Escalante Design Pinyon Loudspeaker and Uinta Subwoofer
|Escalante Design Pinyon Loudspeaker and Uinta Subwoofer
“Getting the Listener Closer to the Heart of the Music”
Tierry and Matt
It would be easy to dismiss the arrival of a new loudspeaker company by saying, “High-end audio needs another speaker company like it needs a hole in its head,” but that would mean potentially being denied that special musical experience that so many of us are searching for. So we continue to get excited over the “next big thing” in loudspeakers. What we end up with are cabinets made of granite or slate, synthetic ribbons, planars, ceramic drivers, beryllium drivers, and drivers with names that seem better suited for a nativity scene. There’s always something different entering the marketplace that promises to give you more bass or more detail or more extended high frequencies. What they all too often forget to give you is more real music. Not that these entities don’t produce enjoyable results, but too often they simply result in just a different way of getting to normal levels of performance. Yet, many of us are always looking forward to what’s next. Fortunately, we’ve figured out that no such animal could ever exist. There is no magic speaker out there that will give us the perfection we so desperately seek. The reason for this is that even if we get close, we’ll simply change the parameters for what we consider perfect. So what we’re really looking for is a loudspeaker that replicates musical reality as truthfully as possible. The Pinyon loudspeaker and Uinta subwoofer from Escalante Design may be just what the high-end needs.
Escalante Design is a new loudspeaker company, based in Provo, Utah. It is co-founded by Tierry Budge and Matt Waldron, two of the most amiable people you’llprobably ever meet in this industry. Should you be fortunate enough to own one of their products, getting to know them will be one of the biggest benefits of doing so. They’re not here to introduce us to any exotic woods harvested by Tibetan monks, or some new drivers made from materials procured from some NASA garage sale. Instead, they’re seeking to bring to the marketplace speakers that maximize the reproduction of a live musical performance … each and every recorded octave of it.
Tierry Budge is one of those speaker designers whose down-to-Earth demeanor and thoughtful family man persona belie a man who is technically gifted and a demanding perfectionist. He constantly looks for every possible way of getting all there is to be had out of his speaker designs, and then looks to improve them. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not prone to designs that are in a constant state of development. Instead, his philosophy is to build speakers that are well thought out, finished products that will perform equally well with any type of amplification. “My goal is not to build a speaker that is best suited only for low-output tube amps or high-powered solid-state amps,” says Budge. “My goal is to build speakers that will always sound their best regardless of the amp. What’s important is to get the listener close to the heart of the music.”
Budge started his speaker-building career more than two decades ago as Manager of Research and Development for Wilson Audio. While at Wilson, he was directly responsible for the WATT III, Puppy II (arguably, along with the model 7, the best sounding Watt/Puppy combo), WHOW II, WAMM VI, and much of the groundwork for the original Grand Slam. That is, he worked on the concept of the speaker itself, and designed all the drivers for the original model.
After leaving Wilson in 1992, Voce Divina commissioned him to design a sub-woofer to compliment their full-range loudspeaker models. His expertise in building subwoofers such as the Talon Roc and Escalante Uinta was already being developed.
He then went on to co-found Talon Audio with Mike Farnsworth where he was responsible for the design and implementation of allthe Talon loudspeakers. This included the design and development of the original and X model Khorus, Peregrine, Khite, and Roc subwoofer.
The popular yet controversial Khorus and Peregrine loudspeakers were constantly discussed on Audio Asylum and in many other audiophile chat rooms both lauding and questioning their performance claims. Perhaps you remember the magazine ads that showed the Peregrine X next to a picture of a speedometer. Speed is what they were all about and believe me these babies were fast, detailed, and capable of tight bass down to around 19Hz!
It was when Talon launched the “X” versions of its two biggest designs that I jumped on the bandwagon and bought the Peregrine X. To this day they are still my reference loudspeaker, and with their “Nest” stands are by far the most stunning looking speakers I’ve ever owned.
But after what I will diplomatically refer to as a difference of philosophies, Tierry and Talon parted ways. On the same day Tierry was leaving, he got a call from an acquaintance named Matt Waldron who himself had considered seeking employment at Talon. Matt is a highly energetic young man with an infectious personality whose demeanor – like Tierry’s – belies a deep musical talent. Matt is world percussionist and lead vocalist for Hoodooh, a local band that plays an exciting blend of funk and folk-rock. When Tierry told Matt that he was leaving Talon, Matt asked Tierry to meet with him before he went home, and in a restaurant parking lot of all places, the idea of what would become Escalante Design was born.
