Go to Home Page

Click Here to Go to Index for All Speaker Reviews.

 

Product Review
 

ERA Design 5 LCR Speakers, Satellite Speakers, and Sub 8 Surround Sound System

June, 2007

Kevin Lichterman

 

Specifications:

 

LCR and Satellite

 

Drivers: One 1" Soft Dome
   Tweeter, Two 5" Mid/Bass (LCR);
   One 5" Mid/Bass (Satellite)
● MFR: 50 Hz - 20 kHz

● Sensitivity: 88 dB/W/M (LCR); 85
   dB/W/M (Satellite)

Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
   (LCR); 8 Ohms (Satellite)
Dimensions: 19.7" H x 7.1" W x
   10.4" D (LCR); 11" H x 7.1" W x
   10.4" D (Satellite)
Weight: 27.5 Pounds (LCR);
   15.8 Pounds (Satellite)
MSRP: $700/Each (LCR);
  $900/Pair (Satellite) USA

 

Sub 8

 

Driver: One 8"

● Amplifier: 200 Watts

● MFR: 35 Hz - 140 Hz

● Crossover: 30 Hz - 140 Hz
Dimensions: 14.5" H x 12" W x
   12.5" D
Weight: 55 Pounds
MSRP: $800 USA

 

Signal Path International

Introduction

Up until now I wasn't entirely convinced that Barney loved me. After listening to him claim his unending amore again and again (and again) through the life-like sound of the ERA speaker system . . . I just might now be convinced.

Many manufacturers, ERA included, recommend breaking in a speaker thoroughly before critically evaluating its sound quality. The theory is that since the speaker is basically a mechanical device, a break-in period is required to loosen things up - kind of like breaking in an engine on a new car.

To 'properly' break in a speaker, I'm sure with some quick research you can find recommendations to use everything from playing average pop music for an hour or two up to 153.551 hours of carefully constructed, scientifically derived, acoustic break-in CDs played at exactly 70 dB under a solar eclipse.

Rebel that I am (sic), I used my own method: my kids. As a good, caring parent, I let my children watch only the finest educational programming, like Barney, for no more than twenty or so hours a day. After a couple of months of that, the speakers were truly ready to go. Through their diligent viewing of Barney (and Elmo and Dora and . . . others – sigh), I can bring you this review of the ERA Design 5 (D5) speaker system.

ERA

ERA is a relatively new speaker line brought to us by the folks at Signal Path International (if you're familiar with Musical Fidelity gear, you know Signal Path already). Specifically, ERA speakers represent the efforts of David Solomon and John Spainhour to create small, affordable, but not cheaply made speakers that have both visual and aural appeal. Speakers that possess the design friendly ascetics required to blend into the dιcor of today's homes. Speakers that demonstrate smooth high frequency response but also have great bass extension for their diminutive size. The question is, do they deliver?

The Design

For this review, I requested a full surround sound setup representing ERA's current top of the line system. Specifically, the system included three Design 5 LCRs, two Design 5 Satellites, and one Sub 8.

First of all, I'd like to comment on the fit and finish of the speakers. Short and sweet, they are simply beautiful. Based on the on-line photos and some spousal prodding, I specifically requested that David send me the system in the Rosewood finish. I was not disappointed in what I received. The veneer on each of the speakers was attractive and smooth, even around the rounded corners of the cabinet.

The Rosewood veneer applied over MDF exuded a warm glow in my room. Each of the five main speakers tapered gracefully in an arc from the front to a slightly narrower back. This design feature is not only attractive but improves the sound of a speaker by reducing standing waves. Even the binding posts for connecting the speaker wire were top notch, similar to some high dollar WBT posts I've used in the past. Speaking as someone who has built his own, these speakers had the solid feel of quality manufacturing, and I'm honestly slightly jealous that mine don't always have the ERA's polish.

