Escalante Design Fremont loudspeaker Page 2
Once the Escalante Fremonts had been placed, my listening chair adjusted, and the power amp chosen, I settled in for some serious listening. To calibrate my ears, I began with some of my favorite bass and rhythm selections from: David Hudson's Didgeridoo Spirit (CD, Indigenous Australia IA2003 D); Fleetwood Mac's The Dance (CD, Reprise 46702-2); and David Bowie's "Putting Out Fire," from the Cat People soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-1498). These tracks had eye-popping pace, impact, and energy through the Fremonts, all of which tempted me to turn the volume ever higher, which I did—until my wife slammed the bedroom door, a stern signal that, even before I lost my hearing, I might lose my spouse (footnote 2).
Even at more civilized volume levels, the Fremont's bass seemed to extend much deeper than the warble tests had suggested. Driven by the Levinson No.334 amplifier, its twin 12" woofers produced full room lock with the sustained deep organ-pedal notes from Master Tallis's Testament. It reproduced the organ-pedal chord that ends Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, excerpted on Stereophile's Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2), and the synthesizer chords in "Assault on Ryan's House," from James Horner's Patriot Games soundtrack (CD, RCA 66051-2). Its jaw-dropping pace'n'rhythm and blunt bass impact were apparent during drummer Mark Flynn's explosive work on "Blizzard Limbs," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2). With the rim shots in "Enter Sandman," from Metallica's The Black Album (CD, Elektra 61113-2), the Fremont generated from this churning, sizzling bass mix a sense of steam-pressured pace without blurring James Hetfield's vocals.
Solo voices glowed with rich timbres. Listening to the spacious-sounding male voices of the Turtle Creek Chorale and their organ accompaniment on "Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace," from John Rutter's Requiem as conducted by Timothy Seelig (CD, Reference RR-57CD), delineated the different rows of male singers in a way similar to what I hear from my Quad ESL-989 electrostatic speakers, though the deep bass of the organ was almost inaudible. In the Kyrie from Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, as conducted by José Luis Ocejo (CD, Philips 420 955-2), José Carreras's clear tenor seemed close—as if he were standing in the room with me—while the chorus behind him was positioned in space by the soft sound of their intake of breath at the end of each cadence. Harry Connick, Jr.'s "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," from the When Harry Met Sally . . . soundtrack (CD, Columbia CK 45319), had a natural vocal timbre with no sign of the closed-in quality heard when the Fremonts weren't toed-in properly; the rim shot that ends the song was blazingly fast and extremely loud, but coherent and focused.
However, as I listened more, I became aware of other qualities. In the phase-check and channel-ID tracks on Test CD 2, Richard Lehnert's voice sounded more nasal than I recall it sounding when I spoke to him in person, as if he had a slight cold. Stevie Nicks's voice on The Dance was warmer and fuller than I recalled hearing through other loudspeakers. Piano recordings sounded more colored than I was expecting. Another small quirk was the spatial discrimination of vocals during the opening of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. While the Fremonts' rendition of the tenor was open and perfectly imaged, with his voice at the extreme left of the soundstage, the sibilants were detached, appearing nearer to center stage and disconnected in space from the voice. I didn't hear this with any other recordings, however.
Even with these anomalies, the Fremont's superb dynamic range enabled it to reproduce organ music with a realism and a power that swept me away, producing the same pulsatile room lock I'd heard in Escalante Design's demo room at HE2007.
Yes, the deep-bass room lock I heard from the Fremonts at the 2007 Home Entertainment Show was not an artifact of that small demo room. Further listening in my own, larger space revealed its imaging capabilities and voltage sensitivity, though it also uncovered some timbral anomalies. Its tonal shift in the lower-midrange region changed the timbre of female vocals and of piano music. The 10dB/octave drop in output in my room below 40Hz was surprising. On the plus side, the Fremont's tonal balance produced much less listening fatigue than the treble emphasis of some other full-range speakers.
What the Fremont did well made me want to excuse its deficiencies. This loudspeaker's voltage sensitivity is almost 6dB higher than that of most speakers reviewed in Stereophile. This will be a gift to those who own lower-powered amplifiers, such as single-ended triode designs, or my own class-A, 25W Mark Levinson ML-2s. After fussing repeatedly with room setup and volume level, while locating the precise sweet spot, I was rewarded with tight, tuneful bass, speed, ear-popping dynamics, raw energy, and freedom from overload. I was delighted with the Fremonts' wide, if shallow, soundstage. Throw in a huge amplifier, such as Bryston's 28B-SST monoblocks (1kWpc) or Krell's FPB 600c (600Wpc), and the Fremonts will bring rock-concert realism to your home—but do protect your hearing!.
Footnote 2: The Escalante Fremont's owner's manual warns that ear damage can occur if the owner plays the Fremont at sustained high volumes. Given the speaker's unusually high voltage sensitivity of 93dB and its peak power-handling ability of 2000W, this is easy to do.