Sometimes a disappointing start can lead to a glorious finish. Such has been my experience with Eggleston Works’ The Nine, a beautiful loudspeaker that more than deserves the copious amounts of praise it is receiving here and abroad.
I first met the current owner of Eggleston Works, Jim Thompson, in his former guise as company sales rep. Thompson had just flown from Tennessee to Oakland to demo the company’s much-lauded Andra II loudspeaker for the Bay Area Audiophile Society in a short-lived, high-end emporium in Oakland’s Jack London Square.
Jim was greeted by a full house of eager BAAS members. Together, we discovered a generous helping of food, several gracious hosts, and one of the worst, untreated demo rooms imaginable. With ceilings a good 12 feet high, hard plaster walls, and sonically disastrous dimensions (or so it sounded), the room made mush of the Andra II’s entire bass region and part of the midrange. Lower pitches were reduced to a booming, indistinguishable mess. About the only thing that came through relatively unscathed was a single soprano vocal accompanied by piano or harpsichord. No matter what expensive amplification the storeowner used – tubes or solid state –a jazz quartet, symphony, pop combo, or anything with a lot of low frequency information was reduced to incomprehensible rubbish.
- Design: Three-way, Sealed
- Drivers: One 1″ Cloth Dome Tweeter, Two 6″ MIdrange, One 8″ Woofer
- MFR: 27 Hz – 24 kHz, – 3 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Efficiency: 88 dB
- Dimensions: 44″ H x 11″ W x 16″ D
- Weight: 125 Pounds/Each
- MSRP: $13,000/Pair USA
- Eggleston Works
Afterwards, as I commiserated with Jim, I sensed a fine human being who cares about music. Little did I know that he would end up purchasing the company in mid 2004, and proceed to design The Nine.
Because the sound at the demo flew in the face of everything positive I had read about the Andra II, I was more eager than ever to hear Eggleston Works’ speakers in a better set-up. The opportunity seemed to present itself a few years later, at CES 2007. There, amidst the constant over-stimulation of Las Vegas, I happened upon EGGS.WORKS’ The Nine, the first Eggleston Works speaker designed entirely by Thompson. (Although Thompson contributed to the design of two other Eggleston Works speakers, the Savoy and Andra II, The Nine is the first speaker he’s designed solo. The work was done in conjunction with a partner, rich with recording experience, who helped tweak the sound).
Unfortunately, our encounter was a blast from the past. Jim was exhibiting in one of the heavily trafficked, air-walled conference rooms on the ground floor of The Venetian. With neighbors blaring music all around him, everyone trying to drown out everyone else, and people yapping incessantly over music, it was impossible to hear what the speaker was doing. Nor could I begin to assess the Rogue Electronics that drove it, electronics that have since favorably impressed Secrets reviewer Piero Gabucci.
It became clear that the only way I was going to be able to assess anything by Eggleston Works was in the relative comfort and familiarity of my own home. Hence I asked to review The Nine. Little did I know that the speaker that was soon to give me so much pleasure would receive Product of the Year from Hong Kong’s HiFi Review, and grace the covers of both Asia’s The New Audiophile and this country’s The Absolute Sound.
What have we here?
As you can see from the photos, The Nine is one handsome loudspeaker. It is built around four drivers, a 1″ fabric dome tweeter that features a “Hi-Dynamic Range voice coil/magnet system;” twin 6″ polypropylene, double magnet midrange/midbass drivers with 3″ voice coils; and an 8″ woofer with large, 4″ voice coil in a dual-ported enclosure. The enclosures walls vary in thickness from 1.53″ to 1.79″. Crimped, not-setting Dacron and felt are used as internal damping. Each speaker weighs 120 lb., which makes it far easier to position and shift than many behemoths on the market.
The speaker cabinet and crossovers are assembled entirely in Memphis; none of what EGGS.WORKS puts into the cabinet is made in China. The Morel midrange and bass drivers are from Israel; the tweeter from Denmark. Morel’s MW166SE midrange units now incorporate modifications that originated with EGG.WORKS, and have since become standard. The tweeter is a Dynaudio Esotar. The woofer, the first 8″ driver to be used in an EGGS.WORKS design, is a Morel MW265. Almost all the caps are Hovland, and the internal wire is from Transparent. That translates into high quality components.
Because the literature that accompanies EGGS.WORKS’ The Nine supplies a limited amount of information, I asked Jim to supply some details on the speaker’s origin and design. Here is what he has to say:
The Rosa has been in our line for a long time, and costs $9999. The Andra II costs $19K. We eventually realized that we had a huge price gap between them, and decided to design a speaker that would fall in between.
First, we spoke to a lot of customers and studios in order to figure out what they liked and wanted. We also spoke with our dealers, who told us that the $13,000 price range was very attractive to them. After that, we decided to essentially build a version of the Rosa that would have greater bass response. We also wanted to increase efficiency in order to satisfy tube owners who found the Rosa difficult to drive.
In all our speaker designs, we lean more towards “simple” than anything else. We believe that the simplest path is always the cleanest and purest.
