Lavardin Technologies Model IT : Stereophile Review August 2005

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Stereophile - Aug 2005

 

Lavardin Technologies IT Integrated Amplifier

By: Sam Tellig, Sam's Corner

 

"Atone for your Shopping Sins"


I received a mailing the other day from Portero. If you have luxury items to sell, you can find them at www.portero.com. If you live in (or even near) Manhattan, Scarsdale, New York, or Greenwich, Connecticut, they've most likely already found you.

"Remember last spring's wild shopping spree when you melted your Platinum Card? Half those clothes probably haven't seen the light of day in a while. The stores won't take them back, but we will."

High-hat folk may want to avoid eBay - so low-brow, so common, so hoi polloi. Now they can have Portero manage the online auction of clothes, brand-name figurines, home entertainment and pro audio gear, handbags (I must tell my wife, Marina), vintage dolls and bears, and other items-even old comic books.

"We'll take away all of the hassle, lighten your load, and get you more cash to spend on your new passions."

So much for atonement.

I want to get rid of things without buying new stuff. Too many books, LPs, CDs, and DVDs, not to mention a gaggle of hi-fi gear and a veritable graveyard of audio accessories. If I weren't so lazy, I'd hold a gigantic tag sale.

My friend Dima, too, is on a simplicity kick. "I want to become a monk," he declared the other day. He's looking to practice minimalism by simplifying his hi-fi system. No unnecessary components. No complexity. As few features and as few watts as possible.

I know the urge. It's one reason I'm attracted to little flea-powered single-ended triode tube amps and to European hi-fi. The less you have, the more you can enjoy it.

Dima owns a pair of Triangle loudspeakers from France - nothing extravagant there. If he really wants to become a monk, I have a suggestion for an amplifier, also from Frogland...

 

The Lavardin Technologies Model IT integrated amplifier.

They laughed when I recommended the Lavardin IS Reference integrated amplifier, back in March. I received a dozen or so e-mails asking how I could recommend such a thing - 30Wpc for $3595 ($3995 with phono). What kind of value is that? I couldn't be serious.

I was pretty certain that none of these audiophiles had actually heard the Lavardin IS, because the first units were just starting to become available in the US. Some audiophiles love to hold opinions - usually negative - on products they haven't heard.

But I was serious. All the Lavardin IS Reference offers is superbly transparent sound - the kind of sound audiophiles kill for and pay tens of thousands of dollars to get. The IS Reference illustrated Tellig's Law: you can have great sound for a modest amount of money; you just can't have a lot of it.

Je ris mon mauvais rire (webmaster's translation - "I laugh my evil laugh"). I laugh my evil laugh.

Like the IS Reference, Lavardin's IT integrated amp offers no frills, no features, no convenience, no styling, and as little power as possible. Just the ticket, perhaps, for someone who wants to escape the audiophile rat race.

Lavardin Technologies was founded in 1996, and the IT was their first product, launched in 1997. The amp has been in production for nearly nine years with only minor changes. I met up with the IT several years ago when a sample was making the rounds among potential importers. I loved it and tried to talk Roy Hall, aka Music Hall, into importing it.

"Tough sell," Roy declared.

That's probably true. But it doesn't seem to bother Walter Swanbon, of Fidelis AV. Walter thinks there's a niche for Lavardin gear among customers who are turned off by big, powerful, expensive, and often mediocre-sounding amplifiers. We'll see if Walter's right. We'll see if Dima opts for the IS or the IT.

Compared to the IS Reference, the IT is a powerhouse, rated at 50Wpc into 8 ohms with 20 amps of current vs 12 amps for the IS Reference. It sells for $6595 (no phono option) and is fit for a Russian Orthodox monk, which is what Dima would like to become.

Regardez  (webmaster's translation - "Look"). Here's what you don't get: No remote control. (An optional remote is said to be on the way.) No balance control. No tape monitor loop. No preamp outputs, and thus no provision for biamping or powered subwoofering. No provision for multiple pairs of speakers; only a single pair of speaker binding posts.

"You paid $6595 for that? You must be out of your mind."

The frills and features are missing not out of Gallic perversity but from Lavardin's conviction that they would compromise the purity of sound: more switches, more internal wiring, more parts. I do regret the lack of preamp outputs, but that's it. The rest I can do without.

Lavardin Technologies has a story.

