room and that had the best sound till then, on some low priced TT with ortofon a95. Best tone and realism till now. Natural. Dynamics, detail, and fit into medium sized rooms, perfect for a central London room. Need to listen to them in a proper set up to see how good they sound on bass and what are their limitations. Were running on 12 watts, amps from cube audio, EL84 valves. “
After the Munich show, I got to hear them a few months later in Birmingham and would additionally like highlight this quote from an Audiobeat review – “For all those who have long craved a pair of Avantgarde’s superb Trios, it looks like there might well be a more affordable alternative in town — aesthetically speaking at least. The AutoTech speakers are also considerably more compact, and if the evidence of the show is anything to go by, they seem happy in smaller rooms. Fit, finish and presentation were all first class, making this a brand to watch for all lovers of spherical horns.”
And then this review by Morricab in Positive Feedback – where he rated them at 3 in Munich, after Vox Olympian and Tune Audio Anima
They are extremely natural, the music just floats through them, and they enthralled me completely without me having to analyze them while listening. We played them with a 35k Ming Da amp (80 watts), a 2k Ming Da integrated (16w), and an old Lampi GM70 (22w). A low cost integrated can handle these speakers just fine, putting a different perspective on budget. We heard them on a Golden Gate, a modded Linn LP12, and a 1200 quid Ming Da CD player.
The LP12 had a low cost sub 300 quid Audio Technica cart on it. The LP12 itself, I think cost 2 – 3k, and was playing through the “Audio Detail” Nuvistor Phono stage(NV-06).
What totally excited me was this was one of the best systems, if not the best that I have heard, short of the extreme systems that I have recently reported on. Christoph’s Acoustat system was one such system that surprised me. Seriously, if any of you are in the market for a speaker that falls short of the extreme set ups in super rooms, e.g, if you are in the market for a Wilson Alexia/Q5 type speaker, a Vivid Giya, an Acapella Violincello, AG Duos, Cessaro Chopin/Liszt, Avalon, etc etc, to listen to in a normal sized room, you will most likely not only be compromising with their flagship designs, but you will also be facing room constraints. So my best advice is, please listen to these hORNs first before making your decision. I definitely preferred it to all these speakers plus JBL K2s. Fly over to one of the EU countries and listen to this horn. http://horns.pl/en/distributors/
Again, you might find shortcomings, if you compare them to the top of the family horns like Trios, or to extremely large cones in good rooms where the bass doesn’t cause issues, but I have never been a fan of horns which are second in rung in a family, e.g. I love the Trios but not the Duos, as I always find a big compromise when a level is dropped. This is more unique to horns than to Cones or Panels. Now, these hORNs are the top of their family. What you should note is, their second rung and below is a totally different design which are the horns fp15 and horns fp10, reviewed here by Joel.
These fp15 and fp10 I find as better alternatives to other boxy sensitive speakers, a type which I am not a fan of, but for people who cannot afford big horns, and who want to place in small rooms a speaker with SETs, this is a good alternative.
I then went to Malvern to Malvern Audio Research where you can compares various SET amps using GU81, 300b, EL84/34, GM70 valves on the horns Universum. First up, we tried the old Lampi GM70 amps (different from the newer 211 from Lampi). The 40w GM70 is a nice amp in the midrange, but a bit too laid back on these speakers for me. The Tektron GM70 had a bit more life to it, and a midrange involvement, but don’t think I am a GM70 guy. The 80w Ming Da Cantabille-Dynast amp, while much more expensive at 35k, had a lot of bass, dynamics and life compared to those, and was involving in the mids too. As expected with more power. There is another Cantabille, apparently similar sounding but without the looks, that is at 15k (all prices in GBP).
You can also above see the Stacore, and we did a compare of the Shun Mook Giant Diamond Resonators with the Stacore, but the 4 of us preferred the Shun Mooks. One now continues to use the Shun Mook on the Stacore for a his Lampi. Possibly the Lampi rubber feet have to be removed to get better results from the Stacore.
However, the amps that distinctly stood out were the 14w Cube EL84 monos. They just added so much vigour, speed, and grip to the midrange – the violinist (Oistrakh) was playing with more fervor – and music had a life. The performance did not match the big Cantabille in the midbass and large dynamics, so I can but speculate that the ideal match would be a 40w EL84, or using two of these 14w monos to biamp the speaker. We were connecting to the bass and using jumpers to the upper driver.
As I have repeatedly said before, there is no similarity in horn sounds, which is why I don’t like classifying “horns” as a category except for horny looks and high sensitivity. To emphasize the point, these big hORNs reminded me of Quads – transparent, neutral, fast, musical, but with more dynamics and bass than quads, and with higher sensitivity and better off axis. The sound can be tailored with the use of cartridge and valve amp, but I think such systems are best airy, neutral, fast. My Tara Cobalt, which is a slightly dark cable, did not do well on this system, as you need something airier rather than darker.
