The audio industry is changing. Over the last decade the rise of digital music and all-in-one systems has seen a tremendous rise. Though there are still many audiophiles who love developing their home setup and tinkering with different cables and platforms and take great pride in their extensive CD or vinyl collections, there are now a lot of audiophiles who love the idea of a discrete system and a digital music library simply stored on a NAS drive out of sight.
To me, both seem very acceptable points of view, and at KJ we definitely cater to both, as long as the sound quality is still of exceptional quality.
No product in our store highlights this to me more than the Avantgarde Acoustics Zero 1 system. The Zero 1s are active horn speakers with a preamplifier, DAC, 2 x SPDIFs, 1 x Toslink, 1 x AES/EBU and 1 x async USB input. Though the Zero 1s do not have a wireless card, with the addition of an £80 Apple Airport Express (connected via the optical input) you are able to stream via airplay directly to the speakers.
Horn speakers tend to have quite a loyal following, many people who have delved into the world of horns, do not want to leave. They have many benefits over regular loudspeakers including a great dynamic range, high efficiency and great tonal colour.
Avantgarde have been making horn speakers for over 20 years with, as their name suggests, some truly unique designs. When it comes to innovative design, the Zero 1 definitely fits the bill. They are extremely beautiful speakers, with a great minimalist design and matte finish. They’d be worthy for investing your time and money into renovating an entire room just for their sake. I could see the Zero 1s being a real focal point in a lot of stylish apartments. Even the remote looks great, with a metallic tubular design.
The Zero 1 is a 3-way speaker with a horn tweeter, a horn-loaded midrange, and a direct-radiating cone woofer. The cabinet is cleverly made from polyurethane foams which gives it an incredibly nice feel and also helps minimise resonances and self-dampens.
When I first heard that Avantgarde were going to dabble with an active system I was really intrigued as to whether they would be able to keep the magic of their traditional horn speakers.
Of course, there was only one way to find out. Listening.
Setting up the Zero 1s is extremely easy. Although the company claims they are ‘plug and play’ often with other brands I have found it is not always the case, with these speakers however, it was. The left hand speaker is the ‘Master’, which has all the inputs on it, and the right speaker is the ‘Slave’. The speakers automatically discover each other via radio link, but can also be linked via a RJ45 cable for a little more reliability and a faster connection.
I set them up with 2 sources. A Macbook via the USB input and a Metronome Technologie T5 Signature CD transport via the coax input. The remote is as simple as it gets with on/off, source and volume up and down buttons. Some type of indicator on the speaker as to which input it is on would be a nice addition, but would likely spoil the design.
I began listening through the Macbook (Apple lossless files through iTunes) and what I heard was what I was hoping for. The dynamic range was incredible; it gave a real sense of atmosphere especially on slower, moodier tracks like ‘Flume’ by Bon Iver. I really felt like the bass drum on this track was coming at me from the back wall, almost as if the wall was the drum skin and the beater was the other side thumping away. The tone of the vocals had a real richness to it as well, which all added to the ambience.
One negative point of horn speakers that people often bring up is the lack of coherence between the drivers. Avantgarde have done a tremendous job at eliminating this. I found the sound to be very smooth and well organised.
This was all just streaming from the Macbook, when I switched over to the Metronome CD transport I realised that it was just the tip of the iceberg as to how great these speakers could sound.
Listening to the CDs I found that the soundstage opened up even more, there was more punch to the rockier tracks and the music was just much more engaging. Honestly, it did not sound like an ‘all-in-one’ it sounded like a real high-end separates system.
All-in-all I am extremely impressed with the Zero 1s. I believe these to be very unique speakers, in that I have never heard speakers that sound as good as these whilst being this easy to set up and also this beautiful.
The Zero 1s do exactly what modern enthusiasts want them to do, they give real audiophile horn-like sound whilst looking great and staying incredibly simple.
To arrange a listening session for yourself, please request an appointment here.
Reviewed by Lewis Prince
Please get in touch with any questions you may have on the Zero 1s, I’ll be happy to talk to you.