 

Normally, I'm skeptical when it comes to audio "stories" - miracle circuits, design breakthroughs, and all that. I think Lavardin's story - the company's raison d'etre - is true. But I don't care if the story is fishy or not - I'm not judging the story, I'm judging the sound.

Lavardin's story is shrouded in mystery. So are many of the IT's internal parts potted in some kind of black goop to keep the circuits secret. The identifying marks of other parts have been removed. Whatever Lavardin has discovered, they're keeping it to themselves.


Lavardin claims to have discovered why tube amps tend to sound better than solid-state amps. According to them, the problem has to do with the way musical signals have to slog their way through silicon. They get slowed by the silicon-stuck in the mud, as it were. Transistors hold past signals in memory, and these memories distort the new signals coming in. The music can't flee the silicon fast enough.

Lavardin calls this phenomenon "memory distortion." They claim to have found a way to measure it and a way to correct it, thus bringing solid-state amplification up to the level of tubes.

The Lavardin amps may surpass most tube amps, being quicker, cleaner, clearer, quieter, not to mention more reliable. I don't get the feeling that Lavardin is trying to emulate the sound of tubes - the IT and IS sound like solid-state amps. I don't hear the extra richness and warmth of tubes, or the tubby bass that's typical of many tube amps.

I used the IT along with the Musical Fidelity system I described last month: the X-RayV3 CD player as transport into the X-DACV3, into the Whest Audio dap.10 thingamajig. I ran the whole bejammas into the IT.

For the most part, I used Triangle Antal ES speakers-a combination so stellar that I felt no itch to switch. Speaker cables were Lavardin's own. I used various interconnects, mainly XLO.

Alors, mes amis ...
(webmaster's translation - "Then, my friends ...")  You do need a CD player or DAC with a fairly hefty analog output section. Like the IS Reference, the IT is a power amplifier with an input switch and a volume control.

The Whest and the Lavardin are different kinds of products (the Whest remains sui generis), but their aim is the same: to restore and preserve harmonic integrity, the structure and timing of the notes. After all, "memory distortion" is about timing errors - assuming that the phenomenon is real in the first place. But why worry about that?

The resolution of the IT is extraordinary, placing this amp among the finest I have heard, without regard to design philosophy or price. I could hear more space in each recording - assuming the recording wasn't a multimiked mess. Soloists and their instruments were precisely placed within the soundstage. They were just ... there.  Or here. The Lavardin had a way of putting me in the hall or room with the performers that came very close to single-ended triode at its best - namely, SET amplification of the flea-watt persuasion.

 

Now will you quit laughing, find a dealer, and listen?

I tried the Lavardin IT briefly with my reference Quad ESL-988 speakers. I've heard amplifiers that coax stronger bass from Quads, but the IT's transparency made it an excellent match.

I know - you "need" more power than what the Lavardin offers.

But do you? Probably not, if you choose a proper pair of French loudspeakers from Focal-JMlab, Triangle, or JM Reynaud. Probably not, if you avoid loudspeakers with highly complex, difficult-to-drive crossovers. Probably not, if you don't listen too loud or if you listen nearfield. As Artie Dudley - the illustrious AD - declared the other day, the trick is to avoid listening at loud levels. Quantity is ever the foe of quality. If you still want more power from the Lavardin, you can't have it. I suspect that some of the magic of this amp comes from the fact that it uses a single pair of (bipolar) output transistors per channel. When you parallel multiple pairs, you generally lose something: immediacy, clarity, maybe harmonic structure. A single pair of output devices may be one reason the darTZeel NHB-108 power amplifier sounds as glorious as it does (Wes Phillips reviewed it in April).


Several speaker manufacturers - none of them French or Italian - have told me over the years that amplifier power is cheap, you can have a lot of it for very little money, all amps sound the same anyway, only the speakers matter, so why design for high sensitivity and an easy amplifier load?

Don't tell your audiophile friends - they won't listen - but the Lavardin amps are bargains. You get a product that's bench-built, one unit at a time, by one person. Each amp gets a listening test before it leaves the factory. Most of the IT's performance can be found in the IS Reference for half the price • the IS is an IT, but a little less so: less powerful and, I feel, a tad less transparent. If you can, compare them. Pour moi ? (webmaster's translation - "For me ?")  The IT is it - and now a reference chez nous (webmaster's translation - "in our home") - my wife Marina hears the difference, too.

 

 

 

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Lavardin Technologies Model IT : Stereophile Review August 2005

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