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This review first appeared in the July 2012 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Avantgarde Acoustic. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Europe: €9.900

The concept for reference amplification of their own had been in gestation at Avantgarde Acoustic for quite some time. It germinated in Matthias Ruff's head to be exact, the company’s chief contract engineer. He is an extraordinary man. Truly committed to his work, he operates according to his own agenda and pace. He comes to work in his lab in the evening when others go home and sometimes spends all night. As he says it allows him to truly focus on the job at hand. If you ever had opportunity to talk to him you probably noticed that he seemed to be thinking about something else - being elsewhere. That was probably accurate as he always thinks about improvements to existing products and about new designs not yet born. It seems that sometimes he is so focused on his inner reality as to forget the world around him. And that's not a very safe thing in the real world. A year ago when cycling home—he always gets to and from work on a bicycle—he accidentally rode into something so hard that he couldn't walk for a few months. Fortunately he recovered. Those who visited High End 2012 in Munich had a chance to meet him at the Avantgarde Acoustics exhibit.

I've known Matthias for many years and talked with him many times, in Munich but also in Krakow where he visited a few years ago promoting the brand. Each time we met him he always had something interesting and new to report. He is a perfectionist and as are all infected by that particular virus, he always thinks about what he might improve. As Holger Fromme, Avantgarde’s proprietor, once said, each product at some point had to be taken away from Matthias almost by force to finally go to market. And of course whenever they forced him to finalize a particular model for production Matthias was always unhappy claiming it wasn't yet as good as it could have been if he had just been given more time.

But being a business each manufacturer must release new products from time to time so Mr. Fromme does what he has to. Their new XA Series electronics are a great example. The company prepared very professional brochures, a video manual, perfectionist photos - literally everything was lined up when it came to launch. This is quite unique even in high-end hifi to always make me wonder how come not all companies do it who sell luxury goods comparable to cars, motorcycles, yachts and so on. The photos generated by Avantgarde Acoustic were so good and showing every design detail that for the first time ever I could use for my review only pictures provided by the manufacturer (except for the one at right which shows Mr. Fromme during our Krakow meet). What's more  these are probably the best photos we’ve ever presented in High Fidelity! We learnt just how momentous this new line of electronics was for Holger Fromme when he attended a Krakow Sonic Society meeting in March 2012 held at our friend Tomasz’s place. It created a unique opportunity to talk to him about all aspects from the technical to the business related, about problems during manufacturing when a new model starts production and so on. If only you could have seen how Mr. Fromme smiled when he discussed the XA Series. This is his love child I’m certain. If you take a look at the photos you’ll probably understand why. From the very beginning the idea was to create something very special, unique and thus different from anything the competition has. If you look over this machine you will see it at once. Its industrial design is like nothing you've ever seen in hifi before.

The large knob with LED indicator works the volume in a patent-pending fashion and the huge sturdy aluminium enclosure with solid front handles are elements which differentiate this preamp from all others. But there’s more. You can customize the design to suit your interior or any available Avantgarde Acoustic hornspeaker color should you own such a pair. This is achieved by replacing the entire front panel to either be black or silver anodized, high-gloss lacquer or numerous real wood veneers. You may also specify the color of the strip beneath the input selectors, the color of the volume control knob and handles – and pick a black or silver all-metal remote. Finally there’s a plaque with the owner’s name engraved on the back panel. So yes this is quite a personal piece of audio gear.

The XA Series PRE is also very user-friendly. The large volume knob and amazing remote control of matching finish allow easy and very precise adjustments confirmed by an LED indicator. When you change volume several LEDs light up for a moment and then only the one indicating the final setting stays on. There’s also a back-lit window behind the volume knob whose color changes according to device status - orange for on with battery charge, white for battery power, blue for mute.

This machine thus runs off a battery power supply as one of Matthias’ very basic preliminary concepts. The other was an ultra-short signal path of a single gain stage with hand-picked stringently measured transistors inside round metal casings. The volume control is based on a resistor ladder. Other parts like capacitor from Sanyo or Rubycon Black Gate (the firm secured a large supply to maintain internal stock for future use) were picked after thorough auditions and measurements.