It felt a bit like fornication to introduce a full transistor, push/pull amplifier into our system. On the other hand, we've been swingers in that regard for a long time - just consider that the Duos' powered subs don't use hollow state either. The Model 5 replaced the Meishu, with the Linn Unidisk 1.1 universal player connected to input number 2. Input number 1 received the RCAs from the Audio Note DAC hooked up to the TacT RCS acting as passive preamp/room correction device for the S/PDIF outputs of the Unidisk and our CEC TL5100 transport. The Duos were connected next. All power cables, interconnects and loudspeaker cable were by Crystal Cable. Now here it was, as complete an Avantgarde system as one can presently assemble. Time to flip the switches in the correct order front to back.

With the lights lowered, the bright red display of the Model 5 illuminated parts of the room and added to our relaxed atmosphere. After 20 minutes -- the time it takes both the Linn and tube stage of our DAC to reach perfect poise -- it came time to select input 1. Thump! What was that? An unexpected thump emitted from the woofers, sounding controlled and benign enough not to cause any damage to our precious speakers.

We start with the Katona twins, Hungarians Peter and Zoltan and their The Grand Tango on the Dutch Channel Classics label [CCS SA 19804]. This is a hybrid SACD/CD. With the Unidisk in the chain, we can compare both formats. The twins make the Piazzolla compositions sound like baroque movements and these pieces sound great on SACD. The battle between violin and guitar in "Homenaje a Lieja" is better off in the CD format, however.

For more bass-enhanced software, we turn to the great French bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons. As a tip from Srajan, we picked up some of his CDs. On Fuera [Enja 9364], Garcia Fons is accompanied by accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier. What fun they have! Sometimes it is hard to believe that Renaud actually plays a bass. Bowed in the high registers, it sounds like a violin. Tapped, it becomes a drum. It is so much fun listening through the Model 5 that Renaud's solo riffing on Legendes [Enja 9314] also gets a serious spin.

After this masterwork, another bass player enters the stage on yet another Dutch label, Turtle Records where American bassist Dean Peer is featured with Think [TR599008]. Dean plays electric bass accompanied by tabla, violin and harmonica. You would expect some sort of Blues but the music goes much further. This ultra-dynamic live recording was cut in a church acoustic and Dean plays his bass through a Mark Levinson 334 amplifier and Avalon Eclipse Classic loudspeakers. Now that's high-end gear for guitar amplification!

The slapping and slamming, the struck open strings... nothing derails the Model 5's imperturbable balance. The music just makes you goose the volume. We manage to get to 30 on the scale and that really rocks with the track "Mars".

Long-time favourite Lou Reed has issued his new live album Animal Serenade and it contains a great version of "Venus in Furs" where cellist Jane Scarpantoni makes a statement. The unflappable Model 5 does not have a problem with any kind of music so far.

Dynamics both macro and micro are abundant. The ease and speed of the music produced is so involving that the feeling of being a part of it becomes overwhelming. This is not laid-back listening while your mind drifts away into daydreams thoughts unheard.

When the Linn Unidisk 1.1 had to be returned, we received a Linn Sondek CD12 instead. Not a bad trade at all! The CD12 has one of the best CD engines hidden behind its thick aluminium cover and can reveal the often obscure quality of Red Book CDs. With this machine used as player or transport and at 1/5th the price of the mighty CD12, the Model 5 ruled supreme like the ring.

Sandrine Cantoreggi is a violinist from Luxem-burg and plays works of Pietro Antonio Locatelli on L'Arte del Violino, opera omnia III [Turtle records TRSA0018].
This hybrid CD will readily reveal any shortcoming in an audio system because Sandrine not only explores Locatelli but the very limits of her instrument. Any criticisms? Oh yes. There's
the already mentioned thump when first switching the amplifier into action. Then there is a slight hiss from the system during silent passages or when the system is idle. An unusual feature occurs when you remotely turn down the volume. When the zero point is reached and you keep pressing the remote, the Model 5 emits a rattling sort of mechanical noise. These observations were communicated to Armin at Avantgarde and almost before we could hit 'send' on the e-mail, his answer came back [ultra-short feedback loops most likely - Ed.].

"The thump is due to the engaging of the correct bias level. In a circuit as minimalist as the Model 5, we decided to avoid output relays because no relay sounds better than even the best rhodium-plated, noble-gas-filled relay. This meant accepting that this initial bias stabilization will be audible. In electrical terms however, this transient amounts to close to nothing and thus poses no threat whatsoever. Only the high sensitivity of our speakers makes it as audible as it is.

The hissing noise at 0 volume or mute is also due to the essential or reduced circuitry and because we use very little feedback. Here's a little 'secret' you can easily verify for yourself: [This drawing] shows the position of a pair of jumpers that can be displaced from the stock to the lo-gain position. You only have to detach the top cover with the power cord unplugged. Perhaps a pair of tweezers will be useful if your fingers are thick. After moving this jumper to the lo-gain position, the overall gain of the Model 5 is reduced by approximately 10dB by increasing feedback. This could be an advantage to certain people who require very precise volume adjustment steps - reduced gain extends the volume setting range at low volumes. But the sound quality will also be affected, to a small degree but enough where most listeners will accept a little bit of hiss during zero signal.

