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Finished CSS EL3 kit, and review

1688 Views 10 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Matthew P.
Hi there,

I was encouraged to post a review of the EL3 kits on this forum in case people were interested or intrigued to look into the CSS kits a bit more for HT, or just home audio use which is what I am using them for presently. I have just recently completed the entire project including an MAW-12 top-firing sub.

To begin, I just want to say that I am continually impressed with these speakers, the more that i listen to them. They excel with very fast, dynamic, and clean music, such as jazz, classical, and electro-ambient.

I had built the first two of the new entry level kits from Bob at CSS and was very impressed with both of them. I have posted some thoughts about the fr125s previously, and so I thought that a good review of the higher end EL3 kit was in due order. I was super impressed with the FR125s as a nearfield monitor (What I’m using them for)…particularly, the midrange was very detailed and smooth, surprisingly low bass in both the sealed and vented enclosures that I had them in (they are vented now – the efficiency went up quite a lot, the vent seemed to let the speaker breath through the mids a bit bettter). Since I was so impressed with this little driver, I thought that my parents would appreciate entering the world of proper listening so I decided to order and build the EL2’s for them – a wr125 and a hivi tweeter per side. I finished them with an oak veneer in a small vented cabinet tuned to specs. The hi frequency range was unbelievable…it seemed to open up a whole new realm of atmosphere compared to what I had before (monitor audio’s).

Then came the EL3’s, of which I promised Bob a decent review. These are 2 wr125s and a hivi tweeter per side with the wr125s wired individually and a simple 2nd order crossover. I built these speakers in a 14 liter cabinet using the port tunings that came stock with the kit. I like the look of speakers that have a bell shaped cabinet, so I decided to build the El3’s similar to those to test my enfeebled woodworking skills. This required kerfing the insides of the ¾ mdf about ½ inch deep with a thin blade in the table saw. The kerfing allowed a bend of about 1-1/4” inwards. This seemed to work alright, but required immediate bracing – so I used a brad nailer and glue to hold everything in place. I have now finished the speakers in an ambrosia maple veneer, other maple woods, and walnut for inlay and banding. I made the stands with red oak veneer and textured black paint.

Being of Mennonite extraction, and hence a bit frugal, I was very intrigued about the DIY audio thing, and these speakers confirm how amazing this DIY world is. I always thought that the quote that DIY speakers can compare to commercial speakers 5-10x the cost invested in speaker parts would be a bit of an exaggeration, but these prove me wrong. It may be a bit of an understatement, to my ear anyways. Before this year, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford something that sounds as good as these speakers. So, I was very excited to listen to these speakers and see how they compare to other speakers, and wow, I’ve been giddy about these things since I’ve built them. Despite the shallow price difference between the three kits, this one is surprisingly different and disproportionately better. The EL3 has a substantial depth compared with the previous two kits and quite a bit higher power handling capability. These have a very full, nuanced, and clear sound to them. The detail is spectacular, and the mids are enveloping.

Since my speakers are close to the wall, they tended to have a bit of a LF (around 70-80hz) bloom to them that was corrected by plugging the ports. Plugging the ports also helped me integrate a sub with them without further crossover working. For this I have built a sub in a sealed, top-firing configuration using a BASH 300 and a MAW-12. This sounds great, is tight and clean, and integrates very nicely filling out the lower registers. You can see this in my flickr page as well.