It was interesting how Cecilia Bartoli’s voice was floating cleanly through the room to the listening seat even at low volumes. Magic of a SET and a nice horn.
The best thing about these speakers is that they sing with even a 1800 quid 40w Ming Da integrated. This integrated allows you to swap between EL34, 6L6g, and KT 90 valves.
First up, the EL34. I found myself enjoying Oistrakh, Rubinstein, Winterreise as much as on the 80w expensive Cantabille. The 6L6g for me were too soft – and the piano notes on Winterreise and Emperor sounded the same, while with the EL34, each note had a distinct character, due to the entire timbre and top coming through. If you have compared an Ortofon a95 or Anna, or a Zyx to a cartridge like the Koetsu, you will get a similar distinction – the first 3 can do the timbre better and piano notes stand out more distinctly.
I got bored of the 6L6 immediately and switched over the KT 90. These were better, and it felt like more current was flowing through the system. Yet, the EL34 were even better and more involving, better timbre. I am a big EL34/84 fan now. I checked, and the other 3 too had preferred the EL34.
I think this is one of the rare speakers that I can listen to for hours, and find that my ears are not hurting at the end of the demo. Usually with other speakers either the tweeter or the bass is too loud – not here. Also the microdynamics and information seems to be getting presented easier, you don’t have to turn the remote up to force a soundstage or to hear that “other” frequency you cannot hear at lower volumes.
Other amps heard: I also tried the Fezz audio 300b, the Thoress 300b, and all are nice, but not a 300b fan. I hope to try the Thoress 845 on these. The Fezz is a killer for the money
So how does the Universum do against the competition?
Trios – Nothing matches up to the bass and dynamics of the trios, their sudden impact, except for something like maybe the Apogee Full Range or large expensive cones expertly set up with massive subs. But the trios are much more expensive, and the Universums are way better than the duos IMO. Also better than the mid level Blumenhofer – I haven’t heard the top level ones. But compared to Trios, the mids are as good. Soundstage style is different – trios can paint a top to bottom, side to side soundscape, while these are more like Quads – open soundstage, airy. Also these will fit smaller spaces more easily than the trios. If I had money and space I would buy the trios, but practically would get the Universums and not look for an upgrade if I was into horns.
Tune Audio Anima – The Anima has a sudden impact and great timbre, though a colored timbre. The timbre of Anima has caused a bit of love/hate – those who like it love it. The Anima does not have the same seamless bass as the Universum – not that the Universum bass is SOTA, but is an easier flow. The Anima sound will come more from the midrange drivers unless in an extremely large room, where the sound will spread more between and around. The Universums will soundstage better, and will have an airy detailed presentation with excellent decay similar to stats. I like both Anima and the Universum, and am wary that reading what I have written can be misinterpreted – please listen to both before judging, they are a few blocks from each other in Malvern near Birmingham. Anima tone has a rawness that will appeal to its fans, Universum is more transparent, stats like. The Universum is also extremely transparent to recordings and if you have good LP recordings, the change is more LP to LP with the Universums while with Animas and Trios it is more constant.
JBL 66000 and the new ones they play with Mark Levinson – I find all of Trios, Anima, and Universum much better than these JBLs. I do love a bespoke made JBL horn, at 40k euro or so, made with the same horn that the designer of Universum produces.
Acapella Violon and Violon cello – I prefer Trios, Animas, and Universums more to these. The Acapella have a nice midrange, but I find the Universums more real and I am not a fan of the bass that the duos, Acapella Violons, or Cessaro Liszt have – I find too many cabinet and driver colorations that cause disparity with the upper ranges.
One of the key things the Universums do better is the flow – there is an easy musical flow, which SS lower sensitivity speakers do not seem to produce, or even SETs driving cones, and this flow is extremely suited to piano and concertos. I did not audition much jazz but a couple of owners are jazz fans. The Anima is great on Jazz as well. Where the Universum might lack compared to cones, trios (apart from above mentioned differences), and Anima is on rock.
The analog was excellent for such a low cost set up. One could spin away through the day. I also realized when I left my ears were not strained at all – some of you know I like listening loudly. Modded Linn LP12 from Missing Link/Vinyl Passion, and a small valve phono built by the distributor of Ming Da in the UK. The reason is that these horns flow very nicely, and the vinyl liquidity, even from a low cost set up, adds to that flow.
Most importantly, the Universums are easier to fit in size wise, and can be run with extremely low cost amps till you are ready to upgrade. In really narrow rooms they could probably be switched around with the bass horn inside…that would fit it in nicely.
A nice example of how the “flow” made us sit through the whole side of the Rubinstein Emperor LP, and the Bruch Scottish Fantasia LP. It’s very difficult to take off the LP here, and Mark’s mother, who is a pianist, joined in and we got a good pic of her air conducting.
I prefer the one in White. My gf thinks there is no point pretending any speaker blends in to the background, so it makes sense to add excitement, and she prefers the green. Red and Orange etc are possible, but the bass horn looks better in white than black, I think
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