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Energy Connoisseur Home Theater Loudspeaker System

November, 2002

Chris Groppi

 

 

 

Specifications:


C3 Bookshelf Mini-Monitor:

Two-Way Reflex
One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 6 1/2" Rubberized Woofer
MFR: 46 Hz - 23 kHz 3 dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 92 dB/W/M
Size: 15 1/2" H x 7 3/4" W x 11 1/2" D
Weight: 15 Pounds Each
MSRP: $500/Pair - Maple or Black Ash

 
C-C1 Center Channel:

Two-Way Reflex
One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, Two 5 1/2" Rubberized Woofers
MFR: 50 Hz - 23 kHz 3 dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 90 dB/W/M
Size: 6 1/2" H x 22 3/4" W x 9 3/4" D
Weight: 16 Pounds Each
MSRP: $350 each - Maple or Black Ash

 

C-R1 Rear Channel Surrounds:

Bipolar
Two 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeters, One 5 1/2" Rubberized Woofer
MFR: 80 Hz - 23 kHz 3 dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 92 dB/W/M
Size: 7" H x 12 1/2" W x 5 3/4" D
Weight: 4 Pounds Each
MSRP: $175 Each - Black Crackle Finish

 

S10.2 Powered Subwoofer:

Ported
One 10" Driver
150 Watt Amplifier
MFR: 23 Hz - 100 Hz
3 dB
Variable Low-Pass 50 Hz - 100 Hz
Size: 15 3/4" H x 15 3/4" W x 17 1/2" D
Weight: 33 Pounds Each
MSRP: $500 Each - Black Ash

 

Energy Speakers


http://www.energy-speakers.com

Introduction

With the Christmas season coming up, the market segment for moderately priced home theater loudspeakers is sure to be hot. But is it possible to buy a budget home theater speaker package without a great compromise in audio performance? Canadian manufacturer Energy Speaker Systems tries to do just this with their Connoisseur series of speakers.

The center of this package is the C3 stand mounted bookshelf speaker, in combination with the matching C-C1 center channel, and the small, bipolar C-R1 rear channel speaker. The S10.2 subwoofer is not technically a part of the Connoisseur series, but is a good match in terms of both cost and size. I tested these speakers as a complete home theater system, and also tested the C3 speakers alone in a two-channel audio system.

Energy Speaker Systems is part of Audio Products International Corporation which designs and manufactures three brands: Energy Speaker Systems, Mirage Loudspeakers, and Athena Technologies. API has existed for over 25 years and specializes in moderately priced (for the High End anyway) loudspeakers. The Veritas line (one of the Energy lines) is very well regarded, and the Connoisseur line attempts to bring as much of the Veritas performance level to a lower price point.

Energy's three main design points of flat, wide bandwidth, on-axis frequency response, wide and constant dispersion, and low distortion and resonance are difficult design goals to achieve with a restricted budget. The Connoisseur speakers use a hard-dome tweeter with a smooth, flared fascia and a low resonance frequency that allows a lower crossover frequency (2 kHz), improving the performance of the woofers.

The woofers themselves use a very novel design. The woofer baskets are an integral part of the front panel of the speaker cabinets. The woofer baskets are molded directly into the plastic front panel. The driver cones and concave dust caps are made of the same polymer compound used for the much more expensive Veritas speakers.

Cabinets are braced MDF with laminate vinyl veneer finish; mine were the ubiquitous black ash. The C-R1 rears have a crackle black (also a vinyl laminate) finish. All speakers except the rears are magnetically shielded, and have convenient and clever magnetically attached grilles. Binding posts are very well made and solid, and do not allow the use of a wrench to tighten them, which eliminates the possibility of over tightening. They do allow the use of banana plugs.

Quality and Construction

When I received the Connoisseurs, I was very impressed with the construction quality, given their cost. The C3s felt very solid and heavy, with well done cabinetry. While the front panel of the speaker is plastic, the look and fit of the panel is good, as is the binding post cup.

