Avanti Audio Cables
On A Rocky Mountain High
During some office downtime back in March, I was surfing the web, looking for hot tickets to see whatever jazz artists were performing in Chicago that weekend. Kurt Elling and Patricia Barber, who are normally regulars at the legendary Green Mill cocktail lounge were both out on tour and whoever was performing that night didn’t excite me enough to make me want to plunk down any bucks, or come out on a cold Windy City night. What did excite me though was the website I found for a company that sounded more like an Italian automobile maker than a builder of high-end audio cables, Avanti Audio.
Admittedly, the first thing that caught my attention was the really cool European-ish sounding name. According to the website, Avanti is an Italian word which means “forward” (I’m not sure that a cable company wants a name that could be construed as a sonic shortcoming, but I digress). Lord knows I’ll buy almost anything with a cool European name on it. The second thing I noticed was that the cables appeared to be very well built and finished, using an attractive charcoal grey mesh sheathe and high-quality terminations. They also had attractive wood blocks on them to help keep the cable runs separated to minimize distortion. And the third thing I noticed about these cables was that they were shockingly inexpensive. So you’ve got high-end cables with a European name, which look great and are very inexpensive compared to typical audiophile cables. This could mean only one thing: Where’s the “Made In China” label.
But to my surprise the Avanti Audio cables are not made in China but are in fact made in… Avon Colorado?! So I contacted Mike Chadwell the extremely pleasant owner and designer of the Avanti cables to learn more about the company and see if I could get some of the cables in for a review. After a brief chat and an exchange of emails, a full suite of Avanti’s top-of-the-line Allegro Series cables were on their way to me.
Chadwell said he began building cables as a hobby in 2009, before turning it into a business in 2010. Though his cable business is fairly new, Chadwell has a long history in the electronics industry. His Father, Jan, spent a 47 year career as Chief Engineer for several Denver, Colorado area radio stations before retiring after 27 years at KOA 850 AM (Clear Channel Communications). From early childhood Chadwell worked with his dad on a regular basis in the rewiring and maintenance of studios and radio stations. “I guess you could say I’ve had a soldering iron and tools in my hands for many years and was taught the proper techniques for using them from the best electronics engineer I know,” said Chadwell.
Chadwell’s road to building his own audio cables began a lot like many other cable designers. He became dismayed by the ever increasing cost of interconnects and speaker cables and decided to build his own. So working within a budget, he set about the task of building cables that could look and perform favorably compared to some of the better known and far more expensive brands.
The Allegro Series
The first cables Chadwell began building were a straight forward assembly of high quality, value driven parts and simplistic design called the Standard Series. These interconnect and speaker cables are designed to work well with many different types of gear. However, in Chadwell’s own opinion, while they are an excellent bargain, he knew he could do better. After many hundreds of listening hours with his own gear, he knew there had to be more that a cable could bring to the table.
So after a year and a half of research, his hunt for a more qualified "reference" line of cables and connectors he developed the Allegro Series of interconnects and speaker cables which are the subject of this review. Not only did Chadwell search out and try many different brands and topologies of wire and connectors, he played with various engineering guidelines of grounding and filtering methods too. If all goes to plan he would be creating a line of cables that help a system to produce sound that is well balanced, transparent and has effortless extension throughout the frequency spectrum. At such affordable prices, I hope he succeeds. Let’s find out, shall we?
The Allegro cables are a wide bandwidth, low capacitance, ultra-fine stranded OFC copper conductor cable design. They are also offered with upgraded connector options which can result in significant improvements in sound in case you can afford to stretch your budget a bit more. If so, you may be rewarded with sound that becomes more neutral without being overly analytical and detailed without being bright.
The Allegro interconnects are offered in both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) configurations. They also make a phono cable (which is not reviewed) in DIN to RCA, RCA to RCA and RCA to XLR configurations; digital cables in both SPDIF and AES/EBU standards; speaker sables in both single-wired and shotgun bi-wired designs and A/C power cables. And don’t forget, you have the option to order these cables with upgraded connectors.
