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Product Review - Edge Audio 502D Series Home Theater Speakers - May, 2001

Chris Montreuil


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Specifications:

502D Satellite Speakers (502D-LR) and Center Speaker (502D-C)

Drivers: One 1" Cloth Dome Tweeter, One 5 1/4" Mid/Woofer

MFR: 78 Hz - 25 kHz ± 3 dB 

Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms

Size: 11" H  x 6 ¾" W x 6 ¾" D

Weight: 12 Pounds Each

SW-12/320 Subwoofer

Driver: 12"

MFR: 28 Hz - 120 Hz  ± 3 dB

Amplifier Power: 320 Watts

Size: 20 ¼" H x 15" W x 20" D

Weight: 70 Pounds 

MSRP: $1,399 for the Entire System


Edge Audio, Web http://www.edgeaudio.com 

Introduction

I can pretty much tell now when I have a speaker system arriving for review. There is a knock on the door and behind it is a very disgruntled looking UPS man standing there. We engage in our usual banter and he finishes with a hopeful look, "Are you going to be keeping any of these?" "No. I am pretty much set for now." A pained look washes over his face with the thought of having to return to pick them up. So began my experience with the Edge 5.1 system.

About the Company

Edge Audio's approach towards their customers is what I believe, hopefully, will become the future business model of audio companies. They sell factory-direct to avoid the hassle of dealers and their markups, and even more importantly, to establish a direct connection to their customers. Instead of hoping for a knowledgeable local dealer, they prefer to communicate with their customers on a one-to-one basis. Who knows their products better than they do? For those who get antsy purchasing a system sight unseen, Edge offers a 30-day no-risk return policy. That way, a consumer may be assured their new purchase sounds good in his/her system satisfactorily. In lieu of a local dealer, Edge supports their current and future customers with a nicely laid out and informative website that provides detailed information regarding their products including reviews and an online ordering system. I hate to sound like their head of marketing, but when you see something handled so intelligently, you cannot help but be impressed. A fair number of hi-fi companies could learn quite a bit from Edge's approach. You could calculate that you will save about 30% off what these speakers would cost if you bought them in a brick and mortar store.

Lineup

The 502D Series Home Theater and Music System was provided to us for the review. The 502D consists of five identically matched bookshelf-sized satellites/center and the rather voluminous SW-12 Subwoofer. The 502 satellites are comprised of a 5 1/4" Woofer-Midrange and a 1" soft dome tweeter.

The 502s incorporate a DiAural™ crossover that is sufficiently unique to warrant some background. According to Edge's website, DiAural was invented by Eric Alexander in an effort to provide a more appropriate interaction between drivers. The DiAural crossover is said to lower distortion and enable drivers to be "virtually burn-out proof". More info on DiAural's technology can be found at http://www.diaural.com. In addition to a sophisticated crossover, I was also impressed to see that the 502 drivers are sourced from Vifa, a well-respected OEM whose drivers are found in high performance designs.

Since the 502s are rated at 78 Hz - 25 kHz, a subwoofer is needed for a full range presentation. This is where the SW-12 sub comes into the fray. Its - 3 dB point being 28 Hz, the SW-12 features a long throw 12" driver, this one coming from another respected OEM in Peerless, powered by an internal 320 watt amplifier. As both the UPS guy's and my back can attest, the SW-12 is very well built regardless of price. Whether it's a combination of extensive cross bracing or internal damping, this 70-pound behemoth will leave you wincing on a knuckle rap test. All I managed to evoke was a dull thud with no resonance whatsoever.

Connections provided were standard fare for a powered sub with low level inputs and outputs via RCA and high level ins and outs via spring clips. Not being a fan of speaker-level inputs, I opted for the low-level connection by splitting the signal from the left/right output of my Casanova with a Y-adapter. Controls for gain, frequency, and phase are also provided, as well as a selector for on, off, or auto sensing power. With a rated low end response of 80 Hz for the 502s, I decided to set the subwoofer frequency rolloff (low pass crossover) at the same level. I played with other settings, but 80 Hz seemed to work the best in my room. Gain was set at approximately half way, which created good impact without calling undue attention.

All speakers, including the sub, are constructed of hardwood (rather than MDF) and came in an attractive cherry finish veneer that belies their very affordable $1,399 price tag. My most significant complaint with Edge was that they did not put as much care into the packaging of their subwoofer. The satellites came appropriately double boxed and encased in styrofoam to protect from shipping damage, whereas the sub was singled boxed with a minimum of internal padding. This resulted in the sub arriving damaged with a significantly sized crack running through the façade of the sub towards the woofer basket. This did not seem to affect the sub's performance, but it very well could have. This is the only area in which I have to take Edge to task in that a sub of that size and weight should be packaged far better especially when you consider the fact that they sell direct to the customer. That said Edge's attention to detail and quality was exemplary in every other facet. Of course, Edge Audio replaced the damaged subwoofer for me at no charge. They are a new company. They will figure out what has to be done with shipping cartons real fast.

