Bound for Sound Issue 140.
111. Greg Osborn advances on the competition.
I've got to admit it's getting better. - John Lennon.
You have probably read about Greg Osborn's Eclipse loudspeaker, both here and in other journals It's a four foot enclosure with a Focal eight inch woofer, a Focal six inch midrange, and a Focal one inch tweeter. The two larger drivers are in ducted enclosures, and biwiring capability is provided.
To summarize what other people have written, this speaker squeezes the maximum potential from the famous French drivers. The speaker images like a mini monitor, extends surprisingly deep into the bass, and has a terrific sense of rhythm. It's efficient and easy to drive with tube or solid state amplification. It also doesn't take up your entire listening room, or consume your entire audio budget.
Karl Schaefer, Osborn's gracious and gregarious importer, was kind enough to let me listen to the Eclipses for several months and I was hard pressed to find fault with these speakers.
There are speakers that play deeper bass (including the sensational Osborn Grand Monument), but they are all bigger and more expensive. There are speakers that offer a slightly higher degree of transparency, but they generally cost a lot more. The high frequencies could be a little better defined, I suppose, and the tweeter could be better behaved when driven hard. Taken together, the speaker had many more virtues than faults, and I thought it was another terrific bargain from an Australian manufacturer.
Karl left a copy of Osborn's catalogue, which showed that the designer plays several variations on a common theme: The six inch midrange and one inch tweeter are found in almost all of his speakers. For more money you get a bigger woofer or two, in a bigger box. In the very best Osborn units, the box is lined with felt-over-lead-over-felt for better damping, and the Kevlar tweeter is replaced by a titanium tweeter of unusual characteristics.
What would happen, I wondered, if Osborn applied these techniques to the modestly-sized and -priced Eclipse? The world is full of large, heavy boxes. What if you could get the gorgeous midrange and treble of the Grand Monument, and sacrificed a bit of bass?
I have idle fantasies like that all the time; Greg Osborn took action on his ideas and mine. Karl sent word that Osborn was building an Eclipse with just those improvements, along with an improved crossover. Greg sent me a note that he expected the finished product to cost about 50 per cent more than the standard Eclipse. Let's consider what would happen. E. Nakamichi demonstrated that more rigid, better damped enclosures producing better sound in the mid-1970s. Wilson Audio has built a company on the principle. What about the Osborn? Starting at the bass, you would expect tighter control and better definition. When the bass improves, the midrange opens up. This is what happened when I put Vibrapods onto my speakers. Once the bass was tamed, the midrange improved considerably. The Eclipse already has near state-of-the-art sound in the decade covered by the midrange driver; the lead lining could reasonably be expected to improve upon that.
The treble, which I found to be a minor weak spot, would change dramatically. Focal makes a fabulous (and fabulously expensive) tweeter which has power handling, extension and sweetness to extraordinary levels. The problem is cost: close to $500 retail per unit. A lot of designers would like to have this unit in their systems, but only JM Labs (apart of Focal Kharma, the biggest Wilson Audio speakers, and a couple of Osborns can afford it. From my experience with these units, I'd have to say my minor objections to the Eclipse would be removed.
Where would such a speaker stand among its competitors? The obvious comparison is the Merlin VSM a box of similar proportions which costs $7-8,000, depending on finish; about the price of an Eclipse Reference. Bobby Palkovich has refined his two way speaker, which uses a six and a half inch ScanSpeak woofer and a Dynaudio tweeter through many generations of improvements. At present, the speaker comes with an electronic equalizer box to extend the low frequencies, and different wiring harnesses for tube and solid state amplification. It would take you an hour to read all the glowing reviews of this product, and they are well deserved. You can find them on Bobby's site www merlinmusic.com). I think you would have to spend long listening periods to make a choice. Merlin has a clarity and focus which have impressed dozens of reviewers and thousands of listeners; with the addition of the BAM equalizer, the ScanSpeak driver manages to cover the bass without losing the advantages of a two-way speaker. The Dynaudio Esotar tweeter has been the reference standard among dynamic tweeters for more than a decade. (Like the Focal, it's not cheap.) As Rich Rodgers remarked recently in this journal, it is mercilessly revealing about source material.
Greg Osborn's designs have been marked by their reproduction of the visceral component of music. Live performances grip audiences, and Osborn aims at that same excitement - which means explosive dynamic range and powerful bass. The Eclipse's three drivers sound well integrated to me, but Osborn feels that better crossover components will bring them closer and make the result more clear. The Focal Audiom tweeter will allow the new speaker to get loud without becoming shrill. This would be a very difficult decision to make, but you couldn't go wrong. Either speaker would bring you to the limit of technology, work well with almost any competent system, and last practically forever. In the end, your choice would speak more about your priorities in home entertainment than about the relative virtues of the two speakers.
MGD comments: To address some of Dr. Weiner's speculations. 1 have heard in the Big Rig an Osborn speaker very similar to the one of wistfully dreamed of above. It was the Titan Reference. It had the lead lined cabinet and the Focal Audiom tweeter, but crossover work was still proceeding. Nonetheless, it may have been the finest sounding 2-way bookshelf speaker I have ever heard. The lead lined cabinet works, as does the marvelous tweeter. The speaker sounded much, much larger than it actually was.
It extended deeper in the bass in a manner that was amazingly tight and tuneful. The music in the mids was solid, musical discontinuities so accustomed to by the trained ear, were gone - and the music took on a presence that made me love the speaker. In many ways it sounded like a mini Silverline LaFolia and I can't give it much higher praise than that.