Eminent Technology LFT-VIII loudspeaker Page 2
The bass help comes from an ET-designed 8" woofer, operating in a 0.8-ft3 sealed enclosure. The woofer's 56gm cone is purposefully massive, both to reduce the Q in such a small enclosure to a low 0.6 for good transient response, and to mechanically roll-off the woofer's high-end response to complement the first-order electrical crossover.
At the other end of the spectrum, an 18" by ¼" LFT tweeter is mounted on the inner side of the frame, right next to the LFT midrange panel. This li'l tweeter strip only covers the upper octave between 10 and 20kHz, although the shallow 6dB crossover means it will still have some meaningful output well below 10kHz.
ET supplies a set of "stands" for the LFT-VIII, simple 2' steel support rods that screw to the bottom of the woofer cabinet and run fore to aft on either side of the box's underside, jutting out so the top-heavy ETs don't topple forward. In addition, the rods are fitted with adjustable spikes, to assist in coupling the speakers to the floor and adjusting their degree of tilt.
Stand and deliver
When Bruce Thigpen first sent me the LFT-VIII, the tweeter strip was mounted all the way at the top of the 5' speaker; while this gave the speaker a good sense of sparkle for a standing listener, once I sat down on my couch the LFT-VIII sounded very dark and muffled through the upper midrange and highs. Tipping the speaker radically forward would've improved the balance by "beaming" the highs down to my ears, but the top-heavy ETs were tipped so far forward they'd have fallen flat on their pusses had I let go!
So I called up Bruce Thigpen and asked him why the tweeter was so high. He explained that he'd originally mounted the tweeter lower on the face of the frame for optimum sound for seated listeners, but dealers complained that their customers were passing over the LFT-VIII because they mostly stood up during showroom demos. In other words, the original ETs sounded as dull to a standing listener as the revised version sounded to a seated listener; hence the repositioned tweeter to enhance standing demos. Still, Bruce wasn't entirely happy with that solution, as it rewarded standing demos at the expense of the people who actually bought the speakers and planned to sit in their living rooms to listen to them. He told me he was in the process of moving the tweeter back down to optimize the system for seated listeners, and a few weeks later I received the revised mid/tweeter panels, which I swapped out for the high-tweeter ones and screwed down onto the woofer boxes.
Like Elvis, ET's Bruce Thigpen has his own plane: Elvis had his Lisa Marie, and Bruce has his AEA-77571. And doubly cool, whenever there's a CES to attend, Bruce flies his gear to the shows in his own bird! TCB, baby, TCB.
Watts the word?
Dipole speakers like the LFT-VIII need extra attention where room placement is concerned, ere ye wind up with shittey sounde when the speaker's back-wave interferes with imaging precision. ET's well-written and comprehensive manual for the LFT-VIII recommends the speakers be positioned between 1' and 5' from the rear wall; after trying many different positions to find the best sound, I ended up with the speakers roughly 90" from the rear wall and 28" in from the side walls. This seemed to give the best soundstage depth, as well as the best bass integration with my room.
In addition to careful placement, the ETs are also fairly finicky in terms of amplification. Unlike the take-all-comers ProAc Response 2s, I had several fine-sounding amps on hand that just didn't do the do when driving the LFT-VIIIs. Worst match was the Forté Model 4 I reviewed in November; while the Model 4 sounded real good with the ProAcs, the sound with the ETs was overly dark and lacking in dynamics. The VTL Deluxe 225s sounded fine through the mids and highs (if admittedly a bit soft), but the ET's bass became way too boomy and uncontrolled. The only amp I had on hand that seemed to complement the ETs was the Muse Model One Hundred, but even then the sound was a bit more veiled and lacking in bass control than I remembered from the demo at CES. What was I missing?
Two things: MUSCLE and a FIRM GRIP! The 83dB/W/m ETs are between 4 and 6dB less sensitive than most speakers out there, including the ProAcs and Spicas, so what usually passes for 100W in my listening room only translates to 50W or less with the power-hungry LFT-VIIIs. 50W may be fine for Jan Ülmstegt and her Happy Little Dulcimer, but the ETs and I needed more juice if we were going to let Nirvana join the party.
Serendipity-doo-dah struck in the form of the Aragon 4004 Mk.II. As it'd just received a rave review up from TJN in Vol.15 No.9, Stereophile's Shipping God and three-time North American Frisbee Golf Champion Danny Sandoval blue-labeled it over to me, and the dyke was plugged: the 200W Aragon, with its awesome LF control and muy plentivo power reserves, was the perfect match for the LFT-VIII. I stuck with it exclusively for the rest of the review.
