The Energy Connoisseur C-9 has some big shoes to fill, being the latest iteration of a product range that began its history nearly a decade ago in 1993 and piggy-backed on the even more famous Pro 22 series from nearly a decade before that.
Time moves on, however, and so has Energy. Yet in many respects the task of building a neutral loudspeaker at a price that wont have you second-mortgaging your house has become even more complex. Factoring in the aspects of multichannel performance for home theater, dedicated two-channel listening, high-performance electronics, and digital sources has certainly wreaked havoc with a speaker designer's ability to build products that deal with what was in the past a much simpler world. On the other side of the coin is the excellent research done at the Canadian National Research Council into just what constitutes good sound. Energy was one of the founding participants in this long-term study, hence the opportunity to benefit from the last 20 years worth of research that has yielded some significant gains in generating products at price points that wouldnt have been possible earlier.
Whats in the box?
The C-9, at $1300 USD per pair, is the largest of the Energy's new Connoisseur or C-series speakers, standing 45" tall by 7 3/4" wide and 18" deep and weighing in at a solid 62 pounds each. Much of this weight is attributable to the solid MDF cabinet and internal bracing. The review samples were finished in a well-executed black vinyl, which, along with the silver composite baffle flanking feet and chrome spikes, created a very modern look. Energy also makes available an alternate light-maple finish that looks quite lovely if black isnt quite where you want to be with something as large as the C-9. Yes, these are rather large speakers; however, in practice, I found they assimilated into the room rather nicely because they present such a narrow front face to the world. Most visitors to my home remarked that despite the speakers' size, there was elegance to their presence at the end of the room.
The C-9 sports a new "dual baffle" arrangement comprised of an MDF layer and a Spherex injection-molded front baffle. The layers are additionally isolated from one another by a gasket material to aid in resonance control. The C-9 operates as a tapered four-way design. What this means is that all three woofers operate over the bass frequencies, with the topmost woofer being the only one allowed to work in the midband. All of the new C series speakers are bass-reflex or ported designs. Unique, however, is that the big C-9 sports ports on both the front and back. The rear port is in the upper third of the cabinet; the front port is integrated into the Spherex baffle plate on the lower quarter.
The matching black grilles are unique in that they dont use the standard pressure-pin arrangement to keep them in place. Instead, Energy has come up with a clever grouping of magnets embedded in the outside edge of the grille, which lock on at the outermost corners and are vibration damped at the other eight contact points. Very cool.
The driver complement is based around three of Energys 6 1/2" injection-molded homopolymer aluminum-infused woofers with Energys new NBR/SBR (nitrilic butyl/synthetic butyl rubber) surround material. The tweeter is the big star here. The 1" aluminum dome is a straight derivative from Energy's highly regarded flagship Veritas line and benefits from the extensive research that went into the development of that product range. Both drivers are designed and manufactured by Energy.
Energy has chosen to cross over to the tweeter at 2kHz, which may seem on the low side. But this frequency has the benefit of yielding better dispersion through the critical midrange, according to the Energy design team. This ties in with the rest of the design criteria for the revised C series -- and the entire Energy product range -- of low distortion and resonance, wide bandwidth, and a wide and constant dispersion pattern.
Energy quotes the C-9's sensitivity as being 94dB for a pair in a typical room. Impedance is quoted as being 8 ohms, with a 4-ohm minimum. Specified frequency response is 31Hz-23kHz (+/-3dB), making the C-9 mighty close to full range. Recommended maximum power is 250Wpc, and no minimum is specified. If my own experience is an indicator, I would suggest a healthy 100Wpc be on tap, as the C-9 seems to enjoy a good amount of juice. Connection is via a single pair of plastic-shrouded high-quality binding posts. Along with the rest of the new C series, the C-9 is magnetically shielded for those who may want to place it close to video monitors.
