Review: Earo Eight Loudspeakers
by Josh Ray on June 20 '11
Single driver speakers, much like track-only sports cars, can't be bothered with the latest and greatest technological advances. Where raw race car enthusiasts laugh at launch control, traction control and automatic transmissions, single-driver speakers won't be caught dead with complex crossovers, beryllium tweeters or 1000 watt subwoofers. Think raw engine in a chassis, a single driver is the purest (and purist) answer to loudspeaker perfection.
Or so the thinking goes. Earo (US site here), the passion project of Sweden's Mikael Reichel, wants to drag conventional single driver thinking into the next generation. The Earo Eight is Earo's first and largest model in a line that includes a smaller floor standing speaker, surround speakers and subwoofer. And, at $38,000 for a pair, the Earo Eight must make a big splash to compete in the highly competitive ultra premium loudspeaker category.
So what is it? The Earo Eight is, if nothing else, gorgeous. Few speakers have visually captivated me like the Earos. They're big, they're wide, they're outrageous and I love them. Think equal parts European minimalist design and sports car ethos. No orange peel here, the Earo Eight is all hand-rubbed automotive grade paint finished by a Swedish car restyler. Mikael deserves praise for bringing a fresh design perspective to one of the oldest loudspeaker designs in the business -- the backloaded horn. Forget wallflower speakers, the Earos demand to be the center of attention. And, oh yeah, women love them.
As for the construction, Earo uses a 5-axis CNC to sculpt layers of MDF which are then sandwiched together with silica-filled voids to create a cabinet as dead as it is beautiful. Notice the lack of screws or obvious seams --this is top notch quality and seriously impressive work.
As for the speaker driver itself, Mikael is loathe to reveal too many of his secrets at this stage, other than to say the Earo Eight features, as the name implies, a custom eight inch driver of the whizzer cone and organic material variety.
And that's where the similarities end with other single driver speakers.
The Earo Eight features built-in amplification and DSP. That's right, these are active speakers with digital signal processing, the territory typically associated with mastering studios. Earo gets its juice from Hypex amplification, a highly-regarded digital outfit that provides amplifiers for numerous premier hi-fi companies. At 180 watts, the amplifiers are exponentially more powerful than they need to be. But that's the point. Headroom and exceptionally low distortion. Ask most loudspeaker designers of passive speakers and they'll admit that active amplification is the superior option.
As for the DSP, one of the advantages of single driver speakers are, as full-range advocates will tell you, the purity of the signal path. No crossovers, you're getting the goods straight from the amplifier to the voice coil.
The downsides of single drivers are extensive, which is why very few manufacturers use these full range cones. Tweeters have higher highs, woofers have lower lows, and multiple driver speakers can play far louder.
That said, there are additional characteristics that make single drivers extremely attractive from a theoretical point of view. First, point source. Blending tweeters, mids and woofers is an art form, and always a compromise. A single driver is free from these issues. Additionally, single driver cones are very light and the transient attack and speed is tremendous.
But to get usable bass, as well as tame the quirks in the midrange and high frequencies, many full range speaker companies must resort to huge complex cabinets, cone diffusers and more.
Here, Earo taps the 1s and 0s to fix the single driver issues like timing, phase and frequency while keeping all that full-range magic. And the results are damn impressive.
Listening in this first demo session was done with a Wyred4Sound DAC (with internal volume) via Apple's Air Play. On the analog end, a classic Luxman turntable and preamp. The sound was unlike any previous full range speaker I've ever heard. Hyper precise, fast and revealing. Single driver speakers for those who thought they couldn't live without tweeters. Other than the point source magic and the sheer speed of the drivers, I would have been hard-pressed to believe these were full-rangers.
That said, I preferred the turntable setup to the Wyred4Sound DAC, and not for an abnormal love of vinyl, but because the Earos were so incredibly revealing of components up the food chain. Synergy. And I like that magic tube distortion. Maybe it was because of the natural pairing of single driver speakers with tubes, but I was half expecting the Earos to be more of the LSD than ruler-flat speaker variety. I was dying for more preamps to mate to the Earos, knowing the speakers would either find harmony or spit them out on the sidewalk. These are speakers that demand the best. And while the Wyred was excellent, the Earos truly invite you to find your own component synergy.
Aside from the freakishly transparent amplification and DSP wizardry, the Earos are classically well-crafted speakers. Soundstage was massive, deep and free of artifacts. Look at that sculpted and screw-less baffle -- no odd surfaces for high frequencies to bounce off of. Cabinet vibration was nil. Bass was smooth and clean. Overall, just a well designed speaker that, even without the amplification and DSP, would be an object of lust.
Downsides? Some. Bass is mechanically limited by the backloaded horn itself. 40hz and that's it. But it's a true 40hz, flat. Also, the upper end rolls off before you hit 20khz. As one who has tweeters up to 30khz and bass flat to 14hz, I'm a sucker for extension. But I didn't find the lack of bass a drawback with the Earos. These are complete speakers for the majority of listeners.
Look for round two with the Earo Eights here at the Sonic Flare Studio where we'll dig even deeper with these Swedish bombshells.
Congrats, Mikael, on a stunning speaker. And much thanks to US importer Per Sjofors for the hospitality.