The system I requested is fairly typical of a 5.1 channel home theater. The Design 5 LCRs used for the front three speakers are each configured with a midrange – tweeter – midrange (MTM) array of drivers. Each of the Design 5 LCR's can be placed either vertically or horizontally, allowing for one speaker to serve as the center channel. This helps give you a consistent sound across the stage.

The Design 5 Satellites use the same drivers as the LCRs, but just one less mid/bass driver.

Completing the system in my case was ERA's Sub8. This is the subwoofer ERA recommends for use in a home theater setting. According to ERA, this ported speaker was designed to maximize overall bass output and chest thumping punch. The Sub 8 is a 55 pound cube with a 300 watt class A/B amplifier. It has  the standard subwoofer features such as adjustable phase, level, and crossover. Additionally, it has some features not always seen on a sub, such as a ground lift switch to reduce or eliminate the ground loop hum that can be present in some systems.

The Sub 8's 40 Hz - 140 Hz crossover can be disabled, which allows you to use your surround processor's internal crossover system. Doing this may lead to a better overall blend between the subwoofer and other speakers in your system. Finally, the sub offers an EQ / boundary compensation switch, which is used depending on how close to the wall you place it.

There are a few feature omissions worth mentioning. Speaker level connections are not possible – though in most cases they'll hardly be missed. Instead, low level connections using RCA jacks for right and left channels are provided with a loop through feature. Also, the phase switch is not variable. Only 0 and 180 degree phase settings are provided. This should not affect anyone but the most serious system tweakers.

Setup

My setup for this system didn't break any new ground. The main speakers flanking the TV were positioned on stands at ear level, slightly toed in. My seating position and two main speakers completed a roughly equilateral triangle. The center was placed on the included rubber pad under the TV and was angled slightly up using the included wedge to point directly at my ears. The rear channels were placed on stands behind my listening position at roughly ear level facing one another. Completing the setup was the Sub8 in my usual corner placement.

As ERA notes in their literature, these speakers are not the most efficient and have low 4- 6 ohm impedance, so to get the big bass out of this small box, these speakers require a substantial amount of high power to sound their best. To accommodate this, I used a variety of amplifiers for testing, including an Adcom GFA 555 Mark 2 (200 Watts per channel), a Bryston 3B (100 Watts per channel), and the internal Yamaha amps of the Yamaha DSP-A1 (110 Watts per channel). For critical listening and measurements, I used the separate components.

A few other items of note: first, I ran the LCRs and Satellites full range since I prefer the sound that way. With power to spare, this was not an issue for me; however, you may want to follow ERA's recommendation and use your processor's bass management to cross the speakers over at 70 or 80 Hz. Also, I used a few of dabs of Loctite Mounting Putty between the speakers and stands to directly couple the two. This is a nice cheap tweak that theoretically can help keep the speakers from vibrating and smearing the stereo image. Practically it's a nice way to keep your expensive investment intact when kids, maybe even mine, decide to give the stands a good shake just to see what happens - no personal experience with this one – yeah right!

The Sound

The one thing that really struck me when I listened to the Design 5 System is the humongous yet precise soundstage thrown by the speakers. In stereo mode, the D5 LCRs and Sub 8 combo never disappointed, no matter what recording I threw at them. I could close my eyes and picture the room and the performers whenever I dropped in a CD.

For nearly all recordings, the bass response of the system was more than adequate. Only a few of the bottom dwelling records that included the lowest notes of a pipe organ or some hip hop left me craving more.

However, stereo mode is not where I focused my attention.

Using the system as a home theater is where I spent most of my time. Well as you may have guessed from my intro, I had many opportunities to view Barney and experience the 'in the room presence' you only get from the best systems.

Although Barney was the focus, I did manage to sneak in a few movies as well. Over the months, I watched a diverse variety across a number of genres in order to really get comfortable with the sound of the system. A few that I auditioned included Saw, The Incredibles, Star Wars Episodes 1-6, Lord of the Rings, The Fifth Element (Superbit Edition), Grease, The Sound of Music, and V for Vendetta.