Matt is the owner of the company and Tierry is the Chief Designer. Matt admittedly is not a speaker designer though he spent years selling pro audio gear and repairing JBL speaker systems. Instead, he’d rather run the business and leave the technical stuff to Tierry. It was Matt’s desire to provide Tierry with a vehicle to build speakers his way that was art the heart of the decision to start Escalante. And the appeal of starting a speaker company that would give him absolute freedom to design and build speakers the way that he wanted to was immediately appealing to Tierry. This gave him the opportunity to fully pursue speaker building that would incorporate many of the lessons learned from his experiences while still letting him bring something new to the overcrowded speaker marketplace. “Each of my previous experiences provided, as you would expect, major cornerstones to the foundation of what’s being done at Escalante,” said Budge. “My experience at Wilson led to the initial establishment of individual driver design and “time” circuits, which are a major advancement in both dynamic and timbral betrayal. Both of these elements directly affect what occurs through the midrange. In the case of the drivers, I would be more than happy to be able to use ‘off-the-shelf‘ items, however, transparency and detail more than double when the right combination of driver design elements are implemented. As for overall dynamic range, I learned that this could be increased by several hundred percent (!) through very specific driver/crossover elements. My experience leads me to very pointedly designing drivers that can be used to accomplish all aspects of music reproduction.”
Budge’s work with Voce Divina led to expanding the frequency range in which this “increased dynamic range” was being used—in both large and small scales—to the bottom four octaves. Additionally, he began to learn how to decrease cabinet-based sonic contributions by more than 30dB. Having learned these things, it became even more obvious to him that he needed to design drivers that would take advantage of these new possibilities. He knew this covered the bottom six octaves fairly well. However, he felt the upper four octaves were not being taken care of to the same degree … at least as far as he was concerned. “I had hoped that the appropriate solutions would be found while I worked at Talon, but circumstances arose that made the development and implementation of these answers next to impossible to fully advance.” In the Pinyon, Escalante Design’s first offering, Tierry Budge finally got to those other four octaves.
Aesthetically, the Pinyon is my kind of component: sophisticated yet understated and timelessly elegant. There are no sloped baffles or chamfered corners, but this is hardly just a black box. The cabinet has a nice black grainy texture combined with smooth veneer inlays on the sides. The veneers come in a nice variety of colors and finishes. On the front of the cabinet are a pair of direct-coupled 6.5” woofers (one woofer faces outside of the cabinet and the other is coupled to it internally) and a slightly modified Scanspeak Ring Radiator soft dome tweeter. “I learned about the development of this new tweeter design and for the first time in the 30+ years that I’ve been involved with the high-end, I felt this was the only tweeter being made that offered a superb balance between detail/openness and musicality,” said Budge. Beneath the woofers is a slotted port that helps the speed of those woofers and allows them to cover more of the frequency range than many comparable designs. The front grill frame is magnetized and can be easily attached and removed.
On the back is a single set of Cardas speaker posts and a tweeter level switch that when put in the up position, gives you an additional 2–dB of high-frequency openness. This is one of many thoughtful touches. There’s one additional touch that I would have liked to have to go with my evaluation and that’s a custom-made stand to go with the Pinyon. It has always been a belief of mine that any speaker that costs as much as the Pinyon and is designed to be stand-mounted should have a stand designed specifically for it. Sure you can use a Sound Anchor stand or any of a number of good stands (I used a very nice stand from Tyler Acoustics with a set of 1” high Audio Points on top), but I’ve seen too many instances of wonderful speaker designs being brought to their knees by an inadequate stand. Fortunately, there is a substantial three-legged stand in production as I write this that should enhance the performance of the Pinyon even more.
At nearly $7,000 for the speakers and a good pair of stands, the Pinyons face a lot of stiff competition from not just a host of other capable stand-mounted speakers such as the Talon Hawk, JM Lab Micro Utopia, and Dynaudio Special 25, but also from comparably priced full-range floor standers such as the Usher 6381, Penaudio Serenade, and Von Schweikert VR4jr. But this is where it is important for you to seek out the Pinyon at your nearest Escalante dealer and hear this speaker for yourself. Budge has put in many, many hours of listening and tweaking and trying out different drivers and crossover topologies just to make sure that you will get every last drop of musical realism out of the Pinyon as possible. To my ears he succeeded.
The most important part of the musical performance for me (and most people) is the midrange. This is where the Pinyon excels. Sade’s smoky voice is given added sensuality on “Killer Blow“, one of my favorite of her songs that she did for the soundtrack to a little known (and seen) movie called Absolute Beginners [Virgin CDV2386]. This tune also features a slick upright bass solo that is rendered with incredible clarity and detail. I’ve never enjoyed this tune more than as portrayed through this speaker. Another favorite old disc that was given new life through the Pinyon was the 1988 release of guitarist Jonathan Butler’s More Than Friends[Jive records 1136-2-J]. It’s basically “smooth jazz” fluff but Butler’s classic R&B voice and excellent musicianship are undeniable, particularly on track four “Take Me Home” and the R&B favorite, “Sarah Sarah.”