I haven’t watched too many movies through these yet, since my place isn’t really set up for that, but I have listened to everything that I possibly can through the EL3’s. I have some favorites – Pat Matheny’s question and answer; Fretwork Ensemble’s recording of Purcell’s Odhecaton and the William Lawes consort cycles; HIM; Tom Waits Mule Variations; SO Percussion from the cantaloupe music label; Sufjan Stevens; and some heavier music –Helmet, Cryptopsy, etc. I won’t talk about all of these, but just a few highlights. The Pat Metheny album in particular sows the strengths of these speakers, but is still fairly old – 1990? So, pretty much an analog album that went digital to CD. But the production quality of this CD is amazing and these speakers reproduce this very well. These speakers represent this very dynamic recording with lots of air between the dense and complicated instrumentation. The drums in particular sound spectacular with these speakers – you can notice the individual timbres of the various rides and crashes, and the snare work is particularly extremely dynamic that produces the highest peaks on the CD that sounded more compressed on my other speakers. The El3’s reproduce this dynamism incredibly, giving a neutral sound to each instrument, without any coloration. As well, since this is such a technically complicated and fast jazz album, slower speakers tend to mud things up whereas with the EL3’s, everything sounds precise and very crisp. The fretwork recordings are all produced extremely well, and these speakers really bring out the complex sound of the traditional baroque instruments. The speakers help bring out the wooden sound of the instruments and highlight the harmonic overtones that are specific to the baroque instruments themselves (as opposed to contemporary strings). Sufjan Stevens is a very talented multi-instrumentalist that has consistently put out well produced albums, the Illinois and Michigan albums stand out. In particular the piano and bell tracks on these albums really exemplify the quality of the midrange on these speakers. The bell tracks are reproduced so wonderfully and with such presence that one can feel absolutely engulfed. SO Percussion uses a mix of acoustic and live instruments and electronic ones in a more avant-garde format heavily influenced by Steve Reich. This CD is also highly dynamic, with both acoustic drums and electronic, and the acoustic instruments are highly altered (tempered piano, etc..). I first listened to this CD on a 10,000$ set of berylliums (I think that’s the name of the speaker) and decided to buy the album to listen on my speakers. These speakers did not buckle in shyness or humility compared to the Berylliums, but rather showed me that I will never buy another commercial pair of speakers again. The EL3’s held their own in comparison to the expensive ones in the high frequency and mid ranges, and we just won’t talk about the LF comparison, because it might be a little unfair. Regardless, one might think that the entire comparision is unfair, but the EL3's still hold their own in a lot of respects. That all being said, I'm extremely happy with these speakers. And if anybody is in the Edmonton, Alberta area, they are welcome to come and have a listen, I usually have a couple of beer in the fridge.

here's the link to my flickr page:

Best Regards,

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Really nice Matt!

Man, those things are beautiful!
That wood is just incredible....
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Thanks Joe, I'm very pleased with them too. The wood is wonderful to look at and with the extensive oil/wax finish, it really brings out the grain, the quiltiness of the maple, all to a deep luster. I'm a big fan of the hand-rubbed look on burled and spalted wood. I'm guessing heartwood in maple isn't that sought after, but i thought it created a nice detail down the front of the speakers.
Those babies are something you can be proud of for sure. Wow!

I almost wouldn't care how well they sounded, I would just be content admiring them.
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Yep, i often find myself just staring at the speakers! My girlfriend is getting quite jealous...especially when i feel the finish! ha ha...
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Wow, stunning finish! What did all the finishing cost?
Cost...hmm...that's a tough question. I've lost all my receipts from running back and forth to Rona and Windsor plywood! well let's see -

Ambrosia maple veneer + veneer glue + roller = 70$ CAD

sandpaper = 20 $

oil + wax = 35$

maple ply and veneer + contact cement = 30$

raw maple board 1" x 9"= 50$

maple trim + walnut plank + 50$

copper couplings = 5 $

speaker cones/spikes = 30 $

red oak veneer - left over from previous project (10$ worth maybe)

I think thats about it. considering the quality of the kit, i think its a pretty negligible amount to put into these speakers. It definitely could have been done for less money using less real wood planks with inexpensive veneers and a quick wipe-on poly, but I don't think it would have turned out as well and unique as it has.
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Originally Posted by Matthew P. /forum/post/11747913

Yep, i often find myself just staring at the speakers! My girlfriend is getting quite jealous...especially when i feel the finish! ha ha...

I think most of us can relate to that! This hobby definitely becomes addicting for sure...
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Mattew P.

Do have drawings or plans for these speaker boxes? Do you mind sharing?


Thanks Ricci and Brian,

I don't have any drawings right now. Most of my designs were done on scrap paper and wood, but i was going to draw something up for the subwoofer and post it on another site, and could probably do that for the speakers as well. I'll let you know when i get them done.
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