If a new product is exciting news for a reviewer then one from a brand-new company is even more so. Coppice Audio was officially launched at the UK Hi-Fi Show in Daventry last year where they showed pre-production samples of the floorstanding X2 and the two-way standmount X1 on test here.
The most striking thing about this little box is the carpentry, and that’s hardly surprising since its creators are from a woodworking background. So, none of your nasty laminated MDF here. What we have is solid timber, and home-grown in Malvern at that. But the company’s roots (pun intended) have a rather interesting twist.
Talking to Mal and Ryan, the guys behind Coppice, it becomes clear that, initially at least, they did not approach their loudspeaker design from a purely acoustic perspective. “We are both carpenters and joiners by trade”, I am told. “Primarily, we wanted to utilise the three-acres of woodland that we have in Malvern and were inspired by an online video ‘Growing Furniture’ about a business that took a sapling, trained and grafted the branches together to form the shape of a chair from one piece of wood.
“We wanted to use this same technique to make our own product as we both enjoy music and my colleague, Ryan, is a keen music producer,” explains Mal. The pair therefore decided to ‘grow’ some speaker stands, based on a combination of the chair technique and traditional coppicing. That’s how the name Coppice Audio originated, and the speakers came about when the duo realised that they would need their own model to fit the stands. The company was born.
“I have had some experience in building speakers in the past” Mal tells me. “So, for the first year, we researched various drivers and honed some designs using the standard MDF for the prototypes. All along though, we knew that we wanted to use solid wood: as joiners, our skills lie with working with real wood and using MDF with our bespoke stands would have been a crime!”
Using nature’s bounty wasn’t as easy as first appeared though. “We quickly learned that there’s a reason why most speakers are made with MDF as we spent year two working with a designer, and experimenting with different woods and damping, until we were satisfied that we had overcome the many issues. All cabinets ‘colour’ the sound to some degree and, although MDF has many advantages, it does have its own distinct sound. By using real woods, we can offer something different which is a much higher quality than veneered fibreboard. A loudspeaker is a prominent item which takes pride of place in any audiophile’s listening room and, given a choice, they probably wouldn’t have MDF furniture!
“With regard to how they sound, we initially wanted something that just sounded ‘good’”, I’m assured. “However, once we started, it became very apparent that Ryan has very good ears and, as a producer, could hear issues with the first designs that I did not notice”, adds Mal. So, it was not until we got to the current version of the X1, that he was happy with the sound; so ultimately we ended up with a speaker that we are both very pleased with and are happy to let people hear.”
The result has made the most of Ryan’s music production skills and the pair’s joinery business to set the level for sound quality. Those bespoke cabinets are expensive to produce, with a pair of X1 cabinets taking two-days to build. This affects the sale price but Coppice have made the conscious decision not to scrimp on material costs at the expense of sound quality.
Using home-grown timber also brought some unique problems, the first being movement. That’s been resolved by building a small kiln to reduce the moisture content, the timber used is either air-dried or kiln-dried already and usually has a moisture content of 12-15%; this is then reduced to around 6-8% before the inside of the cabinet is sealed to prevent moisture absorption through the port.
In the X1, a pair of highly-respected drive units are combined: the 25mm (1-inch) fabric-dome tweeter with neodymium magnet, and a 165mm (6.5-inch) high excursion, coated-paper cone in a rubber surround, are both from the Peerless catalogue. 99.9% purity copper wire with polyethylene sleeving is used to make point-to-point connections in the crossovers which use Sonicaps, Miflex copper capacitors and Erse air core inductors.
The cabinets, possibly the most interesting part, are handmade from 22mm thick solid ash although other hardwoods are available; all timber is local and sustainably sourced. The sturdy cabinets have a slot port on the rear and are well braced with a double layer of damping material to minimise cabinet resonances.
Jason Kennedy first heard the X1 at the Daventry show and, knowing my penchant for natural-sounding speakers which aim to add nothing to the mix, felt sure I’d appreciate the sound. He wasn’t wrong.
Having heard what must have been thousands of loudspeaker incarnations over the years, it takes just a few notes of ‘real’ music or speech for me to know if I’m going to enjoy the sound. With the X1 it was clear from the off that this was a loudspeaker intended to allow the listener to hear what the recording engineer intended: nothing added and as little as possible taken away.
Attaching them to my faithful Hegel H190 integrated amp/DAC/streamer, the Coppice X1was perched on some suitable stands and placed only a few inches away from the rear wall. In time, I moved them to a slightly more ‘free space’ position, about a foot from the rear wall, to improve rendition of human voice and remove a hint of chestiness.
