Feature Articles & Reviews
Life changes. People move up, they slip down. They get kicked out, they get invited in. One day they rent, the next day they own. If they’re lucky, someday they’ll own the house of their dreams, and be attached to the humans and pets of their dreams. If they’re really lucky, they’ll have a place where they can listen to music.
Not just listen to music, but experience it. That means hearing it at the right volume, with sufficient clarity, true soundstaging, accurate transient response, flat frequency response, and as close to zero distortion as possible.
I’m now in my 26th home -- probably my last. It’s raised some interesting questions for me as an audio reviewer, and some of you might find yourselves in similar circumstances. When we sold our last home, the married couple who bought it wanted to buy everything in it, down to the coffeemaker. Our real-estate agent told us that the wife took one look at my ATC SCM50ASL Pro speakers and said to her husband, “We should ask for those, honey. They look like they cost at least $500!”
$500? The ATCs’ current price is $16,995/pair, thank you very much.
I had a deal in hand, and in most states those speakers were old enough to drink. What to do? Say, “No! You can’t have my speakers!” Anyway, we’d already bought a loft in downtown Portland, Oregon. There, the ATCs would be too big, too loud, too too.
We were moving from a huge house with 18’ ceilings, a 1000-square-foot listening room, space for multiple video projectors, and an area designed for easily changing out electronics, including access to all front and rear panels -- an equipment reviewer’s dream home. We’d had an architect design it for us, and set it in a remote 26 acres with a majestic 270° view of the Texas Hill Country. I had the room and the desire to review everything: subwoofers, projectors, flat screens, amplifiers, speakers, professional monitor speakers, disc players -- anything that sparked my interest. And I did.
But, as I said, life changes. I still live in a nice place with a beautiful view, but now I share a floor with a neighbor I don’t know, and one wall with a nice family who seem to be very quiet. So far, through testing speakers and subwoofers, the only time anyone has seemed bothered was when I was trying to discover the upper volume limits of Barefoot Sound’s Footprint01 speakers. I was playing Bowling for Soup’s “Girl All the Bad Guys Want,” a song with lyrics Cole Porter would have been proud to have written, when suddenly there was a loud banging on my front door. By the time I opened it, no one was there. I don’t know whose peace I’d disturbed, but at least I now know that there is, indeed, a limit.
Our move has forced me into an entirely new reality, one about which I’m seemingly recalcitrant. Part of the fault is the Eclipse TD-M1 wireless speakers.
Why do I keep coming back to these speakers?
Over the last few years, I’ve reviewed three different speaker models from Eclipse. I began in October 2014 with the largish, stand-mounted TD510ZMK2 ($5990 USD/pair), and precisely one year later went on to a desktop model, the TD508MK3 ($1490/pair). The TD-M1 ($999/pair) is Eclipse’s first try at a powered minimonitor with a high-resolution DAC built in. All three, by the way, have sounded best when listened to in the nearfield.
Reviewing three speakers from the same company in as many years wouldn’t have been remarkable had they been from Paradigm, KEF, Bowers & Wilkins, or any of the other huge companies that turn out magnificent speakers year after year. But something has kept pulling me back to speakers made by the somewhat obscure Eclipse (a division of Fujitsu Ten Ltd.), and I have to believe it’s because they’re on to something important. I’ve now reviewed three of the five speaker models Eclipse makes because every one of them has had the ability to “disappear.”
Design matters. I’m almost certain that if we had the chance to subject them to the rigors of the testing facilities of Canada’s National Research Council, in Ottawa, we’d find a frequency response that would look, at best, like a deep frown, with downturns at 120Hz and 10kHz. And I doubt it would look very flat between those frequencies. But the value of having a one-way design with no crossover, no distance between tweeter and midrange and woofer -- a single driver anchored to a totally inert, ovoid enclosure that has literally no edges -- offers so many benefits that, now that I’ve become accustomed to the sound, I find it hard to listen to anything else.
Those of you who read my breathless review of the powered Barefoot Footprint01 ($3495/pair) may have noted that the one speaker I thought was something I could live with in place of either my ATC SCM50ASL Pros or the Barefoots was the Eclipse TD508MK3. Given the fact that the Eclipses would require electronics, the price would end up close to the same as the Barefoots. But if the powered TD-M1s, at $999/pair, could work for me . . . well, now we’re talking a real bargain.
