by Doug Schneider
CES 98 was just wrapping up and I was sitting and talking in the hotel lobby with a few of our writers. We were discussing impressive products we currently had on hand for review. Mike Masztal was there and he piped up that the Shamrock Eire was one of the very few speakers he had listened to that gave him goose bumps. Yes, goose bumps. The words raised a few eyebrows, in this case a good thing. He meant that the Eires conveyed an awesome level performance attainable by only a select few similar speakers. Being a fan of bookshelf monitors, which the Eires are, I jotted down a reminder that I had to give them a listen sometime in the future.
About a year later I contacted Shamrock Audio and arranged for a follow-up review. Not too long after, a pair of wooden crates containing the speakers arrived at my door. These crates are standard packing for Shamrock Audio, and believe me, they are sturdy and heavy! After I had the speakers set up, I found out that they were the exact same pair Mike Masztal reviewed.
Shamrock Audio is a small company based in northeastern Oregon. Mike McCall, Shamrock Audios president and owner, designed the Eire, which is the companys first speaker product. Shamrock has plans to build more and less expensive models in the future. Cracking the high-end-speaker market is tough going for any company, particularly for ones with products that are far out of the budget category popular with so many people. Still, Shamrock wanted to make a mark with its first product, and they felt confident in building a speaker that could compete in the Eires $3000 price range.
To overcome a limited marketing budget, Shamrock relies on the Internet and word of mouth to spread the news on its products. Since Shamrock Audio is a company that many people will not have heard of, consumers will likely hesitate in dealing with them on that basis alone. This is too bad because this speaker, along with some other fine products from other small companies, often gets overlooked. To help offset this, the company has an attractive return policy to alleviate consumer fears. Visit the Shamrock Audio website for more details.
In terms of stand-mounted speakers, the Eire is rather expensive, priced from approximately $3000 to $4000 depending on finish. Commensurate with the price, Shamrock Audio caps off the speaker with a 10-year warranty, a nice touch. This is the most expensive bookshelf-type speaker that Ive heard in my room. The company doesnt rely on mystery or any strange claims to sell their speakers. Mike McCall is all business and so too is the Eire. McCall relies on good design, quality parts and proper execution. "We feel the Eire is an example of proper engineering and execution that can stand on its own merits against anything in its class" is what Mike told me.
The Eire took nearly two years to create, and McCall is exceedingly proud of the fact that once the initial design was finished no other changes to the speaker have been made except for a cosmetic modification that Ill describe below. McCall waited until the Eire was exactly the way he wanted it to be and then he released it.
The Eire measures 19.5" tall by 8.5" wide by 13" deep and weighs in at 35 pounds. It is a front-ported design that uses a 1" Scan-Speak soft-dome tweeter and the popular 7" Scan-Speak paper/carbon-fiber woofer similar to that found on some other exceptionally good loudspeakers. Both drivers operate in phase, with an acoustic fourth-order roll-off for the tweeter and a third-order for the woofer. The speaker's efficiency rating is 85dB, and its nominal impedance is quoted as 8 ohms, 6.5 ohms minimum. Although the efficiency is not too high, the impedance curve is quite smooth and does not drop much, so the Eire is quite an easy load for any good solid-state amplifier and many good tube amplifiers. My 75Wpc Blue Circle amplifiers easily drove the speakers to exceedingly high levels. The -3dB point for low-end response is rated anechoically at 38Hz. With careful placement, room reinforcement should allow for even lower perceived bass response. High-quality binding posts allow for bi-wiring.
The pair of speakers is mirror imaged, meaning that there is a definite left and right speaker identified by the position of the tweeter, which goes to the inside. Edge diffraction is reduced by using differing driver distances to the side walls and by curving the speakers edges. All walls except for the front baffle are made of 3/4" MDF and internally braced both vertically and horizontally. A real-wood veneer is used to finish off the MDF walls. The front baffle is actually a solid piece of either oak or walnut, depending on pricing. The baffle is nicely finished, and in a way the Eire is similar to my Blue Circle electronics. Both are hand-built products finished to a furniture grade. My only real criticism is that the Eire does not come with a grille, something I feel that should be mandatory to avoid driver damage, even if you do not use the grille when listening.
Since we first reviewed the speaker, its pricing has changed. It was priced at $3450 per pair and available in only one finish. However, Mike McCall has been having an increasingly difficult time sourcing the front panel for the speakers, which, as I mentioned, is a solid piece of wood, not veneer over MDF. Although he is still able to find walnut, getting it consistently just like he needs it is becoming tougher all the time. So he went and made the only significant change the Eire has seen since he completed its design. The result is some good and bad news for the prospective consumer. If you still want the walnut, the price of the speakers is now $3995, and they are considered a custom order. However, Shamrock now offers the Eire with a solid-oak front panel and has dropped the retail price to $2995 per pair. According to McCall there is absolutely no performance degradation in using oak. I feel this to be a positive change. Getting a speaker like this to the $3000 price point is important to making it available to a wider audience.
I placed the Eires on high-quality 24" stands well away from side and rear walls and in my reference system consisting of a Blue Circle BC3 preamp and BCG3.1 power supply along with the 75Wpc single-ended BC2 monoblock amplifiers. Theta digital components are used as source components, and all wiring, including digital connection, interconnects and speaker cables, are by Nirvana Audio. Power-line conditioning and surge protection are by Audio Power Industries and Brick Wall respectively.
