The €24000 Aequo Audio Ensis hails from The Netherlands and has an innovative and interesting design. Stuart and Linette Smith take delivery of a pair and naturally throw some Dutch techno at them. 

We first got in touch with the Aequo Audio guys before last year’s High End show in Munich and  when we arrived at the MOC were drawn to their booth because they were playing electronic music rather than audiophile music that is de rigeur at such events…and we were really impressed with what we heard. Of course, a booth at a mega busy Hifi show isn’t an ideal environment for any kind of critical listening and so we were keen to get a pair in our main system. And so it was that Paul and Ivo made the journey from the Netherlands to our humble abode.

The Ensis speakers are an elegant looking proposition and should find favour with those looking for something that is modern looking yet stylish. They are narrow and stand 116cm high so any room should be able to accommodate them. The speakers are sloped backwards to time align the drivers.

At the bottom of the speakers is an enclosure that houses the ten inch aluminium subwoofer that is actively driven and is adjustable: This is a very useful and sensible feature that allows the Ensis loudspeakers to integrate brilliantly into any environment and room situation. The mid/bass driver uses a Hexacon voicecoil with a Kapton-Aluminium former. The soft fabric tweeter’s dome is centre fixed using a carbon rod and billet aluminium dispersion cone and utilises an acoustic lens.

Ensis is a closed design that is heavily braced and uses four types of wood. The crossover for the mid and tweeter uses matched polypropylene capacitors and air core baked wire coils throughout, though there are no capacitors in line for the midbass, whilst the aforementioned sub uses “ARPEC” sound processing and a 500W per side N-Core amplifier.

Terminals are WBT and accommodate bananas, spades or bare wire. The front of the speaker is made of a mineral filled polymer and available in white, black or custom finish.

The overall feel of the speaker is one of understated luxury with fit and finish being exemplary.

We used our Nord amp and Music First Audio preamplifier along with a Chord DAVE DAC, but also drove these 90db speakers with a little Clones Audio i25 (25W) and a Audio Hungary valve amp with no feeling that we needed to pump more power through them. This is a good thing given that Ensis is likely to be used in homes that are modern and clean, in keeping with their deign and people that buy these are unlikely to want clutter and boxes all over the place – I could see them being used with something like the Roksan Oxygene amp and CD player for a compact and neat solution.

Set up of the speakers was a doddle as being a closed design they just aren’t that fussy, though a small degree of toe-in was preferred and a bit of fiddling with the beautifully crafted bass controls was needed to match perfectly with the room.

Listening

Now, techno is a much maligned and often derided genre of music, particularly the head down, furious gabba variety that comes out of Holland, but for those in the know this kind of music has a beauty and complexity that to some, and I include myself in this, is preferred to more audiophile-centric styles of music, though you need a proper and detailed system to appreciate this. Electronic sounds are layered in such a way that what may at first appear just to be a racket, on closer inspection reveals itself to be an intricate and gorgeous sound. So what you may ask and that would be a valid question, but Paul and Ivo who delivered the speakers were weaned on this kind of music and after the initial niceties and getting to know each other we soon realised we shared a love of this style. I played the original Technohead (React) album and found that whilst the sound coming out of the speakers had that rawness and visceral feel that is essential, it was also possible to lose yourself in the depth of each sound, with the Ensis delivering loads of detail in the mids and tops to the extent that the make-up of each sound was easy to unravel and fall into. Crank the volume button up a few notches and you lose nothing of the detail…you just have more volume, and again this is a very good thing. Lesser loudspeakers can get all flappy and distressed with this kind of material at high volume, but not so the Ensis; they remained composed and unruffled at all times. Bass tones and that very recognisable bass kick had a depth and layering that again drew you into the individual sounds but without losing and overall cohesiveness. Bass is low, controlled and tight which is another must for me with a loudspeaker.

Speed is a key factor with any good loudspeaker and the Ensis are as nimble on their feet as I’ve heard. In some ways they have that immediacy and speed that great horns have and whilst one some systems this speed in the mid and tops can lead to a lack of cohesiveness with the bass, the Ensis’ solution of having a separate but fully integrated sub works an absolute treat. Timing is fabulous and you never feel that anything is remotely out of phase leading to a transparent and open sound with real coherence across the frequency spectrum.

OK, I’m well aware that very few people are going to be listening to gabba on a set of speakers that costs this much money and it’s rather likely that I’m in a small minority of people who “get” this genre and so, as we always do when reviewing any piece of kit, a wide and varied selection of music was listened to. On acoustic music there is a real feel for the instruments and their timbre with Baden Powell’s nylon strung guitar sounding as lifelike as I’ve heard. There is just so much detail evident in the music when listening with the Ensis loudspeaker, but this doesn’t come with an over analytical or fatiguing character; you could listen to these all day and not feel you were overloaded. Late night listening at low volumes is often a good test of a speaker’s capabilities, with lesser speakers not having the ability to convey the full range of the music, but with the Ensis, as when you turn them to high volume, you do get everything that is going on in the performance.

