i've been meaning to post something on this subject for months. while hardly a full-fledged "review", i wanted to share my experiences so far with the 1.3's, the largest speaker made by emerald physics.
last year i decided to replace at least the speakers of the system i'd been living with for over a decade: a pair of apogee diva 3-way ribbons i picked up at stereo exchange in manhattan. i hadn't made up my mind about whether to also replace the krell fpb600 i was using to drive them, or the krell kps20 cd player/preamp. so i did a little research to see what had been happening in the world of audio over that period.
prior to the apogees, i'd owned a pair of b&w 801-III's, and before that, martin-logan sequel II's, and several generations of krell amps, preamps, and cd players.
after a few months of poking around, reading reviews, and consulting friends who own better ears than me, i decided that i would stick with some form of planar technology, but the open-baffle approach was entirely new to me.
i gave walter liederman a call to hear what he had to say about the emerald physics line. well, those of you who've spoken with walter will understand me when i say that a conversation i expected to last 10 minutes turned into a highly enjoyable and educational 2 hour introductory seminar on acoustics and the physics of open-baffle speakers.
after getting details on the room i would be using to host the system, walter recommended the 1.3's and an initial "starter set" to drive them, consisting of three wyred4sound class d amps, wireworld cable, and, to take full advantage of that system in my room, a prism orpheus dac/preamp. the source would be a mac mini 8gb running spatial computer software.
while i hadn't really considered going the computer audio route, the idea appealed to me. first, the prospect of ripping a 10,000 cd library was moderately intimidating, but it offered the prospect of finally boxing up and storing all that plastic. and second, the idea of being able to take advantage of the increasing availability of higher-resolution audio was extremely interesting to me.
at this point, i should say that dealing with everyone in this chain, from walter to clayton shaw and charles woods at spatial, has been an unalloyed pleasure. emails are returned, people pick up the phone and spend as much time as i need to resolve problems, &c. &c.
so now to the equipment.
the speakers arrived in huge handmade wooden crates. each speaker weighs about 160 lbs, and the crates are each almost as heavy. manhandling them into my house up a long steep hill from the driveway was no picnic, but the crating did its job, which is to protect the speakers. (and yes, the crates are reusable.)
once unboxed and set up in my listening room (25x25x8, with an 8' wide hallway leading off to an open-plan kitchen, and a 6' wide staircase leading up to a 25x50 three story open studio), it was a simple matter to connect everything up. 30 minutes later, there was music*.
i'd been told that the 1.3's wanted a break-in period of up to 600 hours, but performance right out of the box was outstanding. the very first piece i chose to play was coltrane's A Love Supreme, the most recent mastering of that album. i'd listened to it frequently in the months leading up to getting the 1.3's, so i was pretty familiar with how it sounded over the divas. my initial impressions were first, that a third dimension *in front of the speakers* had appeared. the sound stage was deep, but also very forward. this illusion of three-dimensional presence has only increased over the last six months, as the speakers have broken in, and the original power and cabling has been upgraded (see below.)
a few days after initialization, i invited a friend over for a long listening session. i was particularly interested in what he had to say, since his experience with audio is both deeper than mine, and as an engineer, much more well-informed. 15 years my junior, his ears are also in better condition. his impressions:Steve was kind enough to allow me to crash at his house. So I had the opportunity to hear his new HiFi, now pretty much broken in. This is cutting edge digital technology, quite unlike my 1950’s approach to HiFi. But I am overjoyed to report that it sounds FANTASTIC.
For the audio types among you, the soundstage is massive in width, large in height and appropriate in depth. The tonal balance is remarkably neutral while not at all cold. In fact the sound is remarkably warm for digital (I’m an analog fan) and it is not the slightest bit fatiguing. There was plenty of detail but no harshness. The timing of the musical delivery was excellent - something whose absence can only be appreciated when you first hear it done right. Most importantly: the presentation is VERY convincing as being music. And I mean VERY convincing, to the point where I was constantly doing double-takes. I don’t believe I ever heard a better setup in any audio salon. If Steve invites any of you, GO, and take your favorite music.
in the course of the last three months, i've upgraded both amplification and cabling. the treble and midrange amps were replaced with a pair of modwright 100se's, and the bass amp with a pair of ampzilla 2000 mono amps. the wireworld cabling was replaced with the new interconnect and speaker cable from spatial computer.
elsewhere on this forum, i've written a bit on the improvements i've experienced, but i'll summarize my impressions this way: the soundstage now extends to the left and right of the speakers, and instrument placement is both distinct and stable. the bass has always been clear and articulate, but (especially since installing the new cabling from spatial) it has taken on a life-like quality, a palpability, which was lacking. it goes without saying that one of the virtues of the open-baffle design is that the speakers "disappear". as a long-time planar owner, this is one quality i prize highly, and was very reluctant to give up.
finally, regarding aesthetics. well, the 1.3's do have a kind of naked functional beauty. i'd say that rear of the speaker, with those monster 18" eminence drivers and bare-wire speaker cables, is more attractive than the front, but then, i'm a programmer by trade, so i enjoy the look of exposed workings. i will say that the cherry veneer i ordered for mine are flawless to both the eye and to touch.
* actually, this is not quite accurate. after hooking all the equipment up, clayton spent an hour or two via remote session deriving settings for the spatial computer room-correction software. 30 minutes after *that* there was music.