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Product Review
 

Era D3 Bookshelf Speakers, D3 LCR (Center Speaker), and Sub8 Subwoofer

April, 2007

Lee Hower

 

Specifications:

 

D3 Satellite


Drivers: One 1" Horn Loaded Dome Tweeter, One
   4" Long Excursion Woofer
● MFR: 75 Hz 20 kHz

Sensitivity: 83 dB
Impedance: 5 Ohms Nominal
Dimensions: 7.5" H x 4.75" W x 6.5" D
Weight: 5.3 Pounds/Each
MSRP: $400/Pair USA

 

D3 LCR (Center)


Drivers: One 1" Horn Loaded Dome Tweeter, Two
   4" Long Excursion Woofer
● MFR: 70 Hz 20 kHz

Sensitivity: 84 dB
Impedance: 6 Ohms Nominal
Dimensions: 7.5" H x 12.25" W x 6.5" D
Weight: 11 Pounds
MSRP: $300/Each USA



Sub8 Subwoofer


Drivers: One 8" Polymer
Low Frequency Extension: 32Hz
Amplifier: 300 Watts RMS Class A/B
Crossover: 30 Hz 100 Hz, Variable Cutoff
Inputs: RCA Line-Level, Speaker Level
Dimensions: 13" H x 12" W x 11" D
Weight: 55 Pounds
MSRP: $800 USA

 

Signal Path International

Introduction

Era was not a speaker company I was terribly familiar with prior to evaluating this system, but I suspect we will all be hearing more about them in the future. Era is part of Signal Path International, which also manufacturers Sona Design A/V furniture and is the exclusive U.S. importer of Musical Fidelity components (UK based).

The Era product line currently consists of three satellite speaker systems (D3, D4, D5), a series of speakers for use with flat panel displays (PL 24/28), and two subwoofers (Sub10 and Sub8).

Features and Setup

The 5.1 system I reviewed was composed of four D3 satellites for front and rear, a D3 LCR for center channel, and the Sub8 subwoofer. The D3 was designed by Michael Kelly, founder of Aerial Acoustics as well as previously designer for Boston Acoustics and B&W. Like many companies today, Era designs their speakers in the US and manufacturers them in China.

In unpacking the system, I was immediately struck by the small physical size and remarkable appearance of these speakers. The D3 satellites measure just over 7 inches tall, 5 inches deep, and less than 5 inches wide.

For reference, I have an older universal remote which is roughly the size of the D3s front baffle.

The D3 LCR has similar height and depth, but is wider at about 12 inches. The samples I reviewed were finished with a beautiful Cherry veneer, though Sycamore, Rosewood, and Piano Black Gloss are also options. These are real wood veneers, not vinyl, and I have to admit they're quite stunning in their look and the high quality of the fit and finish. I've seen cabinets of speakers that cost several times what the D3s do which don't come close from an aesthetic point of view.

The D3 satellite features a 4" woofer and a 1" horn-loaded dome tweeter, while the D3 LCR features the same tweeter and two of the woofers. The drivers are proprietary designs, and both speakers have a rear facing port.

One downside of these speakers is a comparatively low sensitivity at 83 dB for the D3 satellites and 84 dB with the LCR. These clearly require reasonable power to drive them, and Era recommends a receiver or amplifier with at least 75 watts per channel. I used the D3s with two different receivers: a Denon AVR-3803 in my living room (rated at 110 watts/channel) and a Denon AVR-4806 in my home theater (THX Ultra2, rated at 140 watts/channel), and had no problems driving them.

Both the D3 satellites and LCR are magnetically shielded for placement near a CRT-type monitor. Should you choose on-wall placement, both designs feature " threaded inserts to attach to a wall mount or bracket. One small nit with the D3s are the speaker binding posts which cannot accept banana plug type connections. The well-knurled knobs make it comparatively easy to tighten with bare wire or spade (provided they're wide enough) connections, but I would have preferred the WBT type connectors that the Sub8 incorporates.

