This is a story about finding love.
As with most modern day love stories this too involved me sliding into the DMs on social media. Can it get any more contemporary than that? This time it is EgglestonWorks’ Facebook page, and I am in search of a true connection.
Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
EgglestonWorks is an American company located in Memphis, TN and a manufacturer of high-end loudspeakers that start from just under $5K and climb to over $150K a pair. They’ve been in business for nearly two decades, and have placed countless loudspeakers into audiophile home stereo systems around the world as well as some of the most successful recording studios in the industry. Their production model loudspeakers have shown brightly on the covers of several major hi-fi print-based publications, and have garnered awards annually. We’ve even covered EgglestonWorks progress in the audio show circuit for some time now (read more HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE) during my time at Part-Time Audiophile.
However it is the custom EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers I write about now that do not fall into that previously detailed range of cost, or consideration. It should be stated outright that these Hotel Speakers are currently not a market-ready product, not intended for mass production nor consumer sale. Yet they are definitely an experience to be had by audiophiles the world over. The “Hotel Speakers” as we shall call them for this review are part of a larger exhibition of custom crafted loudspeakers that grace the lobby, bar, terrace, and guest rooms of the Central Station Hotel located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The EgglestonWorks speakers installed at the hotel range from the minuscule “guest room speakers” that I am reviewing here to the gargantuan speakers I hope to one day cover that sit above the hotel bar. In between it all, some of the standard production models from EgglestonWorks product line have made it into special listening areas, where the general public can experience what it’s like to be an audiophile, if only for a few days.
Subscribing to EgglestonWorks on Instagram as I do, I was able to follow each of the new custom speaker designs as they were developed, and follow the assembly process as it came to be. Along with following the installation, I felt a real sense of privilege to witness this massive undertaking. Outfitting an entire hotel with what could possibly be “the world’s largest hi-fi hotel exhibition,” seems like a really tall order for a company that still has day-to-day business to contend with. Good show.
What initially struck my fancy was the photos of EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers. Being small two-way, three-driver loudspeakers, they looked every bit like the beefiest satellite speaker ever made. The speakers pictured were donned in glossy Crayola colors. And as they lie in repose at the factory, stacked together, they almost looked to be still wet from the paint booth. They reminded me of candy. Could I eat them?
After weeks or maybe even months of drooling over the photos posted to EgglestonWorks social media channels I succumbed to desire and messaged Jim Thompson, President and Chief Designer of EgglestonWorks. I asked him about the Central Station Hotel project and laid out my own plans for a spring 2020 visit to the hotel, and to the EgglestonWorks factory floor. Along with sharing of ideas, I made an odd request. I requested that he send me a pair of the guest room Hotel Speakers to play with and explore. He obliged, and just a few days later a box much bigger than I expected showed up at the house. Inside the box, enough gray foam to insulate my tool shed twice over, and a pair of expertly wrapped little orange speakers with wall brackets attached.
The EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers stand just short of 11-inches tall, are about 4.5-inches wide, and with requisite wall brackets attached are just over 6-inches front–to-back. The last dimension is more important than the first as the Hotel Speakers don’t exactly stand, they perch. The speaker is a true two-way design with a minimal crossover, and utilizing a front mounted passive radiator for extended bass and tuning. The tweeter looks to be a .75 textile type, and the 3.5-inch woofer and radiator pair (per speaker) each of the aluminum cone type with thick rubber surrounds. Termination on the rear of the small rounded cabinet accepts banana plugs only to save space during installation. Externally the cabinet is finished in a colorful rich glossy automotive paint that begs to be admired and lovingly caressed. Internally the cabinet is a combination of PVC, MDF, and a sprinkling of genius that I will not divulge for sake of this speakers intended use.
The Hotel Speakers as they are, were designed for a wall-mounted application, to which I did experiment with, but found equal successes in placing them on stands or on actual book shelves. In some cases I found myself placing them on top of other stand-mount and floor-standing loudspeakers for extra height. Which circles back in some way to the original intent of them being mounted rather high on the wall.
They Might Be Giants
Okay! Enough faffing about already. Let’s talk about how the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers actually sound. Remember these are made for a hotel guest room. So designing a loudspeaker with the idea of disturbing the neighboring guest rooms with screaming treble and thunderous bass tones, in the end, is not a good business decision. Considering that the Central Station Hotel wants to see itself staying open and at full occupancy, the design of the speaker is near perfect.
That said, these little wonders — small enclosures and all — do have the ability to play loud and big when given ample power, and some gentle nudging of the volume knob. The Eggleston Hotel Speakers have this uncanny ability to change character as the volume knob increases. To start, at low volumes the Hotel Speakers can sound every bit like a pair of clock radios cawing away at vocals, while leaving the bass at home.
