Audiovector R3 Arreté Loudspeaker Review
Jay Garrett points his ears at a serious-sounding Scandinavian floorstander…
R 3 Arreté
Standard Colour: £8,725 / Special Colour: £9,499
Ole Klifoth founded Audiovector in 1979 to design and manufacture high-end loudspeakers with a natural sound and superlative build and finish. More than forty years later, his company is still based in Copenhagen, Denmark, with Ole's son Mads now the CEO of the family-owned business. Ole's thoughts about linear dynamics, linear phase and low compression formed the basis of Audiovector's designs, and that DNA remains the core of the marque's philosophy today.
The fact that there is a book covering a century of Danish loudspeakers literally speaks volumes. However, where you might assume there is little room for innovation, Audiovector has some interesting selling points. Several companies offer several options within a series, but how many clearly demarcate a good, better, best selection of their models – (Signature, Avantgarde, Arreté) – then let you upgrade later, should you so wish?
Left to right: R 3 Avantgarde, Arreté and Signature
I wondered if this was simply a marketing ploy or something actually taken up by the paying public. Mads confidently responded by telling me that “in our mature global markets, around a quarter of our distributors do regular customer upgrades”. Apparently, one of the latest upgrades was a new 2020-spec R 6 Arreté that started life as an S 6 from 2001, demonstrating that customers cannot only jump current specifications but also generations. I heartily applaud this because it means that Audiovector speakers are effectively, to all intents and purposes, future-proofed – should you stay with the brand. It's also a flexible, eco-friendly and cost-effective solution.
The £8,725 R 3 Arreté that you see here is a 2.5-way loudspeaker, the flagship of the entry-level R series floorstanders. Its series siblings are the Signature (£4,299) and Avantgarde (£6,999), with the latter looking like the Arreté's twin – complete with Audiovector-designed AMT tweeter. Yet, there are more than a few differences that make the Arreté the best of the bunch, in my view. Firstly, behold those AMT drivers. Mads told me that there are quite a few significant improvements on the Arreté AMT – a different crossover and damping, and the models even look unlike one another, he assured me. Additionally, the Arreté spec AMT gets a sibilance filter for increased detail and air. I am reliably informed by him that this results in a perceptively lower noise floor and darker background, making the information palpably cleaner. We'll see!
The Arreté's hand-made AMT tweeter features a waveguide which I'm told is an integral part of the magnetic circuit, and its five slots ensure that the vertical and horizontal dispersion is equal. Mads added that “unlike a ribbon, you can move up and down in front of the AMT without losing detail and effect.” There are a pair of ports behind the tweeter at the rear of the cabinet. This so-called Soundstage Enhancement Concept porting has two functions. Firstly, you get an open-backed tweeter which is more no-compression than low-compression, and secondly, the rear signal of the driver can be guided to further extend the soundstage and spatial presentation.
Also behind the magnetically attached cloth grille is a pair of custom-designed 165mm carbon coned drivers, which have some secrets of their own to share. Although identical to the eye, the upper drive unit works all the way to 3kHz, whilst the lower one is rolled off subtly from around 350Hz. These drivers are further augmented by a down-firing port, helped by the rear of the cabinet being asymmetrically cut and supported by a metal mesh grille.
Furthermore, the R3 series top model gets all the Arreté-only technologies to add to its armoury, such as Freedom Grounding and Natural Crystal Structure. Tackling the first one, I rightly assumed that this is more than a simple grounding add-on; the connections come as standard on the Arreté, but the cable is a £595 option.
“Simple grounding of the driver chassis,” Mads told me, “can often result in an anaemic sound. Using a dedicated Freedom-only crossover between the drivers, you get more body to the performance with greater separation of instruments, lower noise floor and improved clarity. The current between the drivers' chassis is dealt with in a separate crossover that routes the signal via the Freedom Cable, to the mains socket or grounded mains distributor.”
Amazingly, this reduces distortion by around 3dB (50%), according to the manufacturer. With that kind of impact, I am not surprised when Mads said that, even though the Freedom Cable is extra, take-up is over eighty percent and represents another easy aftersale upgrade for those who leave it until later.
NCS is a cryogenic treatment applied to crossovers, terminals and internal wiring. Mads stated that this alone doesn't make a huge difference, but combined with every other aspect of the design as a whole, it's a worthwhile addition. He told me that “without NCS, there would be a less natural sound with slightly less detail. Think of the R 3 Arreté as a top-spec Porsche 911 GT3 – the R 3 Arreté contains everything we are able to offer in a compact floorstanding speaker.”
All of this is wrapped up in a beautifully curved 1,034x230x360mm (HxWxD) high-density fibreboard cabinet that's lighter than I was expecting at roughly 25kg apiece. Although light, the cabinet is heavily braced internally. Mads remarked that “weight or bulk alone simply pushes certain resonances around and increases delay when absorbed energy is released. Our bracing design and technology efficiently reduces any time smear…”
This leads me on to yet more Audiovector tech – No Energy Storage and Low Compression Concept. Mads, help! “NES is a way to connect the driver chassis to the cabinet in a way that does not make the driver dependant on the weight of the cabinet and therefore reduces time smear even further. LCC is our low compression principle which ensures that the sound from each driver is both faster and undistorted, which also dramatically improves power handling.”
The Arreté also gets a carbon fibre terminal panel to avoid unwanted electrical interaction with the crossover components and is home to substantial bi-wire speaker terminals and the Freedom Grounding cable terminal.
