Associated Equipment:
Front End
Digital Front End
AC Conditioners

The Emerald Physics CS3 Loudspeakers, Wyred 4 Sound mINT, and REL T7 Sub-Bass System

A Seestem-atic review


March, 2012




Walter Liederman of Underwood HiFi can get excited. In the years I’ve known him though, (read: circa 15 or 20 telephone conversations during breaks at work over the course of the past 10 years—never met the man in person), I’ve never heard him more excited - more dogmatic - more crazed about any product than he was about the Emerald Physics speaker line. The man was on a tear.

See David, what we’re trying to do is bring a product to market here with these Emerald Physics speakers that corrects the major problems most box speakers have—and that starts with – the box. Most of the manufacturing costs speaker companies outlay go toward the box; design, construction—what-have-you.” He cited a recent advertisement in Stereophile showing an exploded diagram of a really expensive speaker with a super-rigid, complex box for emphasis.

Without coming up for air, he then proceeds to launch into the research findings of the Canadian Audio Research Lab and why people like or don’t like speakers and how amazing—I mean friggin’ amazing — Clayton Shaw’s Emerald Physics design is and how many people converted to Druidism and began worshipping trees after they heard them and so forth.

‘Okay,’ I thought. “I got nothing pending— I’ll give ‘em a go. Besides—I’ve been losing my religion lately. Maybe these could help. “

Life begins at… Conception
Clayton Shaw designed these speakers. “I love his amps!” I told Walter, trying to demonstrate my audiophile cred. Wrong Clayton. This is Clayton Shaw; noted speaker guru and all-around audio engineering maven, formerly of Evett and Shaw (a previously well-known audio brand), and now apparently a behind-the-scenes force of for all that is good and right in sundry audio ventures; chief among them, Emerald Physics. Clayton’s apparently got a particular penchant and/or knack for digitally taming room acoustics and the loudspeakers that inhabit them, and to this end, while it would be inaccurate to say that any one characteristic of Clayton’s Emerald Physics digitally crossed over and EQ’d speakers represents revelatory thinking, taken en masse, the EP products do indeed represent a revelatory integration of disparate audio grails.

To wit, they are an open baffle, high efficiency, controlled directivity, digitally crossed-over and EQ’d, horn-loaded, time-coherent pair of loudspeakers. Now, we’ve had all manner of open baffle speakers and all manner of horn and high-sensitivity speakers since time immemorial. We’ve even had DSP’d speakers in one guise or other (usually pricey as hell, ala Meridian) and we’ve also had controlled directivity speakers for some time (Gradient comes to mind).

But likely we’ve never really had a speaker that combines in equal measure the virtues of controlled directivity (less sonic room interaction), high-sensitivity (ease of drive), high power handling (go deaf with 5 watts/low distortion), boxless-ness (no box) and digital driver integration (sonic seamlessness) in one cheery package. Tack on utter ease of placement (as long as it’s at least two feet out from the front wall) and a price just shy of 3 G’s for the starter set under review here, and you see why this is one innovative, integrative product. Say that three times fast. If you were digitally corrected – you could!

Clayton’s design impetus for the EP’s was based on an old school audiophile saw—namely, (and I’m paraphrasing Mother Hubbard here), that the biggest problem with most loudspeakers ain’t the loud or the speaker—it’s the room they’re in. I know you’ve heard this before. And yeah- we’ve all tried our hand at putting up a few acoustic panels or a fancy pillow or two; maybe even a mysterious upside down Magic Bowl Wall Resonator or what have you. I myself have heard some seriously positive effects from some of these acoustic treatments in my own rooms of yore. (Haven’t heard the Magic Bowl Resonators as yet—I’m told they really do the trick. Yes; pun intended, I should think).

Trouble is—unless it’s a dedicated listening room for you and the cat, those pads n’ pillows and bowls look hateful and only succeed for the most part in shaving off a few dB from a few peaks here or smoothing out a bass notch there. Unless, of course, you have a whole LOT of them—and there’s a name for people like you. Wait for it… SINGLE!

In other words, in the lion’s share of cases, the pillows and bowls aren’t really a ‘fix’—just a waterproof-band-aid for the roughest spots, and an ugly one at that.

However, by designing your transducer such that it radiates sound in a controlled arc (60 degrees in the case of the CS3’s), you hear more of the direct sound from the speaker as compared with the reflected sound off, say, that sliding glass door to your right. Okay, to MY right. This is good because presumably you didn’t spend three grand on speakers so you could hear your sliding glass door’s take on the Schubert string quintet. At least I didn’t.

