Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Retake on AVI ADM 9RS

Howdy fellows

Now that I have owned the AVI ADM 9RS (the old version) for a couple of months, and compared it extensively in different situations and setups, I am better able to explain its merits and demerits in a more accurate manner.

I won’t talk about anything but the review, and will keep it to the point, so that you don’t need to read what you already know.

Lots of connectors, adaptors etc have been used here and there, mostly local ones, so please keep note of that.
Also, the room is untreated, extremely small, like 3m by 3m approx. The positioning is far from ideal in the sense that they don’t have enough space in the back to breathe and stuff.

Speakers: AVI ADM 9RS (old)
DAC: Inbuilt
Preamp: Inbuilt
Source: Asus STX sound card via SPDIF/coaxial
Also, tried my motherboard inbuilt sound card via SPDIF
Tried on both desktop stands and wall mounting

Speakers: AVI ADM 9RS (old)
DAC: Asus Essence One Muses Edition
Preamp: Project Ember Hybrid Tube Headphone Amp/Preamp
Source: Asus STX sound card via SPDIF/coaxial
Also, tried my motherboard inbuilt sound card via SPDIF
Tried on both desktop stands and wall mounting

Headphone: Sennheiser HD 650 (2013 version)
DAC: Asus Essence One Muses Edition OR Asus STX sound card
Headphone AMP: Project Ember or Asus Essence One Muses Edition or Asus STX sound card
Source: Asus STX sound card connecting to PC like in above cases

Headphone: Sennheiser HD 598
Setup: iPad 3

Mostly Bollywood music
Mostly CD Rip WAVs lossless or FLAC. Occasional MP3/AAC 128-320 Kbps. Occasional Youtube. Some Movies

Aktimate Mini+
Aktimate Micro
Swan H5
Audioengine A5
Swan M50W (with 6.5” sub)

First of all, let us clarify one important misconception. Although these aren’t bass heavy by any means, but they have more than adequate bass for a neutral speaker. Anything more would mean that they wouldn’t stay as neutral and clear any longer.

I used to use them with my 2.1 Swan M50W (with 6.5” sub) as rear, and the rear setup, especially the sub woofer only made it muddy and unclear. Besides, it didn’t add too much quantity of bass either. It did add some, but ruined the quality terribly.

I have sold the Swan rear 2.1 and haven’t missed it much ever since. The 6.5” AVIs have adequate bass for anybody who isn’t a bass head. It has decent quantity of tight and controlled bass. It isn’t like a discotheque and a 8”/10” sub is likely to give you some more bass, but not many would match its quality, tightness and speed.

So, for most users, it has enough bass and good bass, just not enough to wow you, but enough for most users who care for more than just bass and partying.

In fact, the the quantity of bass and tightness is much better with the inbuilt DAC as compared to my other DACs! It is much louder than way…!

Quantity of bass: TS3 > TS1 > TS2 > TS4
Quality of bass: TS1 > TS2 > TS3 > TS4
Overall bass performance and enjoyability: TS1 > TS2 > TS3 > TS4

So, as far as bass is concerned, I prefer AVIs over both my headphones, despite HD 650 having more in quantity.

AVIs have textured and natural bass and not just artificially tight bass like Aktimate Micro nor bloated loud bass like Swan H5.

I have even heard Monitor Audio BX2 with Marantz 6005 and I preferred Aktimate Mini+ over them anyway, so no point in comparing them to AVIs.

TREBLE: Not harsh, not artificially sweet either!
The treble isn’t harsh at all, not even with poor quality recordings. And it is extremely transparent here and presents whatever it is that the recording has.

If the recording is bright it will show bright without exaggerating and without being harsh or sibilant.

If the recording isn’t mastered well, which includes most of my FLAC/WAV lossless/CD rips lossless then it will appear dull, boring and not worth listening to. Mostly a problem with old Bollywood movies’s rips and masters. And of course with some newer movies too which didn’t pay attention to their music mastering.

However, if the recording is up to par, whether 128kbps AAC or WAV lossless, then it will play just like that, smooth, detailed, exciting and lively.

So it is hugely dependent on the quality of the recording. Just because it is a 128KBps file doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable, most itunes rips are decent I think. But many WAV lossless are crap if the mastering is not up to par. Sadly this includes a lot of Bollywood stuff.

I am trying to exaggerate it here, but believe me, it makes a huge difference to the performance.

On the other hand, youtube plays okay, better than with most other speakers, though not even close to ideal compared to blu ray 1080p rips on this same system. But it is still decent, not great, but worth using as youtube is crap on any system anyway, and here it isn’t worse than other systems anyway.

The treble is sweet only when the recording calls for it. It isn’t otherwise, which is most of the time.

And it is a bit laidback, to avoid harshness, which may appear dull and unexciting on first listen, especially with poor mastering. This takes a while getting used to. But a couple of weeks down, chances are you will adjust to it!

And if you listen to good quality classical like stuff I guess, then chances are few speakers in the market would be as good.

Treble Performance: TS2 > TS3 > TS1 > TS4

All are good, but the in built DAC is usually on the dull side with my recordings. Sometimes it is very good with some recordings, and then I prefer to listen that way for a while. However, I prefer the extra sparkle, liveliness and lushness of my other setup with these speakers.

