Audiostatic ES-100 loudspeaker Page 3
While the ES-100s didn't have the MG-20s' tonal balance veracity through the lower octaves, the pair still managed to project some of that same kind of imaging magic into the soundstage. Instrumental outlines bloomed to realistic size, yet retained an exceptional sense of focus and individual identity. It was easy to resolve individual voices within the fabric of a chorus because outlines didn't blend or smear, as they often do with lesser speakers.
In general, the Audiostatic's accuracy of timbre was right-on for instruments spanning the soprano register. In fact, the range above 1kHz was harmonically the most accurate of any electrostatic I've heard to datewith the possible exception of the original Quad and the Stax F83. The upper registers of soprano voice were absolutely convincing. Loreena McKennitt sounded more like herself than ever before on The Visit (Warner Bros. 26880-2). If you like a sweet, pure violin tone, try Arturo Delmoni's latest on the Sonora labelMusic for Violin and Guitar (SACC 102)through these speakers. Delmoni's violin ebbed and flowed harmonically with lovely bloom and timbral precision.
On Joni Mitchell's Blue (Reprise MS-2038), the harmonic nuances of Joni's voice sparkled like diamonds in the sun. The Symphonic RG-8 Gold cartridge partnered with the Graham Model 1.5t arm and Basis Ovation turntable helped, but the ES-100 was able to keep pace, even when confronted with a world-class front end.
The ES-100 sounded deficient in the range from 100300Hzit could've used maybe another 3dB of lower-midrange juice. The resultant tonal balance was decidedly leanpiano, double bass, and cello all lost body and heft. The lightweight bass lines interfered little with my enjoyment of Baroque music. For example, Handel's Sinfonia (track 1, Grundig's Fine Arts sampler, MDG L-3322) sounded deliciously sweet and full of life, while the piece's inherently anemic bass lines were simply rendered a bit weaker. The midrange itself sounded rather full, which at least partially compensated for the lack of bass.
Beethoven and jazz proved to be entirely different stories, however. Romantic orchestral music, relying as it does on fuller bass lines, did not fare well on these speakers. When the orchestra dug down, the sense of menace was diminished. The hall's flavor was also reduced, because much of a hall's warmth resides in the 100300Hz range.
The ES-100's lean tonal balance also resulted in a tendency toward brightness. But the problem was definitely not rising frequency response. Rather, it's well known that instrumental timbre is brightened by a reduction in the intensity of the fundamental (at least in the octave from 200400Hz). Thus, the Audiostatic's lean balance served to brighten its character. I objected to this effect only when the program material tended toward that direction in the first place, or when something in the chain pushed the ES-100 over the edge. Take care not to match the ES-100 with bright gear.
Deep bass below 40Hz was almost totally lacking. However, the ES-100's bass output was clean, detailed, and well-integrated in terms of speed and character. Unlike most hybrids where the transition between the dynamic woofer and the electrostatic panel is easy to spot, the Audiostatic sounded seamless from top to bottom.
A powered dynamic subwoofer with the appropriate outboard passive filters is available from SOTA. But at around $1000 per sub, the system's cost increases substantially.
The SW-100 electrostatic woofer is available for and designed to be wired in parallel with the ES-100 (so a crossover network is not required). The SW-100 is visually identical to the ES-100 and augments the system's output below 300Hz. Note that the speaker's low-frequency extension isn't affected, rather its upper- and midbass regions are augmented. I've only heard the ES-100/SW-100 combo at a dealer's showroom, but I got the feeling at the time that I wouldn't want to do without the woofer. However, the SW-100 woofer doubles the system's price to $6000.
The Audiostatic ES-100 offers a slice of sonic heaven. Its performance in the range above about 1kHz was about as good as it getscost being no object. If you think of it as a "planar minimonitor" and are willing to accept its lean tonal balance, then sonic happiness can be yours. Overall, it isn't as balanced a performer as the old or new Quad ESLs, though its timbral accuracy through the soprano range is clearly superior to that of the Quads, and I prefer the Audiostatic's sound to that of the MartinLogan CLS II. But its stiffest competition comes from the MartinLogan Aerius, which also sounds lean to my ears, but retails for $1000 less.
If you decide later to do something about that tonal balance, the SW-100 will double the system's cost, meaning that both the MartinLogan Quest and the Sound-Lab Pristine will loom as serious competition.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind a factory upgrade with a beefier interface, a better-engineered (ie, more stable) base plate, and bias-adjustment capability. I think we deserve as much at the $3200/pair price point. Even so, the ES-100 deserves a serious auditionyou might just fall in love with it.