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Second Thoughts: Digging into the eFicion F300

My listening room

As Luck would have it

Bruce Jacobs, the self-described Old Audio Dude (and the Sales Manager for loudspeaker manufacturer eFicion), is wily fox. Given that the eFicion F300 loudspeakers that I had been so enamored of at RMAF 2011 were, by some wild and happy coincidence, only “a few miles away” at Jacob Heilbrunn’s place, Bruce put two and two together and got another audio dude who’d be willing to grab the speakers from Heilbrunn — and therefore keep him from having to ship them anywhere.

I’m under no illusions that this wasn’t a totally random and lucky score for me — that a real reviewer like Jacob (who writes for TAS and TONEAudio, in addition to his day job) lived reasonably close — I’m sure shipping these bastages is not only a pain, but not really affordable. Four boxes, all triple-boxed, bulky and dense = 300lbs per loudspeaker and one very tired mover-monkey. Thank goodness I had a hand-cart. And a friend to help me muscle them into the car, because without these things, I’d have actually had to lift the boxes myself. Heh heh. However, as a result of all of my hard effort, I got a pair of great-condition and thoroughly broken-in loudspeakers. Sweet!

As an aside, my buddy and I also got the royal treatment — Heilbrunn let us hang out a bit and hear what a real top shelf system can do. At that point, he was using the giant Wilson speakers and subs with Ypsilon electronics, dCS for digital and a Caliburn for analog. Yeah. Wow. Just wow. Which leads me to my next point ….

Hey, audio people! Hello? Yeah, I just wanted to say that I totally volunteer to take the next set of Jacob’s leftovers and/or anything he might choose to review! Okay? Hey! Hmm. Hello? [Tap, tap.] Is this thing on?

It’s a droid

“What I need is a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaporators.”

It’s remarkable that a film I first saw 35 years ago still has the power to so completely capture my imagination. I was a starry-eyed little kid when Star Wars came out, and for me — like many — it was this movie that unzipped my young imagination to scatter worlds of possibility in front of me like so many flashing jewels. No, it wasn’t the defining moment in my young life, but it was a defining moment, an event that showed me what’s possible, perhaps for the first time, clearly marking the boundary between ordinary and amazing. That said, perhaps I’ll be forgiven for the occasional lapse into childhood obsessions. I mean, it’s wired-in at this point — I can’t really help myself.

Now at home, somewhat wrung out and rubbery from all the muscle relaxers I slugged on arrival, I was as fortified as I was going to get so it was time to wrangle the giant boxes into my listening room. Cranes, forklifts, and two local dudes thoughtfully named “Bubba”, a sixpack of beer (each) and yet another round of drugs later, the giant boxes finally disgorged some big, glossy bits. Carefully positioning the base cabinets and oh-so-gently settling the top cabinets in place and wiring them in … all I could think of was Jawas. Specifically, that I was a Jawa, chortling away as I happily re-assembled the bastard offspring of Darth Vader and R2D2 in order to sell it to some poor schmuck stuck way out on a moisture farm. Hello, Uncle Ben? You out there?

Perhaps that’s not entirely fair. I mean, is every short, angular, two-piece loudspeaker, clad in an impressive piano black finish, going to inspire this kind of comparison?

Well … Yes. Yes it is.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this aesthetic, but the visual of this eFicion does invite that kind of comparison. Perhaps it is childish of me to (helpfully) point out all Star Wars referents wherever they may hide, but hey, that’s why I get paid the big bucks.

So, here you go — with the big bass-cabinet grills on and the little silver Stillpoints footers, it looks like a droid. It just does.

eFicion F300 “naked” — grills off

Full face of eFicion F300, with Stillpoints, and grills off

Close up of bass cabinet driver — molded carbon fiber

Search your feelings! You know it’s true — they’re TOTALLY related

Design

“Oh, oh, that’s much better. Wait… wait. Oh, my! What have you done? I’m BACKWARDS. You flea-bitten furball! Only an overgrown mop-head like you would be stupid enough to…”

