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Positive Feedback ISSUE44
A&V-803 loudspeakers - They're Coming!
as reviewed by Mike Peshkin
An email from Positive Feedback Online always gets my juices flowing… new gear to listen to! When I read that I was going to get a set of speakers from Jaton, the A&V-803's, I was really pumped, especially when I went to Jaton's site and saw what I was getting in for review. As always, I knew it would be a bit of a challenge for time, as I depend upon two fellow listeners for help in hoisting heavy beasties, one who is another reviewer. Asking them to get a large pair of speakers down into my basement listening room is always difficult. I hate asking others to do work that was once so simple for me, but I've come to the realization that what goes around comes around. I was the schlepper for anything to be moved for many, many years, and never minded it a bit. My friends don't mind, either; they get to listen to the new gear along with me! I also rely on them for additional reviewing feedback, since two or three sets of ears is (almost) always better than one.
Unpacking them was a challenge, as is anything that's double boxed. Beautifully finished speakers such as these should be well protected, and they are. Putting the integral stands on them was a challenge, as I was too stupid (or blind) to notice the directions to put them together are right on the box! With a little thought on both Bob's and my own we get them set up and ready to listen, connected to the Monarchy 100 SE amps.
They sounded fabulous with the Monarchy amps—but (advance warning!) not before almost a month of break-in time. That's chronological in my case, not play time of course, but 100 hours is what you have to give these speakers. I would love to have them stay in my home… if I had room for more speakers! I've gone speaker crazy of late; trying different vintage speakers is a lot of fun, but it takes up a good bit of space. That's balanced by what I'm learning about various speakers' sound, helping me understand things about modern speakers as well. One finds out quite a bit about sound and how manufacturers have dealt with the problems speakers have always had to face—different rooms, different equipment.
Had I not been playing with all the other gear, I may not have ever realized just how good these speakers are when connected to an amp that drives them properly and when they are well broken in. I was told they sounded pretty good, for a $6000 dollar speaker…to me that's like saying that a blonde has prettier feet than a brunette… not too much correlation.
"Hey, they can be bi-amped. Can I borrow your amp and try to see if I like them bi-amped or just with the Monarchy amps alone?" My good friend, listening partner, many times schlepper and fellow reviewer at another on-line audio mag, John Richardson, gave me use of his 150 Watt-per-channel amp to drive the Jatons in bi-amped mode. The Jaton AV-803s can be driven with as little as 70 watts, but I figured if they could be bi-amped I wanted to hear them that way!
So I jumped in on it, with high expectations that I was going to be blown away as soon as I fired up the new bi-amped configuration.
WRONG-O! I did not like them at all!
Well, at least for the first 40 hours or so. They were BORING! They were boring with the Monarchy amps alone, they were boring with John's amp; they sounded strange in bi-amped mode with both John's amp and my own. I believe that the speakers do NOT like a passive bi-amp configuration. John's amp driving the bass, the Monarchy amps driving the mids and tweeters was a very uncomfortable, almost out-of-phase sound. I was getting frustrated as I hate spending time with a poor sounding piece of equipment. Thankfully that hasn't happened to me very many times at all, and I'm glad to say that it was simply that I was too impatient!
I asked a friend what he thought the problem might be and he said, "Just give 'em more time!" I'm glad I listened. I'd put on A Decade of Steely Dan and wasn't tapping my toes! Something was obviously wrong.
Set up? I use the Cardas speaker set up method (for example, see the Cardas site for a baseline setup with rectangular rooms at http://www.cardas.com/content.php?area=insights&content_id=26&pagestring=room+setup), as it has always proved to work well with any speaker I've had in my listening room. At the very least, it gives you an excellent point of departure. Since I'm an arthritic mess, I can't play "move it an inch" with any speaker, let alone a big one like the Jaton REAL A&V 803 speakers, it's good to have a reliable approach to get things really close right from the get-go.
So I kvetched. And kvetched. And kvetched some more…I 'm a really great complainer… I have an advanced degree in whining! But then I put on a Best of… CD. "I must have got lost, somewhere down the line" proved to me that I'd done just exactly that—got lost! A big-time "Duh!" moment!
I had forgotten something, all right: BREAK-IN TIME, MIKE!
