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ESP Concert Grand SI Loudspeakers

Big, beautiful and absolutely drop dead gorgeous sound

 

May 2005


                    

Before I start this review, you should know that ESP loudspeakers have been a long-time favorite of mine. In fact, this companyís earlier flagship, the Concert Grand was once my reference loudspeaker for a good number of years. However, this review covers the new and totally redone ďSIĒ version of the venerable Concert Grand and from what Iíve heard thus far, it is easily well beyond its predecessor.

For those of you who donít know much about ESP or its previous line of speakers, their earlier models included the Concert Grand, Harp and Bodhran - all were noted for their highly musical character and were sought after by numerous audiophiles. My first exposure to the original ESP Concert Grand loudspeaker occurred while attending a Consumer Electronics Shows (CES) sometime in the mid 1990s. At that time, I was very impressed with their performance and soon thereafter, was able to secure the show demo pair for a formal review. These same speakers later became my reference speakers.

Now after a long hiatus, the company is back with a superb offering in their newer and totally reconstituted Concert Grand SI. Additionally, their slightly smaller Bodhran SE is in production as well. Along with this, the company also has a new distributor, Mike Verretto, a veteran user (and lover) of earlier ESP speakers. He and Sean McCaughan, ESP designer, have joined forces to relaunch the company and get it back on the high-end audio industryís radar screen.

In conjunction with these changes, the company is putting in place a number of in-home demo sites that will be strategically located across the country. These venues will provide prospective buyers with opportunities to hear the new ESP speakers in listening environments similar to what they typically might have in their own home.

     

ESPís official reentry into the high-end audio industry actually occurred with an exhibit at the 2004 CES. Mated with some wonderful tube electronics from Japan (WAVAC photo above and Concert Fidelity), the overall reaction to these new speakers was quite favorable and created quite a buzz. The new Concert Grand SI speaker represents the culmination of many years of continuing design efforts by McCaughan and easily is his very best work in loudspeakers to date.

I first had an opportunity to hear these speakers several months after the 2004 CES while on a business trip to the Seattle area. At that time, I was fortunate to hear essentially the same setup that was used at the show. To my ears, the sound was very impressive and I was literally shocked at how much better they sounded compared to earlier offerings from the company Ė including the previous Concert Grand. The newer Concert Grand SI immediately presented a higher level of musicality and was more convincingly real.

My next opportunity to hear them occurred during the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest held in Denver, CO., some months later. During that show, once again the Concert Grand SI speakers were being exhibited and the sound was absolutely fabulous. One evening during the show, several of us were treated to a special after-hours listening session. This time the electronics and digital playback gear were different however, the sound was simply gorgeous and absolutely spellbinding. Everyone present that evening was blown away and totally taken by the sound.

Several weeks after this show, they arrived at my home and from the moment I pulled these heavy monsters from their shipping containers, I knew it was going to be a most rewarding experience. With a bit of help from several friends, I quickly positioned them where I felt they would perform reasonably well. After a short burn-in period and some minor tweaking, the speakers were doing their thing and immediately providing superb sound. For the most part, they possess musical qualities that more often resemble the sound of live music Ė which for me is the primary standard by which I judge the overall performance of high-end audio gear, especially speakers.

From various discussions with the designer, Iíve been able to learn about such his design philosophy, his love for music as well as his deep commitment to perfecting the production of his products. In this regard, the Concert Grand SIs are basically hand-built by him through what is often referred to as ďold world craftsmanship.Ē From their outward appearance, the new Concert Grand SIs do, in fact, resemble the older version, however, thatís where any possible resemblance ends.

From their outward appearance, new ESP Concert Grand SI speakers do, in fact, resemble the older version. However, the fit and finish of the new speakers is beyond the quality standard of earlier speakers by ESP. The finish is quite exquisite and receives extreme care by McCaughan. Judging from the looks of the new speakers, I would say he has pretty much accomplished his goal.

In terms of other improvements and important changes, the Concert Grand SI speakers have all new drivers, internal wiring, crossovers and improved internal bracing. This bracing has increased the overall rigidity of the cabinet structure further reducing vibrations that might occur. Also, the driver complement includes four woofers, four midrange drivers and two tweeters in each speaker cabinet. All drivers are top of the line Scan Speak units and are carefully selected by McCaughan after auditioning most of the drivers available on the market today.

Similar to the original design, one of the two tweeters is mounted on the side of each speaker. Additionally, it operates out of phase with the output reduced by 9 db. The overall effect of this design is to enhance the overall openness and ambience retrieval of the speaker. Yet from what Iíve heard, this does not interfere with the speakerís superb imaging or sound staging characteristics. In fact, images produced by the Concert Grand SI speakers are rock solid and endowed with rich textures.

The net effect of all these changes becomes immediately apparent when you listen to them. Right from the get-go, you will be treated to a wonderfully full-range, dynamic, open, highly articulate, revealing, rich and velvety smooth sound. Additionally, the sound of these speakers is wonderfully life-like and easily gives the impression of a live musical event.

Transparency and retrieval of fine detail are of a very high order, with these speakers, enabling the listener to easily hear deeply into the sound stage. Likewise, picking up subtle ambient cues is a breeze. Throughout my many listening sessions, I continued to discover more musical treasures that had been previously buried in the music. The ESP Concert Grand Sis allowed these soft and often subtle musical clues to come forth with noticeable clarity and distinction.

Overall, sound flows easily from these speakers with noticeable power, dynamics, control and finesse. Along with this, there is a noticeably tactile quality that makes reproduced music feel organic and alive. Additionally, these speakers are capable of moving some serious air, which is necessary to achieve the sensation of feeling the music both physically and emotionally. Itís this illusive quality that helps to separate the ESP Concert Grand SI speakers from many other very fine loudspeakers.

One interesting question was recently posed to me by one of our senior editors and that had to do with how I would compare these speakers to other highly regarded speakers on the market today. From my experiences thus far, I would say that these speakers are perhaps just ever so slightly to the warm, mellow, lush and engaging side of the music. They are loaded with finesse and wonít be mistaken as hard, loud head banging type speakers. On the other hand, Iíve also found them fully capable of providing a light intimate touch that is almost in stark contrast to their overall physical size.

 

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ESP Concert Grand SI Loudspeakers