January 1, 2010
Jaton Real A&V-803 Loudspeakers
When I think of China, its not the New World
Order that comes to mind, or the glittering postmodern skyline of Shanghai, or the
ownership of most of the USs debt. I dont think of roasted duck in black-bean
sauce, the corner Yuck-in-the-Box, or penny toys my daughter gets in a Happy Meal from
McDonalds. I think of the great poets of the Tang Dynasty -- eighth-century
scholar-bureaucrats who roamed the vast empire, writing poetic letters to each other and
to loved ones at home, tacking them up on a bulletin board in some provincial temple,
lamenting their loneliness, chronicling their sojourns through savage and sublime
landscapes unrolling at their silk-stockinged feet like painted scrolls of mountains and
rivers without end. I think of a sere and exquisite aesthetic, a cultivated refinement
that privileged not only the numinous beauty inherent in the universe, but the indwelling
good common to all men. Kung-tzu, known to Westerners as Confucius, called this quality jen
-- the better nature within all things, including human beings. The practice of art --
indeed, the practice of life -- was to evince this better nature in all things, and create
transactions between the universes of spirit and of phenomena. It was jen that
whisked the tea, jen that guided the hand in calligraphy, jen that raised
the child and governed the kingdom. It was jen that was called forth in ritual, in
cookery, and in the strings of a zither plucked by a poets hand as he drank wine and
sang to the moon of his solitude.
There is something of jen, that inner good, in the
Jaton Real A&V-803 speakers ($6000 USD per pair), the flagship product of a new and
promising player in the audio world. Jaton Corporation makes the AP2140A Operetta, a 70Wpc
class-AB stereo amplifier; the RC2000 Operetta preamp; the Lyra line of stand-mounted
speakers (three models); and the MP600 subwoofer -- all products of high value, and likely
imbued with that essential Confucian good. Jatons US headquarters are in
Northern California, and its products are built in China. I heard the A&V-803s powered
by the Operetta stereo amp and driven by the Operetta preamp at the Venetian in Las Vegas,
at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, and came away very impressed. So when Jeff Fritz,
editor-in-chief of the SoundStage! Network, proposed that I review the Jaton Real
A&V-803 floorstanders, I agreed.
The A&V-803 is a biwirable, three-way, bass-reflex
loudspeaker with a claimed sensitivity of 91dB and a frequency response of 35Hz-40kHz. It
can be single-wired; the recommended range of amplification is 70-300W. The cabinet
measures 45"H x 10"W x 14.5"D, including the base stand (the stand alone
measures 4"H x 15.75"W x 14.5"D), and is available in one of four
high-gloss finishes: Mahogany, Sandalwood, Walnut, or Dark Walnut. My review samples, in
the very handsome Walnut finish, weighed 110 pounds each.
The four drivers are proprietary: two 8" woofers, one
5" midrange cone, and one 4" semi-horn-loaded ribbon tweeter. The midrange and
woofer cones have a distinctive look: standard black at the center, but banded in a
semiglossy silvery-gold from about midway inside to the lip. At first put off by the
bulls-eye appearance of the drivers, I played the speakers with their grilles of
grayish cloth in place, but in the end grew fond of their striking looks with the grilles
off. Each speaker comes with a quartet of smooth, silvery cones that screw into the bottom
plate to separate it from the gloss-black base, thus providing rigid support, isolation,
The A&V-803s arrived packed in three sturdy cardboard
boxes: one each for the speakers, and one for the two bases. The setup instructions were
clear, explicit, and easy to follow -- from unpacking the speakers to screwing the cone
feet into the cabinets and the feet to the bases, the entire procedure took about 30
Hooking up the A&V-803s to my system proved somewhat
more troublesome. The outsized binding posts on the back of each speaker are of a diameter
larger than the 1/4" bite of the spades on my Verbatim speaker wires. Curious, I got
down on hands and knees to measure the post with a caliper; it came to just over 11mm.
