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EgglestonWorks Fontaine Speaker
Henry Wilkenson
15 November 2001

Specifications

Frequency Response: Ė3db @55 Hz to well beyond 24,000 Hz
Efficiency: 87 db.
Impedance: 8 Ohms, nominal, Minimum impedance: 6.3 Ohms.
Tweeter: One 1" cloth dome with large diameter vented pole piece.
Mid-bass, bass: Two 6" polypropylene double magnet drivers with 3" voice coils.
Single Rhodium binding posts
Dimensions: 9 Ĺ" W. X 151/2" D. X 17" H.
Weight: 70lbs each
Website: www.egglestonworks.com

EgglestonWorks is a company that I had heard of long before I ever had the chance to sample their wares. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, EgglestonWorks was founded in 1992 with the goal of producing the finest loudspeakers possible and is applied to all of the products in their line. Their first offering was a speaker that looked like an end table but ultimately was not as successful as they had hoped. In late 1996, the Andra was released. While it received wide acclaim and generated strong sales, EgglestonWorks continued to modify and refine the speaker.

The opportunity for me to hear an EgglestonWorks speaker came by way of my friend and colleague, Marshall Nack. Some of you long term readers may recall Marshallís in-depth review of the EgglestonWorks Rosas. I have had many an opportunity to listen to those speakers since they have taken up residence as Marshallís reference speakers.

Marshall, and his lovely wife Lynn, are an unusual couple in that they are both audiophiles. Actually, they are the only audiophile couple that I am personally acquainted with. Iím sure the fact that they are both serious musicians is largely responsible for their being able to hear very fine tonal gradations and detail with such ease. Among his many talents, Marshall has an exceptional ability to voice a system. He always seems to be able to find the right mixture of components and accessories that result in an exceptionally well-balanced system. This is far more difficult to accomplish than you might think. However, the revealing nature of the EgglestonWorks speakers was instrumental in achieving his sonic goals. With each substitution of components or accessories, the Rosas clearly revealed the sonic contributions, for better or worse, of whatever hardware changes had been made.

When the Stereophile Show came to town this spring, the EgglestonWorks room was high on my must visit list. It was there that I met EgglestonWorks prez Jim Thomson, and took my first listen to the Fontaines. I know you have all heard that the sound quality at shows is generally pretty bad. While I find this to be largely true, at the same time, you can get some idea of a productís sonic potential, or how it might ultimately perform under home conditions. The Fontaines were set up in Egglestonís home theater room. Included with the display was a pair of dedicated sub-woofers. Though Iíve never ventured into the realm of home theater for a number of reasons, primarily a lack of space, I have to admit that this set-up sounded quite good.

According to company literature, "the design of each loudspeaker model in the EgglestonWorks line begins with the midrange." For the Fontaines, a pair of 6" polypropylene, double magnet drivers handle the midrange and bass. Each of these drivers has a 3" diameter voice coil. It has been said many times before but it bears repeating, as it is so true; if the midrange is not correct, than all else is fruitless. The tweeter has a large aperiodic damping chamber that imitates infinite baffle loading. The tweeter is hard wired to the crossover with one cap and two resistors used as an L-pad.

A single set of binding posts is mounted in a recessed panel on the rear of the driver section. I asked Jim Thompson about using a single set of binding posts as opposed to the current trend of using dual posts. He told me that after extensive listening tests, and as the midrange has no crossover, it was decided that there were no sonic gains to be made by the addition of a second set. The drivers are directly connected to the binding posts. Of course, if a customer is set on biwiring, these speakers can be outfitted with dual binding posts by special order. If you wish to use what Perry has so aptly named "rigor mortis" cable, you will have to use banana plugs in order to reach the recessed binding posts without unduly stressing the cable.

The bass and mid-bass drivers are housed in what EgglestonWorks describes as a quasi transmission-line loaded enclosure. This is accomplished by employing a specialized acoustic stuffing material known as "acousta stuff." This is a polyester strand that is crimped every millimeter. This makes every strand a complex shape, capable of providing greater diffraction to the sound waves traveling through it. The cabinet is constructed of 5/8" thick MDF wood panels, twice laminated with an imported damping material. To further damp the enclosures, the outside panels have one-centimeter thick, Italian granite slabs bonded to them. The end result of these efforts is a very inert enclosure that provides much better bass response than the small size of the drivers would indicate.

