„For the 15th anniversary of our legendary Model IT, we have concentrated our latest research in an exclusive and rare refined version: the Lavardin technologies Model IT-15.” So begins the (very sparse) information leaflet accompanying this amplifier. Looking at it in its full glory, at the standing in front of us red beauty of an amplifier we must admit that this is a truly exclusive device.
Its roots reach the very beginnings of the company, the year 1996 when Lavardin emerged. The first product, the impulse to create the company was the model IT. And it has not changed much since, and if so the changes were mostly cosmetic. In 2003 the knobs took on another color and in 2005 the input circuitry was improved and a recording output was added. These modifications gained the name 2K5. And only now, in 2011 we get the IT-15 version. Unfortunately in the time of our review (and we are the first magazine in the world to review this amplifier) we did not know what was changed this time. One change is clear – the front panel gained a beautiful, red color. But I do not know what was changed inside. One hint can be a slightly lower output power which is now 47W at 8Ω, while the IT had 55W. But we know that the basis of Lavardin technology is the reduction of distortions called “memory distortions”. Because nobody else uses this term, I have to rely on the company materials only.
What are memory distortions according to the Frenchmen? They are distortions coming from imperfections in materials used during the production of audio gear. And semiconductors exhibit some kind of memory, in that each change in signal leaves a small trace – after the signal disappears they do not return to their original state, and those little changes get superimposed and eventually influence the main signal.
These distortions, according to the French engineers, are the reason for the poor reputation of transistor devices. They say that tube technology does not have that problem – which would partially explain the more pleasing sound of such amplifiers – because electrons move through vacuum and not solid body, there is no memory effect. The company convinces: “[Those upsides] can be added to the live, silky sound of the best single-ended tube amplifiers.”
Why no other company noticed this effect? On Lavardin web page we can find information that classic measurement methods are inadequate when we deal with music. Almost all measurements are done with fixed frequency or level signals. And such situations only happen – according to Lavardin Technologies – in less than 0.01% of a real musical piece.
Actually this issue is not as exotic as one could think, because what else is the demagnetization process in Gryphon, or a similar process using a CD manufactured by Densen?
As you can see Lavardin, similar to other French companies, has its own “peculiarities”. One of them is the circuitry that minimizes memory distortions. The second one is adding a thick plywood platform to each of their amplifiers. It is not in the same box, comes separately, but it does. We should not leave it out; the amplifier simply sounds better on it. And it looks better. Unless we have something better at our disposal, like the Hickory RHB-20 Acoustic Revive platform about which I wrote in the present issue of “High Fidelity” editorial. I tried it instead of the plywood and – for me – the amplifier sounded a bit cleaner, more selective. The difference was not big but it is worth considering the purchase. You can always place it on top of the plywood.
The third “peculiarity” is the insistence to use the IT only with Lavardin cabling. Since I wrote about it during my review of the whole system, I’ll just say that I did not see a problem with that and used the company’s cables – CLR 83 interconnects and CMA 317 loudspeaker cables. It is also worth checking the polarity of the power supply cable – on the back plate socket the hot pin is marked with red paint. We should take a good care of that as the change in sound is significant. To verify this, you may just turn the Schuko plug in the socket.
To date we tested:
- System: Lecontoure Loudspeakers Stabile 210 + Lavardin Technologies Model C62 + Model AP150 + CMA317 + CML83 + CMR250, text HERE
A selection of recordings used in the test:
- Audiofeels, Uncovered, Penguin Records, 5865033, CD.
- Clan of Xymox, Darkest Hour, Trisol, TRI 419 CD, CD; recenzja TUTAJ
- David Gilmour, On An Island, EMI, 355695, CCD.
- Eva Cassidy, Songbird, Hot Records, G2-10045, CD.
- Jim Hall Trio, Blues On The Rocks, Gambit Records, 69207, CD.
- Jim Hall, Concierto, CTI/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2012, SACD/CD.
- Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM/Universal Music Japan, UCCE-9011, gold-CD.
- Leszek Możdżer, Komeda, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9516-2, CD.
- Lisa Ekdahl, Give Me That Slow Knowing Smile, RCA/Sony Music, 46663-2, Opendisc.
- Madeleine Peyroux, Standing On The Rooftop, EmArcy/Pennywell Productions [Japan], UCCU-1335, CD;
- Pat Martino, East!, Prestige/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2018, SACD/CD.