For the R 3 Arreté, Audiovector claims a high 90.5dB/W/m sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, meaning that pretty much any amplifier up to 350W should be able to drive it without a headache. Quoted frequency response is said to be 23Hz to 53kHz with no cut-off point specified, thus rendering the figure pretty meaningless!
Gazing upon the Audiovector R 3 Arreté in Tourmaline Brown Piano (apparently, a Harley Davidson colour – this is Mads' demo pair), I was struck by how compact this floorstander is. Granted, the Auris Audio Poison 8 was much narrower but also deeper. Even in my average-sized London room, this loudspeaker integrates well with its surroundings, and at no point did I get a sense my review pair were dominating the space – even though they're pulled forward away from the boundary wall. Standard finishes are White Silk, Italian Walnut, African Rosewood and Black Ash, with custom piano finishes available on request.
My review pair of Audiovector R 3 Arretés replaced a similarly priced pair of Marten Duke 2 standmounters during the review period, and I was thoroughly impressed by how agile and accomplished they proved. There's plenty of low-end weight, but this is presented in a musical way, without being overbearing.
I initially ran the speakers without the Freedom Grounding cable plugged in but then attached the split 5 metre cable's banana-plugged ends into the back of the Audiovectors and the 3-pin end into my distribution box. This snapped the recorded acoustic more into focus and gave the impression of greater volume, with improved clarity and soundstaging.
Dropping my stylus down into the groove of Portishead's Roseland NYC Live album, and things sounded super-spacious. The R 3 Arreté's height of presentation was impressive, with horns and strings given as much headroom as they required, the AMTs projecting the players at standing height. Tracks such as All Mine can become a bit muddied due to the samples, bass and low horns trying to occupy the same space. The Audiovector showed no such shortcomings, though, likely thanks to its talented mid/bass drivers. Instead, instrumental separation was highly lifelike, with Mysterons enjoying the soundstage's width and depth while never overshadowing the vocal stylings of Beth Gibbons. Moving around my room, I noticed that my review pair offered a generous sweet spot which is worth knowing if you enjoy sharing music with others.
Breaks and samples were gloriously tight, and the players stopped and started together. Every note played through the R 3 Arreté is pin-sharp and defined with no blurring of leading edges or flabby overhang at the other end. Kate Bush's Army Dreamers showed the precision of this loudspeaker. The slow waltz of the musicians remained respectively placed behind the vocals, allowing her sometimes almost whispered words to cut through to deliver her message about the tragedy of war as she figuratively attempts to pacify her fallen son. The male backing vocals were presented with plenty of body – a little richer than my Martens – which contrasted Kate's higher-ranged voice and bestowed plenty of emotion.
Kate's Never For Ever album sounded beautifully nuanced when played through an Oppo UDP-205 using Roon. Babooshka, the opening track, took advantage of the R 3 Arreté's midband and upper-frequency cohesion. At no point did the vocals become jarring, not even on the chorus, which pushes to a powerful dynamic crescendo. Indeed, what could have come across as painfully shrill was presented as emotive and honest, with plenty of presence.
Feeding this speaker with something more up-tempo didn't phase it one iota. The Mars Volta's 2003 opus Deloused in the Comatorium is frenetic, to say the least. I've loved this album since its release, but it's not always the easiest listen as some speakers can simply chuck it out as a wall of noise. However, the Audiovector welcomed every beat without being thrown from this bucking bronco of an album. It faultlessly presented tracks such as Inertiatic Esp as it kept tabs on the musical layers and complex rhythms.
This speaker's drive units remained faithful to how the Texan progressive rock band attacked each song and were able to replicate the sense of momentum you'd get at one of the band's live shows. I am pleased to report that any fears the Arreté would fall short were unfounded. It actually demonstrated an overwhelming sense of vitality which – if anything – expanded the whole experience without diluting the almost claustrophobic nature of tracks such as Cicatriz Esp.
Orchestral music is an excellent test of a loudspeaker's ability to track individual instrumental threads within a recorded acoustic. With Eötvös Conducts Stravinsky – Le Sacre Du Printemps, Mavra in my disc spinner, it was tracks such as The Adoration of the Earth: Games of the Rival Tribes which demonstrated the Arreté's low-end authority. Its bottom end worked wonderfully in conjunction with an airy top end, making for a highly cohesive end result. This speaker might not be quite as natural sounding as the Node Hylixa, but we're dealing with different speaker technologies, not to mention price brackets.
The R 3 Arreté had no issue with the piece's challenging dynamics. Level changes were handled exceptionally well, allowing the music to sound vibrant and alive. As the movement progressed to Procession of the Wise Elder, this floorstander again proved nimble enough to faithfully present each musical strand to the listener in an intelligible acoustic. As The Sacrifice: Introduction (Largo) began, I enjoyed the R 3 Arreté's delicate handling of woodwind in the upper midband, combined with the depth achieved from the brass, strings and percussion. Overall then, this speaker boasts an impeccably authentic presentation – one that places instruments in a generous and well-defined soundstage while reproducing enthralling dynamics and emotion.
In the Audiovector R 3 Arreté, Mads and the team have created a hugely able yet relatively compact high-end loudspeaker. Its innovative design means that not only can it hold its own amongst the best of the rest at the price, but it's room-friendly in both sonic and aesthetic respects too.
I must also applaud the company's loudspeaker upgrade path, a genuinely brilliant idea in my book. There's a risk that some people won't want their choice of loudspeakers being so closely related to lower-priced options, but for the rest of us, it makes great sense. I love the idea that if I bought the Signature, I could work my way up through driver and crossover upgrades to the series flagship. So if you're looking for a serious-sounding sub-£10,000 compact floorstander, this really should be on your 'must hear' list.
StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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