I almost feel bad for my Infinitys, for bringing in another speaker and "cheating" on them. But for audio fanatics, this is how we decide if we are going to save our next paycheck or blow it on new gear.
The Incumbent: Infinity Primus P362
The Challenger: EMPTek Impressions E5Ti
These speakers carried the same price when I bought them, and I intended to do a comparison way back in 2010. They both cost $200/ea, and I intended to use them in different rooms. I already had the P362's for my HT at the time I got in on the introduction E5Tis. But life happened, and the EMPs ended up being stored for a while. So here we are in 2015, and with the E5Ti having been discontinued this is no longer a purchase decision that anyone would be making. But the reason why I want to compare them is to get a feel for the EMP sound. I figure if I cross these at 80Hz, I should be very close to what the E5Bi bookshelves sound like and if I feel they are better than what I have, I'll consider buying a pair.
Keep in mind that this comparison is valid for my room only. It is a typical finished basement measuring 130”x260”x86” with carpet and plush recliners. There are 2 openings to the room. One is the carpeted stairway that leads upstairs, and the other is a hallway that leads to the bathroom and bedroom. No acoustic treatments exist at this time. The H/T is positioned on the the long end (the 130" wall) by the stairway. This review is also only concerned with their sound. As most of you know, the EMPTek speakers are beautiful, while the Infinity Primus line is more utilitarian, though not ugly. FYI - I don't have pictures of it, but the final speaker position where they sounded best was not pointed directly at me. They are only toed in slightly now.
Gear and setup
P362 are L/R "Speakers A"
E5Ti are L/R "Speakers B"
Switching was done with my Harmony One
Level matching was done by ear (4 clicks on the volume button)
Audyssey OFF, speakers set to "Small" with a crossover at the recommended 80Hz. Tested first without sub, then with. Sub was set to "Yes", but unplugged for the first test so the AVR was sending the LFE channel and all frequencies under 80Hz to nowhere. This way I could get the pure sound signature of both pairs of speakers without any bass influencing my preferences. I then plugged it in to get the full picture and see how it all came together. Basically, I wanted to see how these would sound without the bass woofers, approximating a bookshelf speaker. It's not a perfect test, but it should be good enough.
Music was played from my NAS via my PS3 outputting MULTICH IN to the Denon. Files are mostly LAME VBR MP3 with a setting of 0, so indistinguishable from FLAC to virtually all human ears. There are some 320k mp3 files as well.
I’ll start by saying that I didn’t get super excited about either speaker set up this way, though I developed a clear preference pretty quickly. Here are my observations on their “naked” sound.
The E5 sounds more realistic overall. Instruments and vocals were more organic, and were more clearly discernable. The speakers were slightly subdued compared to what I’m used to, and I found myself wanting to turn them up so they would reveal what they had to offer. With enough listening it might become my new preference. They were detailed and very sharp, but it takes a certain song with the right instrument to leave you feeling like it’s too much. This might seem to contradict the previous sentence, but I noticed this on a particular synthetic beat in a Nine Inch Nails song that stood out a bit too much for my tastes. I didn’t encounter it again.
The Primus sounds like its adding its own "voice" to the music. Sss's are a tiny bit harsher, cymbals were too pronounced/hot, almost synthetic compared to the E5. I found myself wanting to turn them down.
Tool - Vicarious
The triangle had a bit more detail and was more discernable from the bass guitar in the opening passage. The Primus had too much treble in this song.
Tool - Jambi
This one is a great test for well recorded bass guitar, drums and vocals. I’ve found it very sensitive to speaker setup and the smallest changes are very noticeable in the tone of the guitar. I found the E5 to better represent what I thought was the “right” sound from the bass guitar. Also in the opening passage, Maynard's voice was much more realistic on the E5. The Primus made it sound more obvious that the voice was coming from a speaker. I prefer the more natural tone of the E5.
Nine Inch Nails - Somewhat Damaged
Trent's voice sounded much more realistic on the E5. Again the midrange has too much treble on the Primus.