Got Droid? Huzzah! Happily, evoking fond childhood memories was only the start of the eFicion F300′s marvelosity. Let’s break it down — there are 4 drivers, but it’s really a 3-way design. The coolest of this bunch of sound-makers — and that’s saying something — is the front-firing AMT tweeter. If you’ve never heard of an AMT, go check it out. No, it’s not a ribbon. In short, an Air Motion Transformer doesn’t really do it’s thing in anything like the traditional way — the damn thing works like an accordion. If you’re wondering why not use a ribbon like a RAAL, designer Peigen Jiang said it was a pretty simple decision — the AMT is just quicker. And fast is good — think “transient impact” and “leading-edge definition” and you’re getting the idea of how this helps. However, PJ’s main issue with AMT drivers, and one shared by anyone looking to use them effectively, is integration — or, more specifically, the lack of it. PJ perhaps accidentally-on-purpose calls it “disintegration” as he points to the primary complaints that many have voiced about the original ESS/Heil designs. Seems that mating an AMT with a standard driver gets you a hot mess (I’m paraphrasing).

AMT and molded carbon-fiber mid-woofer

AMT tweeter

Close up of the AMT tweeter

Face of the top cabinet

To avoid this, PJ chose a dual-layer carbon-fiber driver, stuffed with “poly-glass” to provide damping. Using molded carbon fiber, not woven, gives dramatically enhanced rigidity, and according to PJ, this material, made by DuPont for aerospace applications, is the hardest material in existence. Add the appropriate voice coil magnets and what you end up with is a super-fast, super-linear driver with great tone. The contour of the cone is unusual as well; Magico is the only other manufacturer PJ knows of that that also uses this particular contour for their driver cones, but then, Magico chose a woven-fiber model that was cheaper and provided less rigidity. PJ is pretty smug about this.

For the detail-oriented freaks, the crossover is a 3rd order from AMT to mid-range driver, at 1,300Hz; a 4th order to the woofer happens at 11oHz. The rear-firing ribbon “super tweeter” cuts in at 9kHz.

What else to say? Hmm. Yeah — both cabinets are ported, but the top cabinet actually ships with the reflex port capped with a (removable) rubber plug. PJ suggests that the plug remain in when used with the bass cabinet as this makes for a more seamless transition to bass cabinet. When used without that bass cabinet, the plugs come out and the bass of that top unit extends down considerably. Why would you do that? Well, the top cabinet can be used as a remarkable stand-mount speaker, or perhaps as an ideally matched center channel. The lateral dispersion of the AMT makes it a natural here.

Speaking of which, there’s the matter of toe-in. With a beaming speaker, say one with a ribbon tweeter, toe-in is rather important. Sit too off-center and you simply will miss what a ribbon brings — hence, most loudspeakers leveraging ribbons typically suggest setting the speakers up to fire directly into the listening position. But with the AMT, there’s plenty going on to the sides — which means that toe in isn’t really necessary unless you’ve got space (say over 9′) between them. I set mine up in a variety of ways, but ended up settling somewhere near the recommended 30° off dead-on (over my shoulders) as this gave me the widest sound stage and interfered the least with the sides of my narrow 14′ front wall setup.

I left the bass cabinet grills on most of the time, but for no particular reason other than they tended to remind me less of Mike Wazowski that way. I left the grills off the top cabinets because they sounded better (less veiled?) without them.

The finish on the cabinets is pretty. It’s also a PITA. Aside from the inevitable issues with fingerprints and dust, they’re a complete nightmare to photograph. I deliberately (yeah, that’s it) choose to not dust and polish for some of these pics just to give you a feel for what I’m talking about — that’s a service that I provide. Yep. Okay. Anyway, the good thing is that the finish is extraordinarily well done — when they’re not dusty and smudged, they’re like black mirrors. PJ tells me that this is because there’s 14 layers of paint on them, all sanded down to a 1,200 grit fine-ness and then buffed out till they glow in the dark. By the way, they’re now available in Storm Trooper white. Come on, say it with me:

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

New white finish for eFicion F300, on display at T.H.E. Show at Newport Beach 2012

Structurally, this is a layered cabinet that isn’t so much braced as it designed to be non-resonant. Soft woods are wrapped in MDF, which is what the outer shell is made of, creating a structure that lends the whole a natural density and mechanical inert-ness. PJ joked that my room’s sidewalls will vibrate more than the enclosures. Not having any sophisticated Stereophile-like testing equipment, I could neither confirm nor deny this outrageous claim. But I did manage to shake the walls quite regularly. I even did the glass-of-water-on-top-while-playing-something-insane trick. No shimmers, ripples, or, well, anything.