How can a guy who's been listening to gear critically for as many years as I have done forget such a simple thing? Good question. And I do it all the time! Once I had passed about 40 hours with the AV-803's… WOW!
Well, it's over now and I can sit and enjoy music with the Jatons and tell you my experiences enjoying what I heard.
This speaker ROCKS! This speaker plays music with all the chutzpah a good speaker should deliver! Whether I play CDs or LPs, Chamber music, small Jazz combos, single female vocalists, male vocalists, heck… when I played a Direct Grace LP of Bill Frisell and Doug Wamble, the feel of the guitar hit my chest. Playing any CD or LP with big bass passages, I was as impressed as any music buff could be. I love trying silly things with equipment, and surely it will get me into trouble some day, but I just had to see what these speakers could do with a low-Watt tube amp… it was a burning desire. Obviously, I do not recommend for anyone to do anything as silly and what actually may prove harmful to your equipment. Driving these speakers with an amp that has the cajones the Monarchy amps have is a no-brainer. What is surprising is how little bass slam was lost with an amp with only 10 watts! I really don't think I would have noticed if I hadn't first heard what these speakers do on the bottom end of the musical spectrum with the 100 Watt Monarchy amps. The solid state Monarchy SE Deluxe amps were a gorgeous match for these speakers.
As stated, and as I always do, I played many different types of music through these speakers. And therein lays the beauty to the Jaton AV-803s. The base, with its piano black finish; the speaker, literally glowing with the beauty of the finish made anyone and everyone who walked into my listening room comment upon just how gorgeous these speakers look, and thankfully, once broken in, they sounded even better than they looked.
Can they reach the subterranean levels that my powered subs deliver in my 15' x 28' room? Well, if you're going to complain then you must have been raised in the New York Subway system. I believe the Infinity speakers may reach a tad bit lower, but just by the room left by the guy in front of you at 5:00 on Friday night on any city's main freeway.
I was jealous, but just by that same minute amount, of where the treble reached with the REAL speaker. I expected a ribbon tweeter to beam a bit, but I felt no great wrongs being perpetrated by the ribbon tweeter, just the slightest bit of harshness and I attributed that to placement (I never did get anyone to toe them in or out for me). Extreme top-end string sounds were smooth with no bothersome harshness. If these speakers erred noticeably, it was in the width and depth of the soundstage, but I've been listening to 5" baffles for a very long time, have reviewed a number of speakers with 5" baffles and let's face it, a skinny box speaker, at least in my listening room with my equipment, throws a soundstage that reaches into infinite space. The much wider front of the REAL seems to limit the stage somewhat, but again, that's in my room with my equipment, and without assurance that I had the toe-in fully dialed in.
Linda Ronstadt's CD We Ran (UPC 07559622062) from waaaaaay back in '98 in the last century brought me right back to the days of when I fell in love/lust with Linda many years before. Thankfully, with people getting rid of CDs now as they load their digital doohickies with their favorite music, I'm finding CDs I would not have bought at great prices. (Where have we heard that before?!) Her voice is just as beautiful as her roller skating days.
This CD is a great mid-range indicator, and Linda's voice was revealed with the power she always possessed as a pop singer via the AV-803s. The title cut We Ran illuminated the fact this speaker can do what many fail to do: avoiding spitting at you! I've almost ducked when listening to some speakers, thinking that the singer's t might drench me. The AV-803s were smooth and quite real throughout the midrange; on the cut "Ruler of My Heart" Don Grolnick's piano made me look up from my notes. I've found that is always a good sign when the quality of the sound makes me take notice that way.
I need to stress that the soundstage and imaging with the AV-803s is not a paper cut-out; it's just not the three-dimensional wonder some speakers seem capable of doing. Those same speakers always seem to lose some type or feel of the reality of music, the part of music that grabs you by the heart. But if you need that level of precise imaging, this speaker is not the system you want—go elsewhere.
The CD of Al DiMeola, Paco de Lucia, and John McLaughlin, Friday Night in San Francisco had me in equal awe of the LP I'd played minutes before. This is all about attack, ladies and gentlemen. Sure, their dexterity, timing, and passion is revealed, but the attack of the strings, the feel of their fingers on the strings was as if the Jaton AV-803 speakers had reached through time, got up on the stage and kidnapped the three of them. I'm not speaking of that false, they're in my room, or the almost as unreal I was transported to the venue; I'm telling you about the musical experience, the feel of how it would have been for an audience member to see them live. I'm speaking of the excitement that well reproduced music should invoke in a listener.
