The year was 1997. I was in seventh grade, and had recently begun asking my older brother for his copies of Stereophile. He’d always talked about buying a pair of Wilson Audio Specialties’ famed WATT/Puppys, and having heard his system, I was eager to see what hi-fi audio was all about. Reviewed in the October 1997 issue, however, was a loudspeaker that would shift the spotlight -- if only for moment -- away from the super-high-end’s perennial heavyweight champ.
EgglestonWorks, based in Memphis, Tennessee, had announced themselves with their Andra floorstanding speaker ($14,700 USD per pair back then). The Wilson fighter that graced the cover of Stereophile’s October 1997 issue was made of MDF and granite, and featured Dynaudio’s well-regarded, first-generation Esotar tweeter, a pair of crossoverless Morel midrange drivers, and two 12” woofers, one mounted inside the sealed-box cabinet in an isobaric configuration. Stereophile would go on to name this provocative, statement-level design their Loudspeaker of the Year for 1997. That review, by the late Wes Phillips, helped cement my lifelong interest in hi-fi.
Now, 22 years later, what should appear in my listening room for review but EgglestonWorks’ latest speaker.
Old school, handmade, and small batch
The Nico Evolution ($4995/pair including stands) is the lowest-priced speaker in EgglestonWorks’ line of speakers, which is eight models deep and extends up to the flagship model, the Ivy Signature LE ($155,250/pair) -- an unusually wide range of prices for a company that makes only 250 pairs of speakers per year. But what makes Eggleston so interesting is that it’s not a usual sort of company. EgglestonWorks has eight full-time and three part-time Memphians on staff, and its 10,000-square-foot factory flies the flags of the 36 countries in which EW speakers are sold. And, short of some custom Morel drivers and bespoke aluminum baffles, every component of every EgglestonWorks speaker is sourced from within 15 miles of their factory.
The Nico Evolution is a two-way monitor. My review samples arrived in a double box, along with their matching stands, the four columns of each stand already filled with sand. The stands are included, but unlike with most other monitors I’ve reviewed, the Nico Evolutions pretty much require them. In lifting the first Nico Evolution from its box, I felt a large cutout on its bottom panel. This turned out to expose an expanse of naked, unfinished MDF, and for a moment I fretted about the speaker’s build quality. My fretting proved unfounded -- the cutout’s size and shape perfectly match the stand’s top plate, which is designed to extend an inch or two up into the cabinet -- no bolts or screws are needed to lock speaker and stand securely together.
This third-generation Nico weighs 28 pounds, measures 18.75”H x 8.25”W x 16”D -- it’s tall and deep for a monitor -- and its front baffle has a distinctive “chin.” The cabinet walls, made of a combination of MDF and HDF, vary in thickness from 0.75” to 1.25”. There’s an aluminum baffle on the front, and a single pair of copper binding posts from Cardas on the rear. A piece of unpolished carbon fiber on the rear panel lends the speaker a dollop of sophistication. The Nico Evolution has more internal bracing than the outgoing Nico SE, and its large, rear-firing slot port replaces the SE’s forward-firing round port. The sand-colored finish of my review samples was fantastic -- EW lavishes two coats of automotive paint atop several layers of primer and polyester substrate. No fewer than five layers of clearcoat made my samples really pop. The standard finishes are Piano Black, Silver Gray, and White Gloss; a pearlescent finish in the color of the customer’s choice can be had for an additional $500/pair. Magnetically attached grilles are included, but I always opt against using them with review samples; I prefer the naked look.
Morel makes the Nico Evolution’s 1” silk-dome tweeter and 6” polypropylene midrange-woofer to EgglestonWorks’ specifications. The tweeter is crossed over to the midrange-woofer at 2.3kHz using second-order electrical slopes, which yield fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley acoustic slopes. EgglestonWorks specifies the Nico Evolution as having a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, a sensitivity of 87dB, and a frequency range of 38Hz-24kHz.
