Updated: Dec 10, 2019
I've recently found that coming away from the norm with regards to speaker brands in the budget region have given by far the greatest rewards. Don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate the lengths that most speaker manufacturers go to to produce what they do, and many of them do it very well due to trickling down technology from R&D done for their flagship loudspeakers. But there are a number of manufacturers out there that get very little exposure outside of a small circle of hi-fi press favourites.
One such brand is Eclipse, whose approach is quite different to many other manufacturers. Firstly, their range consists entirely of loudspeakers using a single drive unit per 'box', and therefore no crossover. Secondly, they also dispose of the box as we know it, opting for a more teardrop shaped cabinet, which is just the tip of the iceberg - there are numerous benefits to this that I'll cover later.
One of the 'quality sapping' aspects of any conventional passive loudspeaker is the crossover. Consisting of numerous electronic components, this is a necessary part of any two-way design which provides a smooth crossover from the treble unit to the mid/bass unit, and is also used to tailor the response of the loudspeaker and address any "nasties". As Eclipse loudspeakers only use a single "full range" driver, the crossover is removed entirely, so any associated negative effects no longer exist. Another benefit is that it also removes any phase issues that are common with many two-way designs, which can suffer from lack of coherence between the drivers, particularly at the budget end of the market.
Those who appreciate the benefits of KEF's UniQ speaker array will more readily
appreciate what the Eclipse can do - whilst they won't have quite as wide a frequency response as the two-way, coincident KEF design, they bear very similar qualities. Having been a KEF user for many years, I'm quite attuned to the UniQ design and it's many benefits. With many two-way designs, once you start moving out of the sweet spot, the sound will change due to frequencies coming from two separate points of the loudspeaker - as the sound comes from a single point of the Eclipses, their sound will remain the same, which also means you can sit as close as you like to them, and it won't matter whether they're below or above ear level, their tonal balance will always remain the same.
Whilst the benefits of this design would still be apparent if using a conventional box
enclosure, why limit the many benefits of the single driver approach? Boxes tend to add all sorts of colourations unless massively braced, which considerably adds to the cost of the speaker both in materials and labour. With this in mind, Eclipse have chosen a shape which resembles a teardrop, or egg shape. The reasoning behind this is that it greatly reduces the number of directly opposing internal faces which massively reduces internal standing waves, which can colour the sound of the loudspeaker to a large degree. Any internal sound waves are quickly dispersed, also helped by internal damping material.
The TD508 MkIII may just look like a driver in a cabinet with a tabletop stand, but there's a lot of "invisible" tech under the proverbial bonnet. Normally, the cabinet would be the one item to which everything fixes - crossover and drivers, which then transmit vibrations through to the cabinet. In the case of Eclipse speakers, everything it attached to the internal "diffusion stay", as illustrated below. To this, a "mass anchor" is fixed, to which the driver is secured centrally from behind rather than around the edges of its chassis. This mass anchor and diffusion stay form part of the speaker stand rather than the cabinet, meaning that no vibrations from the driver itself are transferred to the cabinet, particularly as the driver itself only has an airtight seal between its edges and the cabinet. This increases the accuracy of the bespoke driver and allows it to perform exactly as it was designed.
One of the major benefits of smaller drivers is speed. High frequencies are reproduced by
very small drivers because of their ability to react and vibrate quick enough to properly reproduce these higher frequencies. A larger driver will struggle to produce accurate high frequencies because they're too big and heavy to respond quickly enough. Using a stiff, lightweight 8cm fibre glass driver, the TD508 MkIII is easily able to cover the higher range of human hearing. As mentioned in a previous review, our hearing is at its most sensitive between 2kHz-5kHz, and the more accurately you can reproduce this section of the frequency range, the more natural and realistic the resulting sound can and will be. Many speakers tend to "blur" the signal, due to having larger drivers that just aren't able to stop and start quick enough, or colourations and vibrations that are adding to the end result. These negative effects are more apparent in subwoofers, but the benefit of reducing these effects can also be appreciated virtually anywhere across the range of our hearing.
Not only is speed important, but the dispersion of sound from the driver can also have a huge impact on what we hear. The dispersion characteristics of conventional loudspeakers are usually affected by the front wall its enclosure - as Eclipse loudspeakers have no front baffle, they are free to disperse in uniform fashion throughout 360 degrees. This greatly improves their soundstage and their ability to work in a wide variety of rooms. I loaned them to a colleague who uses a pair of speakers at just over £2,000 per pair and uses DIRAC room EQ, and he said that the 508s sounded better even without EQ, were still digging out detail his speakers struggled to.
All of the above technology and attention to detail results in quite a different sound to
what many would be used to from the average pair of £1,000 loudspeakers, or indeed any conventional loudspeakers. The TD508 MkIIIs have a presence few speakers seem to be able to approach at this price point, with an immediacy I would usually associate with good active loudspeakers. Their effortless ability to project sound into a room is excellent, producing a very three dimensional soundstage, within which instruments are very accurately placed.
