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Feature Articles & Reviews
This really is a review of a loudspeaker. Bear with me . . .
I was lounging around, comfy in my leather reading chair, feet resting on the mohair ottoman, cup of cappuccino at my side. I was settling in for our Sunday-morning ritual: My wife and I read the New York Times together, each offering a running commentary on any story that interests us. I stopped short when I found an article regarding a fellow sufferer of the demeaning disease that robs our family’s coffers, steals our precious time, and reduces us to solipsistic know-it-alls regarding pursuits that can best be called arcane. I’m talking about Hoarding Disorder, which The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, aka DSM-5, defines as “A persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.” That description perfectly fit the subject of the NY Times article.
The article was about Zero Freitas, 62, a Brazilian entrepreneur who has scads of money and a serious vinyl jones. His, mine, and maybe your downfall is music. Lots of it. Of course, many of us refuse to see this as a problem. There is a fine line, after all, between the noble pursuit of a collector attempting to create a personal library centered on his or her taste and interests, and the obsessive hoarder. Turns out that Zero wants to buy every single LP on earth. Not just a copy of every vinyl release, but literally every LP ever made. That includes my collection. And yours.
Freitas doesn’t scare me. While I occasionally love to listen to vinyl for its coherent musicality, there are only 1000 or so LPs I couldn’t live without, mostly because they’ve never been released on CD (please oh please, Estate of Blossom Dearie, release her master tapes in high resolution), or the CD editions are abysmal (e.g., various remasterings of the Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow). Long ago, in a moment of weakness, I got rid of most of my vinyl. As I boxed up records I’d never even opened, I kept worrying: What if the greatest song in the history of the world is buried in there? Ultimately, with a big sale to Amoeba Records in San Francisco, I went from 15,000 to 2000 LPs. Where was Zero Freitas when I needed him? He claims he’ll pay more than anyone else for your collection -- even Amoeba!
After hearing the swoopy, ultra-modern-looking Eclipse TD510ZMK2 loudspeakers ($5990 USD per pair), I want all 13,000 of those LPs back.
The Eclipse concept is easy to understand and a booger to implement. Begin with the assumption that the ideal speaker would sound like a point source. That shouldn’t be all that controversial. Next, consider the obvious fact that any loudspeaker that uses more than one driver cannot be a point source. This is why various speaker companies have tried everything from coaxial drivers to carefully tuned crossovers to slanted cabinets to electronic delays. Bose tried nine tiny speakers and an electronic equalizer. Massive planar speakers gave way to folded tweeters. Some engineers got pretty darn close.
Other companies decided to try a single driver. The seductive sound of one-way Lowther speakers inspired dozens, maybe hundreds of other designs, all aimed at the gorgeous sound of the one-way speaker. Unfortunately, most one-way speakers had cones that were too big to be moved 20,000 times per second for the highest treble signals, and/or too small to move enough air to satisfyingly reproduce the lowest frequencies.
In their Eclipse program, Fujitsu Ten Limited has made the single-driver loudspeaker a workable reality. Their description: “The driver is compact, light, rigid, and uses a diaphragm with appropriate internal loss. In addition, an installed powerful magnetic circuit enables [a] quick and accurate stroke that is hard for a large-aperture speaker to achieve.” I am already a big fan of magnets so huge they can make a speaker seemingly float in mid-air. That’s the design goal of two of my favorite speaker companies, ATC and Thiel. But neither of those companies has tried to use so tiny a driver to cover the entire audioband. The TD510ZMK2 (38.1”H x 15”W x 15.3”D, 42.9 pounds each) is available in Black, Silver, and White finishes. The frequency response is an impressive 42Hz-22kHz, -10dB, while the sensitivity is 84dB/W/m. The impedance is listed as 6 ohms.
I lost my bias against tiny drivers years ago, while working at a stereo shop. There, the Rolls-Royces of speakers included Klipsch’s Klipschorn and Bozak’s giant Concert Grand. We carried the “tiny” Bose 901 speaker only because so many customers asked for speakers that wouldn’t dominate their rooms. It had nine 4” “full-range” drivers, an inline electronic equalizer, a decent internal volume, and a decent claimed bass response. We couldn’t believe they would cause enough air to move, so we hung them from the ceiling with a rope. From there, we subjected the Bose 901s to the most pounding rhythms we could find. Lo and behold, they began to sway back and forth with the beat -- clearly, they were pushing some substantial air. Of course, the sound was crap, but the 901’s ability to handle bass left me hoping that someone who cared a bit more about sound would try something with a small full-range driver.