Who needs an accelerometer? Yeah! That’s right. Ahem.

Absurdly difficult to photograph that piano black finish

Rear ported top cabinet with ribbon super-tweeter

Super-tweeter and rear port

Super close up of the super tweeter

Options

“Don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease.”

The two cabinets, top and bottom, are not connected in any way other than gravity. If you want, you can certainly just place the top on the bottom and have done. Or, you can use a small pad of that mesh-foam I’ve seen in dish cupboards or in kitchen drawers. PJ actually ships some with the speakers that is color-matched. Not terribly elegant, but better than beige crap my Mom used to use, I guess, and PJ says it’s pretty effective, so there you go. There are other options (of course!), but before we go there, just note that whatever you do, you’re going to need two pairs of 15″ jumpers per side. Yes, that’s four pairs of jumpers.

There’s a crossover in the bass cabinet where the speaker cables come in from the amp. You’ll need “regular” single-wire cables to get to the bass cabinet, and then single wires from the bottom cabinets to the top cabinets. I suppose you could bi-wire to the speakers, or even bi-amp, but the gap between the top and bottom posts is, again, at least 15″, so you’re going to want a big lead on the speaker-ends of those cables. For what it’s worth, I didn’t explore either approach as I was completely baffled by the array of twenty binding posts, a record in my experience, and simply chose the most straightforward approach. Try not to fuck it up, Chewie.

PJ shipped a set of some jumpers with no labels. I think all new speakers come with them, which is nice, and when I asked for details about them, PJ said not to worry, “they’re fine”. And they were — but on the off-chance I could improve things, I also called up Alex Sventitksy of WyWires, who promptly hooked me up with some jumpers that matched my speaker-wire reference, the WyWires Silver v3 speaker cables. Sure enough, this added a bit more speed, fluidity and transparency. I fully expect YMMV, but the point is, if you have speaker cables you like, you’re probably going to want to consider acquiring some matching jumpers, just because you’re probably a freak like that.

Rear of the cabinet, using WyWires jumpers and speaker cables

Rear plate of the top cabinet, WyWires jumpers

Rear plate of the bottom cabinet, WyWires jumpers

Rear cabinet with stock jumpers and WyWires speaker cables

Stillpoints

Back in March, I opined that the Stillpoints Ultras that came along with my set of eFicion F300s were, in fact, indispensable. I think the words I used were “gotta have it.” Bruce Jacobs just happens to also rep for Stillpoints, so that’s probably why he sent me 16 of these little boogers to complement the speakers. At $225 each, this isn’t an insignificant upgrade, especially if you’re feeling frisky, because you can take this to 32 if you opt for Bruce’s ultimate version!

I concluded that “first look” review by pretty much dismissing the footers on the bottom of the cabinet — on my Berber carpet, their contribution and/or impact was negligible. Hardly a ringing endorsement for spending another $1,800 on a speaker that retails for $16,900 a pair.

That said, I concluded just the opposite for the top cabinet — the Ultras added significant amounts of resolution to just about all portions of the audio band, excepting, perhaps, the deepest bass. I was impressed.

Well, it’s been six months and I stand by those findings. Sort of.

Start with the bass cabinets. Those Stillpoints footers are still useless on my carpet. That is, useless on a plush carpet or carpet with a dense, layered pad — think “installed” as opposed to “throw”. For those of us with a rug over wood, or better yet, bare wood, stone or tile floors, I have completely changed my tune. If this is you, get your eFicions with Stillpoints.

I finally bought a platform to slip under my speakers. It took some searching, but I eventually settled on some 24″ x 24″ x 1″ TerraStone platforms from edenSound. Slipping these under the eFicions did something unexpected — the bass tightened up. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but now the bass was … more. Deeper, faster, tighter — that kind of thing. Love this “tweak” — for me, it’s now a must-have.

Back to the Ultras — but now on the top cabinet. The slightly shorter Stillpoints OEMs improved the imaging and increased clarity and really did seem to aid the resolution of the system. But they seemed more important when the entire cabinet sat on TerraStone. Simply put, everything was better in that situation. Not perfect, just better.