Setup and use
The Energy C-9s proved fairly easy to place in my main room, so I also put the speakers to work in my second video-only system. The difference in the placement in these two rooms is dramatic, however. In my main music room, the speakers of the house have a chance to breath a bit more, with at least three feet behind them and about 18 inches to the side walls. Compare this to my video room -- a pillaged 10' x 12' bedroom -- where the speakers are usually within inches of the front wall. Considering the dual-port arrangement of the C-9s, I figured such close-to-the-wall placement would be a recipe for disaster. I was happily surprised that they worked like a charm even in the smaller room.
The C-9s spent most of their time driven by Blue Circle BC8 monoblocks and a Blue Circle AG3000 preamp. Source was my Sonic Frontiers SFT1 CD transport feeding either a Mark Levinson No.360 D/A converter or the Orpheus Labs One D/A converter. Balanced Gryphon Guideline Mk 2 interconnects connected source to preamp. Other cables were Transparent Music Link Super balanced interconnects, and Transparent Music Wave Super or GutWire Basic speaker cables. When in my video system, the speakers were tethered to the end of an Acurus A150 amp driven by an Acurus ACT-3ABM processor. The source was either a Toshiba M782 VCR or a Panasonic RP56BK progressive-scan DVD player. Wiring in this system is primarily van den Hul.
Yes, Im listening
While the C-9s shine on many levels, their success stems primarily from their ability to get consistently to the heart of the performance, regardless of the source. Madonnas "Substitute for Love" from Ray of Light [Maverick/Warner Bros. CDW 46847] revealed that the C-9s are capable of handling complex detail very well. Madonnas voice was well focused, with good body and control noted. The C-9s rendered the artificial phase information on this track well, with the soundstage width stretching beyond the room boundaries.
The C-9s' bass was solid and extended -- way down deep -- while remaining detailed. It really grabbed me. While listening to Bruce Cockburn's "Pacing the Cage" from Anything Anytime Anywhere [True North TND 267], I noted a subtle but potent bass note that kicks in at the two-minute mark. I discovered this note because the C-9s delivered it with authority and definition to spare.
However, great bass alone does not a great speaker make, and the C-9 was not about just plumbing the depths of the nether regions. Cockburns voice on this same track was fantastically real, with no excessive chestiness noted. Image quality was always good, with stable positioning particularly in the lateral plane. Image depth, while good, could have been a bit better, but it was certainly not some kind of major failing. Indeed, at least the C-9s didnt give a false sense of depth to the music.
Listening to "Alfie" from Patricia Barbers Nightclub [Blue Note/Premonition 7243 5 27290 2 9] revealed the C-9s capability of conveying a gentle, almost easy-going quality to the presentation, but they didn't sound sucked out or recessed. Barbers voice sounded particularly convincing, with good control of sibilance noted. Good sibilance? If it's on the recording, it's good to hear it, but not in an exaggerated way.
While putting the C-9s through their paces, I got the feeling that these are speakers that should be able to kick some serious booty when asked, so with air guitar at the ready, I dropped Creeds latest Weathered [Wind Up EX 91573] into the player and wound up the volume. Both "One Last Breath" and "My Sacrifice" were rendered with a sense of vividness and life. The drum kit was solid and defined, and dynamic expression was superb. The power chording on "My Sacrifice" was incisive without being strident.
It was somewhere around this point that I started to believe that listening to the C-9s brought a major sense of fun to the table along with their well-balanced blend of sonic virtues. Fun?
Sure! Call it a finely tuned sense of dynamic skills or perhaps just a well-behaved crossover; whatever the recipe was, it was working in all the right ways for me. The Energy C-9s proved to be adept at getting into the groove of the music.
The totally loaded "Coast to Coast" by Nite Flyte on Jazz Steppin [Instinct Records INS423-2] is a great example of dense rhythms, tight bass, vibes, keyboards and guitars. Throughout this entire mélange, the C-9s kept my toe tapping and my head swaying to the music. It was also on this track that the excellence of the C-9s tweeter came to the forefront. Cymbals exhibited a great sense of clarity, with clean leading edges, fine control and decay noted. The overall presentation led me to believe I was listening to a pair of far more expensive speakers. However, the C-9s fall down a touch in the upper midrange, where they exhibit some leanness. Stringed instruments or massed strings, for instance, can sound rather cool, especially if the partnering amplifier leans this way.