Even when I pried my spades open somewhat -- theyre made of a thin gauge of pliant
tellurium-copper -- they kept sliding out from under the knurls. I was constantly
positioning and tightening, repositioning and retightening -- until I gave up and used
Cardas and AudioQuest spade-to-banana adapters: Cardas for the tweeter and midrange
drivers, AQ for the woofers. The result was an absolutely unsatisfactory,
"tunneled" sound. What to do?
I went to my garage and rummaged around in my cardboard
treasure chest of spare speaker wires: Analysis Plus Oval 12s with Oval 12 jumpers,
Audience Maestro with Audience Au24 jumpers, and separate runs of venerable AudioQuest
Midnight 2s and AudioQuest Crystal speaker cables. None was quite right. Then, six weeks
into the review period, I pulled out a mint set of internally biwired AudioQuest Midnight
3s, terminated with bananas. These both handled the need for biwiring and got around the
problem of the oversized Jaton binding posts.
Despite the A&V-803s weight, it was easy to
handle them. At first I pushed them on sliders across the hardwood floor of the small
parlor where Id set them up, then across the carpeted floors of my living room, and
finally walked them into the study, which is also my listening room. I positioned the
Jatons pretty much where I normally place my reference Von Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers:
sitting on 5/8"-thick MDF boards measuring 12"W x 18"D and about 10
apart, toed in about 10 degrees, the axes of the midrange drivers firing to the outside of
each shoulder and the tweeter axes firing slightly to the outside of my ears when I sat at
my listening position, which is about 9 from both speakers. Once the Jatons had
broken in, a process of about 150-200 hours, I heard no need to adjust those positions.
My system consists of: a Cary CD 303/300 CD player; a
TW-Acustic Raven Two turntable with Tri-Planar Ultimate Mk.VII tonearm and Zyx Airy 3
moving-coil cartridge (0.24mV output); a Herron VTPH-2 phono stage; Thor TA-1000 Mk.II,
deHavilland Mercury 3, and EAR 868 (with phono stage, in for review) preamplifiers;
deHavilland KE50A monoblocks (40W, class-A), Electrocompaniet AW220 monoblocks (220W), and
a VAC PA-80/80 stereo amplifier (80Wpc); and my Von Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers. For this
review, I used Cardas Golden Reference, Cardas Golden Cross, and Verbatim interconnects
(RCA); Verbatim speaker cables with jumpers; and the internally biwired AudioQuest
Midnight 3 speaker cables already mentioned.
Balanced Power Technologys Clean Power Center passive
line conditioner fed the phono stage and preamps, and the Cary CD player went straight
into the wall with a Fusion Audio Predator power cord. The power amps were plugged into an
Isoclean 104 II power strip with Cardas Golden Reference AC cords, the strip itself
plugged into the wall with another Golden Reference. Other power cords were Thor Red,
Fusion Audio Impulse, and Harmonix XDC Studio Master. I have two dedicated 15A lines, both
with Oyaide R1 duplex outlets. I used PS Audio Critical Link fuses in the Cary player and
the deHavilland preamp and mono amps.
My equipment rack is a five-shelf Box Furniture stand made
of lightly finished sapele wood. Except for HRS Nimbus footers and couplers between the
stacked Electrocompaniet monoblocks, I used no further isolation other than the various
components own stock feet.
My listening room is treated with sound panels from
Acoustic Sciences Corporation; bookshelves line the right wall, shelves of LPs the left.
My study/listening room is fairly small: 15L x 12W x 8.5H. I listened
both in the nearfield, and on a couch about 9 away from the plane described by the
Although the Jatons sounded fine with all of my
electronics, I thought they sounded best with the VAC PA-80/80 stereo amp, driven by
either the deHavilland Mercury 3 line stage or the EAR 868 preamp. In terms of fulsomeness
of sound, the 40W deHavilland KE50A monos didnt quite fill the barrel. The
Electrocompaniet monos sounded punchy but slightly lacking in depth and organicity. I
preferred tube amplification with the Jatons. As far as the preamps were concerned, the
deHavilland Mercury 3, both as a line stage and in combination with the Herron VTPH-2
phono stage, had a finesse and airiness with vocal music that I loved, while the EAR 868
had robustness and drive.