Since the D3 speakers have a rated frequency response from 75 Hz 20 KHz, they are best paired with a subwoofer like the Sub8. As you might guess from the name, it features an 8" downward firing poly driver and is powered by a 300 watt high current amp. The rear panel includes the usual controls for crossover frequency (30-100 Hz, or defeat for use with a receiver's crossover), volume, and phase selection.

It's a rather compact design, measuring just under a cubic foot (12" x 11" x 13"), and is available in gloss black (as my review sample was), Cherry, Rosewood, and Maple finishes.

The Sub8 is a ported design and is rated down to 32 Hz extension. It also features a boundary control switch, to enable the sub to operate effectively with in-cabinet installations. I tried a couple different crossover settings between the D3s and the Sub8, but for the most part just stuck with Era's suggested crossover point of 80 Hz.

I played with a couple placement options for the D3s, and ultimately chose to shelf-mount the front three channels and stand-mount the rear channels for most of my listening. The D3s also have cloth grille covers, but I listened mostly with the grilles off. The Sub8 was placed on its included floor spikes and discs, near the front left corner of my listening area.

Listening Impressions: Music

I listened to a range of recordings from CDs to SACDs, to digital files from my Sonos music system (encoded with Apple's lossless format).

Overall, I would describe the D3s as having a laid back presentation . . . easy on the ears, never harsh. With comparatively small drivers and low rated efficiency, the system is less suited for filling a very large space with high SPLs, but I found no problems listening at normal or even moderately elevated levels. In any case, these represent one of the best sounding small speaker systems I have ever heard.

Seu Jorge Cru (Wrasse Records) - CD: Seu Jorge is a Brazilian musician whom you might recognize from his guitar-toting role in the movie The Life Aquatic. Cru is his first album widely released here in the US. The D3s exhibited a fast transient response in the midrange, particularly noticeable on tracks with bongos and wood percussion.

Norah Jones Come Away With Me (Blue Note) SACD (multichannel): The D3s did well with this album, striking a very neutral balance with Norah Jones's voice and the instrumentals. As you might expect with a smaller monitor speaker, imaging was quite precise, and the consistency of voicing across channels was readily apparent.

Listening Impressions: Movies & TV

Poseidon (Warner) HD DVD: From an entertainment perspective, I found Poseidon to be a bit of a dud as others had warned me, but the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is quite impressive. While the Sub8 reaches credibly into the 30-40 Hz range, it doesn't reach the subterranean depths of action packed films like this one. But I was very pleased with the D3 LCR's ability to reproduce dialogue with excellent clarity, and it maintained good tonal balance with the other channels using D3 satellites.

Rome: Season 1 (HBO) DVD: Having missed the series when originally broadcast, we watched the episodes on DVD. Like many of HBO's series, the production value of Rome is exceptionally high, and the audio features an original score by composer Jeff Beal. The D3s reproduced this score - rich with traditional musical instruments of the ancient world - and the dialogue, with great detail.

Conclusions

Era sells their speakers through a growing network of specialty audio retailers around the U.S. At $1,900 for the system (all models available individually), with a five year warranty, the D3/Sub8 combo provides a good value and an exceptional balance between performance and appearance.

I have no qualms about saying that these Era speakers are one of the finest small speaker systems I've ever listened to. The system split time between my dedicated home theater room and our family room where we do much of our "everyday" listening to music and viewing of TV programs and some movies. In both settings, the D3s sounded great, but the latter (living room) really made me appreciate the system's ability to blend into a room both from a high fidelity audio and an aesthetics standpoint. I thoroughly enjoyed these speakers and I'm sad to see the review samples go.


- Lee Hower -

Associated Equipment:

Denon AVR-4806 receiver
Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player
Sony ES SCD-222 SACD player
Sonos ZP80 Zone Player (Apple lossless encoded files)
Panasonic PT-AE900U LCD projector

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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