Artemis Systems Eos Signature loudspeaker & Base Module Page 2
What about the bass? I expected nothing subterranean, but the overall frequency balance was fine at all reasonable listening levels. My favorite torture discs are my collection of recordings of Mahler's Symphony 6; with any of them, the Eos Signatures credibly reproduced the monstrous last movement. On Bernstein/DG (427 967-2) the hammer strokes lacked visceral impact, but everything else was fine in this live, multimiked, emotionally fierce performance. Switching to the better-balanced but more distant Zander/IMP CD (DMCD 93), also recorded at a concert performance, I was impressed with the depth of the orchestral voices as well as with their balance, but where were the hammer blows? Almost gone. The Eos Signatures seemed to have a smooth response down to about 5060Hz with no noticeable midbass suckout, but below 50Hz they had almost nothing. The Bernstein hammer is big and resonant; the Eos captured the aura if not the fundamental. The Zander hammer is deep, dry, and damped; the Eos couldn't get the fundamental, and there isn't much else. Significantly, the Eos didn't do anything wrong when hit with powerful signals outside its range; that suggests that it would be well mated with a subwoofer. Soooooo...
All together now
There is no additional LF rolloff for the Eos Signature when used with the Base Modules. Thus, the Base Module could be most easily added by running it from the second set of input terminals on the Eos external crossover, with the full-range signal from the amp driving the Eos and the Base Module in parallel.
Would that life were so simple! Artemis suggests no fewer than four connection options, three of which can be multi-wired or multi-amped. I set up and auditioned the system three ways, using Straight Wire Virtuoso balanced interconnects and Maestro II speaker cables. First, I ran the speakers serially wired from a single amp, with a single speaker cable to the Base Module and another from the Base Module to the Eos crossover ("Wiring Option 4") with either the DNA-1 or the Power-2. Second, I ran separate speaker wires to the Eos crossover and to the Base Module from the two output terminal sets on the DNA-1 ("Wiring Option 2"). Finally, I bi-amped the system with two DNA-1s so that each amplifier drove the Eos crossover from one channel and the Base Module from the other (again, "Wiring Option 2"). Life's too short to pursue all the options, although the speakers and crossovers have hefty and redundant binding posts to accommodate almost any conceivable arrangement.
I was happy with all of these arrangements. A single DNA-1 or Power-2 was sufficient to drive the now three-way system to unneighborly levels. The effects of adding the Base Module were both subtle and significant. The subtle part was the bass extension. After all, balance was already good, and there isn't a lot of music below 50Hz. While seeking out recordings to exercise the Base Modules, I found that they added at least another octave to the bottom end and, as long as they were kept more than 3' from the walls, did so cleanly and with authority. The bass on Roots!!! African Drums (Denon DC-8559) was rich and full of resonance, but still nimble; the imaging abilities of the Eos Signatures were not compromised by adding the Bass Modules. (This recording was one of several that I used at the 1997 WCES. In some demos, it had no oomph; in others it had so much oomph that the imaging was destroyed. Some demos were pretty good, but returning home to the Eos/Base combo was a delight. As Goldilocks would say, this was just right!)
The significant effect of adding the Base Modules to the Eos was on the combined system's ability to handle micro- and macrodynamic changes. Diana Krall's voice and the instruments in her group are subtly modulated throughout All For You (Impulse! IMPD-182). Listening via Eos/Base, I noticed many delightful and delicious inflections, such as in the final chorus of "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which I had never before perceived so clearly. Particularly with the SF Power-2, I imagined that I could detect how Krall moved her lips or tongue, or whether she was smiling. I attribute this to the remarkably coherent, almost liquid, sound of the Eos/Base with their smooth, undetectable crossovers and no noticeable beaming. Thus, no tonal or spatial anomalies confused my ability to perceive small dynamic adjustments. In this they reminded me of nothing so much as the midrange of my sainted Stax F-81 electrostatics.
Larger dynamic adjustments, such as the military rat-a-tat in the middle of the Dr. John/Odetta "Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime" (on Justice JR 0003-2), could be appropriately startling. The capacity of the Eos/Base to reveal such subleties made it useful as a monitoring tool. This was especially appreciated when Rick Rosen visited with an armful of commercial recordings and test pressings of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. The differences among the various CD and LP versions were easily discerned.
I was unable to detect any reliable difference between serial and bi-wiring with the McCormack DNA-1, but that amplifier did offer an alternative rendition to the Power-2's. Using the DNA-1, I found that I was less attuned to the fine, internal hues of voices and instruments, but that I was attending to the re-created ambiance of the recording venue. This is not to say that the Power-2 was closed-in or that the DNA-1 lacked subtlety, but that the Eos/Base made distinguishing the strengths of these two amps relatively easy. The DNA-1 was capable of making a deeper, wider presentation with the Eos/Base while retaining pinpoint placement.
Having said that, it's no surprise that I, an imaging fanatic, was most happy with a pair of DNA-1s in the bi-amping arrangement. Everything I said above holds for this setup as well, but I found the ease and authority of the bi-amped system addictive. The previously mentioned Mahler Sixths were both overwhelming, although somewhat different. Especially with the Bernstein, the final peroration of the symphony made me jump, giving me chills even though I've heard it dozens of timesthe physical and emotional impacts were irresistible.
