The E6c system is a $4,090 three-piece system with notable and hard to find qualities. Although muted and reserved, the satellites and their matching powered sub-woofer, make an accurate and balanced sound of sophisticated reference-like quality. A detailed physical description of this system was covered Srajan Ebaen's precise Earwax article, "Vince Christian Mutiny in the County" in February, 2002. So this article is an explanation of a few things I noticed about the system, how they sound, how they compare and other impressions. While I certainly applaud the concept of satellites and sub-woofer, removing the matching Vince Christian Bass Cube from the equation, so you can experiment with something like the powerful Bag End Infrasub-18 Powered Sub-woofer (reviewed here) or the capable Soliloquy S-10 Sub-woofer (reviewed here), leaves you with a unique pair of loudspeakers priced at the $2K point.
Side by side comparison was with the soft and sensuous jazz renditions of Bossa Nova sound ("The Girl from Ipanema") that Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto created on the amazing album of the same name for Verve Records [Getz/Gilberto, PS-10048, 100% recommended]. Music rotation was between that eminently enjoyable classic and the deliberately delectable Diana Krall on her remastered Stepping Out, whom I drooled over in this review (click here).
Amplifier and loudspeaker comparison was between two amplifiers and four other loudspeakers; three towers and one single driver bookshelf. One set was the flea powered Bottlehead 2A3 tube monoblocks. The other amplifier was a flame spouting Pass Labs solid-state power plant. In addition, I compared the E6c system to the single driver Omega TS2, which will be reviewed in a few months. My older model Rotel CD player was piped directly to the Pass engine block via a pair of solidly built $250 Nude Ultimate attenuators with click stop knobs from Electronic Visionary. Music levels were set at approximately mid-90dB peaks, as measured in the C scale on a Radio Shack hand-held Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter. The E6c is the bread and butter of Vince Christian's line. While he does have an exotic PVC pipe system in the works, this is staple of his fare.
The E6c satellites are 51" tall, 8" narrow, and as smoothly gray and soft as a Mourning dove. Genteel and civilized with their covers on, the E6c are some of the largest satellite speakers available; they are as large as many small floor-standing speakers. The dove-gray speakers bolt tightly to thin, yet sturdy, black wrought iron stands. More like gawky gray storks on custom perches than urbane doves.
The E6c cross over is at a very high 8.2kHz. A pair of Audax 5-inch woven carbon fiber mid-range drivers, two in each speaker, perform most of the work. They reproduce music from 65Hz. and up. The tweeter is purely for the upper-most harmonics. In fact, most of the time, it only hisses. The high crossover frequency allows the mid-range drivers to run mostly wide open, with little restriction. More like a single driver speaker. With two small drivers, the E6c increases the amount of air the satellites can move, while retaining the accuracy and quickness of small drivers. When they are working, the mid-range drivers vibrate like bees in a clover field.
Each black driver is placed at opposite ends of the speaker - one at the top and one at the bottom - 22 inches apart with a black tweeter between them. The tweeter is surrounded by gray foam in the middle of the speaker. Perhaps because the tweeter handles only the highest treble notes, I have never heard or seen such a big difference on a speaker as this grill makes. The sound is much better without the grille. Yet, without the grille, the unusually suave looks suffer.
Of course, the looks of speakers are usually a distant second - even third, fourth, or in my case, last - place in the rankings of importance to tweaking audiophiles. Purists know that looks don't matter. Leave the hood open - show us the engine. But not in this case. Most speakers without their grilles look raw, sometimes even powerful. The drivers stare you in the face. The woven yellow Kevlar of B&Ws are like that. You remove their clothes just to look at them in the nude.
But without their grilles, the slim E6c look exposed, like you are looking at something you should not see. Kinda cheap and industrial, not as civilized as they really are. Like the too slender runway model, when she removes her fashionable clothes, it seems as if something is missing and there should be something more substantial underneath. The refined smoothness of the E6c sound extends to its smooth gray exterior when the grilles are on, but with them off, it seems like there should be something more substantial than three naked drivers staring back at you. Without their grilles, the narrow E6c satellites are less robust looking than even the small Axiom Audio M3Ti (reviewed here) and less high-tech in appearance than the angled black faces of the Newtronics Skates MKII (review forthcoming).