Here’s the problem, I think. It has to do with the AMT — that tweeter does amazing things. It’s fast, it’s resolved, it’s natural, it’s — in a word — awesome. But while it has some serious lateral dispersion, vertical dispersion is another story.

PJ recommends that his speaker sit at ear level — that is, the AMT should sit at ear level. It’s a big driver, so this is a 5″ window. Har har har. No, really, the driver is large — but the vertical dispersion simply isn’t what you’d expect from a traditional tweeter. It’s more like a “regular” ribbon — that is, it’s fairly direct. Get too far off the plane and you lose stuff. And that’s the rub.

With the TerraStone platform, I gain an inch. If I put spikes under that platform (like I’m supposed to, I’m sure), I add to that. Then, add the Stillpoints Ultras — another 1.5″. Add in the Stillpoints OEMs between the two cabinets and you add another 1.3″. For those of you keeping track, that’s almost 4″ additional height to the tweeter. And for me, with my slouchy POÄNG chair from Ikea, well … I’m really at a disadvantage. Sitting in this chair, my ears are already on the low end of the “good range”, and now, with all these increases, my ears sit square-on with the mid-range driver. Clearly, I’ve not achieved an ideal listening position. Like, at all. So, what do I need to do? I need to bring my ears up — because when I do, I hear more. Lots more. I needed a new chair. Moving my desk chair over, a height-adjustable Herman Miller Aeron, sorted all this out smashingly. It just took me a long while to figure out what was going on and adjust accordingly.

Anyway, all this adds up to a cautionary tale — I think the Stillpoints do add value. I’m not sure that the value is universally realizable, per se, but for those of us with good chairs and hard floors, I’d recommend going for it. I’m a bit on the fence about the Stillpoints that separate the top from the bottom, now, though, for reasons of height. Interestingly, Bruce agrees — and his 32-Stillpoint version actually counter-sinks the devices into both the top and the bottom cabinets, making the whole structure more stable — and reducing that gap. I think some version of this is the way to go, and Stillpoints may have actually come up with some super-low-profile alternatives that are worth exploring. Contact Bruce or PJ if you have questions about how much this is going to cost, or what your current options are.

One last point — you’ll need two sets of four Ultras for the bass cabinets, or, one Ultra per corner. Do not get two sets of four, however, for the top cabinets. I found that leveling a top cabinet on four of the Ultras was absurdly tricky — but three was a whole other story. Two in the back and one in the front (or vice versa), and all was happiness and sunshine. Just something to keep in mind.

Stillpoints isolator between cabinets

Stillpoints on top and bottom cabinets, on TerraStone platform

Stillpoints Ultras, set of three

Stillpoints Ultras, set of three, alternate view

Stillpoints Ultras with optional threaded adapters

Stillpoints Ultras on TerraStone platform

Stillpoints Ultras

Stillpoints Ultras

Alternatives

A couple of months ago, I received a review package from Symposium USA, filled with Rollerblock Jrs, Point Pads, and Svelte Plus platforms. One of the first things I did was to try out the Rollerblocks as an alternative to the Stillpoints Ultras on the eFicion. I slipped a set of Point Pads, and later, a Svelte shelf, between a set of Rollerblock Jr and the top cabinet to further isolate the two halves of the speaker.

Aside from an alarming (but harmless) tendency to rock — this is a deliberate part of the design — the two speaker halves did actually stay together and nothing went [boom!]. But altogether, all these bits stacked up, pushing the tweeter higher and higher. That aside, the Rollerblocks and Svelte Shelf/Point Pads were very effective in isolating the two cabinets and I did feel that the the combo brought I nice clarity to the presentation, if pretty much indistinguishable from the improvements with the Stillpoints OEM devices. The rocking to and fro, however, was niftier. Just … unnerving. A pair of 10″x14″ Svelte shelves retail for $600 and two sets of Rollerblock Jrs come in at $340, which makes that setup (@ $940) a bit cheaper than a set of six Ultras (@ $1,350), so, something to keep in mind.