Chadwell was kind enough to send me a complete suite of the Allegro Series cables so I was able to evaluate my system in its full glory. The cables that the Avantis were replacing were the much more expensive Apollo Series cables from Entreq Audio of Sweden. Physically, this was a rather odd comparison. The Entreq RCA interconnect cables are sheathed in a very attractive cotton cloth compared to the Avantis which were sheathed in a simple synthetic grey mesh. But the Entreq cables used silver connectors that were very fragile to work with and were covered by a wooden housing that their designer indicated came from an old family farm. They were attractive, yes, but not as tight as I’d like. The Avanti cables use connectors from the German company ViaBlue. These connectors are very sturdy and frankly inspired more confidence in a solid connection than the more elegant Entreq connectors. Both companies’ XLR cables were nice, but the Entreqs did not lock at the female end of the cable. This made me a bit curious. The same held true of the speaker cables. Again, the Entreqs proved to be more fragile (they broke twice while I used them) while the Viablue spades and bananas on the Avanti speaker cables gave a tighter, more rigid connection. Oddly, the opposite was the case when it came to the power cords. The Entreqs, which use Furutech connectors provided a snugger connection compared to the Avanti cords which use Wattgate 15-watt IECs.
I may be a bit paranoid in this regard but I have an extremely playful Boston terrier named Max who will let nothing, not even my forest of cables stand in the way of him and a good chew toy. So if the connections aren’t super tight, it causes me to worry.
The system used in the evaluation of the Avantis featured the George Warren turntable with Incognito-modified Moth tonearm and Benz Micro Ace cartridge going into the excellent Pass Labs XP-15 phono stage (review coming). The digital sources were my trusty Oppo Digital DV-980H Universal disc player (as transport) and Apple TV streamer going into the brilliant Vitus Audio RD-100 DAC/Linestage. Amplification came from the Bel Canto M300 and Ref1000M mono amps and the Vitus RI-100 integrated amp and RS-100 stereo amp. Speakers used were the Magnepan MG20 w/Pass Labs XVR-1 electronic crossover and Sonic Hemisphere Fidelity One.
The transition from my long time reference Entreq cables to the Avantis meant an extended break-in period would be needed. So I began by putting my extensive iTunes library into heavy-duty nighttime rotation for about three weeks before I was ready to start critically listening. I jumped right into a classic rock album that I picked up at a garage sale, unopened and still with its Tower Records labels on it. Loggins & Messina’s Full Sail [CBS S 65775] contains a song called “Pathway To Glory,” that since the early 70’s has - oddly enough - been a staple of urban dance music, particularly clubs that are known to be havens for people known as “steppers.” “Steppin” is a popular dance form amongst the mature and urbane of mostly African American club goers. It’s a purely indescribable mix of stylish dress, attitude and some of the most rhythmically charged yet smoothest moves known to man. Think I’m kidding? After reading this review, check out this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ijo4MwXVOZ4).
“Pathway To Glory” is one of the most harmonically rich songs I’ve ever heard. It’s sort of a mix of Seals & Crofts and Led Zeppelin. It opens with Loggins’ honey-coated vocals then floats beautifully from acoustic guitar to harmonica to violin-led harmonies anchored by a driving bass line that is easy to follow and has a rhythm that you can dance to… Sorry, I think I just had a bit of a Soul Train Scramble Board moment. Anyway, this was probably a tough recording for me to start my listening sessions with, considering that to my mind, these were still just nice looking but inexpensive cables that I really didn’t have any high sonic expectations for. But oh baby did they deliver the sonic goods! Clarity, detail, musicality, low-end heft. It was a bit splashy at the top but that was almost to be expected. The soundstage was expansive and very well delineated. Not quite to the extent of the Entreqs but pretty darn close. And when it came to the all-important midrange area, the level of image focus and air around instruments was as good as I’ve heard in my system, especialy when used with the Vitus amps driving my Maggies.
