This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Hifi Pig Magazine which can be downloaded free of charge.
Holger Fromme is the MD of well known and well loved German horn loudspeaker manufacturer Avantgarde. He he answers Hifi Pig’s Behind The Brands questions.
How did you get into/what was your first job in the industry?
Being a regular concert goer (e.g. seeing Pink Floyd live several times), I was always quite dissapointed by HiFi performances. Still I had a decent system at home in my student days, as it was the “thing to have” at that time (mid seventies). But then I was demoed a pair of Klipschorn-like speakers at a HiFi shop – and was blown away! This was much closer to the performance of a live concert, vibrant, and “in the face” the way I liked it! So I started investigating horn technology, even getting me some rare literature from universities in Eastern Germany (GDR), which took a year to arrive here in the West… I soon started doing my first horn calculations, but still did not know very much about appropriate drivers, crossovers and other technical issues. That’s when Matthias, our engineer came into play: we met by happenstance on the wedding party of a mutual friend, and started talking… about horns! In a way this was meant to happen! So we joined forces, and after a few experiments with laminated horns, I finally decided to make horn speakers a real serious business model, investing into the molds for ABS injection molding and founding Avantgarde Acoustic.
Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?
That’s not easy to say, there have been many memorable events along the road in the past 22 years. Maybe it was the IFA in 1993, where Matthias and I had swollen tongues in the evening, because people were so enormously intrigued by our designs that we had to explain what we do 10 hours a day. That really gave me the final “kick” to believe in the strength of our concepts!
Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?
Of course the TRIO, being our first product. It was so radical when it was concieved, and now became a kind of “industry standard” for ultimate horn speaker design. That’s certainly an achievement I’m really proud of. But for a different reason I’m equally proud of our latest baby, the ZERO 1. Because it is the first product that truly and fully incorporates all our company stands for today: horn design expertise, unique know-how in electronics, and forward thinking in regard to digital technologies. I can’t help but being extremely proud of this concept, too!
You and your system
What was your very first system?
The amp was a big ROTEL receiver, the turntable was by Thorens and the speakers made by Infiniti… nothing too special, anyway.
Tell us about your system history
Working hard for my company, I did not have the time to “evolve “my system like a true audiophile would. But I have always had a decent system at home since the TRIO was available, with Matthias recommending or building me some nice electronic components from time to time. Only when our BASSHORN came out in 2003, I could finally make a big step in performance and have owned a TRIO + 6xBASSHORN system ever since.
What component/product do you miss the most/wish you had never got rid of?
That’s probably my old ROTEL receiver! It was so cool to finally own one, with it’s big pro-like handles and the heavy wooden casing. Should I have kept it for its sound? Rather not, I guess, but I should have kept it for being the hifi device I was ultimately proud of owning.
Best system (or single component) you have ever heard (no brands you represent please…!)
I’m much more impressed by music than by sound. And there I know where I belong… So I rather won’t answer this question.
Tell us about your current system(s)
I’m using TRIO with 6 BASSHORNS, in tri-amped configuration with our XA electronics. My music sources today are purely digital, with a MacMini feeding a prototype DAC (based on what we use as a DAC in the ZERO 1 speakers).
The state of the industry
What’s your view on the valve renaissance of the past 20 years or so?
I do welcome it because it certainly drove the interest in high end audio, differentiating our industry from the “big player” market. But I have a problem with our products being seen as “made for tubes” because of their high efficiency. It’s almost like some people ignore the evolution and the achievements of solid state designs. But what counts is the outcome, the sonic result, and if I hear great designs like realized in Matthias’ XA amp circuitry, I can only say: stay open, and don’t judge too early!
What are you views on the state of the industry/where is it going/what will it look like in 5 years/what will typical systems look like?/What will happen to prices?/What will happen to the high end – will it carry on regardless?
I meanwhile enjoy the convenience of using digital streaming, and I can’t deny that I’m also very happy with this concept’s sound. In my view this will carry on, making this technology more and more attractive and accessible to a growing audience. This will also help in making people aware of the quality they can possibly achieve, as there is no more need for largely compressed formats. So people will start to understand that the format is no longer a bottleneck on the way to experiencing a life-like sound at home, raising their standards regarding the playback chain – up until the speakers. I also think that the ZERO 1, with its integral “all-in-one” concept shows us the way to a possible future of high end audio. If this will work for each and every music lover I can’t tell. But I’m pretty sure that it will soon work for a majority!
What are the industry’s biggest con(s)?
It has no lobby! Thus the public tends to be unaware of high end audio and politics keeps setting up obstacles for our almost artisan manufacturing, by introducing standards that fit the “big players” best.
The way you work
Presuming the measurements are fine, what do you listen for when assessing products?
Our engineers are not looking for a specific sound, we try to be true to a signal in the first place! With our super-fast horns it is easy to capture all the detail of the signal, thus preserving the inner detail of the music. And to our own amazement, the result of further improving detail resolution often acts like an “elevator” for all other audiophile criteria like staging focussing, natural smoothness, timbre etc. And along the way you’ll also get the speed and punch that I like so much with certain music…
Your sound preference -‘Smooth, listenable musicality’, ‘forward, driving, ‘foot-tapping’, involving sound’ or ‘detailed neutrality and transparency’?
I’m certainly more the forward driving type of listener. But without neutrality and transparency I would certainly not be able to thoroughly enjoy a system.
Your preference – Full-range floorstanders or freestanding mini monitors with a sub?
A third category: big monitors (UNO/DUO horns, TRIO horns) with a sub (BASSHORN)!
It’s all about the music, man…
What is your favourite recording?
Currently I’m always impressed when listening to Tommy Schneider’s “Plan B3”. When the Hammond B3 kicks-in during his version of “Ain’t no sunshine”, my jaws drop…
Tell us about your 3 most trusted test recordings
For human voice: Nat King Cole’s “Love is the thing”. For guitar rock: Gregor Hilden’s “Sweet rain”. For alternative: Master Choa Kok Sui “OM”
What are your most embarrassing recordings/guilty musical pleasures?
No specific ones, I’m in general not a big fan of Jazz. Oh, and I can’t stand “Hotel California”, not even in its highly praised live version.
Having safely ushered your loved ones out of the house as it is burning down to the ground, you ignore all standard safety advice and dash back inside to grab just one recording – what is it?
I will run back and grap my 1TB hard disk with all my music :-)