I’m a sucker for speakers that create an all encompassing soundstage and was a fan of Audio Physic loudspeakers in the past (though I’ve not been as impressed with their more recent offerings when I’ve heard them at shows) because they did that three dimensional presentation; the Ensis do this trick brilliantly too and you feel that the musicians are laid out in front of you both left to right, front to back and up and down. Despite having to concentrate and listen critically to what is going on I often found myself just listening to tunes for long spells without taking notes and just enjoying the experience, which is a great sign the speakers were doing something right. Moving out of the sweet spot there is still a good sense of this image and the Ensis are a speaker that can be enjoyed with friends as well as for when you are feeling a little more isolationist.

Turning to Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah and it’s as good as I’ve heard in our room. There is a purity to his voice that conveys the emotion of this tune and this comes across beautifully with these speakers. Real goosebumps time! And this is another key characteristic of a loudspeaker for me; it should connect you with the music and the performance on an emotional level and given their low colouration and amounts of micro-detail the Ensis give you a direct connection.

I’m really struggling to find anything negative about these loudspeakers. They are detailed in the extreme but not fatiguing. They have a hugely three dimensional presentation that is highly addictive. They convey the emotional content of music brilliantly. They are controlled, uncoloured and transparent. They are elegant and clean in their appearance. There is the old adage that all loudspeakers compromise in some aspect of their presentation and of course this is true to an extent but I’m struggling to find a compromise in these speakers…perhaps the price is a little out of the reach for many.

Conclusion 

These are as good a pair of loudspeakers that I have had the pleasure to have in our listening room (and I include our current reference Avantgarde Duo XD in this, though their presentation is obviously different). Presentation is clean, uncoloured and powerful when it needs to be – and likewise subtle when there is the call for it. Dynamically they are brilliant. They present every nuance of a performance or piece of music with dazzling detail and yet remain an easy listen.

Good source components are a must for these speakers given the level of detail they provide, but that needn’t mean spending a fortune and we got great results using a gainclone based amplifier costing less than £1000.

They look good and will appeal to those looking to have a modern looking, stylish loudspeaker in their home that really delivers on the sound front. For me their big selling point is that no matter what style of music you throw at them, be that Industrial Strength techno or something like Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird, they allow you an open view into the recording and the music. Yes you can get lost in analysing what you are listening to if you want to but for the most part you will find yourself just feeling connected directly to the  music on a truly emotional level and to me that is what music is all about!

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Impeccable build and styling where form follows function beautifully

Sound Quality: Detailed and uncoloured, with a three dimensional presentation

Value For Money: Twenty four grand is a lot of money but in the grand scheme of things these offer a great sound in a stunning package at a price that is commensurate.

Pros:

Fabulously well built and stylish looking

Brilliantly dynamic sound quality from a relatively small package

Very room friendly in regards to placement

Cons:

Can reveal inadequacies in partnering equipment and of poor recordings

Price: €24 000

Stuart Smith

And now Linette’s thoughts…

We get asked to visit a lot of people at High End Munich; companies launching new products are keen to get the press to cast their eyes and ears over their wares. When Paul from Aequo got in touch about their Ensis loudspeaker I was surprised that we hadn’t heard of them before, they came across as a well established company, confidently launching their new loudspeaker at the High End show. The Ensis is in fact their first production model but Ivo and Paul have taken a lot of care over how they present themselves and the company.  From the first contact Aequo are a very professional outfit, from choosing the world’s greatest hifi show to launch their speaker to the slick graphics of their promotional material you get a feeling that these guys know what they are doing…it inspired confidence that we were in for a treat when we visited them in Munich.

The Munich visit did not disappoint and we were immediately impressed with both the looks and sound of Ensis, we also knew that we would get on with Paul and Ivo…their love of electronic music matched our own. Their embracing of non-audiophile music continued when we saw them again at the Warsaw show.  Their room was belting out Michael Jackson while most of the others played jazz or classical, we liked their style.

The guys personally brought Ensis to Hifi Pig Towers for us to review.  It was a pleasure to get to know them on a more informal basis and also to have some time alone with the speakers. The professionalism of the business is carried on in the product.  Ensis is an elegant looking speaker, made of high quality materials and with great attention to detail.  Its actually a very compact speaker and the slender, gently tilted back design makes it the perfect fit for the home environment. The sound that comes from Ensis is also very refined, clear, precise, detailed and a surprisingly big soundstage makes for a very enjoyable listening experience. The precise nature of the speakers is never clinical and they are very easy to listen to, whether playing at low volume in the background or belting out techno they are the kind of speakers that you could just live with day in, day out. Their clever design also means you can put them more or less anywhere, another plus point for modern living.

