AVID HIFI REFERENCE FOUR Review: Heavy metal machine

AVID’s ‘sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut’ two-way features a massive all-alloy cabinet with tuned mass dampers to kill unwanted resonances – and this is the smallest in its range! Read our AVID HIFI REFERENCE FOUR Review.

Unloading the three AVID HiFi boxes that these standmounts arrive in – one for each Reference Four speaker, at £ a pair, plus one for the included (and very hefty) stands – you’d be forgiven for jumping to the obvious conclusion that what you’re dealing with here is intended for playing heavy metal. And as fate would have it, you wouldn’t be that far off the truth for, while most speakers do very nicely enough thank you very much with variations on the wooden box theme, the Reference Fours opt for all-alloy cabinets, with panels up to 15mm- thick, sitting on six ‘risers’ attached to a thick alloy baseplate. Hence why each of these relatively compact speakers, at just under 370mm tall, weighs a decidedly hefty 25kg.

details
PRODUCT AVID HiFi Reference Four
ORIGIN UK
TYPE 2-way standmount loudspeaker
WEIGHT 25kg (40kg with stands)
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 210 x 367x 440mm
FEATURES
•  28mm Acuflex- coated silk dome
• 160mm damped polymer composite mid/bass driver
• Quoted sensitivity: 88dB/1W/1m (6.5ohm)
DISTRIBUTOR AVID HiFi Ltd.
WEBSITE avidhifi.co.uk

Furthermore, the cabinets may only be 210mm wide, which is almost as narrow as they could be while still accommodating the 160mm-wide mid/bass drivers, but they’re also 440mm deep, meaning they’ll overhang most aftermarket stands. AVID has this predicament covered with its own supports, although fitting them to the speakers is really something of a palaver. After assembling the stands, you must remove the baseplate from the speakers, bolt that to the stand, and then fix the baseplate back to the six riser feet again. Not your usual ‘take them out the box and stick them on a shelf setup, then, but the effort is absolutely worth your while.

This entire assembly stands just under a metre tall and totals 40 kg per side, but with the centre of gravity up high, it doesn’t feel quite as topple- proof as perhaps it really should. While it would seem positively perverse to suggest the stands should be even heavier still, perhaps they could have done with an even weightier footplate?

With their equally sizeable price tag, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Fours are actually the entry-level offering in AVID’s Reference range. This British company is best-known for its vinyl replay products, which allows the brand to offer a complete system from LP to amplification to speakers. Above the Reference Four sits the larger Reference Three standmount (and stands) before we move on to the Reference Two floorstanders and the Reference Active Sub. The Reference One flagship, standing almost 2m tall and weighing 340kg apiece. Now that is heavy metal!

Wot no bracing?

As with all the range, the Reference Four’s enclosure is machined and constructed in-house at the company’s Cambridgeshire base, using aerospace-grade aluminium plates and with all fixings concealed. Resonance control is a feature of the alloy construction, and so AVID sensibly side steps the stuffing and bracing we might see in a conventional wooden cabinet.

The thick aluminium alloy assembly offers an innate rigidity while the drivers are fixed in place with O-ring seals and compression plates, designed to spread the clamping force around the entire circumference of the driver’s basket. Not for AVID a handful of bolts… Furthermore, tuned mass dampers are mounted via decoupling assemblies to the rear of the drivers, soaking up any unwanted vibration before it leaves the unit itself, thus removing the need for further cabinet treatment.

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That thinking also informs the design of the bass-tuning port that vents downward into the space created by those riser feet and onto a cone-shaped diffuser mounted on the baseplate. This distributes the port output over a full 360°, AVID claiming a superior 30Hz bass extension and reduced sensitivity to room placement versus a more conventional rear-mounted port.

The drivers are sourced from Morel, the 28mm silk-dome tweeter shared across the Reference range and featuring a dome treated with Acuflex. As the name suggests, this is claimed to promote accurate flexing, where break-up modes are counteracted by others working in the opposite direction. The tweeter is powered by a neodymium magnet and 28.6mm Hexatech (honeycomb) aluminium voice coil on a titanium former. Furthermore, the coil winding height is shorter than the magnetic gap so it remains within the magnetic field at all times, improving transient response. The driver is mounted behind a short flare on the alloy baffle to improve its off-axis behaviour.

The partnering 160mm mid/bass driver uses a damped polymer composite cone mounted in a ‘Uniflow’ basket, this is designed using aerodynamic principles to smooth the airflow behind. Meanwhile the crossover uses ClarityCap capacitors, as in all the Reference speakers, along with ‘Copper Connect’ technology for reduced signal path resistance. Similarly, the air-core inductors are

They grab the listener and demand attention regardless of musical genre

wound with 1.25mm-thick enamelled copper wire, its low DC resistance promising better bass control.