Setup

All five satellites were placed atop Lovan Affiniti 24" stands to maintain an even-tweeter height. The 502 mains were placed approximate 90" apart, 31" from the rear wall and 116" from the listening position. Tweeter height was measured at 37", which was ideal for my seating level. Due to the irregularities of my room, the left speaker was placed much further from the sidewall (51") than the right, which was set at 25". The center channel was equidistant from the mains with tweeter height measuring 37" also. The sub was placed in what has become "the" spot for sub placement in my listening room, in an alcove off to the right of the theater, positioned 18" from the near wall, set to fire across the long axis of the room. Unfortunately, once again I was forced to place the rear speakers much too close to the listening position than I would have liked, even more so than with the previous set I had reviewed, in that the rears are direct radiating. Tweeter height was the same as the LCRs, but I would have liked them an additional 36" away to construct a more stable, believable soundstage. As always, your room/listening tastes will incur changes in setup.

Music

I was prepared to analyze the Edge system's merits solely in the home theater environment, but upon noticing its official title as a Home Theater and Music System, I decided to put it through its paces in a 2.1-channel music configuration. I say 2.1 because listening to the 502's full range without the aid of the SW-12 was underwhelming to say the least. The majority of my music is fairly full-range, and the 51/4" woofers just were not up to the task, nor should they expected to be. That said, my impressions with the low end augmentation provided by the SW-12 were very favorable. Perhaps due to the fact they both employ Vifa tweeters, the 502's top end quickly reminded me of the last speaker system I reviewed: Smooth and refined with a shelving back of the utmost frequencies that quells the hotly mixed recordings that plagues the majority of modern recordings.

A classic illustration of this is Portishead's NYC - Live at Roseland, an absolute stunning collection of live performances, many better than their studio counterparts, at my favorite venue, the Roseland Ballroom. A very hot mixing of Beth Gibbons' vocals mars this otherwise essential record. The Edge system did an admirable job cooling the mix without sounding flat and compressed, as can be the result of a laid back treble. While many audiophiles would criticize the reserved nature of the 502s as deviating from neutrality - which is how I would characterize it tonally - I would argue they allow the music to be enjoyed rather than "listened to".

From the treble to midrange the 502's sailed along smoothly, portraying vocals in a convincing and eminently listenable fashion. Vocals of the male and female variety were handled quite well. U2's Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree feature Bono at his best. On "One" and "Running to Stand Still" Bono's vocals are soothing without losing the requisite bite and impact they were mixed to possess. The same can be said of Bjork's second release Post that features the track "It's oh so quiet". The track is three and a half minutes of over the top vocals and a blazing horn section that at times becomes relentless. The 502s handled themselves admirably in this regard, tracking the peaks and valleys of energy without becoming overly congested. As with the RBHs I reviewed a short time ago, I was left a little wanting in terms of soundstage width and depth through the 502s. However, the more I listen to direct radiating designs, the more I realize that my complaints about soundstaging are due to the fact that I own bipolar speakers and not any shortcoming in the 502's design. That said I felt the music rendered within the soundstage was quite believable, with a good sense of placement.

In general, with a variety of selections, the 2.1 version of the 502D system performed very well considering its modest price, with two minor points of contention. I am unsure if the first is a byproduct of the DiAural technology or a lower than specified sensitivity but it took quite a bit of juice to get the 502s rockin' and rollin'. I had to set the volume considerable higher with my Theta/Sunfire combo than I have with any other speaker combination. The sound produced at moderate levels by the 502s had a slightly lifeless character and did not really come "alive" until I goosed the volume up. This is not so much a major point if you have the necessary amplification but I would not recommend pairing them with a budget receiver or a low powered tube amp (see the addendum below). The other thing I noticed about the 502s is that they did not project out into space as well as I would have liked. Instead, they seemed to be a bit more contained within their source. These are small nits to pick considering the 2.1 system price sells for under $1000, and are only relative to much more expensive designs.

Movies

All of the 502's fine qualities on music fully translated into their performance on 5.1 material. I am getting tired of seeing the Omaha Beach chapter of "Saving Private Ryan" in DTS, but it still serves as the reference for a full range surround presentation. The laid back nature of the 502 speakers once again proved beneficial by softening the otherwise harsh metallic sound of machine gun fire that permeates the first thirty minutes of the film. However, the 502D did not rob the film of its dramatic impact, it merely made the scene palatable. On a more "neutral" system, the brass hitting the floor in that scene can induce wincing and a quick reduction in volume. Not so with the 502Ds, as I simply increased the volume until I was afraid my neighbors would have me removed by force.