- Project by Jarre, Geometry Of Love, Aero Prod, 4606932, CD.
Japanese versions of the discs are available at CD Japan.
Each company that knows what it is doing and controls the process of designing their products has some idea for sound, some agenda, which regulates what it is doing. It may be directed towards the timbre, dynamics, resolution, etc. Even if some company declares that it wants its products to “disappear” from the sound path, it is still limited by the technology, physics, and thus it needs to make compromises. There is no “absolute sound”, this is just a concept, an idea. However creative, powering us all, but still just an idea. Hence the presence of the human factor, with its choices, doubts, beliefs and finally abilities, in every audio product. It is us who choose which way, vision or method appeals to us most. The IT-15 also has its leading idea.
It could be abbreviated into one sentence: “nothing human is alien to us, but we are closest to vocal.” I am simplifying but I have a reason for that: I want to point at a special ability of the Lavardin, the exceptional way of showing human voices. Not only voices, because equally surprising are e.g. the guitars. And this is surprising as even much more expensive high-end amplifiers often do not handle midrange so well.
But this is only a part of the “package” we get with the IT-15. “Vocalization” of the sound, in a way of speech, amplification of human voices, their coming-out from something “half-ready” to the first plane is part of a bigger process: the IT-15 does not just play, but rather with each new disc it tells a different story. Partially its own story, not only reproducing what is on the disc. But it does not impose anything on us, rather suggesting its version, not imprinting it on us. And it really has a gift for convincing us.
All this introduction was necessary so that what I am going to say is not too dry – only put together (I hope) will give the full picture of the sound we get from the Lavardin. It is saturated and slightly warm. In a blind listening test, in a larger group of amplifiers, I would say that it is a tube amplifier.
There are a few reasons for that. The first one is obvious: the upper treble is rather withdrawn and warm. It is not as warm as with EL34 tube based amplifiers and not as sweet. But it is better differentiated; the top end sounds have more weight, the cymbals are more concise.
This is a surprise, because usually it is exactly the opposite – the transistor amplifiers are where the tube amplifiers are in this case. In the IT-15 it was evidently possible to combine the better linearity of the transistors, their lower distortion with something that – as it still seems – is not available for the solid state technology: density. Thinning of the treble, their ricketiness might seem something endemic to the transistor. But I know that this is not the case; my Soulution 710 is different, as is the ASR Emitter II, reviewed some time ago. The latter is warm to the border of correctness. It circumvents the problems of the transistor but adds its own.
The Lavardin seems to do it better. Although the treble is warm, it is not too warm; while it is withdrawn, it is not withdrawn too much. Just like it was about following a greater plan, not just an action point.
Probably due to the treble being as it is the foreground is taken by the midrange. The thing is that it is not about contrast – usually it follows that when the treble does not bother us, the midrange reaches us stronger. It is probably part of the sound shaping here, but not the only one, not even the basic element of it.
As I said, vocals “rule”. They are big, saturated and have beautiful timbre.
So I moved from disc to disc, listened to this or that, led by musical associations, instruments, etc. This is how I listened to the disc of Eva Cassidy, Lisa Ekdahl, Pat Martin, Jim Hall, David Gilmour, Audiofeels, and Clan of Xymox. I did not listen to whole discs at first, only to selected pieces, but all in one go.
The Lavardin pulls us into its world, into its story. It is a slightly warm, but incredibly well differentiated sound. Very dynamic, but never tiring. With a strong, beautiful bass, despite its lower part not being especially strong.
The midrange together with the bass (its upper and medium part) form one, inseparable whole. This is a dense sound with big volume and momentum. We get a large sound stage. And if the instruments suggest a huge room, like on the Clan of Xymox disc in the piece In Your Arms Again, then our room will convert into that space. All of that with a really high dynamics and depth.
This is why listening to this amplifier lets us forget about the technology. Especially when playing with loudspeakers like the Harbeths. And not by coincidence – Lavardin was (maybe still is, I am not sure) the French dealer for Harbeth. Its electronics ideally fits in the British philosophy. Exactly such loudspeakers, not very demanding current wise, with a leveled impedance curve, seem the best partner for the Lavardin.