The E6c do sound much better without their grilles. Treble extension was readily apparent, as if the tweeters were suddenly plugged in. Sharpness, focus and definition were better, giving some recordings more "blare." I quickly learned to perform serious listening sessions with their grilles off. Once the session is over though, the slim models put their furs back on and wait for the next runway gig.
The sensitivity of the E6c is above average, at a 92.5dB/W/m rating, compliments of the high cut-off for the two parallel mid-range drivers. The satellites work at nominal 6-ohm impedance, but they drop to a more difficult 4-ohm load below 600Hz. Vince Christian says every customer of the big brother E6 (not the "c" model with its lower amount of dampening and finishing) is using tube amps with either low or high power.
Although the E6c were easily driven to moderate volume levels by my 3.5-watt Bottlehead Paramours with their delicate 2A3 tubes. However, my delicate sounding tube monoblocks are not the best match for these speakers. The E6c do not seem to need the Paramour's charms. They did not get the most music out of the Paramours, leaving me with bland "so what" feelings. Vince's customers must be using more powerful venue than I. Amplifiers with 300B tubes come to mind.
The E6c did much better with the massive Pass Labs X250 silver block (glowing review here). With the mighty Pass amplifier, you could feel the tautness of the drum skin, but there was less of the lightness and sparkle you get with the flea powered 2A3 tubes. Tambourines were sharper, cracking the tweeters like whips. With the massive Pass, there was overall fullness and smoothness to each instrument and note. Much of the annoyance of old recordings, for example, was gone with this combination.
The dove gray Vince Christian Bass Cube supplied with the E6c system compares favorably with my 500-watt Klipsch LF10 sub-woofer. It has bass deep enough for music and punchy enough for action movies. Without the sub-woofer, the satellites are anemic sounding. But with their sub, they really come alive. The E6c satellites blended easily with both of my Klipsch subs. Moderate EQ and volume settings on any of the subs sounded good with the stork-like satellites.
When sitting close, inside the equilateral triangle, imaging and soundstage on these slender gray towers was remarkable. Especially so with the tube amps. Though it took the incredibly powerful and smooth Pass X250 amplifier to really show off the best that the E6c could do, the imaging and sound staging was still slightly better with the tube equipment. I found the E6c system to be an very easily placed system. Although I kept them a few feet away from the front and sidewalls, it did not matter so much where they sat. All of the speakers I listen to are three to four feet away from the side walls.
On Krall's delicious Stepping Out, the slightest toe-in nailed her voice to the center. It was easy to pick out placement of the instruments. Separation is excellent. Some of the best separation between channels and instruments that I have heard, including some way too outrageously expensive dream systems, such as the $100K Nearfield Pipedream line driver arrays and the $70K Martin-Logan electrostatic Statements. Because of their tonal balance and separation, the E6c system has some of the best instrument placement and imaging that I have heard. You could early hear Diana if she moved her face to left or right. With the E6C brought closer into the room, to more of small triangle, the bass guitar appeared near my side.
The soundstage did not feel like it had edges. Not that it was limitless, but that it was noticeably uncrowded. The "air" of the recording did not fill the room, just the music. The E6c system was among the best I've heard at recreating the size of the recording hall.
Avoiding Certain Words
I am dying to use the word transparent as in "the E6c system disappeared so well that they were transparent." For this is their strong suite. In fact, my notes do say "neutral to the point of invisible." They have little bloom or muddiness. They are more transparent than the Newtronics Skates MKII or the Axiom Audio M80Tis, for example (both are to be reviewed soon). By comparison, my big old Cornwall horns do not seem so transparent, as they sound clear. A subtle difference, I know. It is like looking through a glass of filtered mountain drinking water or a glass of the stuff from the tap. Subtle degrees of transparency and clarity. Subtle, but crucial.
The tall, thin floor-standing towers of the Skates, with their line of three small black-faced drivers in a black faced, backwards leaning cabinet, seem rich, lush and colored by comparison to the reserved and refined E6c. Not quite as accurate, but more enjoyable. I loved the charming Axiom Audio M3Ti bookshelf speakers for $275 per pair, and clearly said so in my review. I could not wait to hear their big brothers, the Axiom Millennia SE m80 Tis. I was not disappointed. The big cherry wood brothers are 39 1/2" tall, 9" thin wedge shaped floor-standing units with a parade of silver discs down the front. Six drivers aligned in an array for $1,000 a pair. This review is also forthcoming.