Before long, I had literally gone through dozens of tracks from dozens of recordings basically rekindling my love for some really good old favorites. That is the power of a really great transducer. But this is not to say that the Pinyon is without its shortcomings. While it recreates everything from the midbass up with a realism not found on any speaker I know of, it does not reproduce very much deep bass. Now please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. The bass performance of the Pinyon is very good for the size of its enclosure and in a moderately sized listening room, will be more than enough. But as we all know, power corrupts and in larger rooms you will want to crank up the volume and that’s when you’ll notice how much bass you’re not getting. What you are getting though is an unrivaled level of detail, image separation, and musicality. But never fear the Uinta is here.
The Uinta is simply the best subwoofer I’ve ever heard. It does exactly what a good subwoofer should do: add presence, stage size, and depth. Mike Wright, a long time user of Muse subwoofers, was gracious enough to come by and help me get this behemoth properly loaded into my room. After wrestling it into a number of positions, we finally settled on facing it into a corner about six feet to the left of my left channel. Instantly, my life was transformed. There was not a single disc in my possession that did not sound gloriously real through this system. Listening to live jazz in particular became more of a musical event than ever. Patricia Barber’s Companion [MFSL UDSACD 2023], which was recorded in the legendary Green Mill jazz club here in Chicago, placed me right in front of the stage at one of those little bistro tables and had me ordering a vodka martini. The Uinta helps the Pinyon reach such an incredible level of realism that if you close your eyes your other senses can be tricked into believing that you’re seeing and smelling the club as well. Or if you like bigger venues, how about the great outdoors as in the forests of Santa Cruz, California where Kenny Loggins’ Outside: From the Redwoods[Columbia CK 57391] was recorded. The Pinyon/Uinta system made listening to this disc tremendously exciting and fun. There is a lot of interplay with the audience and the size of the soundstage that gets projected makes you feel drawn into and among the crowd. Particularly on familiar songs like track two, “What a Fool Believes,” a track duet with Loggins and former Doobie Brother, Michael McDonald. Track six, “Angry Eyes” is another great tune. This system does a splendid job of placing singers and musicians in real space. This is what the hobby is all about.
The Uinta carries the added bonus of being an excellent home theater sub as well. Now for anyone who has ever seen The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (who hasn’t?), you know how cool the walking trees sounded when they arrived at the battlefield and began stomping the Uruk-Hai. This is room-shaking stuff folks but without dominating what’s happening on the screen. The Uinta knows its place and once put there, it seems to enlarge the size, scale, dimensionality, and realism of the music and the action.
Like the Pinyon, the Uinta is elegantly styled and thoughtfully designed. In fact, the Uinta basically looks like a Pinyon on steroids (the Jose Canseco variety). Inside of its massive enclosure (23” x 16” x 22”, 140lb) are two 12” direct-coupled woofers and a 500-watt amplifier. The amp helps give the sub uncommon speed and virtually resonance-free performance. On the back of the unit are the stereo inputs, a low frequency effects (LFE) input, a set of knobs for volume control and crossover setting, a phase switch, and a set of knobs for a three-band parametric equalizer.
I won’t go into detail over the design specifications which Tierry Budge does a great job of discussing on their website. Actually, for a real treat, I strongly suggest giving Tierry a call and getting some of his design philosophy for your self. Tierry is a very kind and thoughtful man who has a wealth of knowledge that he won’t mind sharing it.
At the end of the day, Escalante Design is just another speaker company but Tierry Budge is not just another speaker Designer. The Pinyon and Uinta may be the first offerings from this company but they are the result of decades of work. While the Pinyon is an excellent performer and sets a new standard in musicality, the Uinta sub is a flat out steal! Combined, they bring new meaning to the term “reference system.” My listening room hasn’t been the same since FedEx came and ripped them away from me.
It is important that you ask yourself if you are really getting every octave of music that you can from your current speaker system when considering these products. That is the goal that Tierry Budge aims for with these designs, and in my humble opinion, he delivers. Highly recommended!
Design Type: Direct Coupled
Woofer: 2 x 6.5″
Tweeter: Scanspeak Ring Radiator, soft-dome
Freq. Response: 34Hz – 50kHz
Amp: 1 – 1000 watts
Sensitivity: 89 dB
Impedance: 8 Ohms nominal
Height: 17.75 inches (46cm)
Width: 8.25 inches (21cm)
Depth: 12.75 inches (33cm)
Weight: 52 lbs. each (23.5kg)
Shipping Weight: 160 lbs. (73kg)
Design Type: Direct Coupled
Woofer: 2 x 12″
Freq. Response: 18Hz – 800Hz (40-80Hz recommended crossover frequency)
Amplifier: 500watts (installed)
Transient Power Rating: 3000watt at 10mS
Sensitivity: 94 dB
SPL @ 10 Watts input: 104 dB cont. (107 dB peak, 1m)
SPL @ 100 Watts input: 114 dB cont. (117 dB peak, 1m)
SPL @ 500 Watts input: 121 dB cont. (122 dB peak, 1m)
Impedance: 8 Ohm
Height: 23.5 inches (57cm)
Width: 16.5 inches (42cm)
Depth: 22 inches (56cm)
Weight: 140 lbs. each (64kg)
Shipping Weight: 210 lbs. (95kg)
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