Hardware Reviews

Etude 5 BMR line array with attitude

Etude 5 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Etude 5 loudspeakers

Regular readers may recall Chris Beeching’s review of a rather unique speaker design called the Curvi BMR Mk2. The Curvi is designed and sold by materials scientist and former fellow and lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Christopher Liauw. The key feature of the Curvi BMR Mk2 is that it is based around a transmission line loaded BMR driver. BMR drivers have been around for a while and are famed for their wide dispersion and wide bandwidth. Despite such desirable characteristics, it is surprising that no mainstream speaker manufacturers use these drivers. Perhaps the reason is, as Chris Liauw suggests, that the precise mounting of the drivers is critical to getting optimum performance. Apparently it took much experimentation to find the optimum combination of damping materials for mounting the drivers between the plates, and this was crucial to realising the Etude 5’s full dynamics and accurate transient response.

Etude is the sister company to Curvi, with both coming under the umbrella of CML Music. There are two models in Etude’s range: the EHSB, a high-sensitivity speaker designed to complement SET tube amps, and the Etude 5, which requires more conventional amplification. Priced at £13,000, the Etude 5 is a transmission-line-loaded design based around four 85mm BMR drivers in a linear array alongside one of Scanspeak’s Ring Radiator tweeters. As if using BMR drivers is not an unusual enough feature, the design includes a pair of 220mm bass units mounted on either side of the cabinet in a force-cancellation cage. In a world of copycat designs, it is clear that Chris Liauw approaches speaker development from a refreshingly new angle. The BMRs are effectively full range drivers so do not require any restrictions from the crossover, the bass drivers are rolled in below 100Hz and the tweeter comes in above 6kHz.

Etude 5 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

The BMRs are mounted in a machined aluminium sub baffle and clamped around their circumference with a stainless steel bezel, this is what Chris Liauw means when he talks about precise mounting, it goes way beyond what you will see on the majority of loudspeakers at this price and above. The bass drivers are braced against one another in a force cancelling arrangement that means relatively little of the energy that gets into their chassis results in cabinet vibration. Both bass system and the BMRs share transmission line loading with the corners of the line are profiled with closed cell foam inserts, you can see the line’s vent at the bottom of the cabinet.

Design and build

I will get straight to the point and say that the finish of the Etude 5 is stunning. It was no surprise to discover that the cabinets were finished by a piano restoration company (Shackleford Pianos of Macclesfield). The cabinets are made from CNC-machined MDF with solid timber bracing. The Etude 5 is front-ported, which allows it to be placed surprisingly close to the rear wall for a large, floorstanding speaker, but those side-mounted bass units mean that they should not be sited close to side walls.

Etude 5 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Chris and his colleague Richard installed and fine-tuned the Etude 5s in my room and did an excellent job. The speakers were angled in towards my listening chair which allowed them to produce a strong central image without compromising soundstage width. Previous experience with a similar-looking tweeter from Scanspeak, that time in the Serhan Swift Mu2, produced a similarly wide soundstage, so its inclusion here would appear a good choice.

The Etude 5 has a single pair of binding posts, which I assume is due to the crossover design. There is a forged, 8mm steel plinth to the front of the speaker base and an outrigger paddle to the rear, under which three spikes are fitted – two at the front, one at the rear. My review pair was set up with cups between the spike and my carpeted concrete floor. Etude recommends and supplies an optional pair of Clip Audio Mute Point bases for those with suspended wooden floors, priced at £1,200 a pair.

BMR units are not the most efficient of drivers, so the sensitivity of the Etude 5 is rated at 85db. Despite this, I found the combination of the speaker’s clarity and dynamics meant that I did not need to wind up the volume level of my 125wpc Moon 600i amp exceptionally high compared to theoretically more sensitive speakers. The frequency response is quoted as 20Hz to 20kHz and Etude is happy to tweak the mid and high-frequency output to suit a potential customer’s room and system.

Etude 5 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Performance to match the finish

Although the Etude 5 impressed from the first few tracks, it took a few days for them to lose a slightly thin presentation that emphasised leading edges. As these days passed, the music gained meat on its bones, and the soundstage broke free of the speaker’s cabinets. Some tweaks made to my system with products from CAD further enhanced the system’s balance and helped them to deliver some superlative musical performances.

