The Konus Audio Essence Loudspeakers
by Herb Reichert
Click here to e-mail reviewer
"Want to know why you bought those awful loudspeakers?
Ask your mommy!"
The most obvious characteristic of all music is the degree to which it reflects the attitudes, sentiments and states of mind of its makers and their audience. Therefore, the most important thing any singer-songwriter, composer or musical group must do is: identify a potential audience and create music that reflects this audience's state of mind.
Pick any artist and then ask yourself, who is their audience? Then stop for a moment and consider to what degree does their music and lyrics play to the attitudes, sentiments, and belief systems of that audience? Take Brittany Spears for
Q: Who is her audience?
A: Mostly girls.
Q: What kind of girls?
A: Young. Early teenage. Reasonably stable and well-adjusted psychologically while still in the early stages of emotional and physiological development. From working class families. Girls with ok manners that do their homework. Also, basically white, suburban, middle-class girls who are expecting to go to college. Brittany's audience is definitely suburban, not big city or farm-type rural. Thirteen-year olds thinking about boys and first kisses and crushes and who they are, how they look and what they will become. Coming-of-age girls who are concerned about their future while still very much connected to the life and structure of their family.
Q: What about Eminem? Who is his audience?
A: Youngish boys mainly. Black and white. Sensitive young men from all parts of the country - urban, suburban, rural. Medium smart. Boys from working class families but not happy about their home life. Don't do much homework. Smoke pot drink beer and cut school occasionally. Hang out in small boy groups. Feel depressed often. Feel like an outsider in their own home. College smart but not college directed.
If you listen even briefly to Brittany's or Eminem's music I think you will find it easy to identify the attitudes, sentiments and states of mind of their respective audiences. You can readily apply this audience-analysis to any type of music or art. (You say you don't like their music? Why not? Maybe because you don't admire or respect or identify with the attitudes sentiments and state of mind of their audience? Maybe because you don't want to be identified with their constituency? What would people think if you told them you liked the Back Street Boys?) The content and inspiration of all music is always the lifestyle and attitudes of its listeners. This applies to hi-fi equipment as well.
What is important here is to recognize is just how much -- who you think you are, what your gender is, how old you are, where you were born, how much money you have, and (most importantly) what your momma told you -- affects your taste in music and cars and food and clothes and friends and sex and... you name it.
With all that in mind, consider this: Right this minute I'm listening to Beausoleil
Live coming out of these charming little Essence (single-driver, full-range, aluminum cone, crossover-less, transmission line) loudspeakers and
I am thinking back to almost twenty years ago to one of my most seminal
hi-fi-music experiences. An experience that taught me the above lessons. An experience that changed my thoughts on what high quality audio reproduction was all about.
Presently, I am staring at these little four-inch aluminum drivers. They look delicate but very elegant sitting on these broad varnished wooden panels. (The Essence's are one of the most attractive speakers I've ever used. A little Haywood Wakefield circa 1960.) I
am experiencing an accordion and violin sound that is amazingly vivid and true-to-life. I am admiring their tonal balance. But my mind keeps going back to the first time I heard a full range driver playing music.
I remember exactly now. I was listening to Sam Cooke at this electrician's house in New Jersey. He had the loudspeakers set up on top of a chest of drawers in his bedroom. There was a mirror behind them and cosmetics scattered around them. Sam is singing "Twisting the Night Away".
We had to sit on his bed to listen. It was a weird scene, but amazing. I could hardly speak. I was choked up. When I finally did speak, all I could say was "Holy fuckin' shit! This is un-fucking-believable!" I was gob-smacked. Sam Cook just swayed and crooned. He seemed like the hippest, coolest singer
I had ever heard. That night he seemed even more cool than Elvis or Frank. For the next two days I kept hearing Sam singing in my head...
"Twisting"... I am listening and over and I keep thinking to myself: Sam Cook is the most amazing artist - ever! I am thinking how much I love and admire this guy. I'm thinking I got to go Tower Records and get me every Sam Cook album ever made. I have to read all the stories about him. I love his band too. These guys can really play.
I am wondering, what did his momma ever do to make him such a genius?
I tell you all this because this is what true music appreciation feels like. I'm telling you this because this is why we buy a hi-fi in the first place - so we can be prompted to have strong desires to venerate musical artists and so we can recognize just how good any artist really is. A quality hi-fi will make you become a bigger fan of the good artists you listen to - it will show you with absolute certainty just how talented the artist is. Why? Because it showcases the performer's attitude, sentiments and state of mind. It shows you as much of the artist as possible.
Q: Why do people make music?
A: So other people can listen to it and enjoy and admire the artist's accomplishments.
Q: Why do people make high end hi-fi?