The Nico Evolution is an interesting speaker -- a borderline bargain from the perspective of a boutique hi-fi manufacturer -- that really does offer the full-fat EgglestonWorks experience, from its distinctive cabinet shape and epic paint job to the custom drivers EW has always used. In line with its handmade origins, however, the Nico Evolution doesn’t exhibit quite the polish and finesse you’d expect from one of the industry’s bigger names, making speakers in bigger batches. That patch of naked MDF on the bottom of the cabinet, and a small but visible gap between the aluminum baffle and the 6” midrange-woofer, through which are visible the bolts securing driver to cabinet, are reminders that sacrifices have been made.
Still, the Nico Evolution is special. Its distinctive look and feel set it apart from other esoteric two-ways I’ve seen at such audio shows as Munich’s High End, many retailing for two or three times the Nico’s price. Like all of EW’s newer speaker models, the Nico Evolution was primarily designed by Wayne Prather, who earned a Ph.D. at the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Physical Acoustics and serves as a technical consultant to EgglestonWorks. Prototypes of the speaker were measured and refined in an anechoic chamber, but EW concedes that their target frequency response wasn’t ruler-flat -- the speaker has a “slightly subdued” top end. Still, it’s good to know that a healthy dollop of real engineering goes into these speakers crafted in Memphis. That EW speakers are used as monitors in some well-known recording and mastering studios -- including Bob Ludwig’s Gateway Mastering Studios -- speaks volumes about Eggleston’s stature and reputation.
Setting up the Nico Evolutions was painless. I placed them on their dedicated stands 6.5’ apart, 1’ from the front wall of my living room, 7’ from my listening seat, and toed in about 30°. I ran banana-terminated AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables from the Eggies to my Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC. These big monitors -- maximonitors? -- also spent extended time being driven by Simaudio’s flagship integrated amp, the Moon 700i v2, which I used with Benchmark Media Systems’ DAC3 HGC digital-to-analog converter via Nordost Blue Heaven balanced (XLR) interconnects. All electronics were plugged into my trusty Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner and AC line filter with Nordost Blue Heaven power cords. I streamed music via my music server, an Intel NUC computer running Roon and Tidal, connected to the system via a DH Labs Silver Sonic USB link. I also streamed Tidal directly from my iPhone 11 Pro using a Google Chromecast Audio connected to the Hegel amp and Benchmark DAC with a generic optical (TosLink) interconnect.
The EgglestonWorks Nico Evolution was not a shy speaker. I indeed did hear a subdued top end -- it wasn’t the most spacious-sounding speaker I’ve ever heard -- but what jumped out at me was its forward, vibrant upper midrange.
Through my Hegel, women’s voices flew forth from the Nico Evolutions with alacrity. Jennifer Lawrence’s naked voice in “The Hanging Tree,” from James Newton Howard’s original score for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1 (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Republic/Tidal), really popped from the soundstage. The stereo image of her voice was very well defined, the Nico Evolutions “disappearing” fairly well, and there were gobs of microdetail and texture. The leading edges of Lawrence’s sung notes were delightfully crisp and concise. The subtle, cannon-like bass line was predictably abbreviated at the bottom -- after all, this is a two-way monitor -- but I was very impressed with the Nico’s extension into the low 40-50Hz decade, and its punctilious control in doing so.
I know, however, that my Hegel H590, and particularly its built-in DAC, is really analog-sounding. It doesn’t have the transient snap and sparkle of older Hegel integrateds, instead providing a greater sense of midrange palpability. Knowing that the hyper-accurate, more analytical-sounding Benchmark DAC3 HGC would make the Eggies sound far different, I hooked the Benchmark up to the Nicos and the Simaudio Moon 700i v2 and again played “The Hanging Tree.” Lawrence’s voice now had slightly better definition in space, and the Sim’s airier sound contributed to Lawrence and the stringed accompaniment being reproduced with greater zest and drive than did my Hegel H590. With modern, well-recorded music, the differences between the two signal chains were noticeable but not profound. With older tracks with less nuanced mastering, however, the Nico Evolution’s midrange prominence could really call attention to itself, depending on its partnering electronics.
The piano introduction of “Walking in Memphis,” from Marc Cohn’s Marc Cohn, from 1991 (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic/Tidal), sounded superclean through the Benchmark DAC and Simaudio integrated, instantly communicating Cohn’s keystrokes. Yet the sounds of felt hammers striking steel strings were a touch hollow and glassy, seeming to favor attack and low-level detail at the expense of weight and tonal color. So, too, with Cohn’s voice, which was projected into my listening room with startling, almost unnatural clarity and definition. Inserting Benchmark’s DAC3 HGC into the signal chain definitely emphasized this characteristic of the Nico Evolution, so careful selection of partnering equipment is advised. For the rest of my listening, I stuck with the more forgiving Hegel.