Simple rubber feet stick on with adhesive. The magnetic grilles are clever, but I chose to leave them in the box for auditioning. Overall, the solidity and fit and finish of the speakers were a big step up from my B&W CC3 and DM302 speakers. Compared to my Platinum Audio Solo reference speakers, the Energy cabinets were much less solid, and the quality of the materials were just not in the same league. Bare in mind that one pair of Solos cost more when they were available than the entire Energy system.

The construction of the center channel is almost identical to the C3, with a plastic front panel and integrated woofer baskets. The rears seem even better constructed than the others. The cabinets appear to be made of the same thickness MDF as the others, but the small cabinet size makes them seem very, very solid. The gold plated brass binding posts are of high quality, and even the plastic rear panel with the integrated wall mount is made of a very tough, solid plastic. The one-piece grille covers three of the four sides of the speaker with metal pin connections to the cabinet.

I was less impressed with the construction quality of the S10.2 subwoofer. The rear panel was made from relatively inexpensive-looking and feeling plastic, with lower quality connectors than the other speakers. Front panel controls also did not meet the same level of quality of the Connoisseur speakers. While some of the materials were obviously chosen to keep cost down, the quality of construction of all these speakers was top notch, with the exception of the subwoofer. However, it is the norm for a $500 subwoofer. I have to complain about something, I guess.

Home Theater Performance

The primary application of this loudspeaker set is music rather than home theater, but I found them to do a very admirable job with movies, just the same. I was particularly impressed with the dialog intelligibility of the center channel speaker. The hard dome aluminum tweeter can at times sound a little coarse and sharp, but that also seems to help with dialog. The bass and midrange produced full sounding male voices and music.

With the center set to "Large" on my Rotel RTC-965, the center also did not lack for impact with sound effects. Sibilants could sound a little harsh, but the effects of AC-3 compression on Dolby Digital compressed soundtracks were worse than the character added by the tweeter. It was a huge step up from the B&W CC3 in every way imaginable. Compared to my new Platinum Audio Solo center channel (which are essentially impossible to find, since they were special-order only when new), the C-C1 was more coarse and rough in both the treble and midrange, and did not go anywhere near as low. The treble characteristics of the C-C1 did allow me to listen at lower volume levels and still get very good dialog performance. The fact that the C-C1 did not embarrass itself compared to a center channel with a MSRP three times higher was a nice surprise.

The bipolar rears performed well, without ever calling undue attention to themselves. Using B&W DM302s as rears can sometimes result in sound that is too directional, making surround cues sound unnatural. The built in wall mounts made for easy mounting high on the wall on either side of my couch. Since a lot of rear surround performance is due to correct positioning, the built-in mounts will encourage owners to put them in the proper place.

The C3 left and right speakers got most of their workout with home theater material during big, exciting moments in movies, and then never disappointed. During orchestral crescendos, the C3s were able to throw a huge sound field with impressive results. Their bass performance was good enough to allow the subwoofer crossover to be set low in frequency, putting as much of the bass as possible in the full range speakers. Transients were handled especially well by the C3 tweeters, really adding to spatial cues. Sometimes, sounds seemed to come from outside the room.

The S10.2 subwoofer offers plenty of power for solid sound effects like explosions. It was very insensitive to positioning when the crossover was set low enough. At first, the sub exhibited a very different timbre than the C3 and C-C1, which was distracting at times. It turned out that this effect was caused by setting the crossover much too high. I have a room node, newly found, at about 65 Hz, right at the crossover point between the sub and the C3s. Not knowing about the node, I set the crossover of the sub much too high in frequency to try and compensate for the null. This caused the bass to sound boomy and ill-defined, with a strange timbre. Lowering the crossover to around 60 Hz removed all traces of this effect, although it was difficult to get the crossover point and level just right because of my room's characteristics at the crossover frequency. I doubt that all of you have exactly the same size and shape room as me, so this should not be a common problem.