Our crossover is thus a very simple, first order design. We actually took our cue from the design of the original Andra, and decided not to put a crossover on the midrange. The two 6″ midrange drivers thus run full range – they go up to 2500 Hz, after which there’s a gradual roll-off to 3K
At the other extreme, the midrange drivers start rolling off around 100 Hz, and probably end around 75 Hz. There is some overlapping with the woofer in the bass range, but it’s very slight. The 8″ woofer, which also has a first-order crossover, has a cut-off point right at 300. We talked about whether or not we wanted overlap, and decided to leave it as it is in the Andra and the Rosa.
What distinguishes our speakers is an airiness. That’s audiophile speak, I guess. But when we listen to other speakers at shows, the comparison we like to make is that our products sound more open and a little truer than other speakers. Our design philosophy has always been to try to keep the music true, and make speakers that are fun to listen to without being fatiguing. With every speaker we design, we try to achieve that open, airy feeling that leaves people feeling that they’re listening to music rather than listening to a speaker.
As I was soon to discover, The Nine likes a bit of toe-in. I settled on aiming the speakers a bit beyond my ears, so they were focused at a point 3 to 4 feet behind my head. I also moved them approximately 106″ apart. While my room certainly allows for wider spacing, I found that greater separation affected image coherency.
The speakers’ single set of rhodium binding posts seems designed for easy connection. Unfortunately, they are at the bottom of the cabinet’s rear, and are recessed in such a way as to make connection a bit awkward. Why the posts are recessed, and why there is more space beneath the posts than above them, is beyond me.
I experimented with several listening enhancements during the course of my extended listening. These include extremely careful positioning of four Shakti Hallographs, and the use of Bybee Golden Goddess speaker bullets. Their effects are discussed below. Unfortunately, due to the recessed binding posts, I could only attach the Bybees by facing them toward the floor. While I like to keep cables off the floor to prevent noise contamination, the speaker’s design left me choice in the matter. Did I say “grrrr.”
The Nine comes with four impressively heavy, sharply pointed metal spikes. Unfortunately, spikes by themselves are not the best vibration isolation system for my room. Because the floor acts as a transducer, vibrations go into the floor, where they are amplified to the point of reflecting back and interacting with their source. Hence I placed the spikes into the center of Finite Elemente Cerapucs, which supply a stable surface while floating the speaker off the floor. I also ended up placing Cerapucs under most of my other components.
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.
Air and Depth, Before and After Enhancement
I have never experienced the degree of soundstage depth I’ve heard on some set-ups when listening to my own system. Since I’ve reviewed a number of speakers, my hunch is that this has something to do with my particular room dimensions and the large open space on either side of the speakers. Yes, I do experience the depth phenomenon, but it is not very pronounced.
Then again, I’m not complaining, because I do not find the depth phenomenon very pronounced in live performance. In fact, when faced with the glory of the San Francisco Symphony or Diane Schuur or Imani Winds with Wayne Shorter or bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, all of whom I’ve heard live in the last month, soundstage depth is the last thing on my mind.
Nonetheless, The Nine creates a lovely sense of soundstage depth in my room. Air around instruments also seems natural without being over-pronounced. As mentioned above, the speaker’s generosity of midrange has a lot to do with this.
What greatly improve soundstage depth and air in my room are two major sound enhancement products: Shakti Hallographs and Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Bullets. I hasten to call either a “tweak,” given their price.
First, the Hallographs. I use four Shakti Hallographs: one behind each speaker, and one directly in line with each, placed along the sides of the listening area midway between the speakers and my listening seat. (People with smaller rooms might achieve greater benefit by placing the Hallographs in the rear of the room).
In my generous-size room, with its variety of surfaces, materials, and shapes, I use the Hallographs behind the speakers as false corners, to help contain, focus, and control the sound. How they do this, I do not know. But I do know that the slightest change of position – the Reference Recordings folks heard this during our set-up, by the way, when I rotated each Hallograph a quarter degree toward the center to achieve greater brilliance on top, and they commented on the difference – affects both soundstage width and tonal balance from top to bottom. Too open, and the sound gets diffuse, losing color. Too narrowly focused, and the sound gets overly rich, with instruments squooshed together. Get it just right, and you achieve ideal tonal balance, a realistic soundstage, and more control than without the Hallographs. The things are so sensitive it’s scary.
Hallographs positioned along the sides of the room, midway between the listening seat and the speakers, do wonders to enhance soundstage depth and realistic layering. They too affect tonal balance, so you have to get them just right. I confirmed their effects by removing them temporarily before writing this review, and immediately experienced a pronounced foreshortening of the soundstage.
Keith Johnson opined that he understood what the Hallographs do, and that socks very carefully hung on coat hangers might accomplish the same thing. Even if that were the case, I doubt few readers would want their listening rooms to look like a Chinese laundry. (My spouse would sock it to me but good if I ever tried this). Nor would pets resist the temptation to jump toward those socks, blowing hours of careful adjustment. The Shakti Hallographs are a far more expensive, but far more easily adjusted, visually tolerable alternative.