So now that we have you listening to more of the directed sound of the speaker as opposed to the reflected sound of your imperfect room, how do we make sure it’s a sound resembling the one the artists and their recording engineers intended you to hear? In other words, where’s the ‘Fi’ in this ‘HiFi?’

Here’s how: we use a digital crossover to generate slopes not possible with an analogue crossover and EQ the hell out of the speaker’s frequency response so that it’s flat to (at pre-selected in-room positions) within 0.5dB from 200Hz to light speed. Did I mention we’re also gonna use professional grade studio drivers which can handle, in the case of the tweeter, SPL’s pushing 140dB without calling it’s mommy to pick it up? That’s hot enough to melt the wine glass after the soprano’s high note shatters it.

The tweeter itself is housed in a rather heavy industrial steel cylinder, and the two tweeters actually come packed separately in the box. As such, you need to ‘assemble’ the EP’s co-axial drivers prior to use of the speakers. This is accomplished simply by screwing a threaded cylindrical tweeter—that’s what she said—into the back of each of the 12” mid-range drivers.

Then you simply connect the solder-less little red and black wire connectors to their respective terminals, bolt the speakers to their stands, and you’re off.

After you’ve screwed your metal driver into your 12 inch woofer, it’s…


(Magic) Bowls to the wall
The Emerald Physics loudspeakers should not work. In fact the design concept cannot work without a digital crossover and digital EQ of the response curve. Without the guidance algorithms of a digital crossover/EQ, there’s no way you’d produce anything but disjointed noise, what with a big ol’ 12” coaxial woofer/tweeter hanging there in a thin wooden board.

Some conventional speakers may be made better by digital EQ’ing and digital crossovers—but these things make Emerald Physics speakers possible. That’s a big distinction.

I’m put in mind of a cutting edge jet like the Joint Strike Fighter or the F-22 Raptor or any of the stealth planes or drones the US does or does not have. Those planes should NOT be able to fly. Hell—if this were 30 years ago or so — you’d be booted out of the board room at Grumman for conceiving of anything so aerodynamically unstable as the Joint Strike Fighter. Today though, computerized corrections hundreds or thousands of times per second of flight control surfaces (aileron, elevators etc) have made the previously impossible possible.

Similarly, as a result of the Behringer DCX2496 EQ/crossover, the drivers in the CS3 not only play well together, they in fact evidence beautiful integration and consequently, terrifically flat in room response is achievable—in YOUR room—not just Clayton Shaw’s.


Yeah, M.I.T.? It’s Dave again. I got a question
I confess, sight unseen, set up of the Emerald Physics speakers/Wyred 4 Sound mINT/Rel system seemed daunting. During our initial phone call, when Walter was going on about DSP EQ’ing of the signal and pre-sets for speaker positioning and pre-amp connections and fixed and variable outs etc. etc., I was getting the sinking feeling CS3 set-up was bound to involve careful study of a several hundred page online-manual for the Behringer digital crossover, numerous phone calls (to my therapist), a bottle of single-malt, and a few TIVO’d episodes of The Big Bang Theory (in order to give me something to watch on TV after I got thoroughly pissed off and gave up on the speaker set-up). I was wrong on all accounts (okay—I had a bit of Glenfiddich 18).

Basically, you connect your preamp to the Behringer crossover, connect the Behringer to your amp, and then your amp to your speakers. If you weren’t using a sub, you’d be done. You don’t absolutely need one, as the CS3’s go down to about 50Hz by themselves. In fact, without a sub, Walter refers to the standalone CS3’s as “mini-monitors on steroids.”


Ah, but this is a ‘seestem’ review and Walter graciously sent me the Rel T7 ‘sub bass system’ (as Rel prefers you call it) as well as the spanking new Wyred mINT 100 watt ICEpower integrated amplifier/DAC. Using the Rel simply meant I needed one additional long run of coax (provided me with the seestem) run from the Behringer to the 1/LFE coax input on the T7. Done — and surprisingly painlessly actually.

Connections complete, speaker positioning with a digital crossover like the Behringer is similarly an unadulterated joy. Since this little magic box takes care of main driver integration as well as subwoofer integration, and EQ’s the speakers frequency response curve such that the CS3’s sound as flat as possible at several pre-programmed listener selected distances from the front and side walls, all you need do is pick a speaker location at least two feet from the front wall (I put mine three feet out), dial in that preset on the Behringer digital crossover’s menu, spread them about 6 to 10 feet apart (the speakers), give ‘em a bit o’ toe-in and then— (everyone now)— ‘set it and forget it!