Unlike the E6c satellites, the Axiom m80s do add something to the sound. They do sound colored, rich and full. (Neither system though, has the rich, French and liquid mid-range smoothness of the JM Labs Cobalt speakers with Audio Refinement amplification.) The E6c notes do seem fully formed, dimensional and complete. Piano notes have good texture, though not any of the sharp ringing or sustained resonance of big old horns. The notes have no stridency or belabored ringing. They are sharp with the high-end falling away smoothly.
The mid-range is effortless and easy to listen to. Flutes seem to hang in mid-air. Drums sounded clean, accurate and taut, but not punchy. Cymbals were warm, not overly crisp, sizzling or bright. Saxophones were evenly toned and detailed, with none of the "blare" and "blat" associated with big old horns. They are not as dynamic as the punchy small Axiom M3Tis or my big old horns.
The E6c satellites seem to subdue the special effects of recordings. Where some speakers will emphasis one background effect over another, the E6c with the mighty Pass amp seemed to give each instrument equal credibility. No one sonic doo-dad was more important than another was. Unlike the Axiom m80s or the Newtronics Skates, the E6c was noticeably pulled back from the sound. The music seemed to be so far away from the listening position in fact, that I pulled the E6c towers out into the room, closer to the sweet spot than either the Newtronics Skates, the Axiom m80s or even my big old Klipsch Cornwalls.
On the E6c system, the bass on Krall's incredible Stepping Out was full, but not overly warm, boomy, taut or punchy. Not invisible either, as it often felt as if some of the bass notes came directly from the loudspeakers. A bow drawn over the strings was light and thin. The double-bass had a slight buzz, but no rough edge. The emphasis seems to be on the decay of the notes, not the punch. The bass is polite. At the proper level for a fairly even in-room frequency response, it is too recessed for my tastes. Presumably, this is due to the satellite's mid-bass bottom, but it may also be due to my preference for using two subwoofers, when the E6c came with only one.
Because of the 65Hz bottom for the satellites, the sub needs to be located near the center of the soundstage (my preference, actually, for most mid-bass subs in the $500 range). Vince likes to position the speakers in an arc, with the sub at the apex. Sitting there, in front of the stereo TV rack, the sub contributes greatly to the mid-range, the 3D sonic illusion and the violence in action movies. We listened to the new Skates, Axiom m80s and old Klipsch Cornwalls without sub-woofers, but when the time came for the E6c, the dove-gray urbanites suffered terribly by comparison. We relented and turned their sub-woofer on, using gentle settings.
The E6c have a unique ability to create a stable stereo soundstage quite detached from the loudspeakers themselves. Instruments and voices hung distinctly in space, with a good amount of depth. Cymbals seem to come from behind the piano. The speakers "disappeared" quite well. The images seemed to be coming from around them or behind them, but not from them. This allowed them to be separated from the music and thus ignored.
The other words, which I am dying to use with this loudspeaker system, are "tonal balance." As in I have the feeling that the E6c have a large amount of tonal balance. They are superbly balanced throughout the upper bass to upper mid-range. The completeness of each note may be due to the wide music range that the four mid-range drivers reproduce. It seemed as if each note - each instrument - was played faithfully accurate. Not "accurate" to how the recording was made, but accurate to how the instrument actually sounded in the dampened recording room. The longer you listen to the E6c system, the more you appreciate its strengths. I found myself leaning towards small group ensembles, orchestral and choral work... even (yikes!) operatic recordings.
The E6c have remarkable ability to pick out and play each instrument on recordings. One instrument is not given precedence over another. There is no foreground instrument with others in the background. Instruments sound like they are side by side on the sound stage. It does not matter how crowded the tracks are. Each instrument plays with a great degree of tonal truth. You do not find one instrument or another sounds better than other instruments do with the E6c system. You do find that many recordings sound much different from what you may be used to. Because of this unique feature, and the excellent instrument placement that the E6c have, I think they are great orchestral speakers. You hear each instrument with quite a great deal of accuracy and placement.
