By now, you’ve probably heard of the EMP Impression Series E5Ti speakers (the “i” stands for Impression and the “R” designation in the review title refer to the Red Burl finish on the review pair). They’ve pretty much taken the Internet by storm. EMP Tek, sister company to the well respected RBH Sound, has a history of great sounding speakers that get great reviews. What they usually don’t do well on is looks. Well, EMP has remedied that with the E5Ti’s. One glance at any of their pictures (professional or even the amateur ones in this review) will show gorgeous finishes with a stunning overall aesthetic. But that’s not what has sparked people’s interest. No, for that, you have to speak to their wallets.
At a $730 a pair asking price, you’ve got people doing double takes. They can’t help but re-check the pictures and the claimed specs. When they see that the introductory price is a mere $400 a pair, I’m wondering if EMP will have a class action lawsuit brought against them for either causing keyboard damage or head trauma as people faint with disbelief.
One problem I’ve never encountered with RBH or EMP speakers is packing deficiencies. Again this was the case. The EMP E5TiRs arrived individually boxed with large foam endcaps and a center rib. For a speaker that is only 35.5″ tall, that’s a lot of protection. Of course, they came in a cotton sock but they weren’t double boxed. While this would have added an additional layer of protection, in my opinion it would have been unnecessary with all the foam included. There was very little possibility that any damage that would have gotten past the other protection would have been stopped by an additional layer of cardboard.
Unboxing the speakers, I noted they came with a manual describing the entire Impression line including the E5Ti tower, the E5Ci center, E5Bi bookshelf, and ES10i sub. The speakers also came with a set up “jester cap” style of carpet spikes. These carpet spikes look as if they should come to a point but then end with a small ball. This will prevent much of the damage that you might incur from setting a sharp spike on your foot but also hampers the spike’s ability to penetrate your carpet (the true function of the spike). I’m not a huge fan of this type of spike but it seems that manufacturers are choosing this type more and more often these days. I was a bit disappointed that there was no option for hardwood or tile floors. Most speakers will come with two sets of feet (especially with a speaker with threaded inserts like the E5Tis) – one a spike for carpets and a second with a rubber tip for harder floors.
As soon as they come out of the sock, you’re going to be amazed by the finish. The Red Burl is glossy and handsome and frankly, quite stunning. While a very close inspection will reveal a few imperfections including splash over of the stain on the brass threaded inserts on the bottom and some dimpling on the surface, you can spend your whole life with them an not notice. In a darkened room, they will be flawless. Frankly, at a $730 a pair (never mind $400) asking price, a few imperfections are to be expected. One thing that I didn’t quite understand was some of the QA issues I found. While finish blemishes can be forgiven, there were some fit and finish issues that might affect sound quality. Case in point was the tweeter on one of the speakers. While it looked flush to the eye, if I ran my finger across it I could tell that one edge was slightly recessed while the other was slightly elevated. This means that the tweeter was actually pointed slightly to one side which can certainly affect the sound quality of the speaker.
Once you get past the finish of the speaker (which is gorgeous), the first thing you’ll notice is its size – It’s small. At only 35.5″ tall, this is a speaker which places the tweeter well below ear level. Most manufacturers (Dynaudio not included) will aim for keeping the tweeter as close to ear height (when seated) as possible. Most speakers measure the best somewhere between the tweeter and the mid (which in this speaker is about 30″ off the ground). Unless you own some ultra-modern low to the ground furniture, bean bags, or maybe you’ve got the whole traditional Japanese mats or Indian pillow thing going on, you’re going to be seated quite a bit above that. This means that you’ll either have to live with it as is, tilt the speaker back, or raise it up. I’ve heard suggestions to invest in aftermarket outriggers (not a bad idea in general as you’ll see in a bit) but unless they are outrigger stilts, they aren’t going to be high enough. You’re going to need about 6-8″ and I’ve never seen an outrigger set that high (though you might want to check the discussion thread for this review as I’m sure someone out there will find one just to prove me wrong).
