Review: ERA Model 4
This is the first time I've shared my thoughts about a product with my fellow AGers, so I aplogize in advance for any ineptitude expressed. But these little guys are something special and deserve to be heard. They've recently received no small amount of ink courtesy of Bob Harley and TAS; well, the power of the press worked because this sparked my interest in considering them in my quest for a point-source design as a change-of-pace to the planars that I own (and love). This review will contrast how these dynamic speakers fare against the similarly-priced MMGs.
ERA is following a creatively similar marketing plan as B&W/Rotel in so far as they've aligned themselves with Musical Fidelity. Smart thinking business-wise, as it gets them an already-made dealer & customer base predisposed to seeking musical-sounding components that don't necessarily sport esoteric price tags, a welcome concept in my view.
My musical tastes range from simple acoustic-based recordings of solo instruments such as guitar and piano, to vocal-oriented soft rock with a dash of symphonic and new-age material thrown in for good measure. Some of my favorite music used in evaluating the Model 4's include various recordings from Mary Black and Roseanne Cash for voice, Bruce Cockburn's wonderful "Speechless" for acoustic guitar, AKUS for a combo of both, several classic Mercury Living Presence pieces and various Windham Hill and Hearts Of Space releases for piano and deep(?) bass evaluation. The majority of my listening is via cd (character flaw, I know), so vinyl lovers be aware. I'm a drummer and have been exposed to enough live amplified and unamplified instruments to know what the real thing sounds like and how much is lost/brutalized in the recording process. I will tolerate missing info at the extremes, but nasal and hooded voices and shrill upper-mids and highs will send me reeling (why do so many of todays speakers using metal-dome tweeters strike me as providing way too much information?). I value and listen for how much air and space each instrument occupies, how natural voices sound (is there a body attatched to that voice?) and for top-bottom coherence.
Listening rooms for each system are about 16'x12'. Each has carpet, drapes and a smattering of furniture. The "better system" also benefits from several pillows and wall hangings applied in an attempt to tame the room on-the-cheap. Amazing what even rudimentary attention to room treatment does for imaging, tonal balance and plain old listenability.
Enough background. Hope you're still with me! Positioned on 28" high stands and out three feet from the back wall, about seven feet apart and toed-in so the tweeters point at the outside edges of my shoulders, they produce a huge image, both wide and deep. Sound floats well in excess of the dimensions of the speaker cabinets. The Mercury recordings illustrate this very nicely. You'll note I also have a pair of minimally-modded (vertical, elevated 6", fuse-bypassed) Magnepan MMGs that are my main speakers. I find the Model 4s just as satisfying in the image-size department, always a Maggie strength for me. Also, like the MMGs, a piano sounds like one continuous instrument, not two or three different ones as the musician plays up and down across the keyboard. Those two drivers blend well indeed. The ERAs also reveal more inner detail because of their superior transparency. Acoustic guitars ring truer, cymbals have longer decay, and the difference between natural ambiance versus digital-reverb is easily discerned. This aspect launched me into a full-scale replaying of many of my long-time faves as here-to-fore unheard details revealed themselves. What fun! There is also a heightened sense of the physical presence of vocalists, with the ERAs revealing more nuances such as breaths being drawn and shifts in proximity to and from the mic. As far as freqency response issues go, the Model 4s upper end extends sweetly enough to allow flutes to sound natural and high-voiced percussion instruments to float in space. Mids are just a tad forward, not unnaturally so but lending a sense of excitement. The midbass is exceptional: tuneful, detailed and extended way beyond my expectations for a box this size. On most material, addition of the sub crossed over at 50 hz made little audible improvement, the exception being on the electronically synthesized bass so well represented on the original Hearts Of Space sampler and some of the huge symphonic recordings. The price of course is 84db efficiency and the reality that high volume levels in big rooms are not gonna happen safely. Used in a smallish room for largely acoustic music not requiring high volume levels is a recipe these speakers thrive in. In turn they punch way above their class and represent a fine value in my opinion, with a build quality and finish that reeks big bucks.
One final note: contrary to the owner's manual curiously devoting 99% of its set-up and placement info on home theatre applications, this speaker will delight music lovers. At least it does this one!
System 1: Pioneer SX-750 receiver; Harmon Kardon CD20 cd player; Pioneer PL12D turntable; Grado Silver cartridge
System 2: Luxman LV105u integrated; Cal Delta cd transport; Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 dac, Monarchy DIP; Pro-ject RM6SB turntable: Shure M97eX cartridge; Audio Pro B2-70 sub
Magnepan MMG speakers