Annaite. Imperial. Torque. These are three examples from a long list of budget automotive tire brands. Bridgestone. Dunlop. Michelin. Pirelli. Those are four premium equivalents. Like the cheap rubber, the posh variants are nothing but mundane tires. They don't really make your car fly. Just so, premium construction, better materials and improved thread/groove geometry lead to superior handling, better grip, less slip, faster braking, lower road noise, longer wear, higher resistance to deformation and more. There are all-weather tires, summer tires, snow tires, racing tires. Even this seemingly boring product category breaks out into specialty apps and different performance tiers. Where our hifi rubber hits the sonic blacktop is with specialty drive units. It's those vibrating typically black rubber-rimmed discs which transform the electrical signal at their voice coils into mechanical motions. Those motions couple to the air in our room to cause the compression/rarefaction density differentials we perceive as sound. Like tires, drivers vary in construction, materials and geometry. Like tires, they diverge in cost and performance. As one begins shopping for premium speaker brands, the likelihood increases that one will drive bespoke purpose-designed not off-the-shelf general-purpose rubber.

Alas, for their drive units more top brands rely on proven if standard units from the AudioTechnology, Monacor, Raal, SB Acoustics, ScanSpeak & Bros. catalogues than they mint their own. In this context the N°56 and N°68 stand out. It begins with their bespoke diamond-over-magnesium tweeters and continues with unique mid/woofers and passive radiators. For a micro brand from a one-man atelier a 5-min. foot walk from Paris' Gare de L'est, that's decidedly unexpected. It deserves a shout out to register properly. It's not something one gets with for example Wilson's ~€10'000/pr TuneTot monitor. Meanwhile Avantages can't offer Wilson's metacrylate-based composite cabinets, sleeker form factors, legendary lacquer finishes, brand cachet or distribution network. In fact locating today's monitors for a store audition will be like chasing the blade runner's unicorn. My review weighs in on whether that could be a worthwhile rather than Quixotic endeavor. Anyone compelled to pursue it even on the bare photographic face of it accepts that to hit these price points, we deal in basic box construction*, veneers not high-gloss paints and basic grommet-fixed grills. Potential buyers must be secure enough in their own powers of discernment to not give a toss about flash cosmetics, compound-angled cabinet geometries, universal brand recognition, heavy press or an easy date. Today looks beyond all that – deeper and far more off the beaten track.

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* Franck Tchang is perfectly capable of designing and having manufactured swooping curves as seen in his bigger César and Philarmonic models. But those start at €13'000/pr, not €3'200.

Flat tire! For many audiophiles, the word studio monitor instantly deflates interest. Popular perception equates the breed with laboratory tools not musical instruments whereby measured linearity, extreme resolution and very high possible SPL overpower attributes like emotional persuasiveness and everyone's favorite weasel word 'musicality'. As such, the discussion routinely flows into a heated argument of truth versus beauty. At its end the studio monitor genre tends to be exposed for being honest to a fault but sterile and cool, admirably resolved but unpleasantly bright and really best suited for extreme near-field listening above a recording console, not the mid-to-far positions of the domestic pleasure listener. This isn't the place to enlarge the argument. We just admit its existence, thus my task to explore whether the speakers' declared readiness for recording-monitor purposes has any negative bearings on home use. For those unfamiliar with the energetic Franck Tchang, here's a video by his German distributor Thomas Fast.

For a shorter one in which Franck explains his César speaker on a trade-show floor, we have this:

You'll note how talking about certain unconventional features or effects of his resonators and static cable, Franck uses conventional terms. As an autodidact with empirical observations—you do this and that happens—he is very comfortable and secure inside his world of extensive experience. Outsiders at first simply have a harder time. There's no common ground, no shared experience. And Franck's words don't really explain just describe it. Those who insist on technical explanations before lending their ears tend to turn off and away. But today's speaker assignment isn't mysterious at all. It's about typical compact speakers with unusual surface areas for their bass where front/rear-firing membranes sum; and which use unique drivers. "Our mid/woofers are exclusive to just these monitors." And, our designer has proven to possess good ears and a keen sense for acoustic subtleties. "A high-end French restaurant will open this June. The owner asked me to install these monitor for live performances on his stage. He came to my atelier to listen. His comment? 'I've never heard any speaker this neutral'." When asked about anything else special, "for speaker designers, the hardest thing is phase due to the crossover. Mostly, when phase is right, timing isn't. Our monitors have no issue with either due to a well-adjusted filter. I can see that in the measurements. And, this tweeter begins to slightly rise above 10kHz where most start to drop."