Another piece of vinyl that I listened to that I knew would be taxing was D’Angelo’s Voodoo [Virgin]. This is one of the most bass saturated yet surprisingly musical of the Neo-Soul music genre. The multi-talented D’Angelo possesses the vocal range and ability to play all recorded instruments of Prince (though not nearly as deftly) combined with the soulfulness of Marvin Gaye (though not nearly as sensual). This two disc LP features a magnificent cover of the Roberta Flack classic, “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” D’Angelo’s voice just seemed to holographically hover between the Maggies. That’s a pretty neat trick for a modestly priced pair of cables. But you quickly forget about their affordability and simply focus on the music. That, dear reader, is a very good thing. Another track of note from this album is “Devil’s Pie.” This decidedly gospel sounding (the explicit lyrics say it is decidedly NOT gospel) song is opened and closed by a simple but pounding drum and bass track and overlayed with D’Angelo’s distinctive multi-track vocal mixing. The Avanti cables do a fine job of maintaining the musicality of the instruments that with lesser cables would have gotten overwhelmed by the bass. I’m confident that this is largely due to the ability of the ICs to render a soundstage that is faithful to the music.
The overall quietness of the backdrop I’ll attribute in part to the power cords but I still would feel better with an IEC connector that gives you a more rigid connection, especially for heavy-duty amps like the Vituses. But the real stars in this product line are the ICs and speaker cables. They seemed synergistic with both the Magneplanars and the dynamic Sonic Hemisphere Fidelity Ones.
Shifting over to digital. I jumped straight into some live jazz in the form of the great Eva Cassidy’s Live At Blues Alley [Blix Street]. I don’t think there’s anyone reading this review who isn’t familiar with this CD or her classic rendition of “Stormy Monday” on it. Needless to say if there is a song that can tell you just how well connected your system is, this is it. Cassidy’s heartfelt, bluesy vocal performance is bolstered by a ripping good guitar solo by Keith Grimes. Photos from the night this tune was recorded show that Chris Biondo on bass is on the left side of the stage, Raice McLeod’s drums are set up center stage at the rear, Grimes is to the right and Cassidy is at the center front (pianist Lenny Williams is far left but wasn’t shown in the photo). With this knowledge I listened to this tune numerous times and delighted in just how true to life the performance was. Being able to see the venue allowed me to appreciate the way the soundstage was actually setup and how well my system with the Avanti cables installed, rendered the experience in my home. I had the same feeling listening to track 5, “People Get Ready.” Though Cassidy and her band were on a rather small stage, the Avanti cables are able to help minimize any blurring of performances and allow the listener to really hear deeply into the music. A great recording such as this deserves that.
The Avanti Audio cables are attractive, nicely built, and excellent sounding. It’s amazing how much cable you can get for the dollar these days. But referring to these cables only in terms of how relatively little they cost does them a big disservice. So please know that my comments in this review would mean the same even without references to price. These are not just cables for people who don’t want to spend too much money, these are cables for anyone who wants a well-built product that will enhance the sound and enjoyment of their home audio system. Highly recommended.
Avanti Audio Allegro Series Cables
Analog Interconnects w/ViaBlue RCA's
Balanced Analog Interconnects w/Neutrik XLR's
From $225.00 / 1.0M pair
- 26Ga OFC ultra-fine stranded copper
- Low capacitance cable @ 44pf/0.5M
- Neutrik gold pin XLR connectors
- Fully balanced, shielded cable design
SPDIF 75 Ohm Digital Interconnects
From $130.00 / 1.0M
- 20Ga solid copper center conductor
- Ultra Low capacitance coax @ 26pf/0.5M
- Full copper braid over foil shielding
- ICM Gold Plated RCA Compression Connectors
Speaker Cables w/ ViaBlue Bananas & Spades
From $325.00 / 6' Long Pair
- Four separate runs of 12ga two conductor 99.999% OFC cable
- Solid Walnut wood separator blocks
- PET Braided Sleeving
- ViaBlue 24k Gold Plated Banana Plugs on one end, 8mm Spades on the other
11 Gauge A/C Power Cables
From $200.00 / 0.75M Length
- 11Ga fine strand silver-plated OFC x 3
- 100% foil + copper braid shield
- PET Braided Sleeving
- Wattgate 15 amp Plug (male)
- Wattgate 15 amp IEC (female)
P.O. Box 9569
Avon, CO 81620
Telephone: (970) 748-0311