I can also recommend a far less costly alternative — a trio of Big Fat Dots from Herbie’s Audio Lab. If you’re talking best bang for your buck, Herbie is always worth checking out. Six of the dense little Dots will set you back a whopping $63, and as a bonus, my separation between cabinets actually shrank to less than an inch. This lowered the required height to center my ear on that tweeter, which was great — and it also made the overall look and feel significantly more “intentional”, if that makes any sense. The “all new” dBNeutralizer formula is the tiniest bit compliant (but still not squishy), which makes the top cabinets altogether more stable and completely eliminates the nagging fear that one or the other of the top cabinets is going to slide right off that mirror finish and plunge to a fiery death with much wailing and gnashing of teeth — or that placing, moving, or removing one of the fancy metal aftermarket footers is going to scratch all that beautiful inky black right to hell.

I can confidently say that the Big Fat Dots worked a treat. Were they as effective as the Stillpoints? Well, it depends on how much cash you have on hand. If your knees got all rubbery at the thought of a $17k price tag for the speakers, and the very notion of an additional $3,600 for a set of 16 Stillpoints Ultras is going render you into a gibbering horror, then yes — the Dots were awesome. But just between you and me, the Ultras were a little more refined — and quite frankly, there just isn’t a comparison between the levels of fit and finish. The Ultras are a fantastic widget and look and feel really well made — so if that sort of thing turns your crank, you’re all set.

Symposium Rollerblock Jr, tried as alternate to Stillpoints Ultras as an interface between cabinets

Symposium Rollerblock Jr with Symposium Svelte platform as an alternate interface between cabinets

Big Fat Dots from Herbie’s Audio Lab

eFicion F300 with Herbie’s Big Fat Dots as an interface

Piano black finish is a dust magnet, but here’s the Big Fat Dots sandwiched between the cabinets

eFicion F300 with Stillpoints footers and Big Fat Dots as between-cabinet interfaces

Furious Sound

“Did you hear that? They shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness.”

So, everyone remembers the Self Evident Truths About Reviewing, right? I’m not you, your system isn’t mine, YMMV, blah blah blah. That stuff. The fact that I love or hate something is not a license to blow your retirement savings, blah blah and yet more blah. Okay? Okay. Okay, with that said, let me re-start this section by saying this: the eFicion F300s are the best sounding loudspeakers I’ve had in my listening room.

What I loved most? Deep bass. At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s something very different going on in a system that sports a full-range loudspeaker. Yes, sure — one of the things you’re very likely to read in just about any review of a loudspeaker that isn’t full range will be something to the effect of: “I was really surprised at how deep the bass went.” Sure, some just don’t do that, but the ones that can hit 35Hz with a hammer will create a stir — and rightfully so, since most music “lives” above this and most music really doesn’t need to insert a depth-charge every few stanzas.

But grab your trance music, your techno pop, your hip-hop — or anything else that routinely injects a (most probably artificially) deep bass line, and there’s this inevitable “lightness of being”. My Joseph Audio Pulsars, a relatively compact stand-mount speaker, hits bass in the 40Hz region with a disturbingly amount of authority. But … when I put on album, like, say, Jem’s Finally Woken, on tracks like “Come On Closer”, that baby got punch, but not a lot of back, “if you know what I mean”, he said with a leer. Har har. Har? It’s true, though — moving over to Chris Jones’ Roadhouses and Automobiles, the track “No Sanctuary Here” is just missing some of the ominous rumble that I know is there, or could be there. It’s something that, say, a full range loudspeaker would bring out. Like, for example, the eFicion F300. On both those tunes, these bass accents come out nice and round — instead of feeling truncated, they feel full with good definition and decay and a clean, natural extension into the dark, nether places where goblins and trolls dwell. On Lori McKenna’s album Lorraine, the track “The Luxury of Knowing” has this bass note that feels like someone dropped a pool table into a swimming pool. On the Pulsar, it’s there and there is punch, but on the F300, it’s a wonder that the walls don’t flex. It’s a big sound.