The sound of the good
Despite my pleasant session with them at CES 2009, I at
first had some doubts about the Jaton Real A&V-803s. Would they sound bright in
my system? Would they have woolly or boomy bass in my smallish listening room? Would they
sound plasticky or dry? Or, perhaps worse, would they sound OK but uninvolving? Would they
not sound good?
After the break-in period, I played both digital and analog
recordings, and no matter the format, the Jatons consistently conveyed a pleasing
organicity, impressive depth and width of soundstage, and an articulate sonic palette of a
variety of instrumental timbres. The midrange was very special, the speaker reproducing
tenor and alto saxophones, voices, and violins with superb tone, nimbly and accurately
differentiated timbres, and sufficient speed. And though I tried, I heard no holes in the
handoffs from woofer to midrange and from midrange to tweeter, suggesting a well-designed
crossover and well-matched drivers.
Suspecting for some reason that the Real A&V-803s would
sound great with jazz, I spun the Joe Lovano Nonets 52nd Street Themes (CD,
Blue Note 4 96667 2) on my Cary player. I wasnt wrong. The Jatons brought out a
liveliness in the overall sound, Lovano putting some Dexter Gordon bite into the
characteristic smoothness of his tenor sax, and the rest of the groups horns
harmonizing nicely in the mildly lugubrious post-bop choruses. Throughout "If You
Could See Me Now," the Jatons tweeter sounded fast, agile, and smooth. Lewis
Nashs stickwork on snare and the crash and ride cymbals was crisp, and sharply
defined in space at the left of the soundstage. There was also a marvelous presence to the
performance, a quality of immediacy like that of a live performance. Furthermore, there
was great depth to pianist John Hickss comping, a soft thump to Nashs kickdrum
that I felt in my midsection, and an appropriate and an attractive plumminess to Dennis
Irwins double bass. Throughout, the air and space in my smallish room felt fully
charged with this music of variegated textures and easygoing drive.
The acoustic piano is always a fine test of a
speakers timing and capabilities of harmonic saturation and tonal complexity. I next
listened to Mozarts Piano Concertos 6, 15, and 27, performed by pianist-conductor
Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (CD, Warner Classics 2564
62259-2). In the first movement of Concerto 6, Allegro aperto, I heard lovely
string tone that was not ragged or hazy but sprightly and vibrant, and sufficiently clear
and detailed to tell me that these were strings and not wind instruments. Cellos and
double basses were very warm and strong, swelling with energy and presence when called on.
But Aimards piano was of course the centerpiece; his trills were deft and sparkling,
the Jatons conveying both the crystalline clarity and harmonic richness of the instrument.
Early in the review period, before Id decided to
remove the grilles from the speakers, Id noticed that, in some orchestral tuttis,
the violins could occasionally sound a tad forward, though never verging on true
harshness, and strings could sometimes sound brash when I was expecting lushness. More
evident before full break-in, this tendency diminished after about 250 hours, but
didnt quite disappear either. But even this early in my listening, in the second
movement of Concerto 6, Andante un poco adagio -- full of forte passages,
and crests and swells in the strings -- the slight zippiness Id heard in the first
movement seemed to evaporate, the speakers sounding more even, balanced, and full of
nuance. In the end, after returning to this recording again and again, and once Id
decided the Jatons sounded much better with their grilles off, Aimards piano
tinkled sweetly and with a natural liquidity I thoroughly enjoyed. After becoming more
familiar with these speakers, I adjudged them awfully fast -- not, in the main,
bright in character at all, but rather modestly warm, and as sweet as they were resolving.