In fact, the 502D system surprised me with its dynamics and bass slam in this scene. This is the area that I found the most significant difference between this system and that of the RBH, which is in the bass. The SW-12 felt a little more full in the bass, not bloated per se, just fuller, whereas the RBH 1010-sep was much tighter, ably stopping and starting notes on a dime. The 1010-sep probably goes deeper, but the SW-12 has a peculiar way of making you think it is going really low. I guess I go back to the term fullness to define its character. I find it hard to choose between the two, as I appreciated the 1010's tightness and tunefulness, while I enjoyed the sense of power and authority of the SW-12. In the end, I'd opt for the 1010-sep, but the fact that the SW-12 competes at about half the price of the 1010-sep says more about its performance than I could hope to illustrate. For movies though, my preference between the two narrows considerably. Once again, the advantages of five identical speakers came to light with the 502s. Timbre matching was excellent of course, with pans from left to right and front to back transitioning smoothly. I didn't quite achieve a sonic bubble as I like to think of it, due to the fact that the rear speakers were not properly spaced. This, of course, is a problem solely of my room's dimensions and not a flaw endemic to the system. There is no substitute for a properly sized room, but how many of us have one?

I recently borrowed the animated film "Titan A.E" in DTS, and apart from being an absolutely ghastly written film, I would highly recommend it as an audio and video reference. The soundtrack features dizzying sound effects, laser blasts that tear through the soundfield and the deep bass rumble of immense starships. The 502D took it all in stride, producing a stable and convincing presentation, thereby immersing me in the film, thankfully since the script would have put me to sleep after a few minutes. In fact, I never felt cheated in the 502D's portrayal of the sonic chaos, or said to myself, "Not bad for a $1400 surround system." I simply thought not bad period. Aren't I great with superlatives?

After many attempts, I was finally able to pick up the newly mastered DTS CD, "Police: Every Breath You Take", and apart from the Mobile Fidelity pressing of Synchronicity, it is the finest I have heard the trio sound. This is first DTS CD I have listened to that was mixed to aid the music and not impress the listener with snazzy effects that inevitably detract from the performance. On "Don't Stand so Close to me" the 502D presented Sting's vocals clearly with an excellent sense of ambiance being delivered from the surrounds. Though not the last word in tightness, Copeland's drum kit possessed excellent weight and existed as part of the whole sonic picture through the 502D. I guess that sums up my experience with Edge System in general - relaxed synergy.

My other reference for 5.1 music is the Naxos DTS release of Mozart's 28th and 40th Symphonies. Once again, the 502D produced a wonderful enveloping sound, though this is due in part to the quality of the mix, that drew me into the music. Perhaps the bass was a bit too "full" in this situation due to the nature of the program material, but the 502D acquitted itself well, providing a natural sense of space. I found the need to push the volume, which leads me to wonder how DiAural effects current flow to the drivers. I do not feel this is a serious impediment in enjoying the 502D system, as there was always plenty of headroom, but it certainly sparks my curiosity as to how a transducer with a DiAural based crossover measures. But this is not germane to the 502D's performance as a whole. In every regard I was entirely satisfied in its ability to handle the demands placed by the modern 5.1 soundtrack. Certainly in much larger rooms, the 502D system might not have enough bark, where a more full range system might offer better dynamics. But in small to moderately sized rooms, the 502D will provide a competent match.

Conclusion

Edge's stated goal for the 502D system was to design the finest 5.1 home theater system available for under $3,000. Upon living with this system for the past few months, I find it rather easy to state that Edge has come close to success. Even when judged against systems costing considerably more, the Edge system more than held its own. Perfect? Of course not. But when you consider the fact that there are those who spend the entire system price of $1400 on a pair of interconnects - I have not achieved that level of insanity . . . yet - you begin to realize that the 502D system presents an excellent price to performance ratio. Couple this with the fact Edge Audio offers good customer service and a 30-day risk free trial, and what you have is a no-brainer. Highly recommended.

Addendum

My curiosity got the better of me, so after the review I decided to contact Terry Shea from Griffin Marketing regarding the 502's sensitivity. As it turns out my ears were not deceiving me as they are rated at a fairly low 84 dB/w/m, far lower than any speaker I have owned/reviewed before. As mentioned above, I would recommend pairing them with a high powered receiver or outboard power amplifier.

- Chris Montreuil -

Equipment Used in this Review

Preamp: Theta Casanova
Amplifier: Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature
Digital Source: Toshiba SD-9000
Cable: Tara Labs/Synergistic Research Speaker
Tara Labs/Monster Interconnect
Accessories: Lovan Affiniti Stands, Lovan A/V Rack

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