After several conversations with Jim Thompson, four medium-sized but fairly heavy cartons arrived from EgglestonWorks. The cartons contained the driver and the matching base sections. You should be very careful while setting up these speakers so as not to damage the exquisite piano black finish. The picture does not in any way do justice to these speakers. You really have to see them in person to understand what I mean. The Fontaines can be viewed as one of those products that fall into the "audio as art" category. They are simply beautiful.

The fit and finish is right up there with the best that I have ever seen. It is obvious to me that EgglestonWorks has taken a great deal of care and gone to considerable expense in the design and construction of these enclosures.

Once assembled, the speakers give the appearance of a monolithic floor stander. The bases are sand-fallible and will form a very substantial enclosure. I would strongly advise you to settle on final placement before filling the bases with sand. These babies are quite heavy to begin with; once filled with sand, they would be almost impossible for the average person to move alone. I placed the speakers on a quilt, then on their sides, to insert the four bolts that hold the bases in place. This is done through an access panel in the bottom of the base. While the spikes that are supplied are very sturdy ones, they have a fine thread and can be easily damaged if you are careless while installing them. The driver enclosure is very inert so I would advise great care if you decide to perform the knuckle test.

I particularly like the way they have chosen to deal with the grills. They are constructed with a very sheer material mounted on a slender steel frame. They attach to the front baffle by means of magnets that are buried under the surface laminate. This arrangement makes attaching the grills as simple as possible and worked just fine for me. I found the grills to be audibly transparent, so I choose to leave them in place.

While the efficiency is listed as what might seem like a rather low 87db, I had no problem-achieving lease breaking levels with the Bel Canto EVo power amp. However, I would not recommend trying to drive the Fontaines with single ended triodes.

When I receive new equipment to review, I will often invite several non-audiophile friends over, fire up the system and observe their reactions. In each case, the reactions to the Fontaines began before the first CD was in the drawer and they were always quite positive. Everyone was taken with their striking appearance and the way that they so easily blended into the room. They are as beautiful as they are unobtrusive. While it is quite obvious from the specs and the quality of the hardware used that EgglestonWorks constructs its speakers with a great deal of care, the most important question is yet to be answered.

How Do They Sound?

After a suitable break-in period, I sat down to give the Fontaines a serious listen. The company states in its literature that the primary design tool used to voice the entire line of speakers is the sound of music as opposed to a primary reliance upon measurements. Since I do not have the ability to perform any measurements on the equipment that I have for review, I can only tell you how they perform in my system. While I believe that measurements do have their place, they hardly give the total picture. There have been many components that have measured terribly but were stellar performers sonically, and vice versa.

Even before the speakers were fully broken in they sounded quite good. I found two of the most prominent sonic attributes of these speakers to be their midrange clarity and their ability to paint a rich harmonic portrait. They have that see-through quality that allows each instrument to occupy its own space, but always with a natural sense of proportion within the soundstage. No hardness or edginess ever accompanied this clarity. I also noticed a consistent easy quality to the sound that just let the music flow in a most seductive way. Cymbals and bell tones have the proper amount of sheen and delicacy and again, they seem to have the right size. The decay rates for these instruments also contribute to the sense of realism.

The Fontaines floated a very good image across the stage with excellent localization of the instruments. They consistently revealed the low level details that among other things gave a real sense of the size of the recording venue. With Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, [Columbia CK52861 - Gold Version and Columbia CK64935 - 20 bit Re-master] by Miles Davis, Bill Evansí piano comes across much more realistically than I usually hear it. I have always taken issue with the recorded sound of the piano, especially with many of the older Blue Note recordings. Just the opposite is the case with the XRCD recording, Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio [JVC XRCD VICJ-60141]. Here the tonal qualities and complex harmonic structure of the piano are presented very well.

I was surprised by the sense of depth that these speakers presented me with. My room will not cooperate very much in this area, so this was a welcomed surprise. In fact, it is the best that I have heard here. The center fill was spot on with soloists being a little more forward than I am used to but it was to good effect. Overall, I found the imaging abilities of these speakers to be exceptionally good. For my taste, they struck the right balance between image specificity and naturalness. The great deal of effort that EgglestonWorks has put into the design of the driver enclosures really pays off in the superior imaging qualities of these speakers.

Since the Ė3db point is listed at 55hz, I didnít expect too much from the lower regions but I was pleasantly surprised with what I did hear. Now donít misunderstand, these are not the speakers for pipe organ or reggae fans. For that kind of bass output you should look much higher up in the EgglestonWorks line. What is notable about the low end in this case is the accuracy of the bass. It is never boomy; rather, it tends to be tight and tuneful. When poorly executed, the bass can obscure musical elements in the lower midrange. The bass of the Fontaines does not interfere with or obscure the midrange at all. In other words, the bloom of the low end does not come at the expense of midrange clarity. For classical and a good deal of jazz, you could be quite satisfied with the low end of the Fontaines. Overall, the bass output was much better than I expected.