AVID’s notes for positioning the speakers are fairly general. It suggests starting with them closer together than they are from the listening position – 45cm from the rear wall – noting that placing them too close boosts bass, but may impact on clarity and stereo image. It also advises they are well in from side walls, then “adjust until you are happy with the sound”. Slight toe-in is recommended – “pointing slightly toward, but not directly at, the listening position” – as this will give the best trade-off between stereo imaging and enough spread for several listeners. It’s good to see a manufacturer proposing hi-fi as a social experience!

Sound quality

With a little jiggling and experimenting, these suggestions seem to work well, and after some time spent with different amplification, a ‘vintage’ Naim setup of NAC52/52PS/NAP250 is settled on, connected to the Reference Four’s substantial single-

AVID HIFI REFERENCE FOUR Review

The 15mm-thick aluminium plate cabinet walls are designed to prevent flexing

AVID HIFI REFERENCE FOUR Review

Acuflex damping is applied to the soft-dome tweeter to suppress any high frequency break-up modes

wire terminals using runs of Naim NAC A5 cable. While the speakers need the preamp to be turned up a bit to achieve decent SPLs, this is no problem – as with all Naim amps, this combination really seems to get into its stride at higher levels and drives the speakers with plenty in reserve to accommodate musical dynamics.

From the off, several things immediately grab me about the sound of the Reference Four. Namely, the crisply focused, expansive soundstage ‘picture’ they create; the weight and control of the bass; and the speed with which they react to the music, enhancing detail and ensuring rhythms motor along without a hint of blur or overhang.

1) 4mm single-wire binding posts

2) Cylindrical risers lift the downward­firing port clear of the baseplate

3) 28mm Acuflex- coated silk dome tweeter with titanium former

4) 160mm damped polymer composite mid/bass driver, also with titanium former

Play a punchy track such as New Order’s Blue Monday with its thumping bassline threatening to swallow all before it, and the Fours steal none of the weight while still casting an image of excellent clarity in which every musical element is just so easy to follow.

Even with the mayhem of some vintage KLF tracks, courtesy of the recent Arkive download release – which trawls out some early demos and unreleased mixes – there’s that same combination of deft, well- extended bass and masses of information. The music simply powers out of the Fours as it really shouldn’t from speakers this small. Big, thundering low frequencies, allied to plenty of detail – spot those contentious samples – what more could one want?

However, you don’t have to be crashing out electronica to appreciate what the Reference Fours can do as they’re just as convincing with orchestral, chamber or jazz recordings. As if to prove this flexibility, they effortlessly deliver a well-scaled view of the ‘band’ on Sonoko Miriam Welde’s recording of the Bruch Violin Concerto Classic LWC while keeping the soloist naturally focused before the listener, and conjuring up an exciting sense of performance. All this and with the bite of the violinist’s strings set against the palpable weight of the orchestra behind her.

Similarly with the sparse sound of baritone James Rutherford’s reading of Schubert’s Winterreise, recently released more than three years after it was recorded. Here its absolute focus on the voice and piano really grabs the listener’s attention with its chilly ambience – despite being recorded in August in sunny Suffolk!

Staying with events in that county, the Fours do a fine job with the 2020

The cabinet’s thick aluminium alloy assembly offers an innate rigidity

Bergen Philharmonic/Edward Gardner recording of Britten’s Aldeburgh-set Peter Grimes. Yes, in absolute terms it could probably do with a little more low-frequency growl and weight for that celebrated ‘Storm’ interlude, but for speakers so small what’s on offer here is still mighty impressive. In the context of an unfolding drama whose every nuance and twist is illuminated by the levels of insight these loudspeakers deliver, the loss of that last iota of room-shaking ability is a very minor concession.

Conclusion

In practice, those crashing, wind- tossed waves are certainly tumultuous enough considering the diminutive size of those all-alloy cabinets unleashing them, as is the way the Reference Fours portray the unearthly nature of the despairing conclusion to the piece. These are speakers to grab the listener and command attention, and – though they literally have the appearance and mass of heavy metal – they do that regardless of the musical genre being played

OUR VERDICT

10 Total Score
AVID HIFI REFERENCE FOUR Review

Need small speakers for a big system? Look no further

PROS
  • Power
  • insight
  • involvement
CONS
  • Heavy lifting involved in setup
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How it compares

At this price, avid’s Reference Four is joined by a mere handful of very special designs. The most obvious comparison is with Magico’s all-alloy A1 (HFC462), complete with beryllium dome tweeter and carbon ‘nanographene’ mid/bass driver – it’s a very dynamic and articulate performer with excellent bass for its size. Sonus faber’s Guarneri Tradition features a carbon-fibre reinforced stand. The beautiful lute­shaped cabinet comes in two wood finishes and the custom foam/paper mid/bass driver works out of a rear vent in the spine of the speaker. It sounds as lush and glorious as it looks!

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Binh Phan Duc
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