Having struck the right balance with the eager EgglestonWorks, I tried some instrumental fare. I’m an enormous fan of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons as “recomposed” by Max Richter and performed by the Berlin Concert House Chamber Orchestra under the direction of André de Ridder (24/44.1 MQA, Deutsche Grammophon/Tidal). I’d ordinarily thumb my nose at a reinvention of such a classic, but Richter so skillfully transforms several of the movements that I find myself preferring them to Vivaldi’s originals. Listening to Winter 1, which redeploys one of Vivaldi’s most famous melodies, I was smitten by the Nico Evolutions’ ability to capture the nuances of Richter’s subtle but deliberate opening. The lightly plucked violins resonated pretty far back on the soundstage, and the recording venue sounded big, even if it wasn’t re-created with the extension and effortlessness that I’ve heard through more linear, dead-neutral designs. Still, I was impressed with the smoothness of the Nico Evolution’s soft-dome tweeter, which never sounded hard or etched. The harpsichord sounded natural, as did the violin of soloist Daniel Hope, which was very well defined, and even had a hint of sweetness I wasn’t anticipating. The Eggies proved deeply engaging with this track, a quality I highly value in a speaker. If you’re after warmth, or a polite, relaxed sound, the Nico Evolution isn’t for you. But if, like me, you prefer a sound that’s highly resolving and articulate, the baby Eggleston may well fit the bill -- it was great fun.
Two-way, passive monitors that reproduce full-range bass don’t exist. It takes skill to make a stand-mounted loudspeaker sound punchy in the low end without sounding flabby, and the Nico Evolutions delivered. I fed them some warble test tones and was happy to hear ample output that remained flat down to 45Hz, with healthy if attenuated output down to 35Hz. That’s excellent for a speaker of this size. Having only two reference-level integrated amps on hand (woe is me), the Hegel boasting 301Wpc and the Simaudio 175Wpc (both figures into 8 ohms), I wasn’t able to determine how the Eggies might have behaved with amps that can’t pump out nearly as much power and current. Still, they seemed plenty sensitive in my system; given their 8-ohm nominal impedance, I suspect that more modest amps won’t find them particularly hard to drive.
Wanting to conclude with a dynamic cut, I settled on Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, as performed by the Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of Eiji Oue (16/44.1 FLAC, Reference/Tidal). The Nico Evolutions reproduced the massive opening bass-drum and timpani thwacks with genuine power and impact, despite being unable to reproduce most of the lowest octave of the audioband. Nor did they commit the cardinal sin of two-ways: make bass-heavy tracks sound gutless and lightweight. Higher up, the solo trumpet had lovely presence, and the Nicos cast a fairly wide, deep soundstage that placed instruments in convincing 3D fashion. No, the Morel silk-dome tweeter didn’t go as high as some of the best metal domes I’ve heard, and that, combined with the Nico Evolution’s forwardness in the upper midrange, tended to put me in the first few rows of seats. And yet, with the Copland and with every other track I played, I was easily able to dissect the performance with my ears, focusing on whichever instrument, singer, or aspect of recording I wished. I can see the Nico Evolution serving as great recording-studio monitors.
I had a tough time deciding which two-way speaker would make for a good comparison with the EgglestonWorks Nico Evolution. Vivid Audio’s Oval V1.5 ($7700/pair when available) and Magico’s S1 Mk.II ($18,000/pair) are, in a word, superior speakers -- given their prices, they should be. And, over the years, I’ve reviewed no other two-way speaker at or near the Nico Evolution’s price. So I opted for two faves of audio reviewers -- KEF’s LS50 ($1499.99/pair), and Sonus Faber’s lovely Electa Amator III ($10,000/pair, including stands), the latter of which I recently reviewed -- and drove both with my Hegel H590.
