Last year, at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, I was secretly on the hunt for a new pair of reference loudspeakers. With my eyes focused on new products and my ears seeking nirvana, I was quickly reminded how much one’s personal taste is a part of choosing one’s speakers. Think of the variables: the character of the speaker’s sound, its cost, its appearance, how well a pair of them will blend with one’s ancillary equipment, how well they measure -- the list goes on. One speaker that stood out for me at CES 2013 I found in the EgglestonWorks room: their new Nine Signature ($18,900 USD per pair), a revision of their model Nine. At first I was impressed by how they looked. Then I took notice of the suite of new drivers housed in what I would later learn was a highly revised cabinet, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, I was also pressed for time, and so was unable to linger and spend a good while listening to them. I was glad when, some weeks later, Jim Thompson, founder and lead designer at EgglestonWorks, approached me to review the Nine Signature.
Each of my 150-pound review samples arrived encased in precisely fitted blocks of high-density foam inside crates of thick, double-walled plywood. Coaxed out of their beefy packaging, each Nine Signature was also carefully wrapped in an inner layer of soft felt, this in turn wrapped in an outer layer of packing to keep it precisely in place.
Looking at the Nine Signatures in my own room, I found them even more visually compelling than I remembered from CES. The original Nine’s overall shape and size (44”H x 11”W x 16”D) remains, but everything else in or on the Nine Signature is new: redesigned crossovers, revised ports, upgraded bass driver and tweeter, and all-new midrange drivers. In addition, Eggleston has modified the basic cabinet structure. Where the Nine’s drivers all shared the same internal space and breathed through four rear-firing ports, the Nine Signature’s two new midrange drivers are sealed into their own enclosure. This not only adds structural rigidity, but halves the number of ports required. This approach, Thompson explained, essentially isolates all of the drivers, and greatly reduces, if not eliminates, any vibration effects each driver might induce.
On the front baffle, all four drivers are now set into a meticulously finished, one-piece trim panel milled from solid aluminum. This piece is precisely sized to cleverly hide all mechanical driver fasteners, but provides minimal protection to the drivers themselves. Where the Nine was offered in optional metallic finishes of Light Silver or Charcoal Gray, these colors are now offered as standard. Through the use of new PPG automotive paints, Eggleston can now offer the Nine Signature in over 2000 optional colors (add $500 to $1000/pair, depending on the color); my review samples were finished in a gorgeous, semimetallic Light Brown that I would have no problem shelling out extra greenbacks for.
What really matters is what’s changed on the inside, and there the Nine Signature is replete with advancements. The cabinet is still made up of two layers of 5/8”-thick MDF staggered and glued together, this done to vary each panel’s density to further deaden the cabinet. These panels and their cutouts for the drivers are all milled on EgglestonWorks’ own CNC machines, allowing for exemplary fit and finish. During final assembly, each panel is bonded to the next with both glue and biscuit joinery, rather than simple dowels or, even worse, glue alone. This technique, typically used in making high-quality furniture, is another example of EgglestonWorks’ attention to detail and passion for quality. Housed in the top compartment of the cabinet is Dynaudio’s newish Esotar2 silk-dome tweeter, capable of comfortably extending as high as 24kHz. A keen eye will note that the new tweeter is mounted directly on the new aluminum trim panel, and that it comes with a revised tweeter surround and protective clip.
Replacing the poly-coned midrange drivers used in the outgoing Nine are two newly designed 6” drivers with carbon-fiber cones, made by Morel. The new midrange is claimed to be more efficient and to produce more accurate midbass response. Moving farther down the cabinet, Eggleston has replaced the Nine’s 8” Morel bass driver with a new 8” Scan-Speak unit. This new woofer has an advanced paper cone and is said to sound smoother and more natural than the Morel, while allowing the Nine Signature to dig another 2Hz lower, to its claimed low-end output of 25Hz, ±3dB.
Housed in the base of each Nine Signature is an all-new three-way crossover network that makes use of high-end Mundorf capacitors and is connected, via Transparent internal wiring, to a pair of rhodium terminals from Cardas Audio. The new network delegates all frequencies below 150Hz to the woofer, and all frequencies above 2kHz to the tweeter. The Nine Signature is claimed to have an efficiency of 88dB, and to impose on your amplifier a load of 5 to 8 ohms.
With all of the advancements made over the original Nine loudspeaker, I was surprised to discover how sensitive to placement the Nine Signatures were in my admittedly smallish (22’L x 12’W) yet well-damped room. My first attempt was to simply swap out my reference Rockport Technologies Atrias, as this has provided a decent starting point for most similarly sized speakers. With the Nine Signatures 4’ from the front wall, 2’ from the sidewalls, a hint over 8’ apart, and toed in about 10°, I heard diffuse images, somewhat lumpy bass, and an overrich, chesty midrange. Suspecting that these speakers were capable of much more, I started over, eliminating any toe-in and moving them farther away from all boundaries. An hour of tweaking later, I’d learned that the Nine Signatures like a bit more room to breathe than have most speakers of similar size in my room, and benefit from minimal toe-in. They produced their best sound at about 5’ out from the front wall, 2.5’ from the sidewalls, 7’ apart, and with barely 5° of toe-in.