Moving the C-9s into my video room, with the difference in placement and associated gear, gave me a chance to put them to work under home-theater circumstances. In this setup, the C-9s accurately revealed the slightly coarser nature of the Acurus A150 amp and still managed to display potency and control in the bass region, along with the pristine treble abilities. Indeed, my impressions of the C-9s in this situation were almost one of surprise, since I surely expected that the large speakers would be a mismatch in a small room. It is a credit to the well-controlled nature of the C-9 that it can function so well in what would probably be deemed a less-than-perfect setup in terms of positioning and breathing room. If you have space limitations but want floorstanding speakers, the C-9s are worthy contenders.
The Energy C-9 and B&W Nautilus 804 are opposite ends of the price scale -- $1300 versus $3500 -- but such a comparison proved to be time well spent, largely due to the high level of performance offered by the C-9s. In fact, the C-9s stood toe to toe with the Nautilus 804s and certainly werent about to back away from the comparison.
The Nautilus 804s excel at a purity of tone in the upper midrange, and have finely detailed and airy treble performance. The C-9s provide the weight and potency to give music its foundation.
The C-9s' rhythmic abilities help propel the music along with a kind of bounce and timing that are unequalled at their price point to my knowledge, and this is something the Nautilus 804s just don't have as one of their more alluring traits. But thats not to say that the Nautilus 804s are totally bass shy; they just do not have the natural ability to plumb the depths with the same level of authority and panache as the C-9s.
In the midrange, the Energy C-9s certainly offer a neutral balance, as do the Nautilus 804s. Yet the B&W speakers manage to convey just that little bit more in terms of the actual sound of the recording's space. Patricia Barber's vocals on "Let it Rain" from Companion [Blue Note/Premonition 7243 5 22963 2 3] proved more revealing of the actual venue on the Nautilus 804s, while the C-9s captured a fine sense of the immediacy of this track. The perspective of the performance is a bit different here as well, the C-9s being a touch more forward than the Nautilus 804s. This slightly forward balance comes not at the expense of the sound being colored; it is simply a matter of perspective. The Nautilus 804s sound a bit more mid-hall, the C9s more front row.
The highs of both speakers are excellent -- smooth and open. The C-9 has one heck of a great tweeter that's neither spitty nor aggressive. It tracks detail beautifully. The Nautilus 804s, on the other hand, can become rather unforgiving if everything is not quite right, sometimes sounding smeared and spitty with less-than-ideal material or sources.
When it comes to dynamics, the differences are large. The C-9s offer big, sweeping dynamic performance, yet manage to track microdynamics fairly well. The Nautilus 804s are very adept at capturing microdynamics within the big picture, yet they can harden up when pushed to handle some large dynamic swings. Indeed, "Fanfare for the Common Man" from the Wilson Audio Ultimate Reference CD [Wilson Audio WA8008] revealed new levels of punch and depth to the tympani when played over the C-9s, while still retaining excellent control. The Nautilus 804s captured the snap of the tympani, but not the weight, at least not with the same level of visceral magnitude and impact as the C-9s.
Capable of truly high-end sound with a variety of gear, the Energy Connoisseur C-9s performed well beyond my expectations for floorstanding speakers at their price point. Particularly when used with upscale gear, they delivered the music in a most convincing manner. If youre looking for speakers that are equally at home with music and movies, can handle the demands of both yet still pass along subtlety and the finer points, then the C-9s should be on your audition list. As somewhat largish floorstanders, they certainly deliver nearly full-range sound without the bloat or other artifacts often associated with products in their class.
Articulate, flexible in use and placement, the Energy C-9 more than fulfills the classic Connoisseur heritage. It brings that history forward into the new millennium -- with a bang.
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