There always are a number of mini-trends going on at any one time in the high-end. Lately, some of those have includes tape decks, vibration-control devices and integrated amps.
Among speaker manufacturers, the open-baffle concept has been on the rise. Having one or more drivers operating without being sealed in a box is hardly a new idea. But, most of the items mentioned above have long histories as well.
Some early loudspeakers used this basic design. Today’s engineers, however, are thinking up new ways to implement it. At the Los Angeles Audio Show, I auditioned two different brands of open-baffle speakers, and talked to a third company that is preparing to bring its own line to market – and I only made significant visits to about 30 of the 100-plus rooms.
The main advantage of an open-baffle speaker is that it avoids box-generated resonances that can smear the sound. Done right, having a transducer open in back also can increase perceived air and sound-stage depth.
One of the pitfalls engineers have to deal with, however, is how to keep the rear-firing waves from cancelling or otherwise intruding on the front-radiated sound.
I’ve already written favorably about one of the other open-baffle speaker-makers I visited in LA, Spatial Audio. Another company in this category putting on a convincing demo was Emerald Physics.
Emerald–- a subsidiary of Lahaina, Hawaii-based Underwood Hi-Fi — was showing two new models. System one featured Emerald’s EP-2.8 speakers ($9,995 USD), powered by the company’s EP-200.2SE hybrid dual-mono amplifier/controller (also new, $3,495 USD).
In addition, the rig contained a PS Audio Direct Stream Junior DAC with Network Bridge ($3,999 USD), an Emerald Physics bass optimization module ($499 USD), the Core Power Technologies Equi=Core 1800 balanced power conditioner ($1,995 USD) and new Deep Core A/C processor ($995). Sources were a Mac Mini running Audirvana software and a Cambridge Audio CD player.
The EP-2.8 uses Emerald’s 15-inch, carbon-fiber, cast-basket bass and midrange drivers, a new special edition passive, full-range analog crossover and the company’s neo polyester diaphragm compression tweeter. All the drivers were run full range with no DSP.
System two contained Emerald’s EP-3.4 speakers ($4,995/pair USD), driven by a PS Audio Stellar S300 power amp (140 watts per channel, $1,499 USD), a PS Audio Stellar DAC ($1,699 USD), a Sumiko S9 powered subwoofer ($999 USD) and the Core Power Technologies Equi=Core 1200 balanced power conditioner ($1,495 USD). Sources were a PC and Cambridge CD player.
The EP-3.4 is designed to work with a subwoofer. It uses the company’s 12-inch, cast-basket midrange and its polyester-diaphragm compression tweeter — both recently developed.
Emerald Physics recommends the EP-3.4 be run full-range and bi-amped with the Sumiko S9, using the DSP 2.4 electronic crossover (which is included). The EP-3.4 also can be used in smaller rooms without a sub, the company said.
I listened to the EP-2.8 rig, with the selections including two audio-show standards – Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley” and Chris Jones’ “No Sanctuary Here.”
The Vaughan track showed the EP-2.8’s to present a vivid aural picture, with SRV’s guitar rendered with impressive clarity and reverb trails stretching back into a deep soundstage. Bass was taught and deep, and did not seem to be suffering from significant cancellation.
The Jones tune highlighted how effective an open-baffle design can be on the human voice, with even the background vocals benefitting from remarkable focus and spaciousness. Highs also sounded clean and extended, with the tambourine having a lively impact but not becoming distorted.
All in all, Emerald Physics seems to have done a good job with these two new models in minimizing the design challenges of open-baffle speakers, controlling dispersion and still creating an immersive, clean, well-balanced sound.
With the total prices for systems one and two running $20,978 and $10,683 (USD, not including sources and cable), respectively, there should be nothing baffling about wanting to take a closer listen to this take on an interesting mini-trend.