In October 2009, at the Canseco Field House, in
Indianapolis, I read an elegiac poem Id written for a special tribute to Myles
Brand, a friend who had been the president of the National Collegiate Athletic
Association, and a great man who, after a struggle with cancer, passed away all too soon.
One of the other performers at the tribute was Sylvia McNair, a Metropolitan Opera soprano
and a member of Indiana Universitys music faculty. Her Loves Sweet
Surrender, a recital of arias from Mozarts operas, performed with Neville
Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (CD, Philips 289 446 712-2), came to
me as a gift after the event. After hearing McNair sing so movingly onstage in
Indianapolis, I played this disc many times once Id returned home. The Real
A&V-803s reproduced her lyric soprano with wonderful delicacy and finesse in
"Giunse alfin il momento . . . Dei vieni, non tardar," a recitative and aria
from Le Nozze di Figaro. They rendered McNairs varied and adept
interpretation so completely to my satisfaction that I wanted nothing more from them.
There was no breakup during forte passages, no glossiness or overhang or ring to
suggest some flaw in the crossover or a tweeter overwhelmed with information, and no
slurring of microdynamics in McNairs exquisite tremolos. I did hear a kind of tunnel
effect and some overhang to operatic voices with the lower-powered (40W) deHavilland KE50A
monoblocks, but once Id replaced the latter with the 80W VAC PA-80/80 stereo amp,
those effects disappeared. This told me that the A&V-803s appreciated a little bit of
power -- and, indeed, that Jatons recommendation of a minimum of 70W was spot on.
The A&V-803s did what they were supposed to: got out of the way and just let me
listen, marveling in the beauty of McNairs sublime lyricism.
Staying with female vocals but switching to English
folk-rock, I spun a track from Fairport Conventions Unhalfbricking (CD,
Hannibal HNCD 4418), a 1969 album with the late Sandy Denny on lead vocals and the
virtuoso Richard Thompson on guitar. "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," written by
Denny but more popularly associated with American folksinger Judy Collins, is a mournful,
quietly stirring folk-rock lament. On this version, Dennys voice is like a nearly
invisible fire of flared, single-malt Scotch -- warm, airy, and just a little husky with
peat. Theres strength to it even in its aura of evanescence, and the Real
A&V-803s captured all of it -- the gentle drive of Dennys breathy alto as it
lilts and lofts over Thompsons trilling electric-guitar accompaniment, the solemn
undercurrent of a Scottish march time carried tastefully by the soft cymbal-chatter and
martial rattle of drums, rolling bass, and strummed rhythm guitar. A lovely blend of
acoustic and electric elements rendered in satisfying timbres, this recording showed how
capable and thrilling the Jatons were in creating a soundstage that not only enveloped the
listening space, but made that lovely illusion of instruments and vocalist -- heres
that audiophile word again -- palpable within it. I wasnt just lightly
intrigued or moderately involved -- I was mesmerized.
One characteristic that showed up from time to time through
the Reals, with recordings that themselves were a bit bright, was a tendency for the
speakers to sound somewhat forward. The country-rock classic "Hot Burrito #1,"
written by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman in their heyday with the Flying Burrito
Brothers, and performed by the Mavericks on Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to
Gram Parsons (Almo Sounds AMSD-80024), did indeed sound hot -- not the
performance itself, but the recording. Raul Malos soaring lead vocal sounded
overdriven and a bit in-my-face.
The A&V-803 wasnt what Id call a forgiving
speaker -- it masked no harshness in a given recording. Older classical CDs -- such as
EMIs Great Artists of the Century series (which are mostly digital transfers
of older analog recordings), or just plain bad ones (such as almost any Tallis Scholars
disc on the Gimell label) -- sounded much the same through the Jatons: a bit etched and
edgy, the ribbon tweeters perhaps picking up the overabundance of high-frequency
information on these early or flawed digital recordings. Removing the grilles alleviated
some of this, as they seemed to consistently bottle up the highs. I strongly suggest using
the grilles as attractive protection for the drivers while idle, but removing when the
speakers are in use.