The word ineffable is a great word for writers. It basically means “indescribable.” Writers who use it are really saying, “I give up. It’s beyond my skill to write about.” I keep wanting to call the Eclipse TD-M1s ineffable because they make me wrestle with something I don’t understand. They allow me to hear details in music that I just don’t hear through other speakers. Here are two examples.
The insouciant response of pianists Martha Argerich and Mikhail Pletnev to Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes, from the four-hands arrangement of Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye, or Mother Goose (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon), is to speed through the ending’s flood of 16th notes with perfect synchronization and an almost blasé but quite rousing pressez. In the 13 years I’ve owned this recording I’ve heard it more than a hundred times, yet the percussiveness of the two pianists and their uncanny ability to play unison passages perfectly as one have never struck me so much as they have through these speakers.
Back in the 1970s, I used to bring along to audio salons my six-eye Columbia pressing of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, only to have the salesman (back then they were always guys) first ask who it was, then why they’d added all that echo [sigh]. But around 1977, they started to hand me back my crumby Miles Davis record so they could play me a really good recording -- like Arne Domnérus’s Jazz at the Pawnshop. Or Dave Grusin’s Discovered Again. Or The Sheffield Drum Record.
Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Kind of Blue since 1969, a decade after its release. It’s the single most-listened-to album in my collection. Yet the Eclipse TD-M1s showed me something new even in this intimately known recording, and right at the start of track 1, “So What” (16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia/Legacy). Bill Evans’s piano floats in a perfect soundstage off to the left, while Jimmy Cobb’s brushed snare, more closely miked, lays out a lovely bed of sound. The real surprise was the blat of Miles’s first spit of sound.
How was it that two tiny speakers, each measuring just 9.5”H x 6.1”W x 6.2”D and weighing less than six pounds, and each having only a single 3.15” cone, were doing all this? Eclipse claims that those cones are light and rigid -- if so, that’s a huge plus, and offers something similar to the inertial properties of an electrostatic or ribbon speaker, but with the dispersion benefits of a cone. Eclipse then adds an anchor that outweighs the speaker itself by a long shot, so that any backward or forward motion of the driver is completely transferred to the air, making the cone as close to an ideal piston as possible.
The TD-M1 is Eclipse’s first powered speaker, and they’ve done a honey of a job. They’ve included a 24/192 DAC and fed it into a good class-D amp. All of the electronics are enclosed in the base of the right-channel speaker, and for such a small enclosure there’s quite a bit of connectivity. You can use a 3.5mm stereo male audio plug, two different USB cables (Lightning to USB or an older, printer-style USB cable), or a Wi-Fi antenna. The cable that connects right speaker to left is only 5’ long, and is hardwired to the right speaker. The speakers are meant to be listened to in the nearfield, equidistant from each other and the listener. Eclipse has gone to a good deal of design expense, especially in their inventive tilt mechanism, to make sure you can aim the speakers directly at your ears, which is absolutely vital to get the magic they’re capable of. But 5’ wasn’t a long enough umbilical for my system.
The only female-to-male 3.5mm cable I had on hand was a 25’ RadioShack headphone-cable extender. The moment I connected it to the Eclipses, the sounds of instruments lost all life, and the soundstage collapsed toward the left. An AudioQuest Golden Gate cable fixed the problem -- for $79. I also tried a Keluoer 5’ link ($7) and found its sound perfectly acceptable. In any case, you’ll probably need an extender, and it should be included with the TD-M1s as standard gear -- that 5’ link is just too short.
The TD-M1 is not just a driver bolted into a box but is, in the truest sense of the word, a speaker system. It’s a masterpiece of design, engineering, and craftsmanship.
Anyone who regularly reads my reviews knows that I’m constantly pushing readers to listen to professional powered monitors from companies like ATC, Barefoot, Dynaudio, and Focal. Why am I now recommending a one-way speaker with little bass response and a rolled-off treble?