I said I was knocked out by the sound of the LFT-VIIIs at CES, and my opinion of the ETs held up throughout the entire review period. These are mighty fine speakers, rivaling many well-known models at considerably higher prices. In terms of detail and midrange clarity, they are some of the most impressive speakers I've heard at any price.
The LFT-VIIIs give the impression of a very fast, very natural-sounding speaker. The most obvious characteristic when I first sat down to listen was the total lack of "boxiness," the hooty, boomy resonances audible to some degree in every conventional box-loaded dynamic speaker. The ETs had a smooth, even clarity through the mids and highs that rendered voices like my homey Richard Lehnert's spoken intros on track 1 of Stereophile's Test CD 2 very nearly as natural as he sounds in person. Voices are an area I've always felt panel speakers to fall down on, but the LFT-VIII really shone on vocal material like Lyle Lovett's Deadicated cut and the must-have new gospel CD by the Fairfield Four, Standing in the Safety Zone (Warner Bros. 26945-2). Undoubtedly, the midrange LFT driver is an excellent transducer, and the fact that it covers most if not all of the vocal range might explain why the human voice seems to be the LFT-VIII's strong suit.
Another characteristic I dug about the ETs was the height of their image. No, I'm not talking about that shakin' kielbasa that goes up and down on the Chesky Test CD's LEDR track; I'm talking about the raising up of the whole image as compared to most floorstanding or stand-mounted speakers. With the ProAcs and Spicas, the image is right about at head-level for a seated listener, but the LFT-VIII's higher-positioned mid and tweeter drivers place the image higher; the effect was to render most music much more realistic in both size and dimension. OK, so Billy Barty Sings Cole Porter was unrealistically high up, but the Fairfield Four sounded far more like actual men standing in the safety zone of my listening room than with the pelvis-high ProAcs and Spicas. I've met more than a few audiophiles who are really bothered by the lowish image presented by most speakers; if you're one of them, the ETs will definitely turn you on.
Setting the ETs up for optimum soundstaging was tricky; depending on how the music was recorded, they sounded better either closer together or farther apart. For purist, Blumlein-miked recordings like RH's drum tracks and JA's Elgar recording on Stereophile's Test CD 2, the soundstage snapped into focus only when the ETs were brought closer together; the solo vocal on JA's track, in particular, would only move outside the left-hand speaker with the ETs close together.
But when I put on recordings that weren't Blumlein-miked (that is, 99.99999% of all recordings known to man, woman, or beast), the soundstage was way too narrow and bunched together in the middle of the room. So back the speakers went to their previous distance apart and everything sounded normal again, the stageful of musicians on Donny Hathaway's live version of "The Ghetto" spread across the room with enough elbow room for everybody's groove thang. Where did I leave the speakers most of the time? Three guesses.
Depth was another matter entirely. No matter how close together or far apart I positioned the LFT-VIIIs, they had a sense of depth that ran straight out the back of my listening room and ended somewhere in the yard outside. When the drummer yells that he's 70' from the mike on Chesky's second Test CD, pilgrim, THAT'S WHERE HE WAS, I TELL YA.
OK, that's the good news. The bad news is that everything acquired a stirring sense of depth through the ETs, including recordings that should reproduce with absolutely NO depth. When JA's direct-injected electric bass tracks on Stereophile's Test CD 2 are correctly reproduced, they should sound totally dry, free of any reverb or depth. Over the LFT-VIIIs, JA's bass took on a slight bit of ambience, due to the dipole effect of the LFT midrange driver's back wave bouncing off the wall behind the speakers and creating the kind of depth effect some folks love, but one that is, strictly speaking, an added artifact of the speaker that shouldn't be there.
Oh, I know, all you panel-nuts out there will argue that this effect makes up for the drying-out of ambience that the whole recording and playback chain causes, the end justifies the means, it sounds more like a real hall, schlemiel, schmozzle, hasenpfeffer incorporated. Pia Zadora said in the film Butterfly, "If it's good, it's right." Who am I to argue?
Footnote 4: During the review period, my brother Mark and his band the Coctails came to stay with us for a few days during the South By Southwest music festival. Between gigs, I recorded the Coctails on my back porch with a pair of Blumlein'd mikes right into an open-reel analog deck, using my reference system and the ETs for playback of the finished tapes. Everyone, even Mark, thought the sound was a little on the dull side, and these are guys who are about as audiophiliac as Boxcar Willie. Switching out the LFT-VIIIs for the ProAc Response 2s, though, revealed that the recording's high end was all there on the tape.