Listening to an old 1961 Command Classics LP (CC 11003SD) Pictures at an Exhibition recorded with 35mm tape, revealed one of the things that either thrills or bothers me about equipment of any kind. I'm not overly concerned about the width or depth of a soundstage, but the center image, the separation of instruments across that soundstage; the avoidance of making mashed potatoes out of the members of an orchestra. THAT is what turns me on; not imaging. I'm talking about tonal precision. I should never feel that a violin section is anything less or more than a group of individuals playing violins! I love mashed potatoes, just don't feed it to me through a speaker!
The dynamics of this piece, the ability of these speakers to go loud from almost whisper-like passages, shows me, this speaker system is worth the dollars spent in its development, and more importantly, the dollars spent for the owner.
For those who don't know, I'm a vinylholic, but I absolutely adore many of the CDs I have bought over the last ten years (when I first began trusting and believing that CD sound had finally become worthy of my ears). When I began hearing female voices that didn't sound more like angry mother birds squawking as the nest was approached, I knew CD sound had progressed to the point I'd bother to spend the cash on a CD player.
The CD player I chose keeps holding its own against all the new ones I hear; none of them have impressed me to the point I'd spend more money to get the improvements besting the Audio Alchemy CDP. Believe me, I keep listening to players I can afford, and many $3000+ CD players certainly have impressed me a good bit, but the Audio Alchemy still reveals lots of information in a very musical fashion. (Though I must admit there have been a couple of CDPs that almost made me bring out the card. You never know, I guess... and never say never!)
Anyway, every LP, every CD I played while listening to the Jaton REAL AV-803 speakers had my toes tapping, a smile on my face, or a broken heart. For me, that's the test of any piece of equipment: emotion.
I had tears and contained rage listening to the unbelievably powerful songs on Nina Simone's Pastel Blues (Phillips PHM 200-187). I purchased the LP after hearing "Sinnerman" on a commercial, and after listening to the LP, can't recall being as angry since the late '60s. If you don't understand that statement, you never had the joys that being beaten by a Los Angeles policeman's night stick can invoke.
Nina's voice and her impeccable piano style make that LP a gem, and the Jaton gets her voice very close to spot-on, that balance of throatiness and that top of the chest sound of a powerful female vocalist (male vocalists sing from much deeper in the chest/stomach). And the emotion, the anguish when she sings Billie Holliday's signature, "Strange Fruit" comes through the Jatons… with lots and lots of emotion.
I hear the methods of breath control she uses, a micro-detail missed by many, many pieces of equipment. I'm listening, as I write this, to a vintage system that misses that very nuance. Granted the sound is pretty, but I need pretty, and detail! It is this sort of detail and emotional connection I want in any gear I listen to, and the Jaton AV-803 gets it!
The Jatons take up a good piece of real estate, and I assure you the placement of these speakers is not easy the way that my own Infinity speakers are. The Jatons sounded best waaaaaay out into my room, almost 9 feet from the back wall to the front baffle (a good 2 feet farther than my speakers normally sit), but then again my room is 28 feet long. A more normal room, say 15X18 or even a bit smaller would find those speakers placed differently and perhaps even get that last bit of the bottom end… but rest assured, only organ nuts (not related to Macadamia nuts), would want much deeper bass than the Jatons deliver.
Summing up: I think that the Jaton AV-803s are gorgeous, both in looks and sound. They combine drop-dead looks with an emotional presentation of the music. In the $6000 price range you'll find some really fine sounding speakers, but I doubt you'll find any sporting the beautiful finish of these speakers and featuring the sonic excellence that I heard.
Remember what I told you, though: anyone purchasing these speakers should be aware that they don't hit their stride until they have at least 40 hours of music played through them. Given the beautiful finish, you'll need to be careful in handling them. Placement should be done either by your dealer or, if the buyer is setting them up, make sure that you take extra special care about where they are placed, and how they are placed in the room. As always, listen and re-adjust after break-in. If you audition them and they float your boat, I know you'll enjoy these speakers for a long, long time. Mike Peshkin