Emerald Physics owners

So I've had a pair of CS2.3's for over a couple of months now and thought I'd post my experiences so far in case someone else has some tips in getting more out of these speakers.

I 'm using them with a VAC Ren 30/30 (6sn7->300b tubes) driving the mids and tweeters, and a DIY Class D amp I bought along with speakers, driving the bass. I have the DBX w\ microphone package, and the source is a DMHT Havana DAC with a WE JW 2c51 tube, upgraded fuse, and fed from a laptop via USB and a HiFace re-clocker. I'm using Foobar2000 and ASIO4ALL on the laptop. I'm not using a pre-amp at this time. Cables are Straightwire.

I also have a pair of Dali Helicon 400 speakers I bought about the same time. I also used to own a pair of B&W 801 s3 with a Conrad Johnson Premier 11, but sold them about nine years ago. I've been into world-class headphones between then and now.

The description of the sound that always comes to mind is 'life-like'. Vocals are so holographic and live sounding. Far more life-like than any speakers I've heard so far. In comparison, the description of the sound that comes to mind when listening to the Dali's is 'refinement' and 'powerful'. While still having good imaging, I wouldn't say it's holographic compared to the EP's. Yet voices have a delicacy and nuance about them - a sense of refinement.

While the bass of the EP's is deep and in an audible sense - very big and strong, they do not have the sense of power and movement of air that the Dali's have. The Emerald Physics have a boxless di-pole bass, and while maybe I can agree with EP's description of accurate bass, I usually do miss that impact of air from a boxed speaker. I am soon going to try a JL F110 subwoofer with them to see if that will give me that impact that I like. But, don't get me wrong, the EP's do have audible bass impact and definition, just not the tactile impact. The EP's probably have better bass imaging than the Dali's. Adding spikes is also a must in order to get the best bass, it makes a big difference in getting well-defined and accurate bass.

Emerald Physics speakers are not for the plug-and-play consumer. There was no manual to describe how to set the system up or to configure the DBX unit or how to get the best sound. So basically I've been trying with all sorts of things to see what sounds good. I've never heard a far-field setup that wasn't boring to me, and now that I think about it, except my own setups I've never heard a near-field setup that wasn't boring either. (Retailers could probably make a lot more sales if they just setup their speakers better.) But I do like to listen near-field. The best location I've found so far is with the speakers about five feet from the back wall, the distance between the inside edges of the speakers is 52 inches and the distance between my ears and the front of the speakers is about 65 inches. Closer is just more engaging to me then far away. And despite the speaker descriptions about lack of wall interaction, speaker location IS critically important and my speakers are nowhere near the walls for my best sound. All other speakers I've tried have sounded best with just a slight toe-in, but these CS2.3's sound far superior when they are focused about a foot or two in front of my face -- so massive toe-in. And due to the narrow field-of-sound they emit, every millimeter counts when finding the correct toe-in. But once dialed in, it's holographic bliss.

I read elsewhere on this forum about an expericed audiophile visiting someone with Emerald Physics speakers and commenting about all sorts of missing frequencies. I can believe it. Any two calibrations with the microphone are different, even with the microphone in the same place. However, you just have to play with different microphone placements, height, and direction, in addition to the loudness of the pink noise. I found the best calibration I got was to put the mic at the height of the tweeter, about where my ear is and point it directly at one of the speakers. However, even with that, the sound is definitly on the brighter side to my ears. So I go in the equalizer on the DBX unit and increase the last four bars of bass (20-80Hz) about 4dB, and then adjust a few of the other bass and mid frequencies by ear until it sounds right (or at least how I like it best), and every .5dB is important to get the best sound. I found decreasing the highs, rather than increasing the bass and a little bit of mids, ruined a lot of the excitment of the music.

It is so easy to get a crappy calibration and the DBX unit UI is not for the faint of heart, that I can imagine a lot of EP owners listening to sub-par sound. I can't imagine what the owners of the Behringer unit hear (with no microphone), as not only is the calibration extremely critical, but even once you get a good calibration, small manual adjustments of the EQ can enhance or ruin the sound balance, the image, the distance of the image, etc. But the calibration does make a big difference if you get it right. One scary thing is that it is very easy to mess up the base Emerald Physics DBX configuration if you don't know what you're doing and start modifying things in it.

These are very efficient speakers and unfortunately produced too much hiss for me. I bought a pair of XLR 10dB attenuators from Clayton that I put on the DBX mid\tweeter outputs and that reduced the hiss to a barely audible amount, and luckily balanced out the gain differences between the VAC and Class D amps vs. the sensativity differences of the bass drivers and mid\tweeter drivers. The electronic crossovers in the speakers have been upgraded to the latest version -- apparently there was an earlier version of the internal crossover on earlier releases of the CS2.3. (They should change versions when they change things like that. e.g. CS2.3.0, CS2.3.1, etc.)

Another unfortunate aspect of the narrow field-of-sound is that the sweet spot is very narrow. The sound changes when I move my head inches left or right, up or down, or forward or back. I find I like the sound the best with my ears about the height of the speakers. The image is more three-dimensional than with my ears at the level of the tweeters or lower.

