First off, let me state that I am a huge fan of using the original Auratone 5C Sound Cubes for mixing. My usual methodology when mixing is to get tones on my ADAMs while switching my Event subwoofer in and out to reference the bottom end. Then when I feel I have the tones pretty much dialed, I move to the Auratones where I'll make 70% of my balance decisions, referencing the overall mix every few minutes on the ADAMs and NS- 10Ms. I really rely on the Auratones for the mix balance though, based on the old adage that if it sounds good on these, it'll sound good on anything. Could I mix exclusively on the Auratones? No way. My mix would be insanely boomy and brittle. It's essential to reference on all three monitors. I know the kick, bass, and overall bottom-end are right, however, when it sounds good on all three systems-Not too boomy on the ADAMs with the sub, but still audible and balanced on the Auratones. When I achieve this in the studio, 95% of the time, the mixes translate outside of the studio, and clients are happy. I also find that the balance of the midrange, vocals, and guitars is easier to find on Auratones.
The only problem with this scenario is that Auratones are no longer available. I bought two pairs of them about 15 years ago for $80 a pair. Apparently I could sell them on eBay now for close to $400! Enter the Avantone Mixcubes, designed by Avant Electronics to replace the Auratone and even improve upon it. The homage to the Auratone is immediately apparent upon seeing these, but it's also immediately apparent that the Avantones are much better built. The cabinet is much more solid than the flimsy Auratone cabinets were. The speaker wire mounting posts are of a much higher quality. The bottom of the cabinet has a neoprene pad to isolate the speaker and keep it in one place. There's even a mic stand thread so you can mount them on a stand. The Avantones are also shielded, unlike Auratones. The drivers have gone through some significant upgrades from the older Auratone drivers. The Avant website has lots of technical info on the upgrades they made.
The big question is, how do they sound? I disconnected my NS-10Ms and hooked up the Avantones in their place so I could A/B easily between the Auratones and Avantones. In reasearching this piece via Google and the web, I found an online review stating that the Avantones and Auratones sounded nearly identical for all intents and purposes. I'm gonna completely disagree with that statement. (Please note comments from Avant electronics in italics here and elsewhere in this review: "This could of course be due to the fact that Auratones went through several generations of differing drivers and cabinets, and they can have extreme frequency response personality differences. The MixCubes were benchmarked against Auratones that were determined to be the "best of" after testing numerous generations of Auratones. There are severe dips and peaks in the Auratones that have been flattened out in the MixCubes to yield a much more accurate soundscape.") Once I began A/B'ing them, I immediately noticed a difference in sound. I asked my friend, mastering engineer Eric Broyhill, to come in and listen with me to confirm what I was hearing. We listened to a variety of music we were familiar with, and while the Avantones are definitely in a similar sonic ballpark as the Auratones, there were two big differences. The Avantones had much better low-end response. It felt like the Auratones rolled off at about 150 Hz ("Actually, most Auratones started rolling off severely at apx. 250 Hz.") while the Avantones kept going down to maybe 80. (The specs say 90 Hz.) I felt like the Avantones would make it much easier to balance things like kick and bass than the Auratones. The other big difference was in the imaging and upper mids. When switching to the Avantones from the Auratones, the imaging just opens up dramatically. We both felt that there was a gentle peak somewhere between 2.5-3 kHz in the Avantones that wasn't present in the Auratones. Other than those two differences, the Avantones were pretty similar to the Auratones. ("This is probably because you are listening to old speakers that are a bit fatigued from age and also most Auratones had a big dip from apx. 900 Hz to 6.1 kHz... followed with a large spike between 7k and 8k The Mixcubes are very flat throughout that entire range.")
Engineer Thom Monahan was recently in my studio for a week mixing a record for the acoustic folk trio, The Chapin Sisters. Thom's a big Auratone fan but the first thing he did was disconnect the Auratones and replace them with the Avantones, where they stayed for the duration of the mix. Thom said, "I really enjoyed working on the Avantones. They're close to Auratones but with a little more usable low mids. There seemed to be a bit of box resonance to be learned in that particular area that came across a little strange at first, but that extra nudge at around 200 Hz makes them good tools for checking the shape of the bass. The translation between the NS10Ms and the Avantones was a little smoother than the light-speed jump to midrange that you usually get when you switch back and forth to the Auratones. I think they're a winner."
Will I replace my Auratones with Avantones? No. I just have too many years invested in knowing how my Auratones work, even though I think the Avantones technically sound better. I really liked the slightly extended bottom end a lot. The upper-mid peak I'm not so sure about. ("There is no upper mid peak. What your ears are perceiving as a peak is actually the flat response of the MixCubes compared to a big frequency drop-off in the original Auratones between 2.9-6.1kHz.") I like the fact that the Auratones have no top end. It helps me balance the mids better, and I find them less fatiguing. But, if somebody fries my Auratones, I'm not gonna spend $400 on a used pair. I'll buy some Avantones and learn how to use them in place of the Auratones, because one really great feature of the Avantones is that adjusted a bit for inflation, they cost about what the Auratones used to cost: $169 a pair, brand new with a warranty.
The bottom line is that these speakers are a very welcome addition to the pro audio monitors available. If you don't already own a set of Auratones, I strongly suggest you pick up a pair of Avantones as soon as you can. ($169 MSRP, www.avantelectronics.com)