As you can see [above - Ed.], we are not using a simple motorized potentiometer. We opted for a high-quality Panasonic potentiometer driven by a stepper motor via a tooth belt. This allows for precise 3.6 degree increments (80 steps) accelerating to 7.2 degrees when the remote button is pressed for longer than 1 second. This is the most robust and durable solution as well. Admittedly, this stepped motor is more noisy than conventional motors though we decoupled it from the chassis with runner pads. However, at the budget of Model 5, we prefer to stick by this mechanically superior solution rather than expensive tuning around these formalities. The "rattling" does not pose a threat to the motor or potentiometer.

Matthias, our engineer, also sends his best regards and asked me to explain that if you hear only rattling and no music, the amplifier is muted. That's our new AMI technology: Acoustic Mute-level Indicator."

Who said that Germans are not gründlich or lack a sense of humor?

To check the hiss and thump again without the jumper change, a pair of Audio Note AN/Jsp loudspeakers were hooked up next. Only 93dB efficient, about 1/8th that of the Duos (think about that), there was no hiss nor thump but plenty of music! With the ANs and compared to the Meishu, this was a step sideways, not backwards. When opting for a budget system, this combination is great. Even when the Crystal Cable loudspeaker cables are replaced by simple Audio Note AN-L copper in bi-wire mode, the essential music remains very pleasant. Here the Model 5 proves to be a true budget high-end amplifier

Though both fruits, comparing apples and pears is not easy. A better comparative format is computers. Let's say that transistor amplifiers are like Macs and tube gear like Wintel (Windows/Intel) machines. Where Macs work straight from the box, Wintel contraptions need a good hand of TLC. The former keep working and working and problems are very rare. The latter are far quirkier and prone to problems like blue screens, viruses and endless updates.

As a solid-state amplifier, the Model 5 is maintenance free. The sound is very lively and dynamic when combined with the Duos, without being bright as other less-is-more solid state designs can be.

Neutrality is a word that comes up next to unforgiving. Any weak point in a chain where the Model 5 plays its part will show. Bad recordings are presented as they are. Where other amplifiers might veil some "badness", the Model 5 puts it right in your face even with less sensitive loudspeakers. By comparison, the Meishu -- a hollow-state design without any negative feedback and 8 watts of single-ended class A power -- is capable of smoothing out some of the bad recordings due to the fact that tubes round off in the higher region and the distortion is all even-order harmonics and thus friendly to the ear.

For dynamics, the Model 5 wins with ease. On percussive recordings this is very obvious. The Model 5's prowess with transients outclasses the Meishu. The Class A/B headroom reserves of the Model 5 and the ample power supply pays off. Large orchestral crescendos keep stable and controlled in the soundstage and do not shrink or waver.

When listening for pleasure, we pre-plan our sessions. Active listening rather than background music during reading should be no longer than a concert's length for us. Three hours is the maximum. With the Meishu, we can plan a whole such session with highly percussive and dynamic music. With the Model 5, that's too much. 3 hours of Frank Zappa or later Miles Davis is not easy to digest under such transient-charged focus. The recording quality of course also plays a hand here and a change in the musical menu solves this. Just build the playlist differently - like a 5-course menu with different wines to go along: A teaser to start, appetizer to follow, then a little in-between before the dynamic main course, with a tasty desert to slow down and ending in sweets.

The unforgivingly honest nature of the Model 5 is compensated for by its price. It leaves room for you to acquire more musical software. And that's what it all about.

Avantgard-USA comments:
Dear Srajan, thanks for the opportunity to comment on the Avantgarde Acoustic Model 5 review. Honestly, I don't really have much to add to or to debate what is a very thorough review. Well, maybe a note or two :)
I'd slightly change the emphasis on the following statement:

"Neutrality is a word that comes up next to unforgiving." I understand what Drs. Henk and Marja mean, but I'd say the word that comes to my mind is resolution. The Model 5 just oozes resolution (that's Southern for it has a lot of it).

In fact, nowhere has this been more evident that in the comparison of our two rooms at CES 2004! And quite a few folks preferred the Model 5 room over the tube-based room (but hey, we got great write-ups from both rooms from various factions of the audiophile press, so I'm a happy camper).

Personally, I've always felt that tube-based gear has rendered true dynamics more faithfully, but I do agree that the dynamics were something I was unprepared for with the Model 5. Along with the powerful bass, these two areas just seem to propel the listener along with the pace of the music (would it be a pratfall to mention Pace, Rhythm, and Timing here?).

Also, I much prefer the sound of the amp without the feedback option.

And finally, I must take serious issue with their comparison of the Model 5 and tubes to Macs and "Windoze." To me, the organic quality of music is most nearly akin to the similar feel you get from owning and using a Mac (can you guess that I'm a Mac guy?).

However, I will admit that warm and fuzzy feeling that Mac owners get is a bit like the experience from some of the "audiophile favorite" tube amps out there -- literally -- because they're also warm and fuzzy (at least when compared to the Model 5)!

Hey, I was only kidding about being serious...

One last thing. Your graphics and images are absolutely superb, easily the best of any of the audio sites I've seen.

Best regards,

Jim Smith
Manufacturer's website
US distributor's website