Studio monitors play music at volumes loud enough to keep rock drummers paying attention during tracking sessions. Half of drummers are deaf anyway (just kidding!), so most of these speakers, despite the fact that they’re small enough to sit on a meter bridge, will play happily and at very low distortion up to 120dB. My ears won’t take such punishment, and I won’t subject them to it. Measured in the nearfield with a RadioShack decibel meter, the TD-M1s comfortably played rock music at 90dB. I think I could have pushed them a couple dB further. Eclipse’s specifications are mum on the matter of maximum output. There were times I wished for a bit more (EDM party, anyone?), but I never heard any problems with transient blunting. Exactly the opposite.
The quality of the Eclipse TD-M1’s resolution was subtle. The combination of a crossoverless design and an egg-shaped cabinet of completely inert materials combine to create a launch pad for soundwaves that allow sounds to be reproduced with clinical clarity. Rather than sound like a speaker in which the treble has been tipped up to “enhance” the sense of definition, the TD-M1’s clarity was maximized by all the sound being produced by a single driver -- the listener’s brain doesn’t have to work overtime assembling into a single aural picture the different sounds produced by different drivers firing at the listener’s ears from different positions in space.
The TD-M1 changes the soundstaging game. Whether it was the crossoverless design, the driver, the cabinet, all of the above, or just some magic, these speakers flat-out “disappeared” from my room. To get them to do that, I had to do a little work: They had to be set up correctly, at the right distance, aimed accurately, and fed good-quality recordings. When the recording itself had lousy soundstaging -- e.g., many of the early-digital, multimiked recordings from such major classical labels as Deutsche Grammophon, Decca/London, and Philips -- the Eclipses ruthlessly revealed their shortcomings. When I listened to any early-1980s Puccini or Wagner opera through the TD-M1s, it sounded like cardboard boats on a cardboard sea. But with well-recorded, minimally miked orchestral recordings -- from Lyrita, BIS, or Chandos -- these little eggs produced three-dimensional soundstages.
Most loudspeakers use at least two drivers to reproduce the sounds on a recording, and in most multi-driver speakers those drivers are mounted in different places on the baffle. These drivers weigh different amounts, and the signals delivered to them have taken different routes through the speaker’s crossover, through different lengths of wire. But the Eclipse TD-M1 has just one driver and no crossover. Bang. Instantaneous response.
Miles Davis starts a note. Through some speakers it sounds polite; through the Eclipses, it sounded like an emotional bark. I could really hear the beauty of the Eclipses’ reproduction of transients with recordings of plucked instruments, such as acoustic guitar. Anders Miolin’s album of arrangements for solo ten-string guitar of works by Ravel (CD, BIS CD886) was recorded in a reverberant space, but the transient snaps of his fingers on strings were completely clear.
Flat frequency response
Nothing I heard bothered me. Would I want to add a subwoofer to the Eclipse TD-M1s? Absolutely -- probably one that goes up to 100Hz, or even 120Hz. Perhaps the fact that the TD-M1 is a single-driver speaker is what makes me more forgiving of frequency-response anomalies in the TD-M1s. I don’t know. What I do know is that they sounded right. In John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (CD, Impulse! B0001126-16), Hartman’s voice ranges from low baritone to high tenor; through the Eclipses, it sounded smooth and accurate from top to bottom. Ditto Argerich and Pletnev’s piano. The TD-M1s met my standards very nicely.
The TD-M1s demonstrated such clarity that the levels of the various types of distortions must be lower than in most other speakers.
The TD-M1 is up to the standard set by other Eclipse speakers, and it’s nice to have everything built into such a small package. And a retail price of $999/pair is a spectacular bargain when you consider that you get speakers, power amp, preamp, and DAC.
But the Eclipse TD-M1 is for a special sort of listener -- someone who loves clarity more than having his or her audiobuddies ooh and ahh over the new purchase. To say that the TD-M1s are unobtrusive would be an understatement. A friend who’s a lifelong stereo fiend visited while I was testing these speakers and didn’t even ask what they were. They’re quietly elegant.
I’m hooked. Something about what the Eclipse TD-M1s do just grabs my soul. Spend some time with them and I bet you’ll agree.
. . . Wes Marshall
Eclipse TD-M1 Wireless Loudspeakers
Price: $999 USD per 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