This tonal truth however, comes at the expense of excitement and emotional involvement, especially when the 2A3 tube Paramour amps fronted the E6c satellites. "Little miss sensitive ears," with whom I permanently share my abode, described their sound with one word and one word only: muted. Indeed, they seem subdued and laid back. This was still the case when we used the E6c with the huge Pass X250 super-amplifier.
Value and Choices
The next honest feeling that I have to reveal is a conflict over the price and value of the system. I personally like the concept of a combined satellite and sub-woofer system, because I believe:
While I certainly applaud the concept of satellites and sub-woofer, removing the matching Vince Christian Bass Cube from the equation, so you can experiment with something like the powerful Bag End Infrasub-18 Powered Subwoofer (reviewed here) or the capable Soliloquy S-10 Subwoofer (reviewed here), leaves you with a unique pair of loud
This price point in the audiophile market is as crowded as a mid-town bus at rush hour. There are simply too many good speakers trying to get on aboard at that price. Take the Newtronics Skates MKIIs, for example. They fold a horn into their narrow cabinet to create a deep and rich sounding bass. The Skates are $2,049, in black with detachable front grills and spike plates. Or consider the Axioms m80s. They are an amazing loudspeaker, with great sound and impressive high-tech look (from the row of silver discs), for only $1,100 a pair.
The fault of this comparison is that much of what other $2K full-range loudspeakers do is simply deeper bass extension - they go lower than merely 65Hz. Often however, they do not go low enough. You still need to add a subwoofer. This is true of higher end speakers as well. Even the taut, tangible and filling main course of punchy B&W 803 bass, which reaches down to 42Hz., is complimented by a side dish of sub-woofer. So eventually, you are right back to the three-piece audio system again.
So, while the logical thing to do is to think of the E6c system as a three-piece four thousand-dollar whole; that is still the problem. For this $4K price point in the audio market is also crowded. Not with economical bus-riders, but with the BMWs, Lexus and Maximas of superb sounding luxury speakers. I must confess that I have not heard enough of these luxury speakers, in this price category, in my home, to objectively state a preference for one over the others, for any particular reason or another.
I can say however, that the E6c system did not thrill me as much as the dirt cheap little Axioms did, or that they communicate the raw realism and excitement of live music as much as my hulking old horns do. So far, I am most impressed with the richness of sound from the Newtronics Skate towers at almost half the price and greatly impressed with the incredible value of the Axiom m80s towers for 1/4 of the price.
My friend, who lugged the back backing 100 pounds of Pass cement block and the flawless Getz/Gilberto CD over for a listening session, said he too preferred the high value of the Axiom m80s. We both were tantalized by the richer and fuller, albeit more expensive, sound of the Skates. Myself? I was pleased to find how closely all of the loudspeakers, including my ancient big old horns, created very good, almost excellent, sound with his mammoth amp. There were subtle, but not crucial, differences between the various speakers. Each loudspeaker was in the range of good to very good. Yet, each one sounded quite unique; with their own voice. Each loudspeaker made the tracks seem entirely different than the previous loudspeaker, like another recording all together.
Over my extended period of use, I did found myself switching to the E6c system again and again. I would use them to double check how something really sounds. Although I did not find their sound as emotionally enticing as the charming little Axiom M3Tis, or as viscerally stimulating as the rough n' ready Klipsch, I did trust their accurate reproduction.
One thing the E6c satellites do extremely well is the separation between instruments. It often sounded as if different instruments were playing from just one of the drivers, as if the drivers divided the reproduction tasks between themselves. Their placement of instruments on the sonic canvas and the painting of a 3D sonic illusion were amongst the best that I have heard. Crowding a large chorus into my listening space was easy with these speakers. Their voices remained uncrowded or congested. I found myself turning to face the illusory musicians and watch them play - something that I have been able to do on very-few systems. This includes brief demonstrations of awesome state-of-the-art towers such as the Nearfield Pipedreams and the Martin-Logan Statements.
The E6c system is a refined and reserved sound. They yield notable candor, tonal truth, soundstage and instrument placement. They create coherent, detailed and accurate sound with seeming ease. They are laid back, neutral, transparent and genteel, perhaps too much so. With an amplifier of superior quality, like the Pass X250, the Vince Christian E6c satellite system has tonal truth and balance with urbane, almost retro, good looks.
Vince Christian Limited