Ensis is very much like her creators, a smart, slick and businesslike exterior wrapped around a love of music and a fun personality. I like a diverse range of speakers but they do have to tick certain boxes in order for them to make it onto my ‘Would like to own’ list.  Ensis really does tick them all. Great looks, sound great with all types of music (not just ‘audiophile music’) a lively detailed sound which is never fatiguing and a very reasonable price. Definitely on the list, outstanding!

Linette Smith

We spoke to Ivo Sparidaens who designed the Ensis speakers to get the background to his Octagon philosophy of design and how it affected the end product we see here. 

Size And Form (one of the eight aspects in the Octagon philosophy)

The size and shape of a loudspeaker is an aspect which we are confronted with all the time when we are in the same room with them. Even if they are not playing music. Several aspects of a loudspeaker’s appearance obviously derivate from its function. Form follows function is indeed a great credo to design a beautiful product. As if our touching and seeing it can analyze its features to be processed in our mind. After this evaluation, the design “feels” right, when it actually is capable of sounding right.  But yet, one functional demand can account for design choices that will be contradicting to other functional demands. And in practice we see a lot of speakers that sound well but are not shaped in a way to please the eye and even worse: vice versa. If we would trust our instincts instead of just letting go the relationship between looks and performance, we need a better explanation for the divorce instead of the happy marriage. This problem could very well be a symptom of, or better: a clear sign of the existence of contradictions mentioned earlier in functional loudspeaker design. The understanding of this concept is in fact the foundation of Aequo Audio’s conceptual design. It is making the right choices for a good relationship between the two. For better explanation let us start with a sum of such demands, then continue to zoom in on the possible contradictions between them, and finally shift to what design choices accompanied with the right technology do deliver the goods on all fronts and ensure staying happily married forever.

Functional demands of loudspeakers with consequences for size and form

  • Listening height: something we must consider to give a realistic and comfortable presentation of sound (and stage) at the right height.
  • Functional mounting space: room for fitting capable transducers/drivers in the cabinet to deliver the full sound spectrum properly.
  • Sensitivity/amp matching: often many, or large drivers are needed to get high enough sensitivity and 8 ohms nominal loads to work with all amplifiers.
  • Directivity: Mounting drivers in the right direction (with respect to the directivity of each driver)
  • Volume size: having the right enclosure volume matching with each driver.
  • Diffraction: effects of sound resonance from edge to edge on the outside surfaces of the speaker.
  • Indirect sound from cabinet: sound bouncing from the source driver to the surface of the speaker and then to the ear, arriving a fraction late in time (out of phase with the original sound).
  • Interaction as an object with the room: resonances between the point of sound output and a wall or corner, or just that of sound resonating between walls and a speaker surface.
  • Point Source or homogeneity of multiway speakers: music and multichannel material are recorded with loudspeakers to operate as a single point source each, not matter how many drivers (ways) they need to do the job.
  • Mechanical capabilities: a solid construction of the speaker cabinet and mounted parts, without unwanted cabinet resonance.
  • Construction complexity: what is the simplest way to get the right size and form or shape, to meet all demands as well as possible.

Contradictions

If some of us had their way, the only high-end speakers of the future would maybe end up as something like two small spheres hanging in the room with unlimited full range capabilities. Or they disappeared at all, but without the suffering that accompanies today’s in-wall and on-wall speakers: poor soundstage and imaging because of all the indirect sound coming from so many surfaces in close proximity of the driver/source,  plus a serious construction project to have it installed in case of in-wall speakers.

Speaking for all of us that still love to see a real speaker in the room: even a hardcore high end enthusiast that enjoys the view of his loudspeaker must accept it has to fit in the room without his spouse filing for divorce. It must be proportional to the room itself and to other furniture. Hence: if the room is not dedicated to listening only, it should not be in the way both practically and visually speaking. Instead, it should be considered a piece of art to look at, adding value to the room for all its users. A design is needed that isn’t compromising size for full range dynamics or vice versa. A design that doesn’t compromise soundstage if not placed unrealistically far from rear walls. For most domestic environments this means it must be compact and still it doesn’t compromise technology for usability. Or performance for looks and feel. It has room for the right drivers and parts, and at the right direction and at the right height. As if that is too much to ask and you need big bulky speakers if you want enough inside room and a sturdy cabinet that doesn’t add any unwanted sound. And they will be in your way to get them right. That is the gestalt of the first main contradiction to start with.

