The Audiovector M3 Signature Loudspeakers
by Mike Fenech
My first exposure to Audiovector speakers came during a business trip to Atlanta last summer. I managed to take an afternoon off to visit a couple of the high-end stores in the area. As it was my first time in Atlanta, I didnt realize how spread apart some of the stores were. Late in the afternoon, I decided to head back to the hotel to avoid traffic but managed to stop by one last store along the way. Being a bit underwhelmed by what was displayed at the other stores, my expectations were low going into the last store of the day.
The speakers in the stores main listening room caught my attention, however. They seemed small for a room this size, a simple three-way driver complement enclosed in a drab black ash finish. Looking a little closer, I noticed they were tri-wired to a multitude of amplifiers, and had one of the stores more expensive front-ends connected as a source -- a pretty hefty setup for some non-substantial looking speakers.
Listening to the setup answered all my questions. (Doesnt it always?) The system threw a large and life-sized image and had as coherent a midrange as I have ever heard in a showroom setting. Best of all, the bass was tight and detailed yet full sounding and dynamic, and was always integrated properly in the soundfield. I was impressed, but was suspicious if the sound quality was due to a well-designed room or the rest of the system itself, and not so much the speakers. I could only find out by trying a set at home.
The speaker I heard in Atlanta was the Audiovector model M2. I did a quick search on the Internet and found the U.S. importer for Audiovector was Audiophile Systems, who also imports Arcam, Castle, and Perreaux. They did not have an M2 sample available at the time and instead sent me the M3 Signature, the top of Audiovectors M series line of speakers.
Like the M2, the M3 Signature is also a ported three-way floor standing speaker. Actually, all floor-standing M series speakers have essentially the same enclosure, and each can be upgraded to the M3 Signature version. The M3 incorporates three sets of binding posts for tri-wiring or tri-amping. These are the same rhodium-plated posts used by Proac. As with Proac, the M3s include rhodium-plated pins intended to jumper the three sets of posts together when using single or bi-wire speaker cable. Unfortunately, installing these pins prohibit the connection of cables terminated with spade lugs. The only options are to use cable terminated with banana pins, or to acquire a set of binding post jumpers (which I used for much of the review period, already owning a pair). I wish manufacturers using these binding posts would supply a more effective alternative to these pins.
One of the features the Signature has over the model M2 and the standard M3 is the premium Evotech tweeter, which is hand-built and tested at the Audiovector factory. This design is an advancement on their SES (Soundstage Enhancement System) tweeter, which eliminates tweeter compression by venting the tweeter to a tuned port on the back of the speakers enclosure. Conventional tweeters are usually sealed as a method of isolation from the air movement within the enclosure. According to Audiovector, the SES design greatly reduces upper midrange and high frequency distortion.
The M series crossover is modified in the M3 Signature for use with the Evotech tweeter. According to Audiovector, its minimum component topology is achieved through use of their premium quality drivers, all of which have well controlled high frequency roll-off. Crossover points are at 3000 and 125 Hz. A single high quality inductor is used in series with each driver. This, along with some minor impedance correction, results in minimal loss through the crossover and seamless transition between the drivers. Minimal crossover designs always impress me as long as they result in superb sound, and the Audiovectors certainly meet this requirement.
My sample came with a very smooth and refined cherry finish; much nicer looking than the black ash finish on the M2 I heard in Atlanta. Audiophile Systems also sent me the optional Superstands, which replace the stock base of the speakers and is supposed to improve bass and increase dynamics. I, unfortunately, didnt hear any appreciable difference using the Superstands.
Equipment in-house during the review period were a Cary CD-300 CD player, Assemblage DAC-2 with parts upgrade, Audio Synthesis Passion passive linestage, Golden Tube SE-40 amplifier, Densen Beat-100 integrated amplifier, Proac Response 1S speakers, a VansEvers Cleanlines Jr. Power conditioner, and cable from JPS Labs, Nordost, and Music Metre. The speakers were placed against the long wall, and this limited the front to back space to work with. Within this space I had problems avoiding bass nodes. The speakers were finally positioned 29" from the rear of the speaker to the wall, and 83" apart measured between the inside edges of the speakers. No toe-in was used.
I began my listening using the M3s with the Golden Tube SE-40 and JPS Labs cable. The M3s efficiency is rated at 90db with 8 ohms impedance, so I didn t anticipate any problems matching it up with the SE-40. A healthy 20 Hz of additional bass extension was something I eagerly anticipated but planned to ignore for the moment. The weak low end of my early edition SE-40 was not going to show off the bass quality of this speaker, although I immediately noticed the bass was much tighter and more detailed than the Proacs. Even though the speakers easily revealed the limitations of the SE-40, the amp had little problem driving the M3s. Tube lovers, and especially low powered tube lovers, should include these speakers on their must-hear list. However, to get the most out of the M3s I suggest you use electronics more in line with the M3 $4200 price. Although I enjoyed the sound I heard using the SE-40 with the M3, it was, clearly, the limiting factor in the overall quality I was hearing.
After replacing the SE-40 with the Densen Beat-100, things started hopping. The speakers were now sounding more reminiscent of my experience with them in Atlanta, although I knew I wasnt going to get as wide open a sound in my smaller room. The phase coherency of the M3s drivers resulted in a clean and clear lower midrange. This kept the timing between the midbass and the midrange well in line. To say this was a musical combination was an understatement. (SoundStage! will have more to say about the Densen in an upcoming article, but for now lets just say The Air-Guitar Factor slogan they use in their advertising is no mere marketing phrase). The low end of the M3s bass response was rated down to 30 Hz at -3 dB. I performed an informal in room measurement with a resulting response of -1 dB at 31 Hz, and -6 dB at 25 Hz, based on a 1 kHz/0 dB reference using a Radio Shack meter and Stereophiles Test CD No. 2.
There was a dead silent background allowing details from the rear of the soundstage to be heard for the first time. Classical recordings like the Vaughn Williams compilation Towards the Unknown now had front to back layering of the choir and a much increased sense of the recording halls rear and side walls. Also, the drums on "Norfolk Rhapsody" were more dynamic than Ive ever heard them, while still maintaining their proper perspective at the rear of the stage.
While the transparency and refinement of the JPS Labs simply let the rest of the system speak for itself, switching to the Nordost Red Dawn let out a few more of the M3s strengths. With the Red Dawn in place, the midbass was now in even better proportion with the midrange, and bass had more texture and more detail. The biggest improvement, however, was the in the high frequencies. They were now much more extended and were much better localized in the soundfield. Cymbals were pristine sounding with a very natural tone.
There was now a large gap between good and not so good sounding recordings. The remastered version of The Whos Live at Leeds CD, for example, while not a bad recording, sounded dry and flat, and had as much excitement as I hear when playing it on my PC. Iris DeMints My Life was detailed and clear, but also sounded very dry. But top quality recordings, like Lynyrd Skynyrds Endangered Species, had excellent dynamics and speed on the acoustic guitars. Sarah McLachlans B-Sides and Other Rarities had huge life-like images across a wide soundstage, with wonderful delicacy in the vocals and little if any excessive sibilance.
The M3s can be both a reviewers tool and a music lover's centerpiece, and can work just as easily with tube amps as with solid state amps. I could not pinpoint a problem with the speakers themselves; basically every criticism I had during my evaluation was eventually found to be the fault of a component or cable. They maintained the refinement and smoothness Ive had with the Proacs in my system, and added clarity to the midrange and bass. I consider them a solid foundation which one can build a satisfying system around. Having serious bass, I do recommend that you give them room to work with, but with that caveat aside, they receive my heartiest recommendation.
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