InnerSound Eros Mk.III electrostatic loudspeaker Page 3

These qualities also benefited studio recordings. Suzanne Vega's startling a cappella vocal in "Tom's Diner," from Solitude Standing (CD, A&M CD 5136), materialized in the room between the speakers. And I was transfixed by the ethereal, translucent a cappella choral blend on "Calling My Children Home," from Emmylou Harris' Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM 25001-2).

The Eros Mk.III took first place in transparency and imaging. This was surprising, given its highly variable in-room frequency response. Somehow, simply tuning by ear, I had found this speaker's most felicitous—if perhaps not its most accurate—response. This was possible only because, using the remote control, I could make adjustments in real time from the sweet spot.

Male vocalists also benefited. José Carreras' clear tenor was clear and pure as never before during the Kyrie of Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla (CD, Philips 420 955-2). Harry Connick, Jr.'s "Don't Get around Much Anymore" (CD, When Harry Met Sally..., Columbia CK 45319) was natural, with no sign of muddiness, darkness, or over-richness. Willie Nelson's voice on "Getting Over You" and "Don't Give Up," from Across the Borderline (CD, Columbia CK 52752), was smooth, detailed, and three-dimensional.

The combination of Eros Mk.III and Bryston 7B-SST preserved the sweet, sad, delicate harmonies of Richard and Linda Thompson singing "Dimming of the Day," from the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood soundtrack (CD, DMZ/Columbia CK 86534). A distinct sadness emanated from this duet, perhaps the result of this duo's well-publicized marital problems.

Instrumental timbres were rich and involving. The distinct tonalities of saxophone and guitar emerged clearly from the title track of the L.A. Four's Going Home (CD, Ai Music 3 2JD 10043). When I listened to Eiji Oue conduct Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (CD, Reference RR-70CD), the Eros Mk.III conveyed the raw, hot, passionate trumpet "brassiness" that this orchestral piece demands. During the opening of Alison Krauss's "Sitting in the Window of My Room," from Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I could easily pick out the delicate hammer dulcimer, the lap-steel guitar, and the tack piano.

The Eros Mk.III's treble range was effortless, grain-free, smooth, and extended. There was no extra brightness, steeliness, or metallic edge. Chimes heard through this speaker were transparent and shimmering. Paul Simon's vocal sibilants on "Trailways Bus," from Songs from The Capeman (CD, Warner Bros. 46814-2), were subtle, not irritating. The opening cymbal ride with brushes on the Jerome Harris Quintet's recording of "The Mooche," from Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), had the right amount of sizzle.

The bass whacks in Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (track 7) and Rite of Spring (tracks 21-24) on the Eiji Oue recording shook the room but it bottomed-out the Eroses' 10" woofers. When I cut back the crossover's Bass control from 5 to 2, the Eroses continued to deliver solid bass above 30Hz in my room, with none of the clicking heard at higher volumes.

Other recordings exposed the subtle rattle from the right speaker's electrostatic screen, that I mentioned above. It was triggered, for example, by Michael Anopol's plucked standup bass on Patricia Barber's "Use Me," from Companion (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2). "Gnomus," from Jean Guillou's organ transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117) delivered good room lock but also made the right ESL rattle.

The Eros Mk.III's bass response was airier-sounding than that of other top speaker systems. The 32Hz double-bass notes at the beginning of Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, excerpted in "Ascent" on Telarc's Time Warp CD (Telarc CD-80106), produced a dull, heavy presence more than any distinct bass note. I also heard this in the final organ chords from Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, Part 1 (Test CD 2, Stereophile STPH004-2), and in the sullen, repetitive bass-drum beat on "Cosmos Old Friend," from the Sneakers soundtrack (CD, Columbia CK 53146). The crossover point chosen allowed the woofer's sonic characteristics to mesh well with the electrostatic panels. On the other hand, the huge bass drum and synthesizer in "Silk Road," from I Ching's Of the Marsh and Moon (CD, Chesky WO144), was convincingly deep, resonant, and tuneful. The Eroses' transmission-line woofers captured the tight, fast, punchy tom-toms on Richard Thompson's "I Misunderstood," from his Rumor and Sigh (CD, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2).

I easily enjoyed dynamics at high volume levels, as heard during the over-the-top drum solo in "The Maker," from Emmylou Harris' Spyboy. Rim shots, tom-tom beats, and kick-drum notes exploded high above the muttered conversations of the crowd.

Few loudspeakers I've auditioned have pleased and vexed me as did the InnerSound Eros Mk.III. Pleasure came with this speaker's excellent blend of dynamic transmission-line woofer and electrostatic screen, its transparency, wide dynamic range, freedom from overload, competitive pricing ($1000 less than the Quad ESL-989, $2000 less than the MartinLogan Prodigy), outboard tuneable electronic crossover, and astounding imaging. I'd never heard such a wide, deep soundstage, even from speakers costing six to ten times as much. The inclusion of the remote control and the external Crossover-Bass Amplifier for such a relatively low price further increase the Eros Mk.III's value.

At the same time, I had to deal with a loose internal ribbon cable, a rattling electrostatic screen, woofers that overloaded and bottomed out, a bass response that didn't reach the lowest octave, the need for ultra-precise speaker placement, and a sweet spot that seemed only millimeters in diameter.

Still, I recommend the InnerSound Eros Mk.III. The pair of them produced clear, transparent sound with superb imaging that always involved me in the music. These ESL hybrids played with low distortion and less listener fatigue, making longer listening sessions possible. Unlike the Quad ESL-989, the Eros Mk.III needs no protection system, and so tolerated high-powered solid-state amplifiers, played louder, and had a more extended top end. While the MartinLogan Prodigy's Bass Forward woofer produces tighter, deeper bass, and its sweet spot is much wider, the Eros created the broadest, deepest, and most three-dimensional soundstage of these three ESLs.

Despite the commonality of their designers' names, the sounds of these three electrostatic loudspeakers differ in fundamental ways. You'll just have to audition all of them before deciding what to buy. It should be fun.