Okay, so yes, I’m a bass freak. I’m not ignoring the midrange, but that’s a different animal. Honestly, most speakers just don’t fuck this up — the errors here tend to be in voicing with perhaps too much or too little of this or that, something smarter people (than me) tend to associate with the crossover. Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but there is a point. Isn’t it a maxim that this is precisely what you don’t screw up? Right. So, what I try to listen for is detail, imaging, layering/dimensionality and tone — you know, the usual suspects. Some speakers simply set some of this information backward into the presentation — I recall a trip to a local dealer to listen to the big Revel Salon 2 loudspeakers, and found just this — in that system. I played a gold CD of Tigerlilly from Natalie Merchant and the vocals were pushed back, recessed — that is, compared to what I heard at home on my then-reference loudspeakers. Might have been a setup thing, but whatever it was, it was uninspiring. Anyway, the F300 doesn’t do that at all. Tigerlilly, here, was actually fun and interesting to listen to, with as natural a coherence as I’ve found. Vocals were rich, warm and inviting — but not too much so. If you’re a big fan of the carbon-fiber splatter-pattern cones currently on a Fritz Carbon 7 or the Merlin loudspeakers, you may find the F300 tone a bit clearer, a bit faster, more pure, less syrupy. Or maybe not. I did.

Detail retrieval falls on the high side of the systems I’ve heard and played with, but it’s not emphasized or particularly obvious, if that makes sense. Ambient cues, conversations, and odd noises in live recordings like, say, Jazz at the Pawnshop, seem real and realistic and present, but fall a bit short of the very best systems. I’m thinking, specifically, of how the TIDAL loudspeakers tend to render the audio picture with more pixels. Not a knock to any alternative design, but in my experience TIDAL speakers are like an Apple MacBook with a Retina Display verses one without — there’s just more information there. Is all that real? Hard to say, but it certainly is breathtaking. Barring that, the eFicion falls closer to the Pulsar (detailed, by not hyper-detailed), but the F300 does show more layering, imaging and dimensionality. Delineation and location on the sound stage is crisp and precise, and the best I’ve had in-house.

Some of this is due to the superb AMT driver — that thing is amazing. Shimmer, zing, and decay are in the “best I’ve heard” category, taking a second seat only to certain diamond tweeters I’ve heard. At no point, and with no amp pairing, was I able to tip the AMT tweeter into the Bad Place. With my biggest, baddest amp, the decay on cymbal strikes, violin strings and some fancy guitar moves was, again, the best I’ve heard in-house. Shit recordings merely sounded flat instead of painful — the CD version of 21 by Adele, for example, was almost pleasant to listen to. I still need to pick up the LP version just to see if the rumors are true and that those mastering engineers didn’t crush the life out of this music.

So, aside from the bass response, which is addictive as all hell, the thing that “got me” about these speakers was very straightforward — dynamics. Coming off my beloved Magnepan 3.7s, the F300s when fed the good stuff, jumped. Moderately high sensitivity with a high-gain system and oodles of power on tap, and it was like pouring my system a big cup of high octane “Morning Buzz” coffee. I was up out of my seat and jammin’ to Rodrigo y Gabriella, blowing the horn with the Jazz Messengers, and beating a 360° drum kit with Neal Peart, and again with the Blue Man Group. Hell, I even danced. Dude. I’m a middle-aged white guy, married, with kids. I don’t dance. And no, I’m not going to tell you “to what”. That shit is too embarrassing.

Systems and Gear

“I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you near-sighted scrap pile. And don’t let me catch you following me begging for help because you won’t get it.”

I was lucky enough to try out several sets of supporting gear (aka, “amps”) in my quest to make the eFicion F300s sit up and bark like dogs. Or sing like Ella. I mean, you know, make great sounds. So, for fun, I thought we’d do a quick tour of what changes when I swap out amps. I mean, I have them — so why not?

Hmm. Actually, that “why not” is a pretty good question. Here’s an answer: it turns out that the speakers, alone, don’t really have a sound. I mean, they certainly have a look, but unless you run the juice through them, they’re just furniture. Ha ha. Okay, perhaps less obviously, a loudspeaker, when it’s paired with an amp, is the start of a system, and I think that context tends to have some value. Capiche? Okay than — let’s contextualize.

Baseline

PJ actually designs, voices, and shows his speakers with amps from Plinius, so it’s hardly any surprise that the match with my top-of-their-line $17,000 SA-Reference is outstanding. The level of control and finesse that the big amp shows with this speaker is reference caliber. Bass is very deep — if you’re wondering, this is where the cliche of “cavernous bass” comes from.