First up was Five Guys Named Moe from Louis Jordan, not my usual repertoire but BBC Radio 3 were in jazz mode when I first connected the already run-in speakers. Jordan was a hit with American troops during World War Two; understandable since he sang mainly about eating, drinking and chasing women. Sonically, the presentation was near faultless, with artists arranged across a believable soundstage with decent depth, width and height. There was more bass than I was expecting from the cabinet size, while detail was sublime and that all-important midrange and presence region (circa 5kHz) allowed the vocals to cut through the mix. I just sat back and enjoyed the music from a loudspeaker that seemed to be doing everything right with this repertoire.
On to more familiar territory for me was Buxtehude’s cantata Ad Faciem. Illustra faciem tuam (from Membra Jesu nostril – BuxWV75). Wow! The amazing resonance of the recording venue was portrayed such as to make the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. Then, the sheer intimacy of the voices brought a warm glow to my heart in a way I’ve not experienced from more analytical speakers. Here, indeed, is a design intended to involve the listener in the performance, envelop even. I wanted more and found myself listening for considerably longer than originally intended.
Later in the day, the BBC treated us to a live performance of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3, op. 69, probably the most famous and best-loved of his five. The full force of this expansive work was admirably portrayed by the X1s; that syncopated scherzo before the most ebullient of his finales was just a joy to behold via the Coppice two-ways. I felt transported to the venue, the reproduction was so believable. Surely, I have heard Peerless drive units combined before? But never like this. That hand-crafted, locally-grown cabinet was turning off-the-shelf drivers into something rather special, aided by the well-honed crossover, of course.
The listener is treated to a wonderful detail and clarity: a sense that you’re hearing exactly what the sound engineer and producer want you to. The high-end is perfectly rendered, while the mid-tones are also well represented, resulting in an excellent performance across the majority of the frequency range. Here is a loudspeaker effortlessly capable of a pleasingly ‘open’ sound that fills the room with a beautifully cohesive 360-degree soundstage, allowing for precise steering of effects that remain tonally balanced as they move from speaker to speaker. Imaging is spot-on as well.
The rear letterbox port allows for good control as opposed to the chuffing effect from some circular ports. There was a lower LF response than I expected but, yet, incredible detail that creates a genuine sense of location. A key requirement of a decent loudspeaker is to make an acoustic instrument sound natural, as it would if one were in the concert hall or recording studio; I am happy to report that, in this regard, the X1 scored extremely highly. With Bill Evans’ Peace Piece, the piano really does sound like, well, a piano. The free-form composition contains many discordant notes in the latter half and yet all its meditational quality was retained and brought to my listening room in a most pleasing manner that had my feet tapping and brought a smile to my face. That’s what a properly designed loudspeaker should achieve.
It was on material that for many loudspeakers is their nemesis that the X1 revealed its true talents: human voice. From modern-day radio drama to tried and trusted recordings that I know by heart (including Helena Bonham-Carter in Private Lives; Dame Judi Dench in Hay Fever; and David Suchet as the inimitable Poirot), the midrange was as natural as anyone could wish for, devoid of all-too-common artefacts of nasality, sibilance or boxiness. Full marks to the designers here again.
The creators of the X1 may be new to loudspeaker design but they’ve managed to pull it off. Here we have not only a beautifully-crafted cabinet which is a delight to have in the room, but sonic abilities which surpass those created by many long-standing brands. For me, that superbly neutral midrange is a delight, while the bass response is an added bonus. Treble, from that soft-dome tweeter, is in perfect proportion and wonderfully detailed: not edgy or overly bright as can be the temptation for some designers. The overall balance is one of slight warmth with the wonderful ability to transport the listener to the performance venue.
The overall sound quality is sublime, creating a truly believable presentation which maintains the recording engineer’s intentions. Too many loudspeakers try to ‘add’ to the sound, and far too many seem to lose vital qualities of good recordings. Not the X1, thankfully. Also skilfully ignored is the all-too-common habit of an overly-forward presentation which makes for a most unnatural rendition to my mind.
Having enjoyed the little X1s immensely, I am looking forward to future designs from Coppice Audio. What started out as a simple forestry project has quickly grown into something much bigger, and it has not taken the designers long to work on a tower design to compliment the X1; they now have the X2 and upcoming X3 in progress. Can’t wait.