March 2001Équation 7 Loudspeakers
by Neil Walker
Pascal Ravach of Mutine, Inc., the North American distributor of Équation loudspeakers, delivered a pair of model 7s to my family room on a Friday. Ravachs creed for his dealers and their customers is to start with the basics -- where you listen, what materials are in your listening room, how everything is proportioned, and then how you connect and position your equipment. I discovered that he spends days with dealers to ensure that their listening spaces are set up to demonstrate what his audio gear is capable of doing. We listened to the first two verses of Shirley Horns "If You Leave Me" (You Wont Forget Me, [Verve 847 482-2]) every few minutes for about six hours. It was part of Ravach's setup process.
The high point of all this activity? The moment when Linda, my 25-year partner as of last November, put her head in the door and said, "Those speakers are beautiful." Just to make sure I did not get carried away, Linda said to me later, after Pascal had left and we had restored some order to our home, "They are still beautiful speakers, but that does not mean you need to buy them."
In truth, the Équation 7 speakers are beautiful. One French reviewer called them "magnificent." Despite the hyperbolic tone of his review, I have to agree. These narrow columns, sides and top covered with Spanish pinched maple, the front covered with a black grille and more of the same maple, exemplify elegance through simplicity in design. But more importantly, their handsome appearance comes out in their sound too. The Équation 7 speakers stand out as an example of an audio Hasselblad: simple, dedicated, no gimmicks and lots of high-precision attention to the basics.
The engineering and construction of the $2990 USD Équation 7 carries through the same elegant simplicity. Each speaker weighs in at 51 pounds -- their construction explaining why these elegant little speakers weigh as much as they do. The speaker box itself is made of 22 mm (0.87") MDF, and the bottom third of the front panel is covered with an additional panel of 18 mm (0.7") MDF. The back of the speaker is plain MDF finished to an exact color match with the maple veneer. It is also built of the same 22 mm and 18 mm MDF. Apart from two gold-plated WBT posts, the back of the speakers is plain.
Inside the speaker cabinet are four bulkheads made of 18 mm MDF. Two of these tie the front and rear panels together between the two drivers. The third bulkhead is about halfway down the speaker, near the port, and the fourth is at the bottom of the cabinet and separates the crossover and protects it from bass vibrations. This part of the speaker is also filled with sand to absorb microvibration.
A Norwegian company, SEAS, manufactures both drivers. A 1" aluminum-dome, fabric-suspended tweeter handles high frequencies. It has a 1" voice coil, a magnetic core depressurization hole, and a damped rear chamber. This driver takes over from the 6.7" midrange/bass driver at 2200Hz. The midrange/bass driver uses a TPX membrane for its cone. Its voice coil, 1.5" in diameter. The crossover, with a 6dB/octave slope, uses air-core inductors, polypropylene capacitors, and glass-encapsulated wire-wound power resistors. A rarity in crossover design, it is a series crossover. Internal wiring is LA wire from Actinote. The manufacturer claims that the Équation 7s' frequency response runs from 39Hz to 25kHz, +/- 3dB.
I listened the Équation 7s with their grilles on -- that is how the manufacturer intends them to be used (getting the grilles off is a royal pain in the you-know-what) and there was no difference in sound.
These speakers are smooth. When I first heard them, the first word I thought of was light. However, this term is not quite right -- not complete enough. The speakers' bass is clear, faithfully musical and immediately responsive. Their mids impress you with their absolute clarity and coherence. Their upper range seems almost light-giving. Best of all is the way the speakers' absence of coloration and exceptional coherence make listening a very easy experience. These speakers never tire you or wear on you.
The more I heard of the 7s, the more I realized that their imaging was impeccable -- wide and deep. Every CD and LP became a special experience because of the total coherence of reproduction. The 7s' transparency means you suddenly have a new record collection. The quick, detailed response thrilled me, as the Équation 7s wrung out ambient sound from recording venues I had not heard before. Mind you, there is a drawback: an inferior recording demonstrates precisely why it is inferior. This quibble aside, the ambient sounds, the sheer presence of instruments and voice, the minute details that emerge, all of these make you want to hear all of your CDs and vinyl again.
The bass response of these speakers is powerful and tuneful. Listen to the Gary Peacock LP December Poems [ECM-1-1119], a solo effort by Peacock on bass with two cuts featuring Jan Garbarek on soprano sax. This recording gives any bass driver a good workout, since the bass viol produces frequencies from about 38Hz to 250Hz. Without question, this speaker did a better job on this LP than any other speaker I have heard in my system. It is music I love, so hearing it with such tuneful clarity was a moving experience.
But I like a speaker that also kicks ass in the bass. Unfortunately, in the attempt to create strong bass, speaker manufacturers often go for thump instead of music. Tunefulness disappears in odd phasing, missed harmonics, and frequency-response irregularities at octaves higher than the fundamental bass frequency. To hear a bass viol well reproduced requires more than a woofer cone vibrating at 39Hz. It requires a great midrange and tweeter, all of them working in phase with the fundamental of the bass note. And that means your speaker must not delay parts of the sound spectrums arrival at the speaker baffle. Put it like this: Everything that goes in together at the terminals must come out together. And this is where the Équation 7s excel. Peacocks bass playing is beautiful because of his talent and because the sound of his bass is beautiful. Listening to this record on the Équation 7s ensures that you experience the beauty because they produce faithfully the complex harmonics that go with a good instrument and make the upright bass the instrument it can be in Peacocks hands.