Be warned that the Eos/Base system won't easily let you listen, audiophile-fashion, to short snippets of music. One of my new joys is the set of the Schumann symphonies by Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band (RCA 61931-2). Over the Eos/Base system, I was hearing the most convincing re-creation of an orchestra in a real hall that I have ever heardand was swept into listening to the entire 2-CD set more than once! With such accepted audiophile fare as the Exotic Dances from the Opera CD (Reference RR-71CD), I could revel in the glory of the orchestra at realistic levels. Interestingly, the placement and distance of the orchestra didn't change as I turned up the volume; it just got louder. Finally, Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" (from I'm Your Man, Columbia CK 44191), a decidedly nonaudiophile presentation, was gripping in its bare-bulb immediacy, confirming that this system could squeeze the best out of almost any recording.
The Artemis Eos/Base Module sounded so right that it seems a bit churlish to mention the few ways in which they fell from grace. First, the Base Modules were demanding in their placement requirements. Ideally, they must be at least 3' from any wall andbecause of the rear porttwice that from the wall behind them. You probably can manage that if your room is large enough. The Modules would have liked a room even larger than mine (approximately 5000 cu. ft.). Using them in a smaller room excites room modes, and the bass can seem overwhelming. (Artemis is offering a smaller Base Module that I suspect will be happier in more typical domestic surroundings.)
Second, because the Eos Signature has no high-pass filter, playing the combined system at very high spls introduced a roughness into the midrange. To experience this, however, I had to play the system at ear-damaging levels. Artemis acknowledges this problem, but maintains that introducing a high-pass filter would compromise the purity of the sound at all listening levels. I never experienced this without the Base modules, as prudence usually prevents one from running the smaller system at such levels.
Third, there was an occasional glint in the HF range around 6kHz (by my ears). Though not offensive, this suggests that the remarkably wide-ranging 7" driver, which is only slightly attenuated at those frequencies, may have some minor resonance in its mechanism.
It seems to me that all of these issues are related to the first-order crossover slopes, which, by their nature, require the drivers, especially the 7-incher, to reproduce over a much wider range than is usual. It's also likely that it is precisely these features that contribute directly to the remarkable overall integrity of the sound produced by the system. Life is cruel.
It took a long time for me to write this review: I have been seduced by these speakers, and will miss them when they're gone. (Besides, we've sublet the shipping crates and have come to depend on the income.) There's no doubt in my mind that the Artemis Systems Eos Signatures/Base Modules are the finest, most satisfying speakers that I have used, and I regret that there are so many recordings that I will not get to play on them. Their weaknesses were few, their demands on associated equipment minimal. If your room/budget can accommodate speakers in this size/price range, you must audition them or forever wonder if you made the right choice.
A new dawn?
Shortly after finishing this review, I flew to San Francisco for HI-FI '97, where John Atkinson greeted me with a silly question: "Did you listen to the Eos with the tweeter phase reversed?" Of course I hadn'tthe Eoses, with or without the Base Modules, sounded so nice in my system that it never occurred tome to wire them up incorrectly. "Well," said JA, "nearfield measurements indicate that the HF and MF units are acoustically out of phase when connected as recommended." I got them back so I could listen to them wired the other way.
The Eos Signatures went into my system (without the Base Modules) wired up as before so I could reacquaint myself with them. Then I read what I'd written before and, no surprise, agreed with everything I'd said. (I still love these speakers.) JA's findings required me to reconsider what the Eos sounded like in nearfield (12m) listening. I found the close-up sound very phasey, and the slightest head movement made instruments jump about and created tonal shifts. Such effects, although I did not describe them, were why I'd originally insisted on a much more distant listening position than Artemis suggests as minimum.
Several things happened when I reversed the phase between the two drivers. (Remember that, with their first-order crossover, there is a wide band of overlap between the two drivers.) First, imaging from almost any listening position was corrupted. Only dead-centered voices emerged from between the speakers; everything else was flung laterally beyond the speaker positions. Orchestral recordings sounded much as they would if the left and right speakers were out of phase with each other.
Second, the frequency balance was drastically changed. Most noticeable was a suckout in the upper midrange, with an apparent emphasis of the energy bands above and below the suckout. This gave a plumpness to the lower midrange (male announcers sounded chesty and overripe), and a hissy prominence to the HF. Less-than-pristine LPs whose surface-noise energy seemed to be just above the suckout easily demonstrated that female voices were diminished in presence (surface noise was also accentuated). On the CD release of Rickie Lee Jones' "Comin' Back to Me" (Pop Pop, Geffen GEFD-24426), the instrumental channels were pretty quiet, but the vocal channel was fairly noisy. Every time Rickie Lee was switched into the mix I found the hiss obtrusive, and her voice both too warm and too widely spread. This was so only when the tweeters were reversed in electrical phase. When I switched back, all was well.
Further auditioning with pink noise and white noiseand a lot of walking around, sitting, stooping, and crawlingconfirmed that the recommended connections were consistently preferable. With reversed phase, the only position that was musically acceptable was when I listened within 2m and laid down on the floor. (I don't have 5' speaker stands.) From these observations, I suspect that reversing the electrical phase (and correcting the nearfield acoustic) tilted the midrange polar response down in the vertical plane, creating the midrange suckout at more reasonable listening positions. (I haven't seen JA's measurements.)
So thanks for sending the Eos Signatures back to me, JA. I hope you enjoyed listening to and measuring them, but I'll go on listening to themwith the recommended connections. Proof of the pudding, y'know.