Peak Consult Empress loudspeaker Page 2
So it was time to pull out the big guns, such as the recently remastered—sonically transformed and re-edited by engineer Paul Blakemore, really—Mahler Symphony 2 by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin (SACD, Telarc SACD-60081). I've always liked this performance, especially Maureen Forrester's contralto, which seems spot on and slightly vulnerable. The new SACD, transferred from the 50kHz Soundstream master, has a sense of space and quiet power that is spectacularly natural. The offstage fanfares sound as if they're coming from another room. Yes, I know that's the point, but most recordings merely place them somewhere off to the side of the central orchestral image. The Empresses made them sound as though they came from a room I don't even have.
And the dynamic range, from the almost inaudible entrance of the chorus in the final movement to the last explosive tutti, was phenomenal. In fact, I'd have to call that the Empress's best feature. No, that would be the timbral neutrality. No, it was the seamless soundstaging. Ah, the heck with all that—it had to be the balance of all those elements.
It didn't hurt that the Empress is good-looking, too. There really is something special about the level of woodworking craft involved in these speakers. I feel almost shallow even bringing that up, but the Peak Consult Empress does cost $25,000/pair. The main point, of course, is how they sound, but if I were going to spend that kind of money on a pair of loudspeakers, they'd better look good. The Empress does—not in some wigged-out modern way, but in a straightforward manner that won't clash with your Stickley Morris chair.
While auditioning the Empress I truly enjoyed its sound, but I kept obsessing over that price tag. Twenty-five large is not the most expensive loudspeaker I've ever auditioned, but it sure isn't inexpensive. Heck, it's not even affordable for me or the crowd I run with. Maybe it is for you. Whether it is or isn't, I suspect you'll know that long before you decide whether or not you should consider them.
It finally occurred to me that it wasn't the question of value that was bothering me—I reckon that's for you to decide for yourself—it was my awareness that the weak US dollar has made the Empress more expensive here than it would have been a year or two ago. But that's beside the point in evaluating the Empress' performance, which I found seductive.
Should I pluck it, my hands would defile the flower
Why was it unfair of me to be thrown so far off by the Empress's price? I didn't have the same inner conflict over the Dynaudio Evidence Temptation ($30,000/pair) or Aerial 20T ($23,500/pair)—precisely the competitive neighborhood the Peak Consults belong in. Not, I hasten to add, because they're similarly priced, but because that's the level of quality I'm talking about. If you've got a really big listening room, you might be better off with the Dynaudio or Aerial, both of which seem to play louder and deeper than the Empress. Surprisingly, all three speakers are rated within 1dB of one another at their bottom limits (PC, 29Hz; Dynaudio and Aerial, 28Hz), but the Evidence Temptation takes the prize in my listening room for perceived bass impact.
In its ability to shake my house's foundation with its impact and pedal-to-the-metal dynamic extension, the Evidence Temptation has had no peer in my listening room. But other than a time or two when I was torture-testing the Dynaudio, that's not something I've had much occasion to require. For the sort of listening I do day in and day out, the Empress satisfied.
The Empress's deep bass was warmer and a tad woollier than the Temptation's or the 20T's—not a huge indictment in my book. Mostly what impressed me down there with the Empress was what I didn't hear—such as extra emphasis caused by ripples above the port resonance. JA's measurements may force me to eat these words, but I'm guessing the Empress doesn't add a lot of cabinet noise where it's too audible.
At the other extreme, the Empress didn't have a prominently forward tweeter, as seems to be the fashion these days. I'm thinking here of the seductive but ultimately too-hyped detail I hear from the Dynaudio Special Twenty-Fives, which I've been listening to lately. (Where'd that one come from? Every reviewer needs a near-reference, stand-mounted two-way for those times when he wearies of moving 150-lb floorstanders around his listening room.)
In fact, in its precision and balance, the Empress reminded me of nothing so much as a speaker that combined the ideals of a precision minimonitor with a speaker that actually goes down to 30Hz. And because it's one heck of a lot smaller than the Evidence Temptation or the 20T, that might be the best way to think of it: as a full-range compact loudspeaker.
The throne is a glorious sepulcher
The Peak Consult Empress is a pretty special loudspeaker. It may not be your cup of tea if you relate to a specific sort of speaker "sound"—the Empress ain't got one of its own. And I've heard from other speakers more extended highs; deeper, tauter bass; and greater SPLs. What I haven't heard is many speakers that do so little wrong or so much so very right. The key to such rare overachievers is balance.
If the standard is whether or not I would live with a speaker, the Empress is about as highly recommended as they come. If the standard is whether or not I could see myself buying them, that's a different matter—one predicated entirely on the vagaries of my being an ink-stained wretch, and a freelance one at that.
Would I buy 'em if I had $25 grand? Oh, heavens to Betsy, yes. It wasn't love at first sight, but I could listen to the Empress for a lifetime.