Still, it is important to note that setting up a sub is not a trivial matter, and it is very easy to be fooled by standing waves in your room. When in doubt, use as low a crossover frequency as you can get away with, and listen to test tones without the sub to identify any nulls. The sub also has an auto-on feature that turns on the subwoofer when a signal is detected. Unfortunately, the threshold for this circuit was relatively high in the review unit, which caused the speaker to turn itself on and off too often. I suspect this was just a peculiarity of the review unit, as it had been shipped all over the US for the various tests we performed. Energy has used this same circuit for 10 years in their subs without any trouble. The turn-on threshold is a low 24 mV. If one of the resistors in this circuit is out of spec or knocked loose, the auto-on circuit will not work properly. According to Energy this is a very rare failure, but has happened before.

While I would prefer the sub simply have a power switch and be on all the time, I expect that a properly operating auto-on circuit will be great for the vast majority of customers. After proper setup, the S10.2 offered extensive power and extension to all but the very lowest pant-flapping frequencies in my fairly small room, with fairly good speed and agility. It bested my REL sub in the power and slam department, but did not have the same speed, agility or finesse. Also, the REL sub integrates so well with my Solos that it is very difficult to tell it is even on. I do think that if I wanted the sub just for Home Theater, I might very well prefer the Energy sub, especially since it's three times cheaper. For music, the nod goes to the REL as expected; that's what it was designed for.

It would be nice if the C3 speakers went lower in frequency. Using test tones, I was able to get flat response to 60 Hz in my room, with reasonable output down to about 45 Hz. The sub also had a ?home theater? mode that boosts bass for movies, but I'm allergic to stuff like that. I set the level and crossover to be as natural as possible using test tones and listening, and then I left it alone. There is also a crossover for satellite speakers and a facility for speaker level inputs, but I did not use this feature either.

Two-Channel Audio Performance

I set up the C3s on my Platinum Audio stands in the same position where my Solos normally reside. As the C3 is a fairly similar speaker in size and frequency performance, they worked very well in this position. The rigidity of the lead and sand filled stands undoubtedly helped as well. For anyone who wants to get the best out of a bookshelf speaker, good, rigid, fillable stands loaded with at least sand and preferably lead shot and sand, are vital. All Energy speakers are extensively broken in at the factory, so I noticed very little change in the speakers as I lived with them. The first pair of C3s I was sent did have a problem with one of the woofer drivers. Something was askew that caused the woofer to buzz with any music containing low frequency content. This was also present in home theater, but could be removed by setting the left and right speakers to ?small.? Replacements were sent from Energy that had no problems, and also sounded very similar to the first pair in the midrange and treble. This damage was probably caused in shipping. The packaging of the C3s could be better, with only Styrofoam corner blocks for the speakers to cushion them.

From the beginning, it was clear these speakers were soundstaging champs. I can't think of any speakers costing less than $1,000 that were able to present such a large, deep, decoupled soundstage. While they did not image very much outside the speakers, images floated in space with very little relation to the boxes on the stands. Center images were especially tight and stable. The depth performance was very surprising. It usually takes spending some serious cash to get speakers that can reliably reproduce soundstage depth, but the C3 did it with aplomb. There was just a hint of the images clustering around right, center and left, but the C3 was far better than most low priced speakers I've heard. The character of the tweeter led to very good transient imaging. The only negative was some confusion between closely spaced images that made them difficult to separate at times.

The tonal characteristics of the C3s were good, but not up to their soundstaging abilities. The treble was coarse compared to the Solos, especially noticeable on sibilants. I never heard anything I would call bright, but the lack of smoothness did call attention to the treble. The midrange also exhibited some coarseness and could add an artificial sound to vocals and stringed instruments. Both these problems were not really that bad, however. It was only in comparison to a much more expensive speaker, the Platinum Audio Solo, that I noticed them. Compared to speakers more in line with the C3s price, the treble performance was very good with very little, if any, tendency towards brightness. The midrange had very little coloration, with the smoothness problem only just peeking out at times.