Well, Eclipse is doing just that. Their TD510ZMK2 is a point-source, one-way speaker with a single 3.9” fiberglass driver. As you can see in the photo, the speaker cabinet and stand has a modern, swoopy exterior that should look equally artsy in a downtown loft, a suburban mid-century modern, or a 19th-century farmhouse.
Setup was fast and easy, except for the infuriating design decision to attach the speaker to the stand with nuts and bolts that are lefty-tighty, righty-loosey. Of course, had I been clever enough to read the owner’s manual, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration.
Most of your setup time will be taken up by a very nice touch, courtesy Eclipse’s incredibly creative engineers (how often do you hear those last three words in a row?). The stand has three points that drop into slots molded into the speaker cabinet’s base. By leaving the single setscrew loose, you can slide the speakers up and down and back and forth until the drivers point directly at your ears. Providing this level of adjustment is brilliant and necessary -- the Eclipses’ resolution is so fine that getting the setup wrong can shift the soundstage in odd directions. Save yourself a lot of time and invite over a friend equally audio-obsessed so that one of you can remain seated and listening during the final setup.
“But Wes, does that mean that these are head-in-a-vise speakers?” Well, let’s just say that they reward the listener who’s willing to pay scads of attention to the depth and breadth of the soundstage.
The Eclipses also required a bit of break-in. Listening to them straight out of the box, I heard stunning detail in the upper midrange and high end, but getting the bass resolution to that level required a bit more exercise. Give them a day or two of Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (CD, Warner Bros. 26562-2), and they’ll be ready for anything.
I was intrigued by the Eclipses’ ability to let me hear the room in which the music was recorded, even with mono recordings -- such as 1965, the awesome concert from that year by the ever-so-young Al Jarreau (CD, Bainbridge 2037). “Come Rain or Come Shine” is Jarreau in love with jazz singer Johnny Hartman. His sound is nothing like what he used a decade later, when his pop career began. And even though it’s mono, the Eclipses reproduced some depth of field. Yes, I know -- that’s impossible on a mono recording. Yet it was there, and I could hear it.
However, I quickly discovered that the Eclipses’ tiny little drivers tended to get lost with multi-miked orchestral music or opera. Coherent recordings came through just fine, no matter the size of the ensemble. For example, Karajan’s digital recordings were difficult to listen to. Of course, you can’t blame the speakers for telling the truth about the recording. Still, I found myself listening to smaller ensembles: string quartets, classical guitar, jazz trios and quartets, solo instruments, and duets.
Such as Joe Diorio and Ira Sullivan’s beautifully recorded but hard-to-find duet album, The Breeze and I (CD, RAM 4508). Diorio’s guitar is recorded at a little distance from his amplifier, which allows some room sound. The image of the amazingly talented, sadly underrated multi-instrumentalist Sullivan, on the other hand, is right up against the mike. It’s fascinating to hear his breathing, and the clicking of the keys, as well as the sound of a jazz genius. The Eclipses didn’t hide any of the defects of this ultraclose record.
Sometimes it’s best if you don’t know what you’re listening to. That way, your biases get out of the way and you just listen. That happened to me once in a record store in Tokyo. I heard an incredible jazz guitarist I just couldn’t place doing Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six.” It turned out to be Lee Ritenour, a player I’d always written off, and the album was his testament to Montgomery, Wes Bound (CD, GRP 9697). I hadn’t known Ritenour could play such smokin’ bebop, but another thing I like about Wes Bound is its extremely well-recorded kick drums and various bass instruments. Ritenour’s dazzling, rounded tones in “Four on Six” cruise over a stabbing horn section, and the amazing little Eclipses caught all of the sound.
Gabor Szabo’s High Contrast (CD, Blue Thumb BTS28) should have been co-credited to one of the world’s jazziest soul men, Bobby Womack. This album was Szabo’s first attempt to move into world and soul music, and he’d obviously fallen in love with it. Check out track 1, which Szabo plays like lightning. The Eclipses did an especially nice reproduction of Phil Upchurch’s bass. George Benson was very lucky to have heard this album; he, too, liked this track, and ultimately made well over $1 million with his cover of it. It’s Bobby Womack’s “Breezin’.”
