In a ten year period up through CES 2008, an interesting thing happened. Here’s the basic outline…
Having returned to the US high-end audio industry, Jim Smith set-up his first Avantgarde-USA demo at CES 2000. His return introduced Avantgarde speakers to audiophiles, dealers, and press, the majority of whom had never cared for hornspeakers.
There was a very long line to get into the Avantgarde room during the entire three day show. There was a huge “buzz” about the demo, and numerous subsequent mentions in the press and in online message boards. Perhaps most significant, a number of successful dealers who had never cared for horns committed to be dealers at that first CES 2000 for Avantgarde-USA!
During that five year time period, from 2000-2004, Jim Smith’s Avantgarde-USA received at least seven “Best Sound of Show” comments by the leading audio press (excerpted below). There were numerous others from smaller publications and various message boards, but these samples should illustrate the point.
In the two years prior to Jim Smith’s demos (1998-1999), and the three years afterwards (2005-2007), there was virtually no mention of Avantgarde demos as particularly good, and certainly not Best of Show. What was the primary difference? Jim Smith’s installations and voicing.
6moons.com Publisher Srajan Ebaen writes, “…The point is, I loved the sound Jim made and even wrote about it in my magazine.
On the other hand, I did not love the sound the Avantgarde men made in their own exhibits. Therein lies the tale. You can take the same bits of audio hardware and give 'em to different people. The results will differ wildly. The secret is in the setup; how the system is made to play the room (or fight it). How the system is voiced. And whether your setup man can voice it to your liking or just his.”
It’s also noteworthy that in virtually every one of these shows, Jim was working with an all-new room, different electronics, and different Avantgarde models. Although each room and the equipment were different for each show, Jim’s installations consistently beat out dozens – and sometimes – hundreds of worthy competitors.
Please read the entire write-ups on these shows, columns, and interviews. They are excerpted here to conserve space. Jim Smith personally assembled and voiced each of these show systems, often in less than 24 hours.
Why show these recognitions of set-up excellence? The very same concepts that Jim used to get this acclaim are available to you in Get Better Sound.
1. CES 2000 | Enjoythemusic.com
From Dick Olsher’s report:
It’s true; I spent a considerable amount auditioning the Duo 2.0 at the St. Tropez, courtesy of Avantgarde-USA’s Jim Smith. The combination of clarity, lack of distortion, and stupendous dynamics was most impressive. Easily, Best Sound at Show, and I mean anywhere in Las Vegas!
By that, he means even the live shows…
2. CES 2000 | The Absolute Sound | April/May 2000 | Issue 123
Best Sound at Show – CES 2000, three way tie, awarded by Scott Markwell, TAS reviewer and then-Editor Harry Pearson’s set-up man at the time.
3. Stereophile's Guide to Home Theater, October, 2001
First ever home theater set-up by Avantgarde-USA, going up against the establishment (including Krell, B&W, Sony, & many others). Best Home Theater Sound at HE 2001, NYC, voted by the show attendees.
4. Home Entertainment Show 2003 | The Absolute Sound | August/September 2003 | TAS issue 143
San Francisco Home Entertainment Show 2003 – Wayne Garcia & Robert Harley – Best Sound at Show – TAS Editor Harley comments not only on the sound being exceptional, but also on the applause at the end of each demo, something he said he’d never experienced in his entire career.
5. Home Entertainment Show 2003 | 6moons.com
Srajan Ebaen comments: I dislike "Best Sound of Show" attempts for one simple reason. To these ears, there are different flavors of sound, styles of presentation. Some emphasize transparency, a light, fleet sound. Others go for a silken refinement, most often represented by the SET brigade. Others go for resolution and focus. Yet others opt for the visceral adrenaline rush.
None of these camps is more right, mo betta than the others. Hence awarding an unequivocal "best" seems folly. Still, in their respective categories, certain rooms stood out over others. Not surprisingly parked in the last category of the alpine go-for-broke plateau, my personal favorite? The Avantgarde Acoustic, Balanced Audio Technology, Cardas Audio, Grand Prix Audio, Running Springs Audio and Spotheim La Luce demo. By Saturday, this über-system had settled in to produce what for this thrill seeker was the emotionally most gripping, dynamically most unrestrained performance, feeling phenomenally "live" and exciting on a grand, real-life scale.
…After playing small-scale ensemble male and female vocals and hitting the usual show-off categories, BAT's Geoff Poor announced the Gran Finale to this controlled, closed-door demo. Were 113-115dB peaks okay with ever'one? During my demo, nobody objected. The subsequent "Bricks in the Wall" had more intelligibility of the background din and vocal fragments, more slam, projection and sheer gut-wrenching impact than anything else at the show - without getting hard or unpleasant like some others attempting same.
…These one-track-only SPLs didn't clip ears but translated as a whole-body experience instead. During my turn, the audience broke into unprompted applause…
6. CES 2004 | The Absolute Sound | April/May 2004 | Issue 147
Editor Robert Harley’s Best Sound at Show. This was Jim’s last minute super DUO set-up (because he didn’t know that the guys from Avantgarde in Germany were also bringing DUOs for their demo). Jim installed the system in the room at a 45-degree angle, to overcome severe room resonances in the boundary-dependent region. The German DUO demo located in the suite next door did not receive any audio press Best of Show mentions.