The Eire is somewhat difficult to describe sonically because it simply does so little wrong. No, it is not a perfect speaker, but it is one that performs from the lowest frequencies it is capable of up through the highs at an exceedingly high level with very little to criticize. Its one of the best stand-mounted speakers Ive heard. Time and time again I found it to be utterly satisfying on a wide variety of music. Two words can sum it up -- balanced and natural. Where some speakers seem compromised in one area to achieve better performance in another, I never found this to be the case with the Eire. Its obvious that Mike McCall has not only spent considerable time getting the specs right, he has listened to the speakers too.
Bass is full, deep and tight, and although not quite subwoofer territory, it is more than sufficient for almost all music in small to medium-sized rooms. The speaker, despite its relatively small size, has tremendous impact and dynamic agility. Low frequencies are extended and not just hinted at; theyre driven forth. Drums are rendered with excellent attack and weight. The Eire doesnt quite measure up to Cliffhanger Audios W-2 subwoofer/CHS-2 minimonitor combination in terms of extension, but it is close and has the same tightness, detail and control. For a stand-mounted speaker, the Eire has outstanding overall bass performance.
I detected no bloat or congestion in the upper bass or lower midrange. There is impressive clarity and detail in this area, and a lack of any resonant character that can obscure and bloat instruments and voices. Crossover transition to the tweeter sounds seamless. As a result, male vocals have wonderful clarity, texture and detail without even a hint of chestiness or hollowness that plague some other speakers. There is proper weight and body with scads of detail, but the music never sounds too full or forced. In comparison to the $1595 Cliffhanger CHS-2, a favorite monitor of mine that I feel offers exceptional value, there is richer, fuller sound to the midrange of the Eire, which breaths a little more life to the music.
Female vocals shine with pristine clarity and float effortlessly from the Eire. Piano, an exceedingly difficult instrument to reproduce, is clean and has impressive weight, but it is without the wooliness and raggedness associated with some lesser designs. High-frequency performance is always clean and airy, never harsh or hashy. Cymbals, for example, have excellent detail, are never splashy and are properly placed in the stage. The ability to extract every bit of detail from a recording is outstanding, ranking up with the best of the minimonitor class that also includes the Merlin TSM-SE.
The Eire throws a wide and deep soundstage that is stable and has excellent image specificity. When listening to recordings with well-reproduced soundstage information, I found that everything is placed exactly where it should be in terms of width, depth and height. The Eire is not necessarily the very best in this regard, but it ranks among them. Furthermore, its soundstaging remains consistent at low to higher volume levels, in contrast to some speakers where the stage can either change, collapse or have images go strangely astray with varying volumes and frequencies.
For part of my listening test I played some simple, well-recorded music that allowed me to concentrate on exactly how the Eire conveys individual parts of the music. Time and time again I marveled at just how natural the Eire sounds and how it gets almost everything just right. Whats more, this speaker can play very loudly, and despite its relatively small size, performs much closer to a floorstanding speaker than a bookshelf monitor. At no time did I feel I was listening to a small speaker.
One thing some high-quality audiophile speakers have trouble with is reproducing a wide variety of music in a convincing way. In particular, hard rock seems to be the nemesis of many designs. While some audiophiles dismiss this type of music as irrelevant, truth be told, a good neutral speaker design should be able to swing through anything. Furthermore, many music lovers listen to rock, and Im glad to say that the Eire does it with aplomb. In fact, Ive never heard The Tragically Hips Day For Night [MCA MCASD 11140] played any better than with these speakers. "Fire In The Hole" is a rough and ragged tune from that disc, and it loses its intensity on many other speakers. Guitars lose their edge, and Gordon Downeys vocal rage gets lost and either becomes a muddled mess or sounds slow and plodding. Try Nirvanas In Utero [DGC DGCSD 24607] on some speakers. While hardly an exercise in high-end clarity, it is a good test as to whether or not a speaker can really boogie -- many cant. The Eire is able to handle it in such a way that will raise the eyebrows on most rockers. In fact, Id guess that the Eire would make an outstanding rock-and-roll recording monitor. All in all, I find this to be a sign that the Eire is a very well-designed loudspeaker and certainly one I could live with as my own because I play wide-ranging styles of music.
No doubt about it, Shamrock has spun out an excellent speaker -- yes, one that induces goose bumps. This is one of the very best monitor-type speakers Ive heard and surely one I could call my own. Although the Eire is certainly not cheap, it is worth its price. Certainly, you can find excellent performance from other great minimonitors at a lower price -- Merlin, Cliffhanger Audio, Speaker Art and NSM Audio are some of the companies whose product Ive reviewed recently and enjoyed a great deal. You can also buy a very good floorstanding speakers at this price point too.
Still, the Eire offers something special in its own right. Its a carefully designed, exceptional-sounding loudspeaker that does not necessarily eclipse all of its competition. Instead, it does what its designer intended it to do: stand on its own merits and compete head on in its price bracket. If the name Shamrock Audio is unknown to you, dont let that stop you from hearing the Eire for yourself.
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