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Newport 2012: Emerald Physics

KEF R Series

I’ve seen and heard a half-dozen Emerald Physics demos. The premise is interesting — optimized speaker designs coupled with DSP-controlled external crossovers, and all wrapped up with a custom room correction solution equals some superlative, room-specific, room-optimized, ruler-flat, performance. You want 20Hz in that “room” you call a listening space — the one with all the doors, windows and weird surfaces? Yeah, that one. Well, you’re hosed. Unless you take extraordinary measures. And Emerald Physics promised to make the extraordinary your ordinary.

In the most sub-optimal of show conditions, Emerald Physics was consistent and always had real bass in rooms that otherwise punished their colleagues and competitors. “And if EP could make those rooms work a treat, your room will be cake,” the demo went. Now, the solution doesn’t just fix the bass, though, if you do that, you’ll be amazed at what else clears up.

EP speakers are also “controlled directivity”, much like the Geddes, Amphion, and Gradient designs. The goal of the approach is to minimize, if not eliminate, the early reflections that otherwise muddle and confuse the sound.

It’s a whole-package solution, and I have to say, demos don’t get much more convincing than this.

Anyway, back to Newport. I walked by this room twice, figuring “I’d already done all that” at prior shows. But something caught my eye … “That is no moon.” And then the tractor beams locked. I was caught and pulled in, inexorably, and almost against my will. And that’s when I saw the Big Red Speakers.

That paint job is certainly an eye catcher and marks a distinct change of direction for Emerald Physics. Today, Underwood HiFi and Emerald Physics owner, Walter Liederman was demoing a brand-new release, the soon-to-be-released CS3 Mark II. This speaker is being offered at $3,495 per pair in a black finish (the Corvette red, below, is an optional upgrade). What’s new? Well, everything. The speaker doesn’t require bi-amping, which may be a (welcome) departure for EP, and the drivers are also all-new.

According to the spec sheet Walter handed me, the CS3MkII can do 45Hz-22kHz without a sub — with a sub, well, I guess that depends on the sub. Sensitivity is a high 95dB, but I’m not sure many folks will be using any SET amps with it. The tweeter/mid/bass assembly is coincident, so there’s significant benefits to be gained from time/phase alignment — all good.

One of the key elements in the Emerald Physics approach has been a the requirement for an outboard crossover & DSP. The typical solution was a Behringer DCX24/96, which did the analog-to-digital conversion, to separate the high-low signal to route them to their appropriate amps, and also applied the custom EQ filters required to tame your room.

This unit has been replaced in the latest offerings by a custom unit from Emerald Physics, a small $600 metal box called the DSP2.4. Walter explained that it wasn’t that the Behringer was bad, exactly, but there were some persistent quality control issues that plagued some users, and then there were the users themselves. Even though this was the same unit used as a crossover/DSP in the $13k Sanders Sound solution, the Behringer simply couldn’t shake a mediocre and/or lukewarm reputation in audiophile circles — so out it goes. The new unit will perform the same functions, but do them with custom audiophile parts. Owners can, at need, download custom configuration sets for the particular EP speaker they’re using, and load those into their DSP2.4 via USB.

What else is new? How about amplifiers? There are three new amps bearing the Emerald Physics logo:

  • $800 EP 60.2 — stereo 60wpc into 8ohms.
  • $1500 EP 100.2 — stereo 100wpc into 8ohms.
  • $2000 EP 125.2SE — stereo 125wpc into 8ohms with all the bits upgraded from the EP 100.2, including an upgraded case finish.

All three amps are Class D, but feature an analog power supply. They support both RCA and XLR connections, are Made in the USA, and come with a 3 year warranty.

Following along with an all-Emerald Physics audio approach is a pair of digital-to-analog converters, including the DAC 1, a $199 24bit/96kHz USB decoder and the DAC 2, its upscale $299 24bit/192kHz brother. Both use USB power to feed an ESS Sabre chip and come encased in a fancy all-aluminum block.

Walter also had three new speakers to show at Newport, besides the familiar panels. These three monitor speakers, the $1,200/pair MS3 Mini (shown in black, below), the $1,800/pair MS2 (shown in white) and the $3,000/pair MS3 Isobaric (shown in silver, below).

These monitors are another departure for Emerald Physics, a refrain I’m learning to become used to hearing here. The three speakers are all designed to run without bi-amping, but with a flip of a switch, the new external DSP can be cut in to do a couple of interesting things — including being custom fitted into your room, and being EQ’d to provide considerably deeper/tighter/faster in-room response.

A couple of things to note — the speakers are all custom-CNC’d with only 2 surfaces (top and bottom) actually parallel. The MDF is “stacked” instead of cut, making the cabinets super-dense.

The MS3 Isobaric is, well, isobaric — there’s two 7″ drivers in there. In case you missed the specs, this thing can hit 29Hz flat (-3dB at 27Hz). In. A. Monitor. Helloooo!

Walter was telling me that the plan is to have all three monitors, and the CS3 Mk II, ready to ship in the next 45-60 days. Also taking a bow shortly thereafter will be the CS2.3 Mk II, featuring the same mid/tweeter drivers as the CS3, but pairing it with a pair of big 15″ bass drivers. The new CS2.3 will offered at ~$5,800. The CS2.7 Mk II, the version of the CS2.3 Mk II featuring upgraded drivers, will also be introduced at the same time.

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