TAS Editor Harley commented in some detail on the extraordinary sound quality of the show system in the Avantgarde-USA suite, confessing that he’d not been a fan of horn speakers until the recent HE Show in San Francisco and now at CES 2004.
Probably the most important of Harley’s many positive descriptions of the sound was his observation of the musically communicative way in which the system performed - as if the musicians were performing just for him. Commenting further on this involving quality, he basically described Jim’s ultimate goal when voicing any system.
7. CES 2004 | 6moons.com
Jeff Day comments: Avantgardes can be fussy beasts to get sounding great, but Jim Smith had his Super Duos singing a siren song in the Avantgarde USA room in what was the best-ever performance I've heard from Avantgardes under show conditions, and very nearly the best sound at the shows…
…One of the strengths of this system was its ability to make even average recordings sound spectacular, an important consideration for Merry Melodies, and a hat trick only a few systems could pull off this year.
December 2002, 6moons visits Jim Smith's Listening Room
Part one excerpt of an online interview and visit to Jim Smith’s listening room:
…On the Albuquerque return leg of my recent trip to NYC, I stopped over in Atlanta to enjoy the hospitality of Jim Smith. As already recounted in twin installments in this industry features column, Smith had invited me to cover the Grand Opening of Avantgarde's latest showroom on the East Coast.
Among other to-do items in that peachy state of his, I'd audition Jim's personal DUO setup. According to extensive visitor testimonial on his website, it ranks as one of the premiere US-based examples of music replay done right.
At least that seems to be the general consensus of anyone who's ever heard it. Some of the parties -- Bob Visintainer of Avantgarde Music & Cinema for example, SoundStage! columnist Jim Saxon -- had clearly been exposed to their fair share of top-drawer contenders. It made such opinions more than just inexperienced infatuation, more than the spellcasting of a consummate trickster or hypnotic ice-to-the-eskimos salesman of darkly suggestive powers…
December 2002, 6moons visit Part 2
I'll preface this with an explanation. Jim had brought back some next-generation EPS powercords from the New York City event. He'd installed them the night before my arrival and left everything powered up so they would settle in.
When we started my audition, he seemed a bit nervous. Insecure. Since we began with some of his cuts, I didn't immediately enter hyper-critical reviewer's mode. Instead, I tried to first inhale the overriding whiff - of his system's core aroma. You know what they say about first reactions. They're usually the sharpest, least mind-filtered of all.
My very first impression then? The speakers vanished to a truly spooky extent. This included not only the proverbial dissolution of the side- and front walls, which you'd expect to some extent or another. It also included a potent, highly unusual sense that someone had lifted off the roof above. I distinctly remember this puzzling physical question. "Where's the ceiling?" With my eyes closed, I attempted to obtain an aural signature of the room. I couldn't. Nothing. There was very tacit recording venue data, yes - but none that portrayed the room itself. It had been entirely subtracted from the listening equation!
This "no speaker!" sensation was uncanny. Moreover, it was exceedingly tactile. That was clearly the result of meticulous setup. As I found out, along Jim's favored coordinates of the quintessential speaker/listening-chair triangle: Speaker-to-speaker distance = 0.83 x speaker-to-listener distance. This formula, depending on room, also includes placing the listener's chair ever so slightly off-center. It avoids bass-wave cancellation from the sidewalls at their halfway meeting point - the middle. In short, Jim had banished from my awareness all reminders of mechanical sound sources and actual versus virtual environs.
The second realization? Seamless bass integration. I could clearly follow each note to delight in its lowdown reach and delineation. But for this assessment I had to divorce my attention from the remainder of the goings-on. Become the audio police. That's how inconspicuously part and parcel the lower register was from all the others.
This too indicated a masterful understanding, this time of properly applied acoustic principles. Smith clearly understands how very long wavelengths interact with a rectangular environment whose first boundary occurs within a shorter distance than is necessary to fully develop the actual wavelengths of sub-40Hz bass.
Since I wasn't familiar with any of Jim's tracks, I didn't possess an internal gauge of reference. I simply enjoyed the music. I nestled into its tangible sense of ease, presence and clarity. Hoping for some feedback, I still played it a bit evasive with Jim. I first had to spin some discs of my own before feeling qualified to make any critical assessments in such a short period.
But already those first two items -- the utter muteness of room and speakers, as condition and source of sound respectively -- had obliterated whatever secret twinge of doubt I may still have harbored. About Jim's self-professed obsession and implied mastery, with and of extreme setup protocol. I'd been around audio long enough. I could spot top-shelf expertise when it hit me over the head with a sledgehammer.
Whatever you may think about the potential demerits of ad-based self-promotion, in this case reality and perception truly did converge. I thought of those ubiquitous parallax lines draftsmen use to foreshorten perspective. Every single one always meets in that hidden point.
