The Fifth Element #50 Page 3

Those looking for a successor to the old Fried Q near its inflation-adjusted price of $1050/pair should be happy with Renaissance Audio's MLP-403.5 or Eminent Technology's LFT-16. Those whose speaker budgets reach as high as $2000 have many more options, including an LS3/5a descendant such as Harbeth's HL-3PES-2.

Eminent Technology LFT-16 loudspeaker
There is much to admire and to enjoy in this idiosyncratically charming hybrid loudspeaker. Eminent Technology has been around for about 25 years. Founder Bruce Thigpen was a pioneer in air-bearing technology, and ET's first product was a well-regarded air-bearing tonearm. The company later developed and was awarded patents for its Linear Field Transducers (LFTs): push-pull loudspeaker panels that operate on the magnetic rather than the electrostatic principle. Arraying magnets both front and rear of the plastic-membrane diaphragm eliminates a problem inherent in many planar-magnetic designs: as excursion increases, the magnetic restorative force diminishes. As can be expected, this technology is not efficient at reproducing bass, so most such speakers have been hybrids.

The LFT-16 ($950/pair) is a three-way design that combines a roughly cubic sealed box (with slightly sloping rear panel) holding a 6.5" paper-cone woofer, with a front baffle panel that extends about half again the height of the woofer box. A cutout in the upper part of the front baffle holds an LFT midrange panel, measuring about 4" by 6.5", that radiates to the front and rear; beside it is a planar-magnetic tweeter measuring roughly 1" by 2" and radiating only forward. The speakers are "handed"; the tweeters are intended to be inboard of the midranges. Grilles attachable by hook-and-loop fasteners are provided, but I didn't use them. The LFT-16 is 21.5" H by 9.75" W by 9.75" D and weighs 23 lbs. A very complete owner's manual is available here.

The front baffle is available in solid oak, walnut, or gloss black. The baffles of my review pair, made of ¾" solid walnut, had a great classic-audio vibe—like an old Discwasher handle. If I were to buy a pair of LFT-16s, perhaps I'd ask ET to first sell me a pair of unfinished baffle boards and then do a really nice finishing job myself. The factory finish, which looks like a matte oil rub, is okay, but wood of this quality deserves better.

Connection is made by means of Edison Price binding posts of pure copper, two sets of which permit biwiring or biamping. In normal use, and as delivered from the factory, medium-heavy–gauge stranded-wire jumpers enable single-wiring. The speaker connections are not on the rear of the woofer box but on its top, behind the upper part of the baffle. A retro-looking barrier strip carries the terminals for the exposed wires that run behind the baffle to the midrange and tweeter. This strip also enables the tweeter level to be adjusted to be flat, –3dB, or –6dB at 20kHz. Bravo. If only all affordable speakers—and many not-so-affordable ones—had such a feature.

Eminent Tech claims for the LFT-16 a nominal impedance of 8 ohms and a frequency response of 45Hz–20kHz, ±4dB (–6dB at 50kHz). The sensitivity is specified as 85dB/2.83V/m. ET has about two dozen dealers in the US. If you don't live within 100 miles of a dealer, the factory will sell you speakers with a 30-day money-back guarantee (which makes me hope that ET's dealers have liberal home-trial policies).

I really like this speaker. It's a different sonic flavor from that served up by the Renaissance MLP-403.5, but I think it's equally valid, and equally a great bargain. Which you prefer will depend on which virtues you rate more highly. The Renaissance's sound is a touch darker and definitely weightier. The LFT-16 has more clarity in the midrange and treble, and overall a brighter, faster, slightly lighter sound. I'm sure there must be more to it in terms of voicing, but these sonic differences appear to line up with the differences in design: the MLP-403.5's bigger woofer and dome midrange vs the LFT-16's smaller woofer and planar dipolar midrange.

As is the case with the Renaissance Audio, there are reasons that everyone should not just have done with it and buy this speaker. After all, the LFT-16 is built to a price point—albeit generously. I don't think the LFT-16 is any more coherent than the Renaissance, and it is similarly slightly veiled. I found that at least half the time, depending on the associated electronics, I preferred the Low (–6dB) to the Mid (–3dB) tweeter connection, and never the High (0dB). A hotter tweeter setting seemed to make the sound less coherent and less timbrally accurate.

The LFT-16's bass was at times almost too big—such as on Fidelio's Montréal Show CD—and at others a bit tubby. Playing music with generous bass content at moderately loud but not extreme levels, I could feel resonances on both the bass enclosure and, more strongly, on the baffle. However, the applause at the end of Attention Screen's "Mansour's Gift" didn't sound ironical, sarcastic, or even postmodern. It sounded like appreciative applause.

The bottom line for me is that, just as with the Renaissance MLP-403.5, I could be engaged by the Eminent LFT-16 to the point that the fact that neither speaker is a Quad electrostatic or a large Wilson Benesch was beside the point: I just enjoyed the music. I listened to Jim Hall's Concierto (SACD, CTI/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD2012) and again was reminded what a wonderful record it is—Chet Baker and Paul Desmond at their individual and collaborative bests. I just got lost in their unfolding dialogues.

I drove the LFT-16s with Arcam's Solo Music and Solo Mini CD receivers, Primare's new DVDI10 DVD-based one-box receiver, and Carat's i57 one-box—more about all of those later. I divided most of my time between the Primare and the Carat. The Primare was ever so slightly lighter in texture and more agile in articulation—or, if you prefer, the Carat was ever so slightly more mellow and cushiony. The Primare was a stainless-steel French Chablis to Carat's oaky California chardonnay—a bit amusing, in view of Carat's French headquarters (the i57 is built in China). With the Primare, I was happy with the LFT-16s' tweeter jumpers in the Low position; with the Carat, I moved them back to Mid.

The Eminent Technology LFT-16 is a quirky but high-value loudspeaker: $$$ for outstanding value. Its somewhat retro-technoid looks might make some people shun it, but I think that's their loss. Perhaps the ideal $1000/pair music lover's speaker would split the tonal differences between the LFT-16 and the Renaissance Audio MLP-403.5 and have none of their minor flaws. Until that happy day, choose one. I could be content with either.

A Correction
In my August "Fifth Element" column, I wrote: "Not incidentally, Bob Ludwig bought his EgglestonWorks Ivy monitoring speakers from [Peter] McGrath, who was then Eggleston's sales manager." That statement is incorrect. Although Peter McGrath did arrange for the audition of the speakers at Ludwig's studio in Maine and was present at the audition, by the time of those events, McGrath was no longer employed by EgglestonWorks and was in the process of taking a position with Cello Ltd. I regret the error.