One thing that stands out with these speakers are the little details that tend to get lost with many other speakers. With every single track you care to expose them to - it doesn't matter how well you know it - you will hear something new, something you never knew existed before. They have an ability to draw your attention to details in a way that usually far more expensive speakers do. Even sounds that you already knew where there can sound a little different. The best way I can describe this is that due to their speed, Eclipse speakers are able to reproduce 'texture' more accurately, giving instruments a more natural and believable presence. I've even heard notes wavering or changing pitch very slightly, whereas before I always thought they were just single, flat notes. Many tiny details come across with such delicacy that it's hard to believe that you're listening to a cone and not a dome tweeter.
Due to the fast response rate of these speakers, the leading edge and decay of notes are
more accurately reproduced, meaning nothing is added. This also highlights samples used in music, particularly tiny vinyl-like crackles in some samples. Think you know albums like Fatboy Slim's You've Come A Long Way, Baby or Portishead's Dummy? Think again. Some artists sometimes add many layers to their vocal tracks (makes them sound better), and the Eclipse speakers aren't scared to inform you of the fact. Of all the speakers I've heard, these are probably the most "headphone like" in that respect. I'm sitting here listening to an album from one of my very favourite artists, Boards Of Canada, and I've already heard something in the second track of the album that I've never heard before.
In my experience, a great hi-fi speaker doesn't necessarily make a great AV speaker. With
the 508's benefits for music being so apparent, I was interested to see how that carries over to movies. I wasn't disappointed. Everything I've said for music stands for film soundtracks too. I've seen Don't Breathe for the fourth time this year, and tonight is the first time I'd ever heard it sound the way it did. Again, I was hearing things in the score I'd not heard before, and little things here and there. Their transparency just allows you to fall into the soundfield of the movie - and don't forget, this is just 2.1!
With Don't breathe and Fight Club being set in mostly small, reflective spaces, the 508s convey that, giving a great account of the acoustic space and also its size. Watching No Country For Old Men with the 508s made me aware (for the very first time) of a dripping tap in the background when Carson Wells visit Llewellyn Moss in hospital. I was also able to understand more of the dialogue in David Fincher's Zodiac, particularly the scene where Paul Avery and Robert Graysmith are having a conversation at the gun range. When Graysmith follows Bob Vaughn to his house, the scene where they arrive is shot from a camera situated in the porch at the entrance to the house. Heavy rain can be heard in a general sense, but I was also made aware of the heavier drops of water which will have been coming off the roof of the porch in the foreground, which were completely independent to the smaller drops of rain falling on the ground around and further away - there was a real sense of depth provided purely by the rain itself. I also witnessed this during Se7en. The insight these speakers provide - particularly taking into account they'll give you change out of £1,000 is astonishing.
I'm now extremely interested in hearing the more capable TD510 MkII model, as well as a full Eclipse 5.1 setup...
Not surprisingly, Eclipse are used by musicians and engineers worldwide, including Brian Eno, Michael Nyman, Morten Lindberg of 2L, and Simon Rhodes of Abbey Road studios. You only have to listen to Kraftwerk's Man Machine to hear how well they show off their strengths with electronic music - you just wouldn't think you were listening to a pair of £1,000 loudspeakers, let alone a pair with single, 8cm drivers. The insight into the recording is astonishing, and begs the question, how much better can it sound?
Any speaker design is one of compromise, and the small, single driver approach is no
exception. Bass depth is a little lacking, but to reproduce very low frequencies you need large cones to shift a lot of air. Specs for the TD508 MkIII state 52Hz at -10dB, which may initially sound a little 'bass light', but any solid room boundary will add 3-6dB to that figure, which isn't bad going for such a small driver and cabinet. Of course, a subwoofer can be added to bolster lower frequencies, if the need is felt, and because not just any sub will do, Eclipse produce a few subs of their own which have been designed with the aim of equaling the speed of their loudspeakers. Another drawback is that small, single driver speakers will always be less efficient than more conventional multi-driver alternatives, needing a few notches from your volume control. Whilst this may have been an issue 10-20 years ago, there are enough affordable high output amplifiers around nowadays to render this a non issue.
For looks and sound, Eclipse speakers won't be to everyone's taste, but their design is one
born out of function rather than form, but once you fall for what they do, it's hard not to like
them. Once experienced, their benefits and the resulting effect (or non effect) on sound quality becomes infectious, and a reference point for all others. Anyone looking for speed and detail retrieval need look no further at this price point. Add in their flexibility regarding placement and their integral stand being able to be used for wall/ceiling fixing, and it makes them an ideal choice for home theatre systems as well as hi-fi systems.
Source material from TIDAL and Spotify via Sonos Connect, and Bluray movies via an Oppo BDP103, both digitally connected to a Classe Sigma SSP pre-amplifier and Yamaha MXD1 power amplifier, connected with an AudioQuest Colombia interconnect and using AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cable. An SVS SB2000 was utilised for 2.1 movie and music listening.