A: So other people can listen to the art of composers and songwriters and enjoy and admire it - even more! High end hi-fi is designed and engineered to allow the user to appreciate the art of music more.
(There is also a sub-culture of audio consumers who believe that high end audio exists to be appreciated for its own sake. These people are pure audiophiles and for them hi-fi gear exists primarily for the purposes of studying and admiring the attitudes, sentiments and states of mind -- of the audio equipment and its makers. For them, composers, singers and songwriters are exploited primarily as tools to be used for the better understanding of the audio gear.)
At the end of the day, all any enhanced-quality specialty hi-fi can do is provide the maximum je ne sais quoi that the composer musician, singer-songwriter has to offer. And, you know what else? This is why hi-end hi-fi is typically so expensive: je ne sais quoi never comes cheep!
So sitting on this electrician's bed and I am listening to Sam Cook and man-o-man am I getting je ne sais quoi? Major major!
There is je ne sais quoi everywhere! I am shaking and so infused with je ne sais quoi. So I ask this
sparky, "Why am I being so blown away? And he says, "It's the 2A3s and the 755s". I says, Huh? He tells me that the little amp we're using is push-pull 2A3s triodes and that the loudspeakers are Western Electric 755As in "Bender boxes". He explains how this guy, Walt bender, who owns Audiomart turned him on to these old
7-inch paper-coned, full-range public address speakers. He says they were originally designed to project voice as clearly as possible. He describes their extremely sophisticated multi-thickness cone structure. He tells how they were used on ships during WW II and that they needed to be sturdy and weatherproof and most importantly - they needed to do voice articulation better than any speaker ever be because lives depended on it! And
boy-o-boy did these speakers do clear voices. Like absolute clarity and tonal faithfulness. That day, the Western Electric 755s evidenced the best tone character of any loudspeaker I'd ever heard playing music. Wood sounded like wood, metal like metal and flesh and spit like tongue and mouth and throat.
So I asked him again, why are these speakers so good? And he says, "No crossover!" And I say where's the tweeter? He said there was none. I'm shaking my head back and forth. I'd never heard of such a thing. Then I remembered how much I loved the old Quad 57s. Then I remembered this system I had during the late 1970s: four Jordan (50mm) full-range modules mounted two above - two below a Panasonic ribbon tweeter (in a cylindrical cardboard
Sanno-tube) plus a homemade sub-woofer. The only crossover was a capacitor on the tweeter. Both of these systems had this clean, pure, vivid sound. Most importantly, both of these systems did timbre and tone character like the Essences' - like something near perfect.
It was the late 1980s when I heard that electrician's 755s. Shortly thereafter, I discovered the Japanese magazine
"MJ" (aka."Stereo Technica") and from reading that I realized that triodes and single-driver full-range loudspeakers are serious international sub-cultures. I wondered why. Then I bought a nice pair of Western Electric 755As for myself and I built up my own variation on a "Bender Box" and I constructed my first triode amp - a 2A3 push-pull transformer-coupled design using NOS UTC LS21+55 transformers. That was the first really killer audio system I ever owned.
With that setup I fell deep into the beauty-of-the-song abyss and I still haven't come up for air. During the next two years I proceeded to try every other full-range driver I could find and built more than a dozen single-ended triode amps. Almost by accident I was in this weird triode-full-range subculture for keeps.
Then I discovered the Altec A-5 horns and 0.75-watt 10Y amplifiers. Wow! Another gooney sub-culture. So then I build my own horns and then, and then...
Now I was really in trouble. I became a mad audio animal! Literally. Why? Because no matter how much I enjoyed the presence and immediacy of horn loudspeakers I could never get the timbre like it was with the full range. I was changing my speakers almost weekly. Going from one radical set-up to another. Wires, horns, drivers, crossovers. Trouble, trouble, trouble! Trouble everywhere. I was entranced by the unbelievable ease and lack of compression that music through horns displayed. The horns were "faster sounding", more direct and more you-are-there authoritative than any electrostatic or drivers-in-a-box loudspeakers but they were also sort of all over the place. Different parts of the audio spectrum seemed to have different characters. Some narrow bands of their reproduction seemed very "uncontrolled" and unpredictable. Some discs sounded amazing while others sounded horrible - for no readily apparent reasons.
Try this: hold one of your hands out in front of your face. Look at it. Then move it back and forth a little. Shake it around. Now, look out the window at a parked car. See how solid the car sits by the curb? That is the way full-range drivers reproduce music. Solid. Straightforward. Clear. No shakiness or uncertainty. No twisting or wiggling or phasey effects. This is the main reason people become devotes of full range drivers. Full-range drivers have no crossovers and consequently they have no weirdness or uncertainties or unpredictable-ness about what, when or where. They just play music straight up. Very organized and solid. Nothing fancy. No shenanigans. No strange dips in frequency response. No unexpected, frequency-dependent phase rotations. No narrow-band response drop-outs. Full-range drivers wear their coherence on their sleeves. They play the plain unadorned truth... except!
