I’ve always liked geography and enjoy learning about the associations certain countries have with certain people, products and pastimes. Switzerland is known for its banks and timepieces. France has grapes: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, among many. Germany has Beethoven, Porsche and BMW. Canada has hockey, forests, tundra… and loudspeakers. It wasn’t always so.
It would take the cooperative efforts of several other audio firms and the Canadian National Research Council (NRC) to bring it and fellow concerns such as Energy, Mirage, Paradigm and PBS into the high-end mainstream. In 1977, the Canadian National Research Council (NRC) announced it would be hosting a study to determine the measurable parameters people associate with good-sounding speakers. The study ran to 1986, and several Canadian loudspeaker manufacturers, including Energy, participated. According to Energy, “flat frequency response, wide dispersion and low distortion consistently scored high during listening trials.”
The history of Energy speakers goes back to 1973, but the company’s defining moment came nearly a decade later, in 1982, when Energy introduced the two-way Pro 22 loudspeaker. This component aimed for the clearly defined ideals of the NRC study and was the result of Energy’s “quest to build a perfect speaker.” The Pro 22 struck a sonic nerve and was soon serving as reference for the NRC and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A long production run followed before the Pro 22 evolved into the Connoisseur 22 and the Reference Connoisseur 22.
In 2008, the Connoisseur Series received an overhaul. Energy’s proprietary Convergent Source Module (CSM) were added to every Connoisseur product. The CSM places the tweeter and midrange or woofer together in a single unit, a design to improve dispersion and cancel driver interference. As well, Energy employed its Ribbed Elliptical Surrounds on the woofers. According to Energy, “This technology allows the drivers to perform with lower distortion and greater output, compared to the traditional half-roll surrounds that most competitors offer. Additional benefits include increased excursion and larger piston area, allowing for greater efficiency.” These very notable improvements have carried over to every Connoisseur currently offered, including Energy’s CF-50s.
The CF-50s ($400 each) are the middle-class floor-standing loudspeakers of Energy’s Connoisseur Series. The Connoisseur line includes three floor-standers, three bookshelf speakers, two center channel speakers, two subwoofers and a rear surround. They are offered in pairs or bundled in home theater packages and sold directly on Energy’s website, www.energy-speakers.com. Energy’s parent company, Klipsch Group, informed me that Magnolia Home Theater – Best Buy’s own high-end store – will be carrying the Connoisseurs this May.
The CF-50s are mid-size, 2.5-way bass-reflex loudspeakers, standing a shade over 38 inches high and sitting on 1-inch feet coupled with thin foam padding. They are a skinny 7.1 inches wide and 14.6 inches deep. Three 5.5-inch woofers with ribbed elliptical surround and tapered crossovers are employed in a linear vertical array, along with a 1-inch hyperbolic aluminum dome tweeter. A front-firing port sits beneath the lower woofer for bass extension. Above the port are two independent woofers, topped by Energy’s CSM, where the upper woofer and tweeter are “joined” to work essentially as a single driver.
Crossover occurs at 2kHz and 1.2kHz. Frequency response is fairly wide, from 39Hz to 20kHz and the CF-50s have an in-room efficiency of 96dB and are recommended for use with amplifiers ranging from 20 to 250 watts. Pairs of gold-plated 5-way binding posts enable bi-wiring or bi-amping. A black ash finish, removable floating grilles and high-gloss black baffle give the speakers a stylish and sophisticated look, but judging from Energy’s website and its Gonzo graphics and images, the target market is 20-somethings looking for power and high-amped fun.
A few days after letting the speakers break in (Energy recommends 100 hours), I was ready for active listening. Expecting a blast of turbo-charged treble, the CF-50s instead produced balanced, clean and detailed sound without noticeable coloration or a hint of exaggerated frequencies. Energy’s aim for flat-on axis frequency response seemed right on to me. While most speakers invariably tend toward highs or lows, the Energy’s seemed composed and committed to the bigger picture.
It always seems to happen when I’m reviewing speakers that unexpected moments have the greatest impact. With the CF-50s it came from FM Rock Radio and Journey’s “Send Her My Love.” My old Sansui T-60 tuner lit up with five bars as it locked onto my local classic rock station. I heard the tell-tale hi-hat cymbal beat that brings the song in and I slowly turned up the volume as the song gets progressively intense. I saw this version of Journey, live in 1983, and the sound coming from the CF-50s was eerily close to that live performance. The music had the energy (no pun intended), depth and drive of that gig.
For an actual live performance I went to the recent Eagle Rock release Live At Knebworth, a double-disc set from the 1990 show that brought Tears For Fears, Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Status Quo, Robert Plant, Genesis, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd together to raise money for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Charity and the Brit School for Performing Arts. With that loaded roster, the performance that knocked me out was Tears For Fears’ take on “Badman’s Song.” This soulful rendering brings R&B, Latin percussion and rock and roll into a fevered 11-minute celebration. Knowing the band battled high winds and rain as they blew the top off, the impact is even greater. Dynamic and bold presentation via the CF-50s.
Moving to vinyl, I grabbed a couple LPs: 1982′s The John Lennon Collection and Crosby, Stills & Nash Demos, a Rhino Records collection of previously unreleased demos from 1968-71. The Lennon Collection is a greatest hits comp of the former Beatles’ solo works. The original recordings are flawed sonically, with a haze and murkiness that led to later remastering. Still, songs such as “Mind Games” and “Love” are musical gems that can’t be denied. The CF-50s exposed the sonic deficiencies yet did an excellent job of imaging and painting a coherent picture.
Demos, by contrast, is a set of nakedly pure recordings, often showcasing the song’s writer as he works through the unfinished landscape of the tune. The bare-bones version of David Crosby’s “Deja Vu,” with its crystalline guitar lines and Crosby’s earthy vocals sounded in-room live. Arpeggios and harmonics rang and decayed with startling realism. At the end, Crosby scats the vocal line, finding the harmony where words haven’t yet been found, and his voice resonates with breath and personality. Again, the CF-50′s imaging and life-like presentation captivated me.
The CF-50s carry the legendary Energy name in convincing fashion. I’ve heard few components that I would describe as neutral and fewer speakers. For $800/pair, the CF-50s offer dynamic yet controlled sound that doesn’t grate on the ear or the wallet. For the price and performance they’re easily recommended.