The unit doesn’t get warm at all, which points to the choices made regarding the output transistors bias. This is interesting, because such sound could rather be expected from a class A amplifier. A big class A amplifier. And the sleek, small IT-15 with its cold heat sinks (which also suggests an attempt to maintain constant temperature level of the power stage) seem to tell us a different story. Listening to the French amplifier I had no problems with anything. Its sound was absolutely complete, full, finished. It is beautiful. I can recommend it without a trace of doubt to all who search for an amplifier costing up to 50,000zl. When we have the heart of a warrior and want to have the best of the best, combining it with the Harbeth M40.1 Domestic loudspeakers and the Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition CD player (the products I use) will create a system to which most audiophiles and music lovers pray their whole life long. And that the IT-15 costs only so little? (No, I am not joking with that ‘only’.) Well – nobody is perfect…
The IT-15 integrated amplifier is a very sleek device with an outstanding front panel, anodized in a deep, red color. Every mechanical component of the IT-15 is perfectly made. It is because the company controls each, even the smallest, step of its construction. They have their own workshop with CNC Vitronics-Soltec machines, working with a 1/100mm precision and able to perform 18,000 activities per hour.
On the fascia we have two knobs in natural aluminum color. One is used to control volume, the other to select the input. There is no remote control. Between the knobs there is a big, black power switch with a red LED. The rest of the chassis is black and made of aluminum. On both sides there are heat sinks with rounded edges. The RCA sockets, located in two rows, are nice and placed wide apart, so we can use any cabling we want. Interestingly, the right channel, marked red, is on the top and not on the bottom as usual. The only other device I came across with this socket arrangement is my Ayon Audio Polaris III preamplifier. We have four line inputs and one recording output at our disposal. The sockets are described on a sticker placed below. On the sides there are single loudspeaker terminals. Those are gold plated, with plastic bolts. Nice, but quite close together – you have to be careful with big spades! It can be seen that the people at Lavardin seriously think about controlling vibration. There is a solid chassis, a plywood shelf to be placed below the amplifier, and finally three exceptional feet of the IT-15: one in the back made from rubber, and two in the front being aluminum balls.
The inside is well packed. Interestingly, when I tested the IT model some time ago I had the impression that there is a lot of empty space inside. But I might have been mistaken. At the back plate there is the input PCB. The RCA sockets are soldered directly to it and the input selection is made using nice looking hermetic relays. Those are activated by a solid mechanical switch soldered to the same PCB. A long axis runs from it to the front panel. From that PCB the signal goes via quite long, solid core copper cables made by Lavardin, very similar to their interconnects. It arrives at the ALPS “Blue Velvet” potentiometer – so we have here a situation where the attenuator is before the preamplifier, not behind it (this setting is often confused with a passive preamplifier). Next the signal runs through the same kind of cables to the main PCB with the preamplifier and power stage.
There are two power stages, bolted vertically to the heat sinks at the sides of the amplifier. There are many components on them, this is for sure not a minimalist circuit. The whole is made from discreet transistors (except for one integrated circuit, maybe in the feedback loop or power supply). The most important are four small transistors bolted to the heat sinks – two control and two push-pull TIP147+TIP142 National Semiconductors. In fact the latter are Darlingtons – two bipolar transistors in one enclosure. Just next to the place where the power is supplied we have polypropylene capacitors – very nice EVOXs. The signal runs to the loudspeaker terminals using two very short cables from braid copper.
In the middle of the bottom plate there is the power supply – a big one. Its basis is a toroidal transformer closed in a metal can made of thick metal plate. The whole is mounted on the bottom plate with elastic pads. Outside the can there are the rectifying and filtering circuits. Each channel has separate power supplies for the current and voltage stages. There are eight capacitors 10,000μF each and four 2,200μF each. Everywhere there are high quality passive elements, like polypropylene capacitors from EVOX and Philips, as well as precise resistors.
Technical data (according to manufacturer):
- maximum output power: 2 x 47W/8Ω
- input impedance: 10kΩ
- input sensitivity: 350mV
- dimensions (WxHxD): 430 x 137 x 350mm
- weight: 12 kg
Distribution in Poland: Moje Audio
Powstańców Śląskich 118 | 53-333 Wrocław | Polska
tel./fax: (71) 336 52 67 | tel. kom.: 606 276 001/790 425 142