Except at the frequency extremes. With generic two/three-way loudspeakers, all the stupidity and confusion and tragedy happens at the crossover
point(s). Conventional loudspeakers always sound wrong in (at least) two areas: At 70Hz
to 300Hz because of room interactions and at their crossover points. Meanwhile, full-range speakers get sketchy and weird at the frequency extremes. All full ranges are very good through the mid-band (some like the old Quad electrostatic are spectacular state-of-the-art, mid-range reproducers) but the difference between the better and worse ones is most clear in how they do bass and treble.
So Beausoleil Live is coming through the little Essences and sounding very straightforward and clear. The Essences' work very well sitting close to a wall. I have them no more than about
12 inches from a brick wall and about six feet apart and I sit near field, against the opposite brick wall about seven feet away. I have them toed in so the cones are aimed to cross in front of me. And
pow! The reproduction has this extremely solid "plain truth" feel to it. Extraordinary clear vocal reproduction. Maybe the best I've ever experienced. No doubt about what the singer is singing or what sentiments inform the songs.
No doubt about where the microphones were placed during the recording either. No phase anomalies over the majority of the bandwidth means you feel like eyes looking out from the microphones. I am not kidding or exaggerating. I sit and listen and on many recordings I feel like I am staring out through the mesh and foam coverings of the recording mics. This is what I call "precise imaging". When audio reproduction is low distortion and phase-coherent (and the recording is low on reverb and electronic processing) the listener should be able to perceive (i.e. feel) the microphones in the recording chain.
In addition to faithful timbre, super clarity and accurate "imaging", the Essence's low order of distortion and phase problems made each of my recordings sound as different as possible. Usually, the less each disc sounds the same the better the reproduction. This is the number one strong point of the Essence loudspeaker. With ever disc I played I got the feeling that this was it - that I was hearing pretty much of what was really in the grooves and pits. How faithful and true are the Essence loudspeakers? I'll never know for sure but... everything I played made me think I was hearing honest reproduction. Over and over again, a noticeable sense of truthfulness pervaded the listening experience.
Q: What about the frequency extremes?
A: All full range-drivers will disappoint and/or distinguish themselves by how they render the bass and treble. The Essences are no exception and I wish I could speak more clearly about this aspect of their performance but it is very difficult to describe.
A: Because every full range driver has a different geometric center to its bandwidth. Each design has different high and low -3dB points. Therefore each loudspeaker has a different character of reproduction. Some sound clearer and brighter and faster because they have less bass and more treble. Some sound thicker and duller and slower because they have less treble and more bass. It is just like Goldilocks and the porridge. Some full ranges are too thick and some are too thin. The best ones, and the Essence is definitely one of the very best, sound ALMOST just right. And therein lies the rub.
Q: The rub?
A: The rub is: "almost" -- (to me) all full range drivers seem always to be only "almost" just right. They can very often be "good porridge" but never the perfect porridge. I love full range drivers and I actively believe that in many many cases they are a music lover's best choice... but! But. But. But. There is always this vexing 'almost' thing happening. Three out of five days they can leave me wishing for more. Feeling not complete.
Q: More what? More bass? More treble? More?
A: It is different with every example. Like for me, I lost interest in the WE 755s in a few months. I love the original Quad electrostatic but its beaming would cause me fits. I've loved some
Roiene, Fostex, Audio Note (Japan) full-rangers but I keep giving them up and moving on to something else. I've never found a Lowther driver-box combination I could marry and settle down with. Historically, I've had the most relaxed and enjoyable relations with the designs of Ted Jordan. I've been a fan of the type of no-nonsense clarity he promotes. His drivers always seem to generate very low orders of distortion. I've owned the Goodman's Axiom 80 and the original 50mm "module" - both Ted Jordan designs that give tangible, honest musical satisfaction.
Mr. Jordan began designing loudspeakers in London during World War II. His first hi-fi experience was while employed by
GEC. He heard the overture to Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" played through the new GEC 8" metal-coned drivers developed by Hugh
Britten. Inspired by this, he began working for the more progressive Goodman's Industries of Wembley where the management gave Ted the opportunity to develop his own ideas. Immediately, he commenced his now famous, seminal studies of cone behavior at high frequencies. He observed that the flexing of the cone played a vital and necessary role in the treble performance of a loudspeaker and that a very smooth and extended response could be achieved by controlling this flexure through specific design features incorporated in the cone profile. This work resulted in his first design, the Goodman's
"Axiette" which was the first of the single-cone truly full-range drivers.