I then let the Nine Signatures play in my system for a few weeks while I conducted my research. This primarily consisted of inundating Jim Thompson with questions, for which I apologize to and thank him. He proved to be a wealth of information; I quickly learned that while the Nine and the Nine Signature may look alike, they are very different animals.
Having never experienced the original Nines in person, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the Nine Signatures. All of EgglestonWorks’ rather expensive advancements sure promised a good show on paper, but would they deliver? Further, would a speaker seemingly comprising components made by other companies -- save the crossover and cabinet -- sound better than the sum of its parts?
Curiosity outweighing trepidation, I settled in for several hours of listening, beginning with “Call Off the Search,” from Katie Melua’s 2003 album of that title (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Dramatico). Within seconds, two of the Nine Signatures’ most dominant characteristics were laid bare: their effortlessly wide dynamic range and their fluency with dimensionality. Melua was placed center stage against an inky background, sounding well focused and rich in tonal color. The density of her voice was different yet welcome, and the way the Nine Signatures allowed her to ostensibly jump into the room without sounding the least bit harsh during her dynamic swings was enjoyably arresting.
After I grew accustomed to anticipating this track’s dynamic ebb and flow, I was able to relax and appreciate the sense of space around and between Melua and the other instruments on stage that the Egglestons conveyed. Images of people and instruments were palpable and dimensionally correct, painting a good portrait of a live performance. After listening to this and other tracks from Call Off the Search a few times each, I began paying more attention to the cues and subtleties I listen for in more critical listening. These typically include how easy it is to hear the strings of Melua’s acoustic guitar being strummed against Tim Harries’s electric bass, or how present are the textural cues of the oboe emanating from far right stage. The Egglestons did a commendable job of delineating the acoustic guitar and electric bass. Both were placed in their proper positions, with more space between them than usual, and Harries’s bass sounded deep, powerful, and every bit the anchor it needed to be for this track to sound right.
What wasn’t as quite easy to hear were the leading edges and microdetails of the acoustic guitar strings. Normally, I can make out when each string is struck, and hear each string in a strummed chord. This was more difficult than usual through the Nine Signatures, at least at normal listening levels. Another subtlety I listen for is how well I can hear the oboist’s breath under the notes. The notes themselves were clearly communicated, but had a more fluid texture, losing some of the raspiness or spit one expects to hear from such an instrument. Later, as I listened to “Faraway Voice,” Melua’s acoustic guitar was again solidly imaged at center stage, but still lacked a hint of string detail, and had less bite than I’m used to hearing. Her voice, on the other hand, continued to sound melodic and dynamic, filling the room with emotion and spatial nuances -- such as a subtle reverb that decayed convincingly in my room.
After a couple hours of studying these and a few other tracks from this album, I’d begun to form a few first impressions of the Nine Signatures. Words like charming and polite kept creeping into my notes, but this was only one album by one artist, and initial impressions are just that. To substantiate or obliterate these impressions, I pulled out a brighter recording, this one from the early 1990s, to see if the Nine Signatures would remain so composed. It only took 30 seconds of listening to “Silent Lucidity,” from Sign of the Times: The Best of Queensrÿche (CD, EMI 5 02482 2), to bring me right back to square one. The track opens with a brief solo on acoustic guitar that was rendered effortlessly, communicating with ease the string details that were lacking from the more neutrally recorded “Call Off the Search.” Pick-slide details were now there in spades, and I could easily hear textural cues of Geoff Tate’s voice. The intended grandeur of Tate’s voice was wholly illustrated throughout the entire track. Eddie Jackson’s bass was dense and punchy, but what I most enjoyed about this track was that I could play it loudly without my ears getting fatigued, as they do with so many other speakers.
This experiment prompted me to move to more neutral material yet at a higher resolution. I pulled out an all-time favorite: Roxy Music’s Avalon (SACD/CD, Virgin 5 83871 2). During “Avalon,” the Nine Signatures seemed to disappear from the room. Instruments such as Andy Mackay’s saxophone were often placed beyond the speakers’ outer sidewalls, while Bryan Ferry’s voice was consistently imaged directly in front of me. Of particular note was how accurately the location of Fonzi Thornton and Yanick Etienne’s background voices were placed throughout this track, especially toward the end, when Etienne moves to left stage for her solo. During the opening seconds of “Take a Chance with Me,” Andy Newmark’s kickdrum at right stage was convincingly presented about 3’ behind the right speaker, with adequate weight and impact. However, I found his hi-hats slightly lacking in body and focus, and there was a degree less instrumental separation than what I’d heard with “Avalon” and am accustomed to.
Still unable to confidently nail down the personality of the Nine Signature, I moved on to “Man in the Long Black Coat,” from Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy (24/88.2 FLAC, Columbia/HDtracks). This time I heard a vivid, articulate, three-dimensional acoustic guitar firmly planted at left stage, illustrated with convincing string detail and an almost complete lack of compression. This was mirrored on the right by an equally live, tonally accurate electric guitar that remained clear to the ear despite being played in tandem with an arrestingly propulsive bass guitar. Above it all, Dylan’s voice popped from deep on the stage with excellent texture, clearly conveyed micro- and macrodynamics, and wondrous spatial precision. What this and my previous observations were spelling out was that 1) the EgglestonWorks Nine Signature was a somewhat revealing and neutral speaker that tended to err on the politer side, and 2) the quality of the recording played was the most important variable in how this speaker would sound. It stands to reason that paying attention to the equipment it’s paired with also came into play.
Having enjoyed the EgglestonWorks Nine Signatures in my system for the past couple months, comparing them with Rockport Technologies’ Atrias ($21,500 per pair) was analogous to comparing a Lexus LS460 to a Maserati Quattroporte. Like those formidable automobiles, both speakers are well-engineered products that achieve their sound through the use of very high-quality components. The thing to consider is what you’re looking for. When evaluating that sort of car, most will look at their speed and/or handling; when evaluating loudspeakers, many will want to examine their tonal character and/or transparency.
It was the Nine Signature’s tonal character and transparency that separated it from the Atria. The primary difference I heard was that the Eggleston sounded more relaxed. The Rockport consistently had more sparkle on top and was able to communicate more microdetail, allowing me to hear deeper into the music. The Atria also excelled at communicating a faster, more neutral midrange. On the other hand, despite sounding slightly rolled off at the top end, the Nine Signatures displayed an uncanny ability to image objects in space far beyond the confines of the speaker cabinets, and with genuine solidity. They also regularly exhibited louder, deeper bass than the Atrias, if with a smidge less pitch definition and detail.
The most obvious example of these differences was provided by “Isn’t This a Lovely Day,” from Diana Krall’s From This Moment On (24/96 FLAC, Verve/HDtracks). Through the Nine Signatures, the notes from Krall’s acoustic piano sounded rich, warm, and nuanced, with a fluid texture. Krall was imaged, with remarkable body, directly before me, and I thoroughly enjoyed how the Egglestons reproduced Terell Stafford’s trumpet farther back on right stage, against Jeff Clayton’s more dominant sax, to Krall’s left. Again, cymbals lacked the sparkle and sharpness they had through the Atrias, sounding warmer and softer, but the picture the Egglestons painted was still quite enjoyable.
Listening to the same track through the Atrias, I was treated to a more literal but still utterly enjoyable sound picture. Krall was in the same position, if with just a hint less body, against her piano, which still sounded rich and nuanced but not quite as warm or as fluid. Instead, I could now hear longer note decays, Krall’s depressions of the piano’s pedals were more present, and cymbals now popped to life, sounding vivid and airy, with more identifiable shimmer. Plucks of the double bass were also easier to distinguish, and the bass itself, although not as loud or deep as through the Egglestons, had better pitch definition and simply sounded more real.
I enjoy reviewing products I know nothing about. Sure, reviewing gear I’m already familiar with may be a bit easier, and is often just as fun, but reviewing new equipment from unfamiliar companies allows me to interact with owners, designers, and distributors for the first time. It also provides the perfect catalyst for me to learn about and experience equipment that I otherwise would never lay ears on.
EgglestonWorks’ new Nine Signature proved to be the personification of this ideal -- interacting with Jim Thompson and gaining an appreciation for EgglestonWorks’ latest offering has been a pleasure. The Nine Signature is an aurally and visually inviting loudspeaker that, by pretty much any measure, has a lot to offer. Typically, “try before you buy” is invoked as a warning. With the Nine Signature, I recommend you read the phrase more literally: Listen to these before you buy anything else -- you just might find the perfect balance you’re looking for on your very first try.
. . . Aron Garrecht
- Speakers -- Rockport Technologies Atria
- Subwoofers -- JL Audio Fathom f112 (2)
- Amplifier -- Classé CA-M300 (2), Halcro MC50
- Preamplifier -- Marantz AV8801, Classé CP-800
- Sources -- Ayre Acoustics C5xeMP CD player, Oppo BDP-103 universal BD player
- Cables -- Kimber Kable Select KS-6063 speaker cables, Kimber Kable Select 1126 interconnects, Cardas Clear Blue Beyond power cables
- Power conditioner -- Torus Power AVR2 20A
EgglestonWorks Nine Signature Loudspeakers
Price: $18,900 USD per pair.
Warranty: Six years parts and labor.
540 Cumberland Street
Memphis, TN 38112
Phone: (901) 525-1100