I have a few favorite torture tracks that I trot out at shows. One is a track I mentioned earlier from Jem, “Come On Closer”. Like a lot of pop, there’s a crushing bass line that can make the sidewalls flex, kinda like it’s firing giant canonballs of sound right down the length of the room. I used this track on a side trip at NYAV to hear the giant new Sonus Faber speakers set up at a dealer up there. It wasn’t kind, as that room had at least two suckouts in the deep bass that this track cast spotlights on. Here, on the F300 and powered by the Plinius, I laughed like a schoolgirl at the difference in, and continuity of, the bass reach. With this amp, these speakers, and in my listening room, the sub line tracked right down-down-down with thunder and authority and not a hint of loss, drop-off or suckout. My wife, upstairs and half a house away, thought a nearby quarry was blasting.

Nothing hits like a Plinius. Nothing. Skadoosh.

Tubes?

At 89dB, this eFicion doesn’t exactly need 250wpc to punish your neighbors, but it can’t hurt, can it? Hmm. Well, probably not, but at 8ohms nominal and 6.4ohms minimum, the F300 appears to be relatively easy to drive. In fact, this sort of stat probably has you wondering about tubes. Well, it got me wondering, but I don’t really have a lot of high-output tube amps on hand — if I did, they’d have been on here like white on rice.

But I did have one. A Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated amp, at $2,200, is probably not a valid comparison point, but it is a 90wpc tube amp. Swapping out the stock driver tubes turns this amp into a refined, slamming, beast — and it’s one of my favorites. Deep bass control? Oh yeah. The big Tung Sol KT120 tubes grab those woofers and shakes ’em with authority. Yes, the grip on the big bass woofers is a little less tight than the big Plinius — but this is hardly a serious complaint. I mean, seriously. Eight times the cost really ought to bring something to the table, no? Yeah. Exactly! But … the sound coming out of the speakers has this seductive, silky quality. With this setup, attempting to not pay attention produced a pair of hands, placed gently on my cheeks, turning my head around toward the sound. Not like “head-snapping”, but really hard to ignore. Micro-detail is a bit pushed back, but extension on both ends is clean and clear. Got a better “big tube” amp? I think you’ll be thrilled. My first thought was a pair of bigger Rogues, or perhaps Conrad-Johnson’s LP125M. Give it a shot and get back to me on that, okay?

So, yes to tubes? Sure! But my recommendation is to go big. That’s no lightweight voice coil — you want some power. A loaner Audio Space Reference 3.1 300b and a Border Patrol P20 (also a push-pull 300b) both sounded “good”, but neither ever really hit “great”.

Stick with the big power tubes.

Another alternative

The best solid-state substitute I was able to lay my dirty little Mitt Romney’s on was a First Watt J2. This little amp has a whopping 25wpc output, but has a clear, sweet treble to add to a surprisingly firm hand on the bass. The match here with the eFicion was very welcome. While not as warm as the Plinius in Class A mode, the J2 is much quieter and probably because of this, it’s also more transparent. My “Cricket Test” is a silly way to see if ambient cues buried down into the mix are lost, brought forward, or held stable but still audible. And sure enough, with the J2, the crickets from Chris Jones’ “Roadhouses and Automobiles” were more present, more integrated, but … the sound stage was little less 3D. Now, don’t get too excited — these are all rather fine distinctions, but I do wonder what would have happened if that First Watt was good for 50 watts, or even 100. I think that could have been devastating. Interestingly, both Jason Serinus and Ray Seda used big Pass Labs amps on their eFicions and quite liked the combo. Whatever — I have to admit that, at $4,000, the J2 is less than ¼ the price of the big Plinius and is most definitely not ¼ the performance.

eFicion F300 with amplifiers from Plinius, First Watt, Border Patrol, and Audio Space, with Nordost Red Dawn LS cabling

eFicion F300 with amplifiers from Odyssey Audio, Plinius and First Watt

Comparisons

“Sir, I don’t know where your ship learned to communicate, but it has the most peculiar dialect.”

I’ve had a few speakers through the catbird seat that have really rocked my boat. Each had something that really caught my ear or at least my imagination. Some of my favorites I’ve listed on the Most Wanted page. Others have vanished into the mists of my crap-ass memory. But let’s run down the list, shall we? Okay!

The F300 plays deeper than my Joseph Audio Pulsars. Obviously. It plays deeper than my Magnepan 3.7 (perhaps less obviously). It plays deeper than a Merlin or the shockingly lovely-sounding Living Voice IBX-R2 speakers that left recently — and in the case of those latter two, it also plays more linearly as both of them wander around in a country also called “warm & smooth”. The eFicion also errs on the side of warmth but still presents more detail than everything else in my stable.