Ted's latest company is called, E. J. Jordan Designs. The Essences use E. J. Jordan's new (JX53)
four-incher with seems to deliver an unprecedented level of clean and clear. These drivers do the high frequencies better than any full-range driver I've experienced. The design is very effective at minimizing the negative aspects of the frequency extremes. They don't make much bass but for some reason that I can't name I am very satisfied with feeling of the low end. They are not "airy" or exceptionally "open" sounding in the treble either but I rarely notice that. The quality of the what high frequencies there are is nice and easy and not excessively distorted sounding. No matter what distortion these drivers do produce it feels minor and they constantly make me think -- clear and natural and relaxed.
"Relaxed" is an important quality. Almost no loudspeakers seem relaxed. Typically, loudspeakers seem like they have to "try" or struggle to do their job. That's why we get "fatigued" listening. We are listening to music, but our minds are also busy helping the drivers say what they are trying to say. With most loudspeakers we finish the musical sentences in our mind.
The Essences are not for everybody. They have several very obvious limitations - as do most loudspeakers, full-range or otherwise. First off, like most loudspeakers, the Essences have a loudness range where they sound the least distorted and most relaxed. They don't play very loud and they don't play as clearly at low levels but the range where they do play is plenty wide for average listening. This phenomenon is common. Almost every loudspeaker has this same loudness-clarity limitation. Some however play better higher up the loudness scale and some play better lower down. Bottom line: The Essences' four-inch driver cannot move any more air or pressurize any larger rooms than any other four inch driver. What I am saying is the Essence plays music like an extremely accurate small speaker with noticeably limited bass response. Sead Lejlic of Konus Audio (47 Lab's Europe distributor) designed the transmission line enclosure which adds about one full octave to the Jordan
100Hz resonant frequency. Therefore, response is -3dB or so at 50Hz. (I never hooked up a sub-woofer simply because I never felt like it.)
I like the Essences a lot. I like how they play my Leadbelly and Tiger Lily records. I like how relaxed I feel when I listen to them. I very much like the way they look and fit into my living room. They are smart and stylish. I deeply appreciate their straightforward, truthful approach to music reproduction. They remind me of my favorite old bronze "fire screen" Quad electrostatics and the original Jordan 50mm modules. They are extremely coherent. Their timbre and tonal balance are state of the art. I love the way they show me the recording microphones. Their stereophonic imaging is pure and accurate - not fake or unnaturally hyped up like most audiophile speakers. I respect their flat frequency response and their ability to work without compromise in a near-wall position. They play with a kind of gentlemanly ease.
Most importantly, the Essences do "je ne sais quoi" extremely well. More than almost any speaker these fellows can reveal the coded cultural information (i.e. the meaning) that lays just below the surface of the song . When I play music through the Essences I am always inclined to study and think and speculate and reflect upon artistic intentions. The Essences are especially good at showcasing the creative states of mind that inform the music making. The most accurate things I can say about these loudspeakers is: They don't make me dance as much as they make me think and they don't make me admire their audio qualities as much as they make me admire the artists I am listening to.
They worked very well with a variety of low and high priced electronics. They played fine with 300B SETs but I would recommend at least 20 watts for maximum pleasure. They are distributed by my friend Yoshi Sagoshi of Sakura Systems and he tells me that 47 Lab's chief engineer, Junji Kimura, uses them as his reference speaker. I used them with Mr. Kimura's "Flatfish" CD player and 25-watt "Gaincard" amplifier and for me this combination was very state-of-the-art feeling. It didn't play very loud or very soft without distortion but in its preferred loudness range, this combination was deeply satisfying. In a small apartment I could live the rest of my life with it.
I like these speakers better than my beloved little Spendor S3/5s because they take voice articulation to an even higher level. I like these speakers better than any mainstream audiophile two or three-ways. But you must realize that they are not for everybody. To use them and love them you must be tuned to the single-driver, full-range, crossover-less state of mind. You must be come an aficionado. A purist if you will. You must recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect loudspeaker and (therefore) be ready to live with a very "almost" perfect transducer.
Cone diameter: 4 inches
Minimum Impedance: 8 ohms
Frequency Response: 50Hz to 16kHz
Dimensions: 38 x 12 x 4.5 (HxWxD in inches)
Konus Audio Systems
Alipasina 45-A, 71000 Sarajevo
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Voice: +387 61 171641
Fax: +387 33 201066
2 Rocky Mt. Rd.
Jefferson, MA 01522
Voice/Fax: (508) 829-3426