NIN - The Wretched
I actually didn't like how sharp the synthetic beats were from the E5 in the opening passage of this song. This is the only time I noticed this. The piano however carried more weight on the E5 and sounded more realistic than the Primus, which sounded good but didn’t really strike me in the same way.
NIN - We're In This Together
Same observations. Too much treble on the Primus and a more realistic presentation from the E5.
Rammstein – Los
This is a good non-busy track to test acoustic guitar, detailed vocals that are recorded to sound very close, and a fairly simple drum set. The guitar plucks carried more weight from the E5 and sounded more colored from the Primus. The vocals sounded more intimate coming from the E5 and more like a speaker coming from the Primus.
I also tested some soundtrack music including Mass Effect and World of Warcraft to get some more synthetic and classical instruments. This is where it was harder to pick a winner. I felt the E5’s were too subdued at times, while the Primus P362 was still a bit too hot. I found myself wanting something in between the two.
With the E5's the sound seems to come from almost a foot lower in height than the Primus, which is due to the midrange placement. This is one area where I have to give the Primus the win. The E5 towers are just too short to be ultimately convincing, especially if you will be up and moving as you listen to music in your room. They also aren’t high enough to reach the middle of my TV. If you look at the height that the bookshelves would sit at on these stands, I'm thinking they would be perfect. If I like the sound of the E5Ti, but I prefer them up higher, I'm thinking the E5Bi should get me there without having to go all the way to the E55Ti which would cost $469 more.
I found myself wanting to turn down the Primus P362 and turn up the E5Ti. Partly due to the difference in output (the Primus is slightly louder) and partly due to the difference in treble (the Primus is hotter while the E5 has you leaning in to hear more). Long term I could foresee much less listening fatigue from the E5. I can also foresee needing a good deal more volume to reveal their secrets, which will require more power. But their overall natural presentation has me giving them the nod.
I liked them both a lot better with the sub and it became harder to pick a favorite. I still chose the E5, but the Primus no longer annoyed my ears.
changes things somewhat. It improved both speakers a great deal, and smoothed the integration with the sub greatly. I preferred the “Flat” setting with the E5 and the standard “Audyssey” setting with the P362, being that it was more aggressive at taming the top end of the Primus. Both sets of speakers now sound “complete” and I was happy with them both. However, each speaker’s sound signature was still detectable, including the more trebly nature of the Primus. Audyssey did a good job taming it a bit, but I came to prefer how the E5 came to life with the sub. With enough volume they didn’t sound subdued, and I think the best word I can come up with to describe them is “natural”. There is no emphasis in the treble or the bass with these speakers, so they will need some time for your auditory processing to get used to their sound if you haven’t listened to a speaker like this before. This is probably obvious by now, but I preferred the EMP E5 sound over the Infinity Primus, but not by as big of a margin as I did during the initial “naked” test. And after extended cranking of loud rock music with each set, I found myself enjoying the E5's and their natural sound more, and never felt like it was grating on the ears. The Infinitys aren't as hot as some others on the market, but they certainly could induce a bit more fatigue than the EMP speakers. Some people may prefer the sound of the Infinity Primus, so take my review for what it is.
One caveat: the best sound I achieved with the EMPs was when I ran them Full Range with Main+LFE, while with the Infinitys it was a crossover of 60Hz with Main+LFE. I believe the reason for this is that my Velodyne VX-10 sub is not very strong, and I’m preferring the mains helping a bit in the bass frequencies. And yes, the P362s do have stronger low frequency output, which is why I favored them set up this way. They fare better than the EMP E5 if you aren't using a sub, which needed Full Range for an extra boost. A sub is still highly recommended with both though.
So what’s next? I plan to sell my P362s and pit the EMP E5Ti up against another speaker. At this time I’m really interested in the Chane bookshelves. Just going by their components and specs alone, it shouldn’t be a fair fight. But in the $200-300 bookshelf speaker range, this could be quite interesting. Who would be interested in this comparison? I considered the HTD Level Threes also, but after finding (coincidentally) three separate remarks about how their midrange was a bit recessed it kind of put me off. They are also slightly more expensive.