The speaker is designed like many I’ve seen in recent years with a wide front baffle, a smaller rear panel, and a gentle curve to the sides. There are many sonic reasons for this (internal standing waves being the most prominent) but structurally, it is not one of my favorite designs. Frankly, the smaller rear panel makes it so that the speaker just isn’t as stable as it could be. No matter how much I messed with the carpet spikes, I couldn’t get it to sit as solidly as I’d like. I don’t think this was due to anything other than the shape of the cabinet. Here is where aftermarket outriggers (like the Soundocity ones reviewed a while back) would come in handy. They’d give you a bit of extra height. Plus they’d add some much needed stability to the E5Ti speakers. Unfortunately most aftermarket outriggers would bump up the cost of the speaker by nearly 50%. Fortunately, that still wouldn’t get the $400 E5Ti back up to its full MSRP!
The front baffle of the speaker is black and extra thick while the rest sports of veneered finish. There are two 6.5″ poly-matrix woofers, a 5.25″ aluminized poly-matrix midrange (with a true phase plug), and a 1″ fabric dome tweeter under a dedicated screen. The driver compliment alone belies the price of these speakers. Usually, at sub-$1000, phase plugs are for show only and move in and out with the driver. This, however, was a real phase plug. From the front, the speaker really has a very impressive appearance. The only mar to this is a pair of screws near the bottom of the front baffle that are uncovered. If the grille had covered them, the grille would have had to take up the entire front of the speaker – a look to which I am not partial. While the screw head is black and near the bottom, I did notice it right away. I wish EMP had found a way to cover this for a more uniform finish.
The grille is very sturdy for its size. While I generally see plastic grille frames at this price point, the E5Tis instead have an MDF frame. This is only a bit heavier than the plastic but much MUCH sturdier. The grille posts are plastic but hold very securely. The grille is easy to remove and replace and the connection point is secure enough that I never worried about them falling off even with heavy jostling. There is a small EMP logo on the bottom of the grille which is the only branding on the front of the speaker. With a speaker that looks as good as this one does with the grille off, I’m surprised that EMP didn’t include some branding under the grille. Hey, you’ve got those two big black woofers, how ’bout you grab some whiteout and color in your name?
The back of the speaker is, as mentioned, smaller than the front. There is a port at the very bottom with two pairs of binding posts in a plastic case just above. This is all pretty standard until you take a look at the sticker on the binding posts. It informs you that you are NOT to use the dual binding posts for bi-amping and that doing so would damage your speakers. Well, then what are they for? We here at Audioholics have long maintained that the only reason for bi-wiring speakers is if you wish to add to the coffers of your favorite wire manufacturer. My guess (and I may be wrong) is that the dual binding post plates are in much more demand and therefore are cheaper than the single pair plates. Frankly, I think that EMP is setting themselves up for some complaints as guys, in general, don’t read stickers on the back of their speaker much less the directions. Once these speakers start changing hands, you’re going to run into a lot of these that have been bi-amped to death.
Even before the review was undertaken we had decided to replace the dual pairs of binding posts with a single pair to reduce confusion and to eliminate the possibility of damage that Tom mentioned. Units that have already shipped will still have the dual pairs and we remind owners to heed the warning on the speaker and in the manual and bi-wire only, do not bi-amp.
Taking apart the speaker, you’ll find a bit sturdier cabinet than what you would expect at this price point. The box (sans the extra thick 1 inch front baffle) is constructed out of 1/2″ MDF. There is a dedicated box behind the midrange that is stuffed full of polyfill which also serves as a brace since it’s connected to the side walls of the cabinet. There is an O brace between the woofers which is concealed by the damping material. There are several wedges placed strategically around the edges of the cabinet for further shoring up.
There is minimal insulation within the box with a few pieces glued to the edges. The port is only flared on the outside. The woofers are a bit light for their size with stamped baskets and modest magnet structures. None of this is really a slam against the speaker as this is basically either at or above the level you’d expect in a $730 tower speaker. The crossover is a second order asymmetrical design that utilizes a mixture of steel and air core inductors and polypropylene and electrolytic capacitors. There is definitely some cost cutting here but you would be surprised at the lower grade parts we’ve found in some very well known brands costing 2-3 times more than the retail price of these speakers. At least EMP utilized the better parts where it matters most, the mids and highs.