Capital AudioFest Part 1: Eikon Audio

Capital AudioFest this year is heavily skewed towards vinyl listening – the marketplace was chock full of awesome vinyl, and plenty of rooms were dedicating hefty amounts of listening time to turntables. That said, there were also a number of impressive digital systems, with Qobuz and streaming setups accompanying turntables in nearly every room. There were even a few CD players, a sighting that may now be rarer than a functioning reel-to-reel setup.

The first system I stopped by was of interest not for it’s streaming capabilities however, but for its digital prowess in other areas. Eikon Audio is a company started by Gayle Sanders, one of the co-founders of Martin Logan. Eikon’s current sole product, a speaker system called the Image1 however, resembles no Martin Logan I’ve ever seen.

The Eikon Image1 is a floorstander with two bass woofers (one in front and another on the back of the speaker), a midrange and mid-treble driver, and a petite AMT supertweeter. The system requires the use of an included ‘Eikontrol’ control module which provides a number of sophisticated room correction and connectivity features.

The Image1 control unit comes with a plethora of connections (paired here with an Aurender N10 Music Server/Streamer), including numerous RCA and XLR inputs and outputs, one of which is reserved for a measurement microphone, as well as Coaxial, SPDIF and TosLink outputs capable of operating at rates up to 24-bits/96kHz. All amplification is built into the speakers, with each driver powered by an individual amplifier, and the Eikontrol module acting as a volume control, source selector and DAC. The module then outputs eight channels of balanced, XLR outputs which plug into the speakers integrated amplifiers. What’s particularly noteworthy about this closed-loop system is not the convenience of the Eikontrol module, but it’s powerful wavelet DSP correctional algorithms.

DSP-heavy closed-loop systems are not unusual, especially in pro audio where the Kii Three, and Dutch & Dutch 8C are quite popular, but the Eikon is among the first truly closed-loop corrective systems – from room measurement all the way to transducer – that I’ve seen in the high-end consumer hi-fi world.

The system claims to be different from other room-correction schemes in a few ways. Namely, it claims a very long 120ms measurement time, designed to capture not only fast transient, phase and frequency response distortions in the room, but also unwanted time smearing and bass buildup. The language on how this is accomplished is rather vague, but Eikon claims that the correction extends to crossover slopes, and that the resulting signal will be time-aligned from the speaker. Their literature also mentions ‘wave guide’ enhanced bass, though it doesn’t describe exactly what this is or how it works.

More interestingly, the Eikontrol system can store several profiles, allowing users to create customized equalization profiles on the unit to suit their tastes or different recordings. There’s also the option of up to five ‘Personality Maps’ that can be programmed into the system which allows complete control from iOS or Android phones and tablets.

Listening to the system, it was certainly one of the most tonally-balanced ones I heard at the show, and the bass especially was tight and powerful, filling the extremely large room much more deftly than you might expect for such a relatively reasonably-sized loudspeaker.

The decision to use a wideband midrange and supertweeter was interesting, but the sound was coherent and I heard no unusual discontinuities in the upper midrange or treble. Overall, a very sophisticated setup, though I would never consider it cheap at $25,000 USD. Although, when you factor in what the price tag includes – the speakers, amplifiers, Eikontrol module with DSP, built-in DAC and preamp – it becomes, perhaps, a bit more palatable in the context of high-end systems.

The best part is, you need not worry about gear mismatches or fussy setup, as the speakers are designed to adapt to your room. An interesting solution for those with challenging spaces, or those looking to simplify their system and just listen with all the fuss of component matching taken care out of the equation.

Capitol AudioFest

jeffhenning's picture

Systems like these are the vanguard of the high performance audio. If all you want is great sound in your room and don't suffer from equipment lust, the biggest consideration is the size of the system needed to easily fill your room with music.

Not to say that all active systems sound the same, but, in my experience in a good sounding room, properly set up active, dynamic monopole speakers sound much more similar than they do different and in the best possible way.

Hey, that's not to tout them as perfect either, but the value they offer is undeniable.

A long time ago, I emailed Siegfried Linkwitz with some questions about his active dipolar speakers. I stated that I preferred a LEDE (live end/dead end) room design for listening and mastering music. The dead end in my case was around and behind the trip-amped, monopole Paradigm speakers I was using.

Dr. Linkwitz said he, too, liked the LEDE room design, but with live end around his trip-amped dipoles.

Since he listened almost exclusively to classical music, I could see his point. It made his listening experience like being in a concert hall. Also, his room was a lot bigger than mine so early reflections weren't that big a deal.

Listening to R&B, rock and jazz, as I do and in a modest, but well-treated living room, had I done what he did, the imaging of the system would have suffered.

I'd really like to see active, DSP'd speakers that weren't all, for the most part, cut from the same cloth.