Mordaunt-Short, alongside brands like Cambridge Audio, has been part of Audio Partnership (AP) for a number of years. M-S products are now sold around the world, with Marantz handling UK distribution.
Early on, AP realised the potential of combining UK design talent with low Chinese manufacturing costs. First introduced at the beginning of the century, the original 900- series evolved into Avant 900 and now into Avant 900i. The overall configurations and sharp styling have remained consistent, while core ingredients have been steadily refined.
This £270 per pair Avant 904i is the direct descendant of the Avant 904. It's a simple two-way design, using the same driver line-up as the standmount 902i, but housing them in a floorstanding enclosure.
Although the part of the enclosure that loads the bass/mid driver is larger than the 902i, it doesn't use the whole of the space inside this floorstander. Instead, it leaves a blanked-off section near the base to add mass loading/damping material.
An aluminium 'skin' covers the upper section of the front where the drivers are mounted, and this matches the aluminium alloy used for the drive unit diaphragms. An elliptical 'dished' section around the tweeter recalls an earlier Mordaunt-Short era, and probably acts as a wave-guide. The drivers are actually mounted from behind, giving a super-clean look with hidden mounting hardware. An elegantly embossed name completes the look.
The main driver incorporates magnetic shielding and has a small 100mm diameter dish-shaped diaphragm, described as a CPC (Continuous Profile Cone), further reinforced by small radial ribs just in from the edge. The tweeter has a mesh-protected 25mm metal dome. Stylish bi-wire terminal pairs are mounted low down on the back panel, and moulded 'outrigger' feet improve the mechanical stability. The sharp-edged, slim enclosure is available in either black, maple or a rich 'calvados' woodprint.
In-room measurements indicated and listening tests confirmed that in spite of its small main driver, this speaker was best kept well clear of walls, whereupon it delivered a very respectable bass performance. Naturally there's no great scale or authority here, but what bass there is sounds quite smooth and clean, with more weight than one might expect.
On a high-quality system, this speaker has a lovely open quality that brings good clarity to voices, and makes it very easy to understand speech and lyrics. Stereo imaging is precise and well focused, and well detached from the boxes. However, the sound can get insistent when played loud, and the overall balance might prove bright with some cheaper and less capable electronics.
Although speech does reveal a degree of nasal coloration, the overall neutrality and smoothness of this speaker is perhaps its greatest strength. It has a lightness of touch, and is a good basic communicator. However, overall dynamics are rather muted, and a greater sense of drive and purpose would have been welcome.
The 904i would also benefit from a little more warmth and harmonic richness through the 'cello band. Voices sound a touch thin, while male speech lacks some of its resonant character, but it's a capable design all the same.