The only really obvious deficiency of the C3 was some midbass bloat. Probably coupled to some sort of cabinet or port resonance, the midbass region could sound both emphasized and boomy. The slight midrange coarseness and the midbass bloat combined to compromise imaging, causing images to become confused when multiple instruments were located near each other in the soundstage. This midbass problem was the most intrusive, but was only really noticeable for me with acoustic instruments that had significant bass energy. Acoustic bass and the lower registers of the guitar were the biggest problem. With electronically amplified instruments and drums, the midbass seemed to be less noticeable. Lower down, the C3 offered admirable bass performance, with no rolloff to 60 Hz, and decent performance all the way to 45 Hz. Acoustic bass never sounded lacking, although the C3 could not deliver the weight and slam of the Solo/Strata II combination. The Solo is known for having exceptional bass performance for a mini-monitor, and the C3 could get fairly close in extension, if not in power. All this might sound negative, but I'm really just setting a high bar for the C3s. I have never heard a speaker that combines the very low $500 MSRP of the C3 with the exceptional imaging performance, nearly coloration free midrange and very satisfying bass performance.

 

On the Bench (JEJ)

Click on the thumbnail photos below to see the full size versions with a description of the data.

Energy C-3, 5 kHz, 100 dB

Energy C-3, 50 Hz, 100 dB

Energy C-3, Frequency Response

Energy C-3, Impedance & Phase

Energy C-C1, 5 kHz, 100 dB

Energy C-C1, 50 Hz, 100 dB

           

Energy C-C1, Frequency Response

Energy C-C1, Impedance & Phase

Energy C-R1, 5 kHz, 100 dB

Energy C-R1, 50 Hz, 100 dB

Energy C-R1, Frequency Response, Front

Energy C-R1, Frequency Response, Side

           

Energy C-R1, Impedance & Phase

Energy 10.2 Sub, 25 Hz, 100 dB

Energy 10.2 Sub, 31.5 Hz, 100 dB

Energy 10.2 Sub, 40 Hz, 100 dB

Energy 10.2 Sub, 50 Hz, 100 dB

Energy 10.2 Sub, 40 Hz, 50 Hz IM

           

         

Energy 10.2 Sub, Frequency Response

 

       
   

 

 

 

 

Conclusions

I would not hesitate to recommend the Connoisseur speakers from Energy to anyone in the market for a moderately priced home theater loudspeaker setup. The center channel was very impressive for dialog, and offered good sound effects performance. The C-R1 rears are convenient, well made, low priced, and the bipolar sound does the job without ever calling attention to themselves. The C3s, while great in a home theater setting, really shine when used alone for music. They would be my recommendation for a sub-$1,000 speaker for anyone who valued imaging and soundstaging, and was willing to give up some bass output. While I missed my Solos, I never felt I was really being short-changed by the C3s. The S10.2 sub is a fine value for a powerful home theater subwoofer. While for music I would recommend using the C3s alone, the sub offers lots of slam, power and extension for not very much money.

Associated Equipment:

Audio

Platinum Audio Solo loudspeakers
REL Strata II subwoofer
Plinius 8150 integrated amplifier
Bel Canto DAC-1.1 DAC
Pioneer DV-435 DVD player (transport)
Linn LP-12 Valhalla turntable
Linn Ittok LVII tonearm
Grado Reference Platinum MM cartridge
Lehmann Black Cube phono stage
Nordost Blue Heaven interconnect
Nordost Red Dawn speaker cable
DIY AC power cables
Audio Power Power Wedge AC conditioners

Home Theater

B&W CC3 center channel loudspeaker
Platinum Audio Solo center channel loudspeaker
B&W DM302 rear channel loudspeakers
Rotel RTC-965 surround sound processor
Acurus A100x3 3 channel amplifier
Panasonic RP-56 DVD player
Sony SAT-T60 Directv receiver/TiVo
Samsung TSK-3292F display
Tributaries Delta component video cable
Tributaries Delta S-video cable
Straight Wire RCA interconnect



- Chris Groppi -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

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