Turn them up however, and something good happens. The EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers start to sound like REAL speakers. They do mid-bass right from about 90Hz up, and do ample work at making a case for the tweeter chosen by EgglestonWorks. Turn them up even more, and they begin to turn heads. It’s at this point where you now have to second guess where the sound is coming from with these little orange wonders. Turned up, the Hotel Speakers sound like giants. They paint an incredibly deceiving sonic image and give music played — at considerable volume — a sense of energy and impact that you would swear is coming from much larger speakers. Turn your back on them and you’ll be fooled.
Will the bass of the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers dig as deep as your favourite mid-fi branded 5.25” woofer ported box speaker? Definitely not. How about a 4-incher? You’d actually be surprised how much bass can be found in something like a diminutive pair of 4” woofer’d KEF C1 monitors. To that mention, I did compare the Hotel Speakers and the KEF C1 (out of production). And though the KEF C1 is made for much different duty, it did excel in reaching the frequency spectrum and dynamics better than the Hotel Speakers. But that is to be expected.
Compared to the 3.5” woofer’d desktop offerings from the many popular powered speaker companies like Kanto and Audioengine, I’d say the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers easily handle music with a greater sense of refinement and poise when given some power and volume to work with. The Hotel Speakers also play to a sense of scale that is just larger than those self-powered monitors could ever dare to muster.
On The Road
First stop, the bar.
Yes, I will and do take hi-fi equipment out to bars. Most of the time it’s to play music from or in this case with the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers, just to show off how cute they were. Never had I been asked so frequently about a pair of speakers before as I was when carrying the little hotel speakers out and about. Yes, they did end up being played on the house system at one of my local haunts. Color the drunks impressed.
Second stop, Dave McNair
One of our writers is the famed Dave McNair, whom you may not know him by name, but I guarantee a few of your favourite records he’s either recorded, mixed, mastered, or all three. He’s nearly a golden-eared savant and has discriminating tastes, even for an audiophile. If Dave likes it, it’s good. And though we didn’t get to play the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers in Dave’s system, he did offer up some thoughts on speakers build quality and finish: “Never heard’em, love’em.”
Third stop, Ember Audio + Design
This was more of a goof visit for the Hotel Speakers than anything, but it turned out to be a really lovely showing. Ember Audio + Design may have built the best sounding room in the South-Eastern United States. They’ve been fastidious about tuning the room and experimenting continually to get better and better sound. Some of the most unique custom sound treatments I’ve heard have been in this demonstration room. I can say I heard them, because I’ve heard the room before they newest treatments were installed, and even then it was damn good.
Taking the tiny Hotel Speakers into Ember Audio I was prepared for store owner Christopher Livengood to scoff at them, and cast them aside without thinking twice. But when I walked through the door with the Hotel Speakers in hand, he couldn’t help but be won over by their “smolness” and bright orange color.
I asked if we could hook them up and give them a run, and what happened next was ungodly. Using a Naim Supernait 3 and sources I don’t remember, the little Hotel Speakers lit up a room larger than my first apartment. This my friends, was absolutely shocking. The Naim did well to tame the highs and tighten up the punchy bass. It was a showing to remember. I was lucky to have walked out of the building with them still in hand, because Chris was also crushing pretty hard on those little wonders.
If the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers were a cartoon character they would be “Bamm-Bamm Rubble” of the 1960s American animated television series The Flintstones. Like the infant child, they are tiny and like playing rough. As it is true for Bamm-Bamm, it is also true for the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speaker: they are best enjoyed when using their massive strength to play aggressively. Exhibiting with finesse from either yields no reward.
Would I buy them?
That’s not really a fair question as the EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers are currently not a production ready model, nor designed for the consumer market. That said, I’d easily buy a plane ticket to Memphis and book a few days reservation at the Central Station Hotel just to explore the lobby listening spaces, have a few drinks in the bar, and resign myself to spinning some soft tunes in the guest quarters.
The EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers could become a market ready product with a few simple changes. For instance a more complex crossover, a bigger-and-better tweeter. Include a subwoofer (passive or powered) into the package. And then you’d have a bona-fide challenger on your hands. Something then that I’d consider recommending for small rooms or offices. And potentially entertaining spaces as well.
What the little EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers give me most, in existential terms, is hope. Hope that the world begins to embrace hi-fi as it once did. That spaces like the Central Station Hotel exist elsewhere and closer to home. Hope that other companies follow the path lead by EgglestonWorks in taking hi-fi into the community, and loudly saying, “We are here!”