I also use the latest iteration of Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Bullets to connect the speakers to my speaker cables. Yes, I know. The thought of four little devices that cost over $4000 total understandably rubs some folks the wrong way. (Hey, I can’t possibly afford them). But Jack Bybee began his career as an aerospace engineer, and has solid science to back him up. Besides, dismissing something out of hand without making the effort to experience it hardly smacks of open-mindedness or intellectual curiosity.
In the midst of writing this review, Jack Bybee coincidentally sent me the following:
People keep asking me what is 1/f noise and why it isn’t addressed by others? One short answer is that most people (electrical engineers and audio circuit designers) don’t have a clue what 1/f noise is and how it can affect audio/TV etc. I have attached a paper that explains what causes 1/f noise and how it can be measured [“Proposed System Solution for1/f Noise Parameter Extractio”n by Roberto Tinti, Franz Sischka, and Chris Morton]. I hope this paper can be useful…
The Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Cable devices not only help remove 1/f noise but also act as an inverse dispersive delay line. There is a lot of info available on the net regarding delay lines. The problem with most delay line solutions is that they create massive amounts of 1/f noise. That is why I combined two solutions into one package.
In my experience, the greater silence and transparency bestowed by the Bybees on an already exceptional pair of speakers has enabled me to hear details of execution and interpretation that I have never heard before. Playing Cecilia Bartoli’s most recent recorded triumph, Maria, I am able to hear the slight variations of dynamics and shading that constitute bel canto at its finest. I love the things.
I have spent a long time – far too long, with The Nines. I have done so for purely selfish reasons. I have grown quite fond of these babies, and will be sad to see them go. But other speakers are on their way, and there’s only so much room at the Inn.
Eggleston Works’ the Nine is a speaker that makes listening a pleasure. It is never harsh or obtrusive, never blunt or jarring. This speaker sings, gracing music with its true and detailed midrange, enviable transparency, and natural warmth. Surprisingly full-range, save for the lowest frequencies, The Nine is a speaker that will easily win the hearts of those who audition it. At this moment, I consider it a definite contender for Secrets’ 2008 speaker-of-the-year.
JASON VICTOR SERINUS REFERENCE SYSTEM
Digital Front End
Theta Carmen II CD/DVD transport
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
(Benchmark USB DAC-1 when Apple Titanium Powerbook is in use on the main system)
VTL 450W tube monoblock prototypes with KT-88 tubes
Jadis DA-7 Luxe with GE 5751 Jan and Jan Philips 5814A tubes and cable from Pierre Gabriel
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. III (with latest upgrade and Bybee Quantum Noise Purifiers)
Eggleston Works The Nine (here for review)
Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects
Nordost Valhalla balanced digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Nordost Valhalla Power Cables
Elrod EPS-2 Signature power cables
Nordost Thor Power Distribution System
IsoClean or other audiophile grade fuses in most components
Dedicated line for system
Clearaudio Emotion turntable with Satisfy arm
Soundsmith “The Voice” phono cartridge
Benz MC-Gold phono cartridge
Classe 6 phono preamp with better umbilical cord
Symposium Platform under turntable
Finite Elemente Cerapuc supports
Ganymede ball bearing supports
Michael Green brass Audiopoints
Audiophile grade fuses in all equipment.
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and Corner Tunes
Shakti stones on transport, DAC, amps, etc.
Four Shakti Hallographs
Bybee Golden Goddess Super Effect Speaker Bullets
Echo Buster and Corner Busters
Bedini Quadra Beam and Dual Beam Ultraclarifiers
Marigo Signature 3-D Mat v2;
Ayre demagnetizing CD
Various CD sprays
Main System Room Dimensions
Living room is 24.5′ deep, 21.4′ wide in the listening area. It’s big enough to accommodate 16 members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, positioned in four rows of four seats each. The distance from the front door to the end of the dining room is 37′. Sound extends far to the left and right of the speakers thanks to an 8.33′ wide archway into the dining room opposite the right channel speaker. Ceilings are 9′ high with heavy wooden crossbeams, each 17″ in height. Heavy curtains cover windows behind the sound system. Floors are hardwood and carpet in front of the system, and hardwood elsewhere. Walls in the living room are a combination of plaster and wood, with a large granite fireplace in the rear. The dining room is all plaster. There is RoomTune and Echo buster treatment in corners, and either an Echo Buster or heavy tapestry at the two side wall first order reflection points. For photos, go here.
Upstairs Second System:
Genesis I-60 Integrated amp
Von Schweikert VR-4jr. speakers
Proton 26″ non-HD anything but flat decidedly undigital TV
Basic Pioneer DVD player
A first generation CD player too awful to play
Assortment of WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5, Harmonic Tech Magic One, and Nordost Valhalla and Tyr cabling; Elrod EPS-2 Signature and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 power cables
Apple iMac G5
Benchmark DAC-1 USB
ExactPower EP15A equipped with outlets from Sound Applications and other mods
Audio Engine 5 self-powered speakers
Nordost Valhalla Power cabling
Harmonic Tech Magic One interconnect
High-Wire speaker cable
Ganymede Ball Bearing supports