The HD 650 setup is livelier, lusher and sweeter despite being darker. So it isn’t just about tizz of which HD 650 has much less than the neutral champ AVI, since HD 650 are indeed dark headphones.

HD 598 has more quantity and sparkle than all of the above but not the same naturalness or realism of any of the above, hence it came last.

VOCALS: The mids are where it shines
The mids are the strong part of this speaker system. That is where it shines.

They are not exaggerated but relatively clear and clean. With no interference or artificial boost, no extra treble for artificial clarity.

The mids are natural and real and remain the main highlight even in below par recordings.

It is the focus of this system and songs with lyrics and movies do well for this reason with them.

 Mids: TS3 >= TS2 > TS1 > TS4

In absolute terms TS3 is the best, The HD 650. However, I mostly prefer to listen to TS2 because of the overall performance because I prefer speakers over headphones almost always.

TS1 is excellent, and often better than TS2 as well. Often, but not always. It doesn’t have the same textured realism or naturalness, especially with female vocals. Male vocals are close in both, but female vocals reach another level with TS2. TS4 isn’t in the same league but excellent nevertheless.

Very close to neutral I guess.

Mids are there, clean and clear, but not artificially pumped up.

The bass is there, tight and clean, but not in excess.

The treble is there where called for, but not interfering in every recording, a bit laidback though so no tizz.

In terms of neutrality: TS1 > TS2 > TS4 > TS3
In terms of my taste for enjoying and musicality: TS2 > TS3 > TS1 > TS4
All are good in their own ways in this particular aspect.

The soundstage is huge. Excellent performance there. Better than my previous setups in all dimensions and realism.

TS2 >> TS1

IMAGING: Excellent!
The imaging is the best I have ever heard. Not quite at the same level as headphones, but somewhere in between. Excellent to achieve for a speaker setup.

I am not very sure how TS1 and TS2 compare against each other here.

As far as transparency is concerned it beats the HD 650 as well as HD 598 as well as any other stereo setup I have heard (though I haven’t heard much anyway, lol). Not much of a contest. HD 650 is very good and beats the crap out of Aktimates and Swan speakers in every way. But when you hear AVIs, the HD 650s don’t matter anymore.

TS1 > TS2 > TS3 > TS4

AVIs are clear, clean and not congested compared to other offerings. Better than HD 650 but not always. But preferable to them overall. Of course HD 650 beats the crap out of most stereo setups and headphones like HD 598 anyway.
TS1 > TS2 > TS3 > TS4

I prefer AVIs with my DAC over HD 650s here though the HD 650s are splendid, overall, they fall short of AVIs with my DAC and the overall experience suffers in some respect because of that. Partly, because I am a speaker person. The HD 650 have their advantages too though.

TS2 > TS3 > TS1 > TS4

With TS1 and TS4 being very different to each other based on the situation.

MY SETUP V/S The Traditional AVI Setup


Cleaner and faster, slightly
Tighter bass, more bass
More transparent
Sometimes greater articulation in some situations
More revealing

Often dull and boring
Rarely as exciting
Not as musical or lush or sweet (unlike even HD 650 which in no way supports tizz either)
Female vocals are not at the same level


Way more enormous soundstage in all dimensions, width, height and depth
Better vocals, both male and female, especially female
Sweeter, lusher, livelier with more sparkly without being fatiguing at all (neither is fatiguing)
Sometimes better articulating depending on the song
Better treble and vocals, and soundstage

Bass is slightly less tight and lesser in quantity
Not as clean but very close

Both are excellent. I listen to both, on different occasions. I do prefer my own setup by a decent shot, but that comes down partly to my personal preference. But partly to the better soundstage, vocals and treble. Bass is noticeably worse though.

AVIs V/S HD 650 VS HD 598
Headphones HD 598 and worse are still a big step up from Aktimates, Swan, Audioengines, Monitor Audio BX2 etc.
HD 650 are yet a significant step up with the right equipment.
AVIs are comparable to HD 650 and often better, especially for a speaker to be so close in performance to a headphone setup. HD 650s have several advantages over them but so do the AVIs in turn. I prefer AVIs over HD 650 almost always.

HD 598s sound slightly distorted and a step below from the above two, so no point talking about them when you talking of high end stuff.

Previously my HD 598 had made rendered my Aktimates useless by making them feel distorted.

Hearing HD 650 from HD 598 doesn’t sound a massive leap but a small one.

But once you are used to AVIs, you can’t use anything worse than HD 650 which just sound okay and not as good as AVIs, and HD 598s sound like Aktimates felt back then.

So, AVIs truly compete with headphones. Not at the HD 800 level though.

However, the sound signature tastes a lot of time getting used to and not everybody would like it even then. But for those who do, they don’t need to fall for other stuff after that!

And it isn’t that you can’t modify the sound to your taste, of course you can, like I did. At the cost of one mid-hifi setup I actually have 2 setups which are so different and enjoyable in their own way!

AVIs don’t stop you from modifying the setup, just like most people never feel the need to…!