There was a time in my audiophile journey -- not that long ago -- when anything but the top loudspeaker in a given company’s line would simply not do. Whether it was Wilson Audio’s X-2, Rockport’s Arrakis, or Magico’s Q7 -- I’ve owned them all -- I felt that chasing state-of-the-art sound automatically meant getting the biggest, most expensive speaker a company made. Looking back, I was partially justified in this notion because my former listening room, the Music Vault, had been designed with monster speakers in mind. Its acoustics had been specifically dialed in for the Wilson X-2s, but the space had been designed and built to handle any megaspeaker I might throw into it.
The Music Vault with Wilson X-2s
On the other hand, I’m no longer so sure that the biggest speaker always results in the best sound. Most manufacturers that make large, expensive, dynamic-driver loudspeakers have a few things in common as you ascend their lines: First and most obvious, the more expensive speaker means deeper bass due to bigger cabinets and larger and/or more woofers. This is almost always an audiophile truth. History has taught me that, as you move up a company’s line, more than anything else, what you’re paying more for is more and better bass. If we can agree that where megaspeakers most differ from their smaller stablemates is below, say, 40Hz, what does that mean for the rest of the audioband?
One easy-to-see example would be Bowers & Wilkins’s 800 Series Diamond D3 line. The 802 D3 costs $22,000 USD/pair and has a 1” diamond-dome tweeter, a 6” Continuum midrange, and two 8” Aerofoil woofers. Moving up to the 800 D3 ($30,000/pair) gets you the same midrange and tweeter, and the same basic cabinet construction and driver configuration -- but instead of 8” woofers, the 800 D3 has two 10” cones. For both models, B&W specifies the -3dB point in the bass as 17Hz. I assume that the bigger 800 D3 would, in the right room and with the right music, be able to produce greater sound-pressure levels (SPLs) in the very low bass -- but in most rooms, with 99% of music, how often would this matter? Probably seldom, if at all.
In a case like the B&W speakers above, the two models will sound far more similar than different. In the right room and with most music, their sounds above 40Hz might even be identical. Which raises another point: Let’s assume that, in those B&W models, the midrange and tweeter are crossed over to each other at 2000Hz. That means that, from 2kHz to 20kHz, the sound will be reproduced by that 1” diamond tweeter. The same tweeter is also found in the entry model of the 800 D3 line, the 805 D3 ($6000/pair). So from 2kHz up, as you move pricewise from the bottom to the top of the 800 D3 series, you’re not getting much different. B&W is hardly unique in this respect: I’ve marveled how often the largest speaker in a company’s line might cost ten times the price of the smallest -- yet both use the same tweeter.
Let’s take a look at another example, though they’re not super-expensive speakers. (Note: Logistics dictate that we don’t typically measure the megaspeakers we review.) In September 2014, Doug Schneider reviewed the Revel Performa3 F206 ($3500/pair) for sister site SoundStage! Hi-Fi. In that review, Doug described the F206’s tweeter as “a 1” aluminum-dome tweeter nestled into what the company calls an Acoustic Lens Waveguide,” and later reported that Revel specifies the F206’s upper crossover frequency as 2150Hz. In April 2015, Philip Beaudette reviewed the second from-the-bottom Performa3 M106 stand-mount, which at $2000/pair costs $1500 less. Philip described the M106’s tweeter as “a 1” aluminum-dome tweeter at the base of an Acoustic Lens Waveguide,” crossed over to the midrange at 2300Hz, or 150Hz higher than in the F206. The anechoic measurements of the F206 and M106 made by Canada’s NRC show broad agreement between the two speakers from their crossover frequencies up to 20kHz. Their on- and off-axis frequency responses, even their distortion measurements, are very similar. Does that mean these two speakers will sound identical from about 2kHz up? Not quite, but I’d wager they’d sound very similar.
Sometimes the midrange is the same, too, as well as the driver arrangement (e.g., three-way, four-way, etc.). In such cases, you have the audioband from maybe 350Hz and up reproduced by the same driver complement -- even when the two speaker models’ prices differ by tens of thousands of dollars!
I’m not trying to make a case against expensive speakers. Instead, what I’m doing -- now that I have a more real-world room and budget and have been examining smaller speakers as candidates for my future reference speakers -- is making the case that carefully comparing what a speaker offers above 40Hz with what’s offered in that bandwidth by more expensive models in its manufacturer’s line can yield cost savings for essentially the same sound quality.
Which brings me to my first attempt at mating an ambitious yet not-huge speaker to my new listening space. Jim Thompson of EgglestonWorks, based in Memphis, Tennessee, recently paid me a visit to install his company’s Kiva loudspeakers. This three-way floorstander retails for $14,500/pair and is the follow-up to Eggleston’s well-received Viginti ($39,950/pair). However, the Kiva, which Thompson says includes many design elements taken from the Viginti, does not use the same tweeter and midrange as its more expensive stablemate. Its drivers are unique to it, to give the Kiva its own unique voice.
Here’s how the afternoon went . . .
Like the Vigintis, the Kivas arrive in large wooden crates. Each speaker, which has built-in casters, is strapped down to the bottom of its crate.
After we’d uncrated the speakers, we staged them in a hallway just off my garage before carrying them upstairs.
Jim Thompson rolled the Kivas into place, which their casters made easy, even on my thick carpet.
Before doing any fine tuning, Thompson cabled up the Kivas for some initial listening tests, to get an idea of how they interacted with the room.
Thompson fired up the demo music he uses to set up speakers.
Inch by inch, Thompson optimized the speakers’ positions, ensuring that we had perfect symmetry in my room.
Once the speaker positions were just right, it was time to replace the casters with the Kivas’ footers.
Time to listen.
You’ll soon read about how the EgglestonWorks Kivas sounded in my room.
. . . Jeff Fritz