Tim Shea wrote a terrific review of the Musse Audio Reference Two NF speakers last June. I have them on hand and will do a follow up review. However, since they are in the same price range as the Fontaines, I thought they would make an interesting comparison.

The Reference Twos, like the Fontaines, are two-way monitors. In this case, you supply the stands. The sonic differences are striking because of the strengths of each lie at opposite ends of the sonic spectrum. With a -3db point of 35Hz and the port tuning frequency of 29Hz, it is not surprising that the Reference Twos go deeper. The low end here is tight and tuneful as well. While the Fontaines do not go as deep, I have to say that the bass is a bit tighter and a bit more tuneful than the Reference Twos. However, the Fontaines definitely get the nod for their midrange and upper register extension, sweetness and excellent rendition of detail. These are sonic traits that are a permanent fixture in Perryís listening room and I have subsequently come to listen for them all of the time. In addition to this, there is plenty of air around the instruments with very good decay rates. Some might describe these speakers as being tonally neutral, however you wish to describe that characteristic. I, on the other hand, find their tonality to be slightly on the warm side. That suits me just fine. Overall they simply get out of the way of the music. This is what many speaker manufactures claim that their products do but the reality is often quite different.

Etta James, Life, Love and The Blues [Private Label 01005-82162-2]: This is a CD that is a very good example of the "Mussel Shoals" sound. It has a very heavy sustained bass line throughout many of the cuts. Check out "Here I am Baby" to see what I mean. In this instance, a good bit of this bass is attenuated. After all, you can only move so much air with a six-inch driver. The roll off is very graceful, with no sign of driver overload or other distress. From the upper bass on up all is well. Etta Jamesí voice comes through with the right amount of bite and warmth.

Patricia Barber, Companion [Blue Note/Premonition 7243 5 22963 2 3]: This is a live recording that really shines on the Fontaines. The sense of immediacy and presence is such that you can get an implication of the size of the room without any hyper-detail to get in the way. On the cut "Use Me," there is an upright bass solo that the Fontaines reproduce with all of the textures and harmonic richness in tact. Ms. Barberís voice has a breathy texture that is quite pleasant without the vocal detail ever being overdone. I never had the impression that I could see her tonsils.

With large-scale symphonic works, these babies continue in the same vein. While their limited low-end capabilities will diminish some of the slam and weight that their larger brethren are able to handle, they still give a satisfying performance.

To sum up, the EgglestonWorks Fontaines can best be described as being very musical. While they will give you all of the attributes that audiophiles crave, they are never overly analytical. I really appreciate the midrange qualities that keep my listening sessions on the long side. They make me want to get the audiophile stuff out of the way and just sit back and enjoy the music. I find myself pulling out CD after CD that I have not heard in a while to give a listen. If you feel that you simply must have that last bit of bass output, remember that matching subs are available. The characteristics of these speakers that impress me the most are the grainless midrange, top-end extension, the ability to float a realistic, totally coherent soundstage and the top-to-bottom ease of the musical presentation. I never heard any discontinuity between the bass, mids or the highs. They were always coherent in this regard.

These are very high quality speakers and you need to connect them to equally high quality gear upstream. Of course they will work with inexpensive amplifiers, but they will quickly reveal all of the sonic deficiencies and warts. The EgglestonWorks Fontaines are what the high end is all about. While they cannot be considered cheap and are in a crowded field at this price point, they do offer very good value considering their excellent performance.

Music used in this evaluation:

Cannonball Adderley, Something Else, [Blue Note 1595]
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, [Columbia CK52861, Gold Version and Columbia CK64935 20bit Re-master]
Clifford Jordan Quartet, Live at Ethellís, [Mapleshade 56292]
Bill Evans Trio, Waltz for Debby, [JVC XRCD VICJ-60141]
Carmen Lundy, Self Portrait, [JVC XRCD 0005-2]
BBC Music, Best CDís of 1994, [BBC-BO94]
The Boston Pops Orchestra, American Visions, [BMG 092206-68786]
Marc Antoine Charpentier, Concerto Vocale, [harmonia mundi HMC 901006]

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EgglestonWorks Fontaine Speaker