Yet other recordings, such as early digital transfers of
1970s analog recordings, came through wonderfully. "My Yellow Ginger Lei," an
old hapa-haole (sung half in English, half in Hawaiian) song written by John
Keawehawaii and performed as a choral piece by the six high-tenor voices of the
Makaha Sons of Niihau, sounded light and airy as a breeze making a soft au`ana
hula through Waikiki. Both Kamakawiwoole brothers, the famed Israel (Braddah Iz)
and the elder Skippy, sing on this tune, joined by four more tenors in this seminal band
from the Native Hawaiian Renaissance. Accompanying themselves on guitars, standup bass,
and ukulele, the Makaha Sons choral harmonies seemed more like subtly blended floral
perfumes than voices, light as winds with the scent of home: "My heart is yearning
for you, / My awapuhi . . ." The Jaton speakers were capable of presenting multiple
voices in close harmony without turning them into a surfy hash or veiling them in a haze
of mild incoherence. What came through was music open and clear as the flat, calm waters
of a lagoon.
With pure analog recordings, the sound was much the same:
the Real A&V-803s produced tonal saturations, expanses of soundstage, and an alluring
organicity that sometimes had me shaking my head. "I Cant Get Started,"
that old jazz standard, never sounded so fabulous as when I heard it through the
A&V-803s. In the version by Charles Mingus and the Jazz Workshop (LP, United Artists
UAL 4036), John Handys solo alto sax was possessed of something both achingly
friable and yet chthonic, a solo song of the earth, rocking on its haunches and warbling
from an enduring mystery, intoning messages intended for all the good within us. I got up
and cued this track again and again, playing the music as if it were a lapping tide I
could step into repeatedly.
I compared the Jaton Real A&V-803s with my Von
Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers ($15,000 per pair, when available). The Jatons couldnt
reach as deeply (the VR5s go down to 20Hz), or produce the swift, well-defined, dramatic
drumstrokes the Von Schweikerts are capable of with orchestral recordings like
Stravinskys The Rite of Spring, performed by Valery Gergiev and the Kirov
Orchestra (CD, Philips 289 468035-2) -- they just didnt have that kind of slam. But
the Jatons soundstaging was definitely deeper and wider, and that depth and width
felt more organic, too -- a spacious stage filled with instruments that, though not
absolutely sharply defined in terms of sonic image, arranged themselves within it,
appropriately spaced and located. The music spread out taller, wider, and more deeply than
with the VR5 HSEs. And much like the VS speakers, the Jatons cabinets were not
inert, but imparted a pleasing tone that was ever so slightly warm and sweet. Jazz and
classical piano sounded especially vibrant and full of harmonic overtones and saturated
The Jaton Real A&V-803s possessed that indefinable
quality of pure musicality to such a degree that I found myself regretting that my time
with them was coming to an end. Different and perhaps technically less capable than my
reference Von Schweikerts, the Jatons, fed sufficient power by the amp(s), nonetheless had
a sweet coherence that never failed to produce music, no matter the genre.
Add to these fine sonic qualities their eminently affordable
price, and it seems a no-brainer that I should strongly recommend the A&V-803s. Though
they may not excel at anything you can point to right away (their strong soundstaging
notwithstanding), and though their oversized binding posts may prove vexing to some, these
handsome speakers are capable of being captivating in ways that, through the pure
enjoyment of music, might just bring out the latent goodness within you and without you.
. . . Garrett Hongo
Jaton Real A&V-803 Loudspeakers
Price: $6000 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
556 S. Milpitas Blvd.
Milpitas, CA 95035
Phone: (408) 942-9888
Fax: (408) 942-7788