The speaker-in-residence that came closest to the eFicion, at least in terms of scale and sonic impact, is the Tekton Pendragon. That speaker is a marvel, and at $2,500, is probably the best deal in audio’s high end. It’s physically imposing and sports a pair of big drivers, arranged over and under a trio of tweeters, and plays hella loud and goes way deep. It’s amazing and I heartily recommend that speaker to just about any and all. But reading a recent Home Theater Review article, you might be tempted to also believe that the Pendragon is the Second Coming … but, no. Look, while I do agree unreservedly that this Tekton is an outstanding speaker, I’m going to have to ever-so-gently suggest that the review in question might be a bit hyperbolic. Maybe. Okay, a lot. Comparing these two loudspeakers directly, the Pendragon and the F300, I found the bass on the eFicion to be tighter and more defined, and a significantly enhanced degree of elegance flowed up the frequency chain from there. The Pendragon is an outstanding speaker, a total monster, so don’t get me wrong. But the eFicion is a whole other thing. Sometimes, spending 7x the money actually gets you something tangible — this is clearly one of those cases, and I say that without taking anything from the achievements of the big Tekton. This eFicion is very special.

Endings

“I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, Artoo: let the Wookiee win.”

I’ve had these things in house now for just over six months and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and the sheer pleasure of being able to listen to so fine a transducer in the comfort of my own home.

Anyway, before I sign off with a big pair of happy thumbs-up to the prospective buyer, let me very helpfully (that’s how I roll) point you to a set of current reviews on the product that might help round out the picture a bit more fully.

First up, let me suggest a very solid write-up from a fellow Mid-Atlantic prisoner — none other than the aforementioned Jacob Heilbrunn, in the July/August issue of The Absolute Sound. I’d link the article directly, but sadly, this review has yet to make it to the TAS website. So, with the inability to do that, let me take the liberty of quoting:

As far as I’m concerned, the F300 hits all the audiophile buttons and more. It possesses speed, dynamics, transparency, plus a hint of warmth. It represents a superb value. No, it doesn’t possess the room-rocking power of a big Wilson, Magico, or Rockport. But it’s not trying to play in that arena. Instead, it offers a very enchanting and truthful sound that is almost guaranteed to beguile most listeners. I know it did me.

I don’t have anything to add here — he’s right on. The big Magico speakers (and the top-of-the-line Wilsons, which are Jacob’s references), the Rockports, and the others boxing in that weight class, do more. Of course, you’re quadrupling your budget (or more), but hey, we’re talking absolutes here.

Jason Serinus, writing for Secrets of Home Theater High Fidelity, has another view on the eFicion F300 loudspeaker, here. He got to spend two years with the speakers
and was, all in all, rather impressed.

Ray Seda over at Dagogo was so taken with them, he bought his review pair, pairing them with some outstanding electronics from Pass Labs.

As to what I’m going to do with them, I’m not sure. God knows I want them, but while $17k may not be much money to Jacob and others swimming in the deep end of the financial pool, I think it’s an almost unbelievable amount of money to shell out for anything short of a car. Yes, I’ve “gone there” before, but I’m just saying. Yeah, I think I may play dead for a few more months and see if they forget they sent them to me. I mean, maybe they won’t notice this post, right?

Anyway, the eFicion F300 are reference class, to me, and are now my reference for what you can get under $25k in a full range speaker. For their outstanding sound and matching build quality, I have also moved them into my Most Wanted list.

Bravo and well done.

Get your Occasional now
About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

2 Comments on Second Thoughts: Digging into the eFicion F300

  1. “…a real reviewer like Jacob.” PTA dude, you ARE a real reviewer. No bullshit. So, ah, why not review this: http://www.ultraaudio.com/index.php/equipment-menu/286-blue-circle-audio-nsl-stereo-amplifier ?

    • Part-Time Audiophile // September 14, 2012 at 5:20 PM //

      LOL — Bite your tongue, rapscallion! Anyway, the reason I haven’t reviewed those amps is that Blue Circle hasn’t sent ’em to me. I’d love to take a stab at them!

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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