- Written by Jason Victor Serinus
- Published on 28 April 2008
Characteristics of the Sound
Just today, as I was in the midst of writing this review, I needed to pause to write a review of a Berkeley recital by the towering bass-baritone, Bryn Terfel. To clarify some points in my review, I compared his performance of three of the Schubert songs he sang at the recital with renditions he recorded for DG 14 years ago. Though my reason for doing so was to ascertain changes in the singer's interpretation and delivery, the exercise also allowed me to contrast the voice that I had just heard live from a seat in orchestra row E with reproduced, digital sound captured by DG's 4D recording system.
What I heard through The Nines confirmed many of my thoughts about the speakers. First and foremost, the sound was remarkably clear, neutral, and natural. Highs were effortless. The balance between piano and voice was also realistic, and the sound of the piano from top to bottom ideally even (without dips or peaks at certain frequencies) and natural.
Secondly, the perspective was convincing, with the piano set a bit behind the voice in a large, resonant space. The Nines do an excellent job of conveying the proportions of voice and instruments. That doesn't mean that the size of images is lifelike – I'd need much bigger speakers, more powerful amps, and a much larger space to achieve that – but the relative positioning and proportions are correct.
Third, the midrange was true. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is essentially to conveying the full range and emotional impact of music. There is no way that you could listen to the sound of a standard mp3 and declare the midrange true. It's hardly there. The Nine's midrange drivers, run without crossover components, are undoubtedly responsible for the "airiness" Jim mentions above. It is a distinguishing feature of this speaker, and hard to resist.
There was, however, one key difference between the sound of the voice live and on recording. Live and relatively close, Terfel's voice at anything above piano (soft) had a brilliant, glistening leading edge that allows it to carry to the far reaches of the house. Even in the relatively dead acoustic of Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall, I found the brilliance so strong as to become marginally irritating. But through The Nine, the leading edge was softened just enough to render the close-miked voice totally listenable.
This is a key feature of Eggleston Works' The Nine. Its tweeter, while not to these ears rolled off, is a bit forgiving. It removes the harshness that is sometimes there, allowing the listener to enjoy the best of both worlds – the detail that comes from close-miking and multiple-miking, and the more mellow sound that blossoms with distance. Someone who enjoys listening to lots of big band jazz, brass ensembles, and the like might very well gravitate to these speakers over others precisely because they are so listenable.
There is, of course, a trade-off. I have grown accustomed to the brilliant sound of the full San Francisco Symphony in Davies Symphony Hall as heard from a prime orchestra seat (rows F through K). There, where the sound arrives at the ears direct, with the reflected sound coming from above and around, the sound is so transparent, clear, and brilliant that I don't even bother to think about depth and midrange.
My Talon Khorus X Mk. IV speakers, for all their faults, do a wonderful job of conveying this brilliance. The highest pitched instruments – triangles, bells, piccolo, flute, and violins – literally hang in space, with some of the same visceral impact experienced in live performance. The Eggleston Works The Nine doesn't shortchange the sounds of those instruments, but it insures that they will not be harsh and piercing.
Thus, at the Reference Recordings demo, when Keith Johnson played the master of Richard Strauss' Festival Intrada, the brass that he captured close up was bright but nonetheless listenable. Those who want the screaming brass of a Shostakovich Symphony to rip through their flesh and tear them apart may prefer another speaker. Most other listeners, I suspect, especially those with less than top-notch equipment or less than perfect listening spaces, will find The Nine a breath of fresh air.
I have already mentioned how true, rich, and detailed the midrange is. This became especially apparent when Reference Recordings presented its first-ever public demo of its new HRx master disc DVDs at a Bay Area Audiophile Society demo staged at Casa Bellecci-Serinus. (See my blog entries here and here.) No less a distinguished personage than award-winning recording engineer "Professor" Keith O. Johnson commented during set-up that The Nine's midrange was solid and true.
The Nine's midrange is in fact one of its most outstanding features. It is extremely well controlled and rich. In fact, given The Nine's slightly polite highs, the midrange will stand out a bit to some ears. That may be due to the slight doubling between midrange and woofer that Jim Thompson mentioned during the interview quoted above, as well as the lack of crossover components. It is also responsible for the Eggleston Works "sound," a sonic signature that a number of dealers and industry folks who are familiar with the entire line have mentioned to me. It's a sound to soothe many a savage heart.
Because The Nine has but a single 8" woofer, I did not expect gonad-rumbling bass. (I'm sure there's a female equivalent for this visceral sensation, but I'm not going there). Nor did I experience it. Hence, at the RR demo, it was possible to enjoy the huge amount of additional air, detail, and layering on their master discs, but not the tremendous impact of timpani, kettle drums, and the like – and certainly not the lowest notes on the organ.
Nonetheless, what surprised me greatly is how deep The Nine seems to descend, and how much in control the bass is. Yes, there are some mild bass humps that correspond to port resonance, and that might be less noticeable with solid-state amplification. (I listened with prototypes of VTL's wonderful 450Watt monoblock tube amplifiers, whose huge reserves of power do a fine job controlling bass). Yes, the lowest notes on Ron Carter's double bass on his wonderful duet album with sensational Brazilian vocalist Rosa Passos (available from Chesky) are less than vibrant. But the pitches are quite well defined, which is certainly not the case with many full-range speakers that I have auditioned. The Nine might not be the speaker of choice for rock addicts and organ freaks, but it delivers far more bass than one would think.