It may be going on eight years old, but the KEF LS50 is still about as good a two-way as you can buy for $1500/pair. With its coaxial Uni-Q driver, comprising a 1” tweeter nestled at the center of a 5.25” midrange-woofer, the LS50 is known for its wide, even off-axis dispersion and for its excellent stereo imaging. With “The Hanging Tree,” the LS50 offered a more balanced version of Jennifer Lawrence’s opening solo. She appeared a little farther back on the soundstage than through the EgglestonWorks, with softer delineation and less inner detail of the midrange. The KEFs didn’t spotlight Lawrence, nor did she sound as exciting and vivid through their American counterparts. The LS50s’ extra treble energy helped provide greater illumination of the recording space than the Nicos. But beyond that, the Eggies walked it. The little KEFs can play really loud, but the two-ways from Memphis could play louder still, even when reproducing bass-heavy, super dynamic music. The Nico Evolution also offers another 10Hz of bass reach, and a bit more emphasis of the midbass -- the LS50 wasn’t as punchy.
It was a similar story with Vivaldi-Richter’s Winter 1, the KEFs offering a more balanced, neutral perspective on the orchestration, even if it couldn’t quite plumb the Egglestons’ depths of microdetail in the sound of Daniel Hope’s violin. And with “Walking in Memphis,” Marc Cohn’s opening piano chords sounded more relaxed, with less emphasis of the initial bite of each chord. It’s easy to hear why the LS50 is so highly thought of -- it wasn’t exactly laid to rest by the Nico Evolution. But it was just as easy to hear why the Eggleston costs three times as much, with its more incisive sound, sharper and more brilliant stereo images, greater reach and tautness in the bass, and higher overall output.
Sonus Faber’s delectable Electa Amator III is a different animal. Its price of $10,000/pair includes its dedicated stands -- precisely twice the price of the Eggies with their optional stands. Sonus Faber forgoes fancy paint jobs, opting instead for a feast of materials -- brass, Carrara marble, and a cabinet of genuine hardwood. The EAIII has a bigger (8”) midrange-woofer than the EW, and a slightly bigger cabinet. While the Eggleston favors a bold, high-contrast midrange, the Sonus Faber’s party piece is its seriously bombastic bass output. Both speakers provide useful output below 40Hz, but the EAIII positively pounds between 50 and 80Hz. Everything through the Italian speaker sounds ballsy and bass heavy, and it also provides greater high-frequency response than the Nico Evolution. But despite its high price, I’m not convinced the Electa Amator III is any more revealing of recordings than was the Nico Evolution. In fact, the big-chinned Memphians, to my ears, carved a finer stereo image than the twice-as-expensive Italians. Were price not a factor, I’d still plump for the Sonus Faber for its fantastic looks -- but for well-recorded, close-miked voices, I wouldn’t hesitate to opt for the Eggleston. I found its vividness uncanny.
The Nico Evolution is a loudspeaker that, like EgglestonWorks itself, is chock-full of personality. Its shape is as distinctive as its sound, and its paint job is flat-out terrific. Not least, there’s a lot to like about that distinctive sound: its bass is robust and well controlled for a two-way speaker of its size, and it can play quite loudly with no hint of compression.
But the Nico Evolution hangs its hat on its hyper-defined midrange. Providing echoes of far-more-expensive offerings from Wilson Audio at a fraction of the price, the Nico Evolution paints as concise a stereo image as I’ve heard for under $5000/pair, while providing gobs of resolution. It’s not the most neutral loudspeaker you’ll ever hear -- it will need to be carefully matched to the electronics upstream lest its exuberant midrange become too much of a good thing. But get that right, and EgglestonWorks’ newest baby should handsomely reward the effort.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- Focal Diablo Utopia Colour Evo, KEF LS50, Sonus Faber Electa Amator III, Xavian Quarta
- Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
- Integrated amplifiers -- Hegel Music Systems H590, Simaudio Moon 700i v2
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC
- DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
- Sources -- Intel NUC computer running Roon, Tidal
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow unbalanced (RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven LS balanced (XLR)
- Digital link -- DH Labs Silver Sonic (USB)
- Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2
EgglestonWorks Nico Evolution Loudspeakers
Price: $4995 USD per pair including matching stands.
Warranty: 60 days, parts and labor; six years with registration.
540 Cumberland Street
Memphis, TN 38112
Phone: (901) 525-1100