I’ve loved the sound of open-baffle speakers—at least, when they are properly placed in a room—ever since I heard a pair of Emerald Physics speakers at a friend’s house. So I was eager to hear what the company was demonstrating at THE Show Newport this year.
In case, you’re not familiar with them, open-baffle speakers do not use cabinets or enclosures. Instead, the drivers are mounted in a flat board with the back of the drivers fully exposed. As a result, the “backwave” from the drivers radiates into the room in the opposite direction from the sound radiating from the front of the speaker. The result can sound very spacious and open, but only if the speakers are placed out in the room and not up against a wall.
At THE Show Newport, the Emerald Physics demo system consisted of two EP-2.8 speakers ($9995/pair), each with two custom-built 15″ carbon-fiber woofers and a 12″ carbon-fiber midrange with a coaxially mounted 1″ neodymium-polyester compression tweeter that uses the midrange driver as a waveguide. The speakers include a 3-way passive crossover, but in this case, they were triamped, bypassing that crossover. Instead, they used the company’s DSP2.4 electronic crossover/EQ ($850), which allows a specified frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz (+/-1.5 dB from target curve). The nominal impedance is 6 ohms with a sensitivity of 96 dB/W/m single-amped and 99 dB/Wm multi-amped.
The woofers in both speakers were driven by an Emerald Physics EP200.2SE 2-channel digital amp/controller ($2995) with 200 W/channel into 8 ohms; this unit also acted as the system preamp. Two EP100.2SE power amps ($2200 each) drove the midranges and tweeters with 100 W/ch into 8 ohms. Rounding out the system was an Apple Mac Mini computer playing iTunes files (16/44.1 Apple Lossless) into an Exogal Comet Plus DSD/PCM DAC ($3500), and a Core Power Technologies Equi=Core 1800 power conditioner ($1600) kept the AC power clean. The total retail price for the entire system (excluding the computer) was $24,150.
As expected, the sound of this system was excellent. I heard several tracks, including Brian Bromberg’s “Slang,” a solo electric-bass tour de force rendered with plenty of tight, low-end authority along with clean and clear higher harmonics. Holly Cole singing “Alison” sounded entirely natural, as did the Fairfield Four, a male a cappella gospel group singing “These Bones” with an impossibly deep, super-rich bass voice.
Granted, 24 grand is a lot to spend on a 2-channel audio system, but not compared with many of the systems at the show. And the open-baffle Emerald Physics speakers worked pretty much as I remembered them from my friend’s house, though I suspect the sound could have been even better in an environment other than a hotel room with sliding-glass doors behind them covered only in drapes. Still, it was great to hear them again.