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Reviewers: Marja & Henk
Sources: CEC TL5100, Audio Note tube DAC; Philips DVP 5500S SACD/DVD player
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system, modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Moscode HR401; Trends Audio TA-10; Avantgarde Acoustic Model Three [in for review] ; Qables iQube [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Avantgarde Acoustic Solo in HT 2.0 setting; Audio Note AN/Jsp silver-wired; Podium Sound Podium 1 [in for review]
Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, Y-cable, Crystal Cable Piccolo iPod to XLR, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC’ CrystalSpeak Reference; Audio Note AN-L; Gizmo silver LS cable. Nanotech Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotech Golden Strada #79 [in for review]
Power line conditioning: Omtec PowerControllers; PS Audio P1000
Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; Acoustic System amplifier shelf
Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Boston Audio graphite CD damper, Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotech Nespa #1; Machina Dynamica Magic Box; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2003 and XP; iPod; wood, brass and aluminum cones and pyramids; Xitel surround processor; Manley Skipjack; Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks
Room treatment: Acoustic System Resonators; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap
Review component retail: $9,600

Almost in the center of the German Republic lies the community of Lautertal in the state of Hesse. Here in a hilly forested area with select stone quarries are located the headquarters of Avantgarde Acoustic. Led by Holger Fromme, the company is famous for its high-sensitivity spherical hornspeakers. Their electronics too are accorded the necessary attention to meet the high-quality specifications of the loudspeakers. Highly sensitive speakers mercilessly expose shortcomings of connected electronics. Any flaw in design or build will be magnified and thrown into sharp relief.

Some five years ago, Avantgarde presented their Model 5, an integrated 1.1wpc class A amplifier which we reviewed. As technologies and ideas evolved, the Avantgarde team under designer Matthias Ruff thought it time to update that model. With Matthias one of those restless souls where audio designs are concerned, his latest notions and insights were suited better for a clean-slate approach than a reissue of an upgraded iteration. After many trials and errors, listening sessions and refinements, the new Model 3 was birthed. With its larger footprint, it has more room for circuit layout and the final quality of the Model 3 turned out such that the team decided to discontinue the Model 5 in favor of a complete replacement rather than retaining the predecessor as an alternate choice.

The Model 3 adds balanced connections by way of two pairs of XLR inputs and one pair of XLR pre-outs. The Model Three has also morphed into a true preamplifier whereas the Model 5 simply used a voltage divider tapped from the high-level signal preceding its XLR output. Matthias then added a cascode circuit to the output stage.

Why would you add a cascode circuit to a power buffer when audiophiles have made less is more the sanctified path to audio paradise? This adds an extra transistor to the signal path. Cascoding is more typical for preamplifiers. However, two cascoded transistors may also benefit a power amp's output stage by reducing the so-called Miller effect. Way back in the late '30s of the previous century, this circuit topography was first implemented by cascoding two triodes, the first one with a common cathode and the second with a common grid. This produced higher gain and expanded bandwidth, the latter eliminating high-frequency phase shifts and associated harshness. With transistor emitter followers, the Miller effect becomes a form a capacitance that loads the output devices. Without this charge, the signal will pass the amplifying stage far quicker. With less voltage on the current amplifier (transistor), dissipation losses diminish. Increased speed compensates for any back EMF from the speakers faster and more efficiently. Thus more can become more. Adding extra bits to the circuit can improve the process the circuit was designed to assist and thus, sound quality goes up. However, nothing ever comes free. Cascoding limits output power, here to 38 watts max in class A/B.

Avantgarde lavished costly parts on their circuit. Wherever sensible, capacitors are by Black Gate. The toroidal power transformer with seven discrete voltage taps is shielded both magnetically and statically and feeds separate circuits like the driver stage, relays, display, attenuator motor and power stage to minimize interference. Each voltage feed is individually buffered by capacitors, in the case of the power buffer with 40.000μF.

So we arrive at a solid-state integrated amplifier capable of delivering 0.4wpc into 8 ohms in class A , 1.1wpc into 20 ohms. Beyond those figures, the output stage switches to class A/B for up to 38 wpc at 8 ohms or 27wpc into 16. The amplifier is a two-stage design, the simplest possible architecture for a push-pull layout. It is optimized for the shortest possible signal path, making the mandatory feedback loop ultra short and fast. That's what's behind the Near Zero Feedback legend of the display. The whole thing is packaged in an aluminum housing that varies in thickness from 2mm for the back, 3mm for the cover, 10mm for internal braces to 20mm for the front plate. A simple remote actuates the motorized attenuator..

The Model 3 arrived at our door well packaged in a heavy cardboard box, nicely supported inside by custom foam braces. A generic power cord, the remote control with batteries and English operating instructions were joined by a pair of male Neutrik RCA-to-XLR converter plugs. At 9.6kg, the Model 3 proved very easy to handle and its more standard dimensions compared to the Model 5 made the 43.7 x 42.5 x 7.7cm piece simple to place. The front panel has the input selector on the left, the volume knob on the right. Not only aesthetically well dimensioned, the large textured knobs also have a good feel to them. In the middle sits the generously sized backlit display. The left needle shows chosen input or that the unit sits in stand-by, this further accented by red backlighting in that mode. The right needle shows the volume level in steps from 0 to 100.

On the backside, business intensifies. From left to right, we find the right-channel WBT speaker terminals with a 12V remote trigger input below. Then follows a pair of RCA rec-outs and three pairs of RCA inputs, one of which is dedicated for A/V setups. In the middle we find two pairs of balanced XLR inputs followed by a pair of balanced outputs. The left-channel WBT speaker terminals too are accompanied by a remote trigger connector. Last is the power inlet with mains switch.

On the belly hide three attenuators which control the brightness of the white display backlighting in A/V and regular modes and the brightness of the red standby scheme. These attenuators are accessed by small screwdriver. Finally, the Model 3 sits on four felt-padded feet.