What characterises the Etude 5 is speed, clarity, detail, weight, and scale. There may be a slight emphasis on the lower frequencies in my room, at least, yet at no time did this interfere with the music, and it remained controlled. Vocals, when recorded so, were locked solid in the centre of a soundstage that possessed a depth, height and width that expanded well beyond the speakers themselves. The placement of instruments within the soundstage is well defined, yet not unnaturally spot-lit. BMR drivers are known for accurately portraying dynamics, and Etude’s design takes full advantage of this, it allows well-recorded music to sound alive and hold the listener’s attention. The way notes stop and start can be startling, but not unnaturally so unless you happen to play a recording that is mastered with an unnaturally thin and forward high-frequency balance.

Etude 5 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

 

A large transmission-line speaker with a large front port and two bass drivers should be expected to deliver a strong low-frequency performance, and the Etude 5 satisfies that expectation. The bass performance of the Etude 5 has all of the texture, dynamics, speed, depth, weight and control that I could wish for. Much of this bass weight and depth is available at surprisingly low volume levels but there is still fun to be had from increasing the volume levels, which allows the Etude 5 to show off its speed and dexterity, and lets the soundstage to expand to fill the room.

The Etude 5’s skills at the clever hi-fi stuff would be pointless if it failed to deliver a musical performance to match. Thankfully, this is something this speaker can deliver in spades. Having had Peter Gabriel’s new album i/o on heavy rotation (can one use such a term for a music file?) I was in the mood for some early Genesis. There is much discussion over the merits of the mastering of 2009 Genesis SACDs, they suffer from dynamic compression, and some of the later albums are overly bright. However, as replayed via the Melco N1, these SACD rips captivated me. So much so that I got through Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in one sitting. Through the Etude 5s, I experienced these well-known albums in a new light. The speaker’s timing qualities revealed polyrhythmic musical nuances, confirming this band’s virtuosity in their early seventies five-piece guise.

Etude 5 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Peter Gabriel’s i/o sounds marvellous via the Etudes, on lesser speakers, this album’s bass can be overwhelming, losing the definition and timing clues that make this album an engaging listen, especially the Bright Side mix, which ironically sounds murkier than the Dark-Side mix. The Etude 5 has no such issues and filled my room with a large, powerful, delicious sonic picture, whichever version of the album you choose to listen to.

Any high-resolution loudspeaker will reveal the imperfections of poorly produced or mastered program material. Surprisingly, although the Etude 5 tells you exactly how compressed and harsh Oasis or Fontaines D.C. albums sound, they do not emphasise the negatives or ruin the music. With my Moon equipment, at least, they have a softness of touch that prevents the music from descending into a disorganised mess. The prodigious bass output lays down a foundation for the music and keeps things balanced. The great thing about a potential purchase of the Etude 5 is that if the rest of your system is on the forward side, Chris Liauw can reduce the speaker’s high-frequency output by swapping a solderless resistor. The best thing is that doing so is reversible if you were to make future changes to the system or its environs.

Etude 5 loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Summing up

The Etude 5 is undoubtedly a speaker that I could live with. The pair look great in my room, the unique driver arrangement is a great talking point, and they deliver music in an engaging way. I will be genuinely sorry to see them leave. Whilst no £13,000 speaker can be considered cheap, a model from a well-known brand capable of delivering performance similar to the Etude 5 is likely to cost far more, especially if it comes from overseas. Chris Liauw and Etude deserve success with these speakers, and I look forward to following the brand’s progress. If you like your music full-bodied, fast, and dynamic and presented within a large, accurate soundstage, then I think you should give the Etude 5s a listen.

Specifications:

Type: Common Time Base transmission line loaded 3-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Crossover frequency: 100Hz (woofer roll-in), 6 kHz (tweeter roll-in)
Drive units:
Bass: 2x force cancelled 220mm drivers with 75mm voice coils
Mid/bass: 4x 85mm BMR drivers
Tweeter: 26mm (voice coil diameter) Scanspeak ring-radiator
Nominal frequency response:  20 – 20,000 Hz
Nominal/minimum impedance: 10 Ohms/3 Ohms
Sensitivity: 85dB @ 1W/1m
Connectors: single wire binding posts
Dimensions HxWxD: 1090 x 183 x 490mm (excluding plinth)
Weight: 43kg
Finishes: white or black piano lacquer standard, any RAL colour/colour match at extra cost