Audiostatic ES-100 loudspeaker Page 2
A multi-way dynamic speaker's radiation pattern is pretty messya number of lobes or sound streams trying to cohesively blend together. But for a full-range planar, the radiation pattern is characterized by two main lobes: one toward the front and another (180° out of phase) toward the back, with little radiation to the sides. This is the classic figure-8 pattern typical of dipole speakers, but with the Audiostatic the figure-8 is more of a three-dimensional entity running the panel's full length. If the panel is narrow and tall (which is the case here), it acts as a line source, minimizing early reflections from the floor and ceiling. The ES-100s should therefore image well, even in small rooms (footnote 1). As with other planars, the backwave must be carefully controlled by a combination of absorption and diffusion. Absorption taken to the limit, as in a live-end/dead-end room, rarely works well with planars. A seamless soundstage is best achieved by dispersing the backwave with RPG Diffusors, RoomTunes, or other such devices.
For any given speaker, the radiation pattern is a function of frequency. Typically, dispersion becomes narrower with increasing frequencya consequence of the diaphragm dimensions becoming equal to or larger than the wavelength of sound being radiated. The sound becomes directional at this point, as if it's being radiated through a flashlight. The ES-100's lateral dispersion of sound is tied in to the diaphragm's widthabout 7". Above 2kHz, therefore, the sound became quite beamy. Even small head movements resulted in significant soundstage shifts. In order to enjoy stable imaging, I needed to sit fairly still in the sweet spot. I could reduce image shift by reducing the panels' toe-in angles, but that also reduced the high-frequency response at the sweet spot. Audiostatic recommends you experiment with a toe-in angle between 15° and 25°, as shown in the User's Manual.
The ES-100's most startling sonic aspect was its absolute clarity. Speaking as it does with a single voice and so little moving mass, its innate flair for speed and control was unmistakable. Transient attack and decay were so clearly delineated that I could unravel musical phrases down into the hall's noise floor. Ambience clues were so accurately resolved that the distinctive aura of each recording space bloomed to fill the soundstage.
This Dutch treat was a refreshing change from a typically poor box speaker with its battery of squeaking, honking driversthe Audiostatic spoke with an organic integrity that allowed detail to flow freely from the music's fabric. Lesser speakers add sizzle and etch to low-level information. As a result, you hear details that Mother Nature never intended you to hear, and you pay the price of early listener fatiguealso known as NSS, Neural Stress Syndrome.
There's a simple cure for NSS: sell your box speaker, take control of your audio future, and embrace an ESL. No speaker on this planet unravels detail as well while preserving the music's delicacy.
The partnering power amp critically influences how easily this speaker can be pushed to play loud. Switching from a nominal 160Wpc transformer-coupled tube amp to the Sans Pareil OTLs, I was surprised at how much more dynamic the sound became with orchestral music.
Dynamic bloom from soft to moderately loud was exquisite, as each instrument's harmonic envelope surged forward from the depth of a hushed passage to full voice. Dynamic gradations weren't compressed during the transition, so it was easy to discern each "gear shift." While it can safely sink a lot of power (up to 250W), the ES-100 did compress while navigating the dynamic scale from moderately loud to very loud.
The bottom line is that the ES-100 is a "small" speaker (at least in terms of its radiating area), and, as with other small speakers, it suffers from dynamic-range limitations. Don't expect it to play very loud in a large room. Compared with the old Quad ESL, however, the ES-100 played much louder without distress and could be pushed hard without physical damage. Practically speaking, with their insulated stators, the Audiostatics are indestructible under overdrive conditions. (I've arced my old Quads to the point of total destruction.)
Whenever I close my eyes at a live performance, irrespective of seat location, and try to form a mental image of the soundstage, I never get the spatial impression of pinpoint imaging. Rather, I perceive instrumental outlines with breadth, height, and depthwhether it's a piano, violin, or human voice. The audiophile myth of a soundstage composed of image outlines the size of ant tracks must have been created by someone suffering from chronic overexposure to minimonitor sound.
If you've read my recent reviews of planar speakers, you won't be surprised when I tell you that only planars get image-size presentation right. Box speakers are inherently unable to develop the proper surface loudness or intensity typical of large instruments such as the piano. Characterized by a large acoustic output spread over a large sounding board, a piano's wave launch is obviously going to be all wrong when it's squeezed through an 8" wooferafter all, pianos aren't built with 8" sounding boards.
I experienced the most awesome, believable reproduction of piano sound I've ever heard during a recent visit to Miami. Peter McGrath of the Sound Components store and I listened to a sampling of his superb digital tapes through his in-store setup of the Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy/WHOW speakers. Lots of space, I thought, but tonal balance and spatial outlines struck me as being definitely audiophile (read: unreal) in character.
Peter then invited me to his home to audition Magnepan's MG-20 loudspeakers. Assisted by a pair of Snell THX subwoofers, a Bryston power amp, and an Audio Research LS5 line-level preamp, the MG-20s fed with some of those same master tapes were astonishing. It was as if someone had snuck up to the piano image with a tire pump and inflated it to realistic proportions. The power and majesty of a real piano were suspended before me in spacemaybe not the original piano image as it existed in the recording venue, but a piano nonetheless. Of course, the MG-20's realistic tonal balance from the lower midrange down considerably enhanced the illusion of a live performance.
Footnote 1: For a somewhat controversial discussion of this subject, see J. Gordon Holt's "Space: the Final Frontier" elsewhere in this issue.John Atkinson