Lately, I’ve found myself more and more fascinated with nearfield listening, but one of the big problems with it is the potential separation of the treble and bass because the speaker’s tweeter(s) and/or midrange(s) and or woofer(s) may not be integrating properly. With a single driver, such problems disappear. And each Eclipse has just one driver.
When I began listening, the Eclipses were about 3’ from the front wall and about 12’ from the sidewalls -- well away from any room boundaries and the sort of problems, aka boundary effects, they create for nearfield listening. I sat 11’ away from each speaker, and they were 6’ apart from each other. Later I moved them much closer: 4’ from me, and 8’ apart.
That might sound as if I ruined the soundstage. I didn’t. If the speakers can handle it, the latter layout can provide one of the most immersive sound experiences you can have with only two speakers. Miles Davis’s “So What,” from Kind of Blue (CD,Columbia), is ingrained in my DNA. Listening with the Eclipses in the nearfield was a wonderful revelation. The sound of the room was clear and the reproduction of the instruments was dead on. There’s not a lot of deep bass in this album, but the sound of the other instruments was amazingly clean and clear, especially Bill Evans’s delicately chiming piano.
The Eclipses seemed unafraid of anything I threw at them, so I pulled out some of the big guns. I upped the volume to realistic levels for “Sleeping Beauty,” from Danny Elfman’s score for Mission: Impossible (CD, Point 454525), and discovered that the film’s title was prophetic. The Eclipses made the most terrifying frump!, as if reproducing the sound of a bomb that had destroyed the mike. The sound reminded me of Leo Kottke’s description of his own voice: geese farts on a muggy day. Panicked, I was trying to figure out how I would tell the folks at Eclipse that I’d destroyed their $5990 speakers. I shut the system down, let everything rest for 20 minutes, then turned it all back on. They sounded as good as ever. Talk about break-in!
I mentioned that these speakers were ruthlessly revealing. They also rewarded great recordings. Steely Dan’s music proved a perfect match for the Eclipses, which sounded very clean with Gaucho (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, MCA), nothing getting in the way. The Eclipses revealed all of the beauty that’s available from this album -- I especially loved the perfect reproduction of the tinkly row chimes in “Babylon Sisters.”
Sade is the coolest live pop band on earth. There’s a point in “Cherish the Day,” from Love Deluxe (CD, Epic 53178), where the bass player comes in for half a measure, then drops out for a whole verse and chorus while the kick drum pounds out an incredible amount of energy. When the second verse comes around, the bass comes right back in. Some speakers muddy the juxtaposition of the bass’s finger-picked low E string and the thumping bass drums, but the Eclipses’ natural clarity let me hear into the mix. While they didn’t knock me down with moved air, there was no doubt that the bass was very well defined.
I love music, and I’m always looking for that special component that gives me a whole new perspective on my record collection. Auditioning the Eclipses will provide just such an experience. Some speakers I recommend for comparison are the Focal Twin 6 Be ($3990/pair), Genelec 8250a ($5990/pair), Neumann KH 310 ($4599/pair), and PMC TwoTwo.6 ($5000/pair). Each is small enough to permit nearfield listening; the Focals are punchier, and the Neumanns and PMCs have a more refined sound with large orchestral works -- but only the Eclipse TD510ZMK2 provides the coherence of a one-way design. All of these companies brag about the musicians who use their speakers as tools; I’m particularly interested in the fact that Brian Eno, that subtlest of sound designers, likes to monitor his work with Eclipse speakers.
As for hoarding, I think I’ll be all right once I cull my CD collection -- my goal is to get the total counts down to 2000 CDs and 2000 LPs. As for electronic files on my server, well, I’m currently sitting on just over 125,000, and that includes almost 15,000 by the Grateful Dead alone! Hoarder? Who, me?
. . . Wes Marshall
Eclipse TD510ZMK2 Loudspeakers
Price: $5990 USD/pair.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Phone: +44 (0)20-7328-4499
North American distributor:
On a Higher Note
PO Box 698
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693
Phone: (949) 544-1990
Fax: (949) 612-0201