Design choices that work on both fronts

Unlike sports cars, where looks, feel and performance of certain models have gone hand in hand for decades, in Hifi we have just only left the era of plain rectangular boxes. One can say this is only because of the very different type of performance in speakers versus automobiles and thus no need for aerodynamics in loudspeakers, but one would be wrong. Every 90-degree corner and sharp edge at the wrong place can lead to sound resonance due to diffraction. Wavelengths with the size from edge to edge will be pronounced. More indirect sound will be added. Ideally sound should slide over the loudspeaker evenly and untouched. Just like an aerodynamic car sliding through the air and using its shape to overcome problems. And only there were diffraction effects can be used as a correction for certain shortcomings, such should be implemented just like spoilers and diffusors on cars are used to overcome lack of grip and unwanted lift. Actually, what one should say or point out on this topic is the fact that not only outside aerodynamics count in speakers, but also those inside the cabinet. Parallel walls mean inside resonances of specific wavelengths/frequencies. Even more reasons for a better looking curve instead of the dull plain boxy lines! And as in a usable sports car, the designer should try to get it right without too much ugly add-ons while also providing enough space for performance parts, a view through the windshield and space for the big gripping wheels to fit. And at the same time a curved loudspeaker cabinet panel is much stiffer automatically, and less prawn to panel resonances.  See where this is going and how it matches your instincts about form following function as for it being something that actually results in beautiful instead of boxy, bulky and ugly?

Fixing the remaining contradictions

Let’s stay with the car/speaker metaphor for just a bit more and take a look at the back of a Porsche 911. For decades, it is unchanged in being elegant and curvy, while providing enough room for big rear wheels at a wide enough span for proper handling and also loading a powerful engine in its low rear not rising the center of gravity. The engine can provide enough power being fitted in that limited space, because of refined technology that made the famous rear shape possible: a low profile and compact 6 cylinder boxer engine, made with special materials enabling high rev power from small displacement or even more so when fitted with a turbocharger. This technology enabled Porsche to bring a beautiful design with high performance without throwing just more cubic inches under a longer and higher lid or hood. Aequo Audio has put enormous in-house R&D efforts in getting the right technology, materials and production facilities to do something very similar. Technology to get the full range bandwidth from a smaller speaker. Materials for a compact, non-resonant cabinet without the need of extremely thick walls. A special 20 ton press to form different layers of wood into super precise and ultra-stiff curved panels. Further technology was developed to allow speakers to throw a holographic soundstage even when setup in problematic room positions and/or acoustically poor rooms. And also allowing bass adjustments for different sized rooms and positioning near walls or corners, without the need of digital sound processing.

Size and form of the Ensis loudspeaker and its enabling technology

The unique design of the Ensis cabinet, best described as a three-dimensional music note, is a compact slim shape that holds three powerful transducers at the right place. Two high sensitivity passively driven, high sensitivity drivers for mid and high frequencies are placed very close together and at the right listening height and direction.  A long excursion, active 10 inch subwoofer is placed very low and coupled to the floor, facing enough to the front for its directivity and to keep from turning to walls with optimized toe-in positioning of the speakers. The music note tilts back to time-align all drivers to the listening position. In house developed ARPEC™ technology is added to the subwoofer to ensure a full and dynamic reproduction of the lowest octave, without the need of a larger enclosure or an ugly separate subwoofer cluttering the room. It also allows analog adjustment for room size and placement. The addition of a 500watt Ncore amp added to the mix further helps with less than easy or highly powerful amplifiers without the need of many or large and highly sensitive bass drivers. The ellipse shape of the vertical upper part of the music note is carefully chosen for the optimized travel of both internal as external sound waves. It is built with new state of the art materials, like the artificial stone front and finally evaluated with advanced resonance measurements to be optimized with Grey Matter Compound™ (in house developed non-toxic dampening compound three times heavier than granite stone). Diffraction is lowered further by rounded edges on the front and a rounded off and sloped top near the tweeter. The narrow baffle of less than 14cm wide prohibits indirect sound from the baffle and allow the speakers to shine in the “disappearing act”. The lower part of the enclosure is also round at the back for maximum strength and together with its angled sides, it completes the speaker’s avoidance of internal parallel walls and resonances associated with these, while giving more room than expected at first glance of the slim appearance. Without rear bass ports and with the positioning adjustments the speakers are easily placed. Addition of the EHDL™ tweeter system makes sure you have problem-free holographic soundstage and imaging performance in real domestic environments. The Ensis speakers are a perfect example of how form follows function can indeed result in perfect harmony between performance and beauty.

You must be logged in to leave a reply.