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Lavardin Model IS / IS Reference Review by TAS

 

Lavardin logo

France

 

The Absolute Sound - Issue 133, Dec 2001 to Jan 2002
Golden Ear Awards 2001 Issue

The Lavardin IS / IS Reference Integrated Amplifiers

By: Roy Gregory

 

Scan past Golden Ear Awards and you’ll find a preponderance of expensive American equipment. Not surprising given the aim and location of the magazine. However, this side of the Atlantic we’ve been enjoying a bumper crop of more affordable star performers, and by way of contrast (and being a contrary kind of guy), I offer the following pair for your delectation.

But these are products that have more than just their musical excellence in common. There’s also a similarity of approach that is strange, indeed. Imagine approaching a marketing department with your new master plan: We’ll manufacture a whole range of visually identical products that we’ll then try to sell at several wildly different price points (oh, and we aren’t going to make them upgradeable one model to the next). They wouldn’t just laugh you out the door, they’d speed you on your way with best wishes for your future employment. Yet this is exactly what both Lavardin and Living Voice have done.

Lavardin is a French manufacturer who has recently burst onto the market with a range of nicely finished but exceedingly plain looking solid-state amplifiers. They start with the IS, a slim, black box that sports a pair of Spectralesque rotary controls and a red power LED. It’s neither particularly heavy nor particularly solid, and if you lift the lid you’ll find that its boards are unfashionably overpopulated with components. Add to that a paltry 30-watt output, only four line inputs, the lack of a remote control, and a hefty £1,500 (about $2,250) price tag and you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. But what the IS has got is phenomenal sound for the money and a story to back it up.

The result of more than ten years of research into distortion mechanisms in electronic components, the Lavardin amplifiers are specifically designed to avoid what the manufacturer terms Memory Distortion (the storage of ghost echoes or signals in componentry long after the main signal has passed). Which all sounds like a king-sized marketing spiel until you listen to the amps, because that’s exactly how they sound.

 

Even the lowly IS makes just about every other amp you’ll compare it to sound smeared, muddled, confused. But the best bit is that all that clarity and organization are musically natural in presentation. Stable and open with fabulous micro-dynamics, the Lavardin is the antithesis of clinical, breathing life and energy into the performance.

 

 

 

 

 

The 30-watt output is also less of an impediment than you might imagine. Shown an awkward load, the IS doesn’t retreat into its shell, losing the frequency extremes and its dynamic integrity along the way. Instead it keeps the whole together, losing instead a little of its maximum level.

 

Given the increasing efficiency of speakers, that is less of a sacrifice than it sounds – and which of us doesn’t need the exercise that goes with getting up to adjust the volume control?

And if $2,250 (* check with your dealer for the current price, this is Year 2002 price) is an insult to your purchasing pride, why not opt for the IS Reference? Identical appearance and spec but even better performance (greater focus and transparency, even quicker dynamics) for an extra £800 ($1,200).

 

As far as I’m concerned, these amps have redefined what is musically possible at the price. They might also have finally delivered on the promise of affordable, fuss-free performance that solid-state made, lo those many years ago. They are certainly all the amp that many music lovers will ever need.

Which brings us to another outwardly ordinary range of products from an eclectic concern, Living Voice. These guys made their name building composite folded horns that need to be dismantled to fit through a doorway.

 

Unusually for such people, they don’t have their heads buried so far round the U-bend of their latest bass enclosure that they don’t appreciate the fact that not everyone has the space, money, or inclination to accommodate such products. Consequently, they have produced a small range of three externally similar compact floor-standers of such breathtakingly sensible design they’ll make you question their parentage (the speakers, that is).