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When I look back over my September 2010 Lavardin IT review, I feel I really identified its sonic character. On the other hand now that I’ve listened to a complete system, I can see how I still missed certain features. Always critical auditions are about trying to understand how sound is reproduced. At least that's what they are for me. In my mind audio systems play a role similar to a translator. The obvious main principle for both is to interpret the material such that the author’s intentions become plain.

But there’s always a problem. It’s the middleman between original and receiver. There is a nearly scientific branch that teaches how the role of translator requires familiarity with creative writing as much or more so than fluency in languages. That essentially creates a co-author. The ghost writer's input is almost as important as the original author. It's the interpreter’s sensitivity, education, beliefs and even sex that matter and influence the final shape of the translated book. It’s really a new work and no longer identical to the original.

I believe that an audio system works along the same principles. No matter how great a system, it will never deliver exactly what happened during the studio recording session, not even what’s on the final pressing. What we get instead is some version or interpretation of what happened in front of the microphones and mixing console. What exact version we end up with depends on how good a translator our audio system is. That's why each audio designer plays a key role in what comes out of our speakers. It’s their interpretations we listen to. In my opinion it becomes very important then to carefully absorb what manufacturers share in manuals, on their websites and what additional information can be gleaned from other reviews. The perfect thing would be to visit a factory, talk to the designers and listen to a complete system built by them placed in their room to hear their idea of sound fully manifest. Unfortunately most of us can’t do that. What we can do is at least listen to a complete system.

Lavardin makes no bones about what their people want to deliver to owners of even just one of their machines. But only when I listened to their complete system front to back did I appreciate the ultimate impact of their concept. Earlier on I could only guess. Incidentally the Lecontoure speakers do not contour the sound as the name would suggest. Quite the contrary. They sound incredibly smooth, soft and rather dark. There is no harshness or brightness. Their interpretation of my recordings was so different that I had to call it the Lavardin/Lecontoure sound. It was a different voice and point of view. This makes it easy to decide whether the vision or interpretation suits you or not. Regardless, one cannot deny certain obvious advantages. After a session with this, all other systems will sound aggressive. Returning to them after the ‘2L’ detox will ultimately have you—mostly—forget the French incident but that process should take longer than usual with mainstream products. In the end, somewhere in the back of your head a memory will resist erasure of this very particular unique individualistic but very attractive sound.

Let’s start at the beginning. The sound always arises from between these speakers to where the space outside them is just empty space. At least that's what happened with the tweeters to the inside. When I switched speakers to place the tweeters outward the soundstage grew wider but I lost some richness and coherence of center fill. You’ll have your preference, mine was for the tweeters inside to have the soundstage rich and dense. This window between the speakers displayed a very coherent picture. For the first time I could hear this good a presentation of Carmen McRea’s stereo recording of the eponymous CD recorded for Bethlehem which is added to the original mono pressing. Listening to McRea over very many systems I understand why the stereo pressing was considered worse. It is inferior. But the French system had very different ideas. Each instrument and the voice were assigned to only one channel—which isn't too natural—but the incredible coherence created between the speakers and air was almost palpable. It had me listen with great pleasure as though the earlier separation between both channels was a mistake. I could still hear two separate channels but now with some kind of connection between them.

Vocals were presented differently than usual; instruments too but voices are more important here. Now I should tell you about the tonal balance to present a fuller picture. As already mentioned the sound was bit dark because the treble was undoubtedly rolled off. There’s a switch at the back to increase treble output which I of course tried but even the smaller change (+2dB) compromised this great coherence and the sound became too bright. The designer's rationale behind this switch was probably not for use in a Lavardin system but other systems or overdamped rooms. At my place the treble was rolled off but not just part of it. The entire frequency range was depressed. That couldn't be an accident.

The sound was very three-dimensional however. Each recording was presented without easily recognizable modification. If the top treble was too bright as I know it is on Anja Garbarek's Briefly Shaking or Peter Gabriel's So, I heard that clearly. Even so the latter was brilliant. I was truly surprised by how this system managed to show all the upsides of this recording which is usually overwhelmed by its many downsides. Meanwhile Garbarek's recording (it was issued as a Copy Control Disc) was during its densest moments bright and aggressive as usual. Let’s get back to vocals. One of the important attributes of this particular presentation is a lack of clearly drawn outlines or discrete image blocks if you will. The soundstage isn’t an assortment of separate protuberant events but more of an ongoing continuous process. That's what makes vocals so special. Vocalists sound as though singing came to them most easily. When listening to record after record I held my breath each time waiting for how the next voice would sound, how the singer on stage would behave, which parts he or she would accentuate. This was supported by very high resolution of low-level signals in the midrange. Until now I believed that resolution + timbre always result in protuberant palpable imaging. The French system proved for the first time in my life that it can be done very differently.