In general, all the movies sounded great. Dialogue was intelligible – no 'huh?' from the audience. Dynamics and surround ambience were good as well. The D5 Satellites do an excellent job of providing directional surround. However, my preference is for a more diffuse surround field. So, at times, I found myself yearning to go back to my normal dipole surrounds. I have a feeling that my preferences may be driven by my room layout which is better suited to a dipole or bipole surround speaker. Bass from the system was normally fine for a majority of the movies I watched especially with the Sub 8 and Design 5 LCRs working as a team. However, I yearned for deeper extension from the Sub8 and more floor shaking "in your face" impact. The Sub 10 would undoubtedly do that.

On the Bench

In order to objectively measure the performance of these speakers, I took the 'Average Joe' approach as always. I used some of the inexpensive tools I already had on hand, such as the old standby, a Radio Shack SPL Meter (33-2050). Since it is not the most accurate, I applied the corrections published elsewhere on this site (http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/utilities-download-page.html) to my actual measurements. I also used the Mobile Fidelity Sound Check CD to generate the stepped tests frequencies noted in the table below. Doing my best to measure the speaker and not the effects of the room, I placed the meter as close as practical to the speaker. The results of the test are in the two tables below.

First the Full Range Room Response of the LCRs (dark line) and Satellites (yellow line):

The Full Range Response graph showing the Design 5 LCRs and Design 5 Satellites revealed a number of things. Across most of the audio spectrum, especially in the critical midrange frequencies, both speakers had a response within a few decibels of each other. As a general rule of thumb, the few dB differences should not be noticeable for most mere mortals. These speakers will reveal exactly what is in the recording.

At the upper end of the audio spectrum the Satellites response tailed off quite a bit compared to the LCRs. There was a full 14 dB difference at 20 kHz. This drop-off may not be noticeable to most listeners – as we age our ability to hear the high frequencies diminish.

At the other end of the spectrum - bass response - we can see the effects of the larger cabinet and extra driver of the Design 5 LCRs. The LCRs were 3 dB down from their average measurement at 80 Hz, 10 dB down at 31.5 Hz, measuring 69 dB. At that same 31.5 Hz frequency, the Satellites measured 62 dB. Overall, the LCRs had more punch at the same power versus the Satellites.

Although both speakers did show good bass extension for their size, the system clearly needs a good sub to flush out a low frequency response. Enter the Sub 8. As shown in the Bass Response graph below, the Sub 8 adds a significant 3 dB to the system response at 63 dB and a whopping 14 dB at 31.5Hz when compared to the Design 5 Satellites. However, it never truly plumbs the low frequency depths that I'd like to see in a home theater sub. But that is left to the Sub 10 and other products out there that cost more, but do more. Stepping up to D5 LCRs for the rear channels would also help a bit.


Conclusions

After living with this ERA system for a number of months, I can say that I was totally impressed with the fit, finish, and performance of the package. While I generally prefer a diffuse sound field offered by a dipole speaker, I still wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Design 5 LCR's and Design 5 Satellites system.

Finally, while the Sub 8 is a good fit for this system, especially cosmetically, I'd hold out for a larger subwoofer, especially in larger rooms. ERA's own Sub 10, rated for deeper extension, would probably be a better match for my tastes.

Apparently, this may not even be an issue in the near future. According to ERA's David Solomon, a full-range floor-stander is in the works. If this new speaker builds upon the already great bass extension shown in the Design 5 series, a subwoofer may not be required (but you might want one anyway if you like to feel your pants shaking).

I offer my thanks to the folks at ERA and Signal Path International, especially David Solomon, for providing me this beautiful and easy to recommend Design 5 system for review.


- Kevin Lichterman -

© Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

Go to Table of Contents for this Issue.

Go to Home Page.

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use