Externally, this latest Avalon is arguably their most attractive speaker yet. Compact, even svelte, the characteristically lozenge shaped front baffle reduces the visual impact still further, while the three-way, four-driver line up fills it to create an aesthetically pleasing, balanced appearance. Of course, everybody knows that you are supposed to use the grilles on Avalon speakers, but hey, if people can take the grilles off to listen then the reverse should also be true, no? The drivers represent a combination of older models, the twin bass units drafted in from the Ascendant, but paired here with the 90mm ceramic bowl midrange first seen in the Opus, and a new adaptation of the 25mm tweeter used in the Isis, but using a ceramic diaphragm in place of the diamond used in the more expensive model. The Indras are single wired, their Cardas terminals accepting spades, so you may need to re-terminate your cables. Other than that, they are simple to set up, sounding remarkably comfortable from the off. However, don’t be fooled. Positional experimentation will pay serious dividends; you’ll know when you’ve got it right because the bass suddenly gains life and bounce, while the music steps away from the speakers. And believe me when I say, that is what this speaker is all about.
Just like the Isis, the thing that sets the Indra apart from other speakers is its ability to step aside from the music. It’s not just that you don’t hear the instruments lodged in the speakers (and you don’t, even on early stereo left-right mixes) – it’s that you cease to be aware of the speakers at all. It’s partly the locational thing, but it’s also to do with the absence of mechanical influence. You don’t hear these speakers working, you don’t hear their different bits reconstituting the music. Indeed, so even and well integrated are they that the creation of a seamless, uninterrupted acoustic space for the performance seems entirely natural, a given result of the recording process rather than the minor miracle it actually represents. Furthermore, that naturalness hints at a deeper quality, the easy dynamic and temporal authority on which it rests. It’s this that makes the Indra not just unobtrusive but also musically inclusive, reaching out to wrap you in the same time and space as the original performers. The Isis did this too, helped no doubt by its impressive bandwidth. But what impresses with the Indra is that it achieves a similar effect from such manageable proportions.
Listen long enough and you start to recognise how it’s done. This Avalon possesses that rarest of shared attributes, speed and substance. Musical information arriving just where and when it should, with all the harmonic weight and presence it should carry gives the Indra a confident, almost assertive streak. It’s not a coloration in the conventional sense, more a widening of the expressive window, allowing the musicians full rein. More purposeful and arguably more obvious than earlier Avalon designs, it’s a quality that makes the Indra easier to ‘get’. Just listen to the deliciously dirty funk bass that underpins Angie stone’s ’20 Dollars’, its lazy slap with attitude giving the song its mixed air of desperation and sleazy menace: not your traditional Avalon fare, but the Indra doesn’t just stand aside from the musical message, it positively waves it through.
The second strand to this speaker’s innately natural presentation lies in its ability to separate the individual musical strands within a performance without dismantling the whole. As well as allowing the music to breathe it preserves its structure too, so that the complex weave that creates Bach’s Musical Offering EMI ASD414), a constantly shifting pattern of different instruments never loses its shape, while each instrument retains its place and identity. The resulting cats cradle of musical strands becomes a fascinating, mesmerizing interrelationship of individual contributions creating a whole that’s constructed from the individual – if you follow my drift.
The eager dynamics, lively energy and easy separation that characterize the Indra are especially apparent on live performances. Acoustic one-takes are simply stunning, even good studio recordings like the incredible delicacy of Lisa Ekdahl’s Back To Earth, but the lack of compression present in the speaker makes even less audiophile live material crackle with atmosphere. Examples are legion, from Joe Jackson (Summer In the City or the live triple album) to Jackie Leven, Siouxsie And The Banshees to Gorecki conducting his own 3rd Symphony. Never has Robert Smith’s gloriously off-kilter guitar teetered so agonisingly on the brink – not since the Brixton Academy all those years ago.
To get the Indra up and dancing you’re going to need a healthy 100 Watts, more if you can afford it. Just don’t skimp on the quality. The good news is that if you’ve got a favourite amp then these speakers will give you more of it than you thought possible. In the same way that they represent a window onto the performance, they shine a spotlight on the performance of your system too. Great news if its well sorted and well setup – just don’t expect the slinky contours of the Avalons to hide or control any unsightly bulges. Which makes life very simple – or potentially very complicated if you’ve already lost your way.