After listening to the Peacock LP, I turned to Mikhail Pletnevs recording of Scarlatti piano sonatas (Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonatas, [Virgin Classics, 7243 5 45123 2 2]). This recording shows off, at breakneck speeds, the ability of the pianist -- and the ability of your system to keep the notes separate while presenting an integrated whole. The Équation 7s knocked me out here. The piano was so lifelike and, yes, the transparency and distinctness of the notes flying from Pletnevs talented hands were all there. It was a goose-bump experience as sonata K.24 in A Major cascaded from the 7s.
Still in a classical vein, I turned to the difficult reproduction of a full orchestra. Here, I always seek a full sound, in which I can hear every instrument, can hear easily the orchestras broad soundstage and can also feel the depth and texture of the full orchestra in tutti passages. I tried the Équations on several recordings, both standard and audiophile. Eiji Oues Reference Recordings CD of "The Firebird Suite" presents complex sonics ranging from the single oboe introducing the graceful melody of "The Round Dance of the Princesses" to the crash into the "Infernal Dance of King Kashchei" (Stravinsky The Sog of the Nightingale; The Firebird Suite; The Rite of Spring; [Minnesota Orchestra; RR-70CD]). How did the Équations handle these demands? With ease, aplomb and competence. Music is mathematics, science and artistry in the service of intellect and emotion. These speakers are very good examples of how technology and precision allow us to share the great emotion expressed by musicians and composers.
But to capture the moods and movements of the orchestra, speakers must make me feel the tactile nature of the sound. So I turned to a trusted favorite, the Beethoven violin concerto (Beethoven Violin Concerto, Bernstein Serenade [Sony Classical SK 60584]. In the past, I have noted that some speakers present a wall of sound in the full orchestra passages. Instead of a wall of sound, the speakers should in fact present an impressive tapestry of music, containing detail, depth and breadth. "Will the Équations pass?" I wondered as I inserted the disc. "With flying colors," I wrote in my mind as the orchestra swelled to the peak of its first crescendo. Then, when the soloist's violin introduced its melody, her sure, delicate touch overtook the room.
Nice, you might say, but can the Équation 7s rock? Can they capture the wave of a rave? Bring a whiskey-soaked voice and an opera singer into the room with the same degree of competence? The answer again is yes, yes, yes and yes. Greg Browns recent album, Covenant, is a good example [Red House Records RHR CD 148]. Brown's deep, resonant and world-weary voice emerges in its full grittiness, while the bass and guitar are tight, fully present and detailed. The speakers disappear as the music moves right into the room. Also try Paul Oakenfolds Perfecto Presents Another World [Sire 31035]. If you want pounding drum and bass, deft electronica, layers of choir-like vocals, then the Équation 7s will give it all to you with flair and transparency. You get clear, melodic slam in the bass. And as rocking as the bass is, it is not overpowering. Even so, with the 30Wpc I was feeding to the speakers, they could still be great lease breakers.
A short time ago, I reviewed the Reference 3A MM De Capo speakers. The De Capos selling price of $2500 USD is roughly 16% less than that of the Équation 7s. In the review, I noted that the De Capos were "musical and accurate." I praised their ability to combine precision and detail with musicality. So what did the Équations give me for an additional $490? While both speakers respect the audiophiles preference for putting musicality and accuracy above special effects, the Équations are even more successful at this than are the De Capos.
While the Équation 7s possess slightly greater bass extension than do the MM De Capos, (statistically, 39Hz versus 44Hz), their bass presence seems greater than what the numbers suggest. And while the De Capos accuracy and musicality are excellent, the Équations luminous sound quality, transparency, and ability to remain light and spacious no matter how demanding the music demonstrate the value of their additional cost.
Perhaps the most important part of comparing speakers is to ensure that the rest of your system works with the speakers you've chosen and not against them. Synergy absorbs a great deal of over use, but a system of audio equipment can succeed brilliantly or fail if source, cables, amplifier and speakers do not function together.
This said, the Équation 7 speakers do what they are supposed to do faithfully and painlessly: music in, music out. Part of the way through this review, I sold my Theta Data Basic II CD transport and bought a Vecteur D-2. The Équation 7s liked both but responded beautifully to the new transport. I then borrowed the Audiomat Tempo 2.5 DAC. I did not need convincing, but found that, with the upgrade in digital-to-analog conversion, the speakers changed to reflect the more comprehensive sound. The Tempo 2.5 has stronger bass than my Audiolab DAC, and the speakers just changed to accommodate it. There were quantitative and qualitative differences in the bass. It was even more melodic than before.
The bottom line? These speakers are destined to win many admirers, and with any luck at all, you could be one of them.
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