My own music tends to favor complex rhythmic patterns, percussive spunk and explosive transients. As soon as we cued up the first cut, I sensed a certain tameness of mien. Renauld Garcia-Fons' monstrous 5-string upright bass had lost a certain impact, weight and growl. His violent spiccatto passages didn't convey enough rhythmic urgency, incisiveness and tension. Unhinged Gipsy vocals of subsequent Flamenco tracks lacked some of the metallic tinge of their emphasized harmonics. Ditto for a clarinet that sounded more rotund and less incensed than I knew it. Subdued virility, slightly shadowed sparkle on top.
Time to share notes with Jim. Halfway through, he nodded his head in sad but obvious agreement. Before confirming any details, he called up his wife from below. "Tell Srajan exactly what I told you - about the sound this morning before I picked him up."
In her own non-audiophile but clearly descriptive words, Pam confirmed my personal impressions. By extension, she validated Jim's own prior assessment. No wonder he had seemed a mite perturbed and tense. 'Twas the typical caught-in-the-limelight-with-your-fly-open scenario. The kind I had suffered on multiple occasions during tradeshows, when reviewers waltzed in to be impressed. "Do me - I can take it." And that's when you knew how far from your best you were. Ouch!
But this wasn't the races. This was two music lovers well aware of the dangers of last-minute system changes. I knew this intimately. Jim knew that I understood. Still. I had come on "official" business as publisher of 6moons. Jim was the consummate professional, uncomfortable with the quality of his demo despite sensing that I'd have no ax to grind. I would have gladly assured him. But then his self-chastisement forbade it. Never rain on a man's innate sense of pride!
He confided that the sound -- from between leaving for New York to coming back -- had suffered a dramatic backwards step. Could it be those three new Dave Elrod powercords? Did they simply need more time to stabilize? Could Dave have overdone his AudioDharma CableCooker break-in? Jim recalled something about 4 days. That struck me as exceeding the manufacturer's recommendation by a long shot. Overcooked linguine = mush. Overcooked cables = soggy timing?
Only one way to find out. Would I terribly mind if he swapped out these brand-new cords for his customary Elrod cords? Certainly not.
Ah. Major improvement. Instant gratification! Welcome back boogie factor. My tracks resumed their familiar wildness of character, again displayed that energetic expression of Gipsy abandonment that twists my noodle. Jim was visibly relieved. He finally relaxed into himself, seeming far less unsettled and perturbed. Still, at the end of the session and before the interview, he declared that we were missing about 15% of the complete magic he's used to getting.
Based on what I did hear -- and which I quantified the moment I returned home to power up my own system -- I'm very comfortable with the following conclusions:
Even at slightly less than presumably its very best, Jim Smith's fabled system in Atlanta is one of -- if not the -- most compelling, refined and sophisticated setups I've yet heard in my ongoing career as a repenting audiophile and unrepenting music lover. On balance against my own, it strikes me as voiced slightly more towards richness, cream and vocal warmth. Mine pursues bite and attack to a small but noticeably farther extent.
The general feel or gestalt of our systems? Astoundingly similar. As though cut from the same cloth in fact. Considering the main constituents, that wasn't entirely surprising. While mine soundstages/disappears very well, Jim's does so in an outrageously spectacular fashion. There's an added dimension and ease to his presentation that pronounces a higher level of refinement. Elegance. Sophistication. Utter enchantment…
Excerpt of interview by Srajan Ebaen with Bob Visintainer of Rhapsody Music & Film:
“…Now fast-forward to Jim's room. He had a pair of blue DUOs that looked identical to mine. Great conversations ensued. Jim's a wonderful host. He lives in a very comfortable environment. But it's nothing ostentatious, overblown or in any other way removed from real-world concerns and practicalities.
Initially we didn't really start talking in earnest. Jim just wanted us to have a listen. Well, in 30 seconds, my life changed. Jim's system was so far above what I was personally listening to, and what I'd heard over the years under even the most ideal of circumstances. I realized that I had never before heard anything that even came close! In other words, there remained a very large margin still separating what I'd heard elsewhere even amongst the best-of-the-best, and at Jim's. As a matter of fact, he didn't even give me a full demonstration. After about 5 or 6 songs -- and he clearly had 30 or more to go through -- I capitulated. I stopped him cold… …
What did you learn at Jim's that made this difference?
More exacting methodical detail in setup. Once you learn Jim's basic template and grid system, you can apply it to all speakers and get terrific results even with very inexpensive electronics. It's not that complex. It's just knowing it. It's attention to very little details that others would write off as redundant or of little consequence.
In fact, all of this is laid out in Jim's 31 Secrets if you just take the time to read and apply it. Living with the mentor for four days and staying up essentially all night learning and checking these "secrets" was probably the single greatest contributor to the sound we're now making.
There's a difference between proper setup and knowing just exactly what that means. It doesn't take any longer…”
If, after reading all of the comments above, you would like to use Jim’s award-winning techniques to improve your sound, just click the link here…
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Note from Jim Smith –
Please read or view the tips in the set-up manual or DVD that you purchase, and be sure to put some of the tips into action. If you don’t, then you’re wasting your money. Wasting money is the opposite result of why I wrote the book and produced the DVDs…