Also, despite the marketing, quality electronics and cabling do matter. Using the Class D amp for both bass and mids\tweeters makes the music sound sterile. A tube amp is defintely a must for me. I like my Havana DAC better than my Empirical-modded Benchmark DAC1 in this system. And as in my headphone systems, ASIO4ALL and Foobar 2000 settings make a big difference in soundstage, PRAT, liveliness, etc. EVERY retail system I heard when trying to decide on which speakers to buy, had little to no life in them. I usually just sat there trying to listen but wondering when I could move on to the next system and wondering if these salesmen know what good music and stereo systems sounds like. If the music does not either move me, get my foot tapping, or get me to want to get up and dance, I see little point in listening to it, let alone spending thousands of dollars for it.

I was quite disappointed with them when I first got them, but once I figured out the placement, calibration, and EQ modification, these are increadable speakers that can produce life-like music, and CAN sound better than anything I've heard. But then again, I haven't exactly heard a whole lot of different componants and systems.

There's plenty of things I still need to try -- I'll see what the sub-woofer does soon, I need to try changing 6sn7 tubes on the VAC, I need to get my record player out of the garage, and I would love to try the Spatial source at some point. And of course I'd like to try the CS1.3's.

Anyway, what have you owners of Emerald Physics speakers found to get the best sound out of them?
Dude...seriously...I think I'd just stick with the headphones! Life is too short.
Don't worry, I am.
But what is it that you are actually saying? :)
Hey Bdhgon. Been meaning to thank you for quite some time for such a comprehensive write-up. I have a few comments and suggestions of my own but just have not had time to get around to responding. I am however actively working on my own solution to my "hiss" problem.

My situation is the result of tri-amping and bypassing the passive internal crossover all together - NOT THE RESULT OF A PRODUCT DEFECT. They are wonderful speakers!

I too spoke with Clayton and he suggested the 10db pad as well. It just did not sit well with me and was curious about the root cause as opposed to a bandaid fix.

Finally found someone at DBX tech support who explained the underlying problem and I quote:

"The DBX 260 is a line level device which operates at professional level +4 dBu rather
than consumer level which is -10 dBV."

Essentially there is a 11.79 dB difference between Pro and consumer products. I have ordered a bi-directional 8-port line-leveling device that should address the output conversions between the dbx and amps. I'm really curious about the input side of the equation. I would think that would be an issue as well. Your thoughts....

I'll let you know the results either way.
After posting here, I decided to continue this narrative in the Open Baffle forum at audiocircle.com, as there seemed to be a bit more interest there.

I haven't updated those threads in awhile and since tri-amping myself, it has taken quite a bit of time playing with DBX settings to get the sound to how I want it -- I've changed it significantly since I last posted. It's quite amazing how much the passive crossover (internal to the speaker) affects the sound to the negative, but also provides necessary driver overlap of the frequency spectrum to provide seemless integration between drivers.

Since I moved to 45 SET's, I haven't had to worry about hiss or dropping the voltage. But after tri-amping, you have to become an expert on the DBX to get the crossover frequency overlap, EQ, and channel levels just right so that the sound is not too thin or unbalanced or fatiguing. But it's been worth it.
I can't take credit for any DBX configuration work as it relates to tri-amping. I had Clayton build this configuration for me as part of my purchase. This all came about after review of the CS1.3 and discussions with him at RMAF 2009. This was before he sold the company to Walter.

I could not agree with you more about the negative impact on sound quality regarding the internal passive xover. Its pretty horrible in the original production release of the CS2.3. By-passing it was HUGE improvement!

Interested in your selection of SET amplification with the CS2.3's. Send me a PM so we can discuss.

Had the send the line-leveling unit back to the manufacturer. They did not enable the passing of the active grounding signal. This will now be configurable on a port-by-port basis. Should have the unit back in a week or so to finally test.
Got the unit back and tested the input side going from preamp to dbx. The result in terms of clarity, dynamics are subtle but good. Slightly higher gain in volume but not as much as I had hoped for. The real down side to this unit is the additional xlr cabling required - essentially double which sucks.

Just going to run the high and midrange in this manner for now. May move to a pro audio amp for the bass drivers with the correct +4dbu input and sell my Bel Canto's and pocket the change.
...Did you ever integrate subs with your CS2.3s?
Never felt the need to and since I'm tri-amping I have no available ports on the DBX 260. Three sets of outputs is the max on this device.
After listening with the ebtech line leveler XLR in the mix (only on the input side of the DBX 260) for the last 3 months it turns out there is a huge improvement in the sound quality.

I was cleaning and reorganizing today when I decided to take the unit out of the chain. Immediately thought something was wrong or not connected up the right way. Put the unit back in and bingo, back to its previous glory.

I have not yet had the chance to use it to deal with the wonderful hiss issue some of us have between the active crossover and consumer grade amps. Just have not had time or additional cabling for that matter.

What I have found actually infuriates me. I have had to spend close to $400 so far to fix obvious problems with the product. Going to be taking a serious looking at the DEQX product line going forward. If nothing else you can use it with any speaker platform.
Why dont you get the SpatialHD Minimac. I believe that's what the cs12.3s were designed for, and it is absolutely stae-of-the-art! I may be biases as I have both as well.
Because its $3k for the software and single room tune, plus a fully upgraded minimac at $1.7k, plus at least $2k for a suppoted DAC/active crossover. After speaking with Clayton last week, the next generation of his product may better meet my needs. Until then I'll stick with fixing the inherent flaws of the products I have.
Do you have any details on the next generation?
Clayton just sent out a newsletter today. Send him an email. I'm sure he would be happy to pass this information along.