Eminent Technology LFT-VIII loudspeaker Page 3
At the frequency extremes, the LFT-VIII has a bit of trouble matching its terrific midband performance. The bass, while it goes down surprisingly low and strong for such a narrow-profiled speaker, is not as tight or as tuneful as that of the Spica Angelus or the ProAc Response 2, or especially that of the Muse Model 18 subwoofer I normally use in conjunction with these two speakers. The stated sealed-system Q of 0.6 might indicate an overdamped, extra-tight bass, but the LFT-VIII sounded a bit too thick'n'rich in the bass no matter where I positioned the speakers in my room. Although this slight heaviness in the bass didn't seem to affect vocals too much, it did subtly slow the system's sense of rhythm, as the bass couldn't keep time with the superior upper-bass/lower-midrange quickness of the LFT midrange panel.
Another problem I noticed with the ET's bass was that the woofer's dynamic ceiling seemed much lower than that of the LFT midrange and tweeter drivers. This meant that, contrary to my initial prediction, it was the woofer which determined the LFT-VIII's ultimate loudness capability, not the LFT panels. I'd have the speakers cruising along on The Commitments good and loud, but when the bassline kicked in, the woofers would protest with some pretty scary-sounding cracks. To be fair, the $1200/pair Spica Angelus and $3000/pair ProAc Response 2s do this too when I run them full-range without the Muse's help, but the ET is ostensibly such a full-range speaker at sensible volumes that it was a drag when I'd nudge the volume up during Nirvana or the Chili Peppers and the cracking woofers would send me scurrying back to nudge it down again.
At the other end of the spectrum, the LFT-VIII's highs are velvet-smooth and zip-free, but there's less top-octave air than with most speakers I prefer. Even the Angelus, which could never be described as a speaker with loads of air, sounded as if it reached further in the treble. So while the ETs are refreshingly free from what JA calls "soft-dome sizzle," they could use a little more energy in their HF balance: cymbals and other HF-rich sounds came across as more distant and muted compared with the Spicas and ProAcs. The revised mid/tweeter panels sounded much better in terms of HF balance and upper-midrange clarity than the first ones Bruce sent, but I still wished for some more HF air, even with the tweeter level set for "flat" (footnote 4). The –6dB and –12dB settings sounded unusably dark; given that the speaker needs more HF energy, not less, I'm puzzled as to why they were even included in the design.
Centaur Minor vs LFT-VIII
I thought it might be interesting to compare the ETs with another similarly priced planar/dynamic hybrid: the $1200 Apogee Centaur Minor, which received a rave review from Bob Harley a year ago, in Vol.15 No.1. With their mandatory $150 stands, the Minors creep up into the $1500 ET's territory at $1350/pair, so it seemed a natural to compare the ETs with the speakers my favorite amateur astronomer calls his first choice under two grand. The Apogees were auditioned with the same group of components I used with the LFT-VIII, the only difference being the single run of Apogee-mandated Symo cable between the Aragon and the Minors instead of the bi-wired pair of Kimber 4AG used with the ETs (footnote 5).
First off, everything Bob said about the Minors is true: they are terrific speakers for the money. But in my room, I preferred the ETs. While the Apogees presented loads of detail and HF air, they also had a tendency toward a "hi-fi–ish" forwardness and stridency in the low treble that the ETs were completely free of. True, the ETs lacked the sense of sparkle which gives the Minors such a sense of excitement and presence, but I came to prefer the ETs' natural smoothness to the Apogee's overly vivid, somewhat fatiguing character. I also listened to the Minors with the softer-sounding VTL amps, and while this brought the level of brashness down dramatically, I still preferred the sound of the Aragon-driven ETs to the VTL-driven Apogees (footnote 6).
I also felt that the LFT-VIIIs edged the Minors in the areas of bass, dynamic range, and imaging. Woofwise, the Apogees' li'l 6.5" woofers were no match for the ETs' 8" drivers; when I send my Stratocaster's low E-string down to hell and back during the intro to Eden on Stereophile's Test CD 2, the Minors don't even hint at the E-string's dive, while the LFT-VIII shook the room as I smash the twang bar down to the face of the guitar.
The ET was clearer through the lower midrange as well, sounding less colored on Richard Lehnert's voice than the Apogees. This might be due in part to the Minor's higher woofer crossover frequency; at 800Hz vs the ET's 180Hz, the Minor's dynamic driver has more of an opportunity to mess with the vocal range before the faster planar driver takes over than is the case with the ET.
While the LFT-VIII's image height was much higher and more realistic than the shorter 46" stand-mounted Centaur Minor, it also had a sharper, better-defined sense of individual images than the Minor, which tended toward a slight diffuseness that mirrored RH's findings in his review. Listening to the DAT master of "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" from this past SCES's Pax Mondial Jam, the relative positions of Immedia's Allen Perkins's drumkit, mine and TAS's Frank Doris's Strat-fed Fender Twin amps, and JA's 5-string Carvin-fed Ampeg SVT bass amp were much clearer and distinctly defined with the ETs than with the Apogees, which subtly blended everything together and reduced the sense of space and division between these various sound sources.
In short, although I'm not sure that the ETs are my first choice in a speaker under $2000, I would choose them over the very good but very different-sounding Apogee Centaur Minors. If I were you, though, I wouldn't make a choice until I heard them both, in your listening room; both speakers are excellent values.
I really like Eminent Technology's LFT-VIII. Even with the shortcomings noted—ie, the somewhat puffy bass and the lack of HF air—the $1500/pair LFT-VIII is still one of the most natural, musically satisfying speakers I've had in my house; that I kept them in my listening room for over two months while the ProAc Response 2s and Spica Angeluses cooled their heels in the Green Room is testimony to how much I enjoyed my time with them. When I look at the raw materials and excellence in design, I'm still surprised they cost only $1500; you get a lot of speaker for your money.
My enthusiasm for the ET is tempered by its limitations regarding symbiotic amplification; the inefficient LFT-VIII, with its iron-fist-of-an-amplifier–seeking woofer, will really only work with a high-powered, nth-degree-tight-in-the-bass solid-state amp like the $1850 Aragon 4004 Mk.II. I didn't have one on hand, but the less-expensive Adcom GFA-555 II, $800 and 200Wpc, might be worth a try as well.
However, if you're prepared to go to the mat and feed it what it needs, I can definitely recommend the Eminent Technology LFT-VIII to anyone looking for a much fatter slice of true high-end sound than most $1500 speakers I've heard can offer. Yes, it's a panel speaker, but it doesn't sound like one; from me, that's high praise! If Bruce Thigpen can bring the ET's woofer performance up to speed with the LFT midrange panel, and bring the high end up a notch, he'll make an already good speaker a great one. GO BRUCE GO!
Footnote 5: It doesn't take $100/ft silver wire to get sterling [RIMSHOT] performance from the ETs; I got great sound with AudioQuest's $4/ft Type 4, too. If I was paying for all this stuff, I'd definitely go with the AudioQuest, but I'm not paying for all this stuff. I hate myself.
Footnote 6: This runs counter to our usual preferences when it comes to gear; while Bob tends to go for a smoother, more laid-back sound, I usually like gear that gives an upfront, kick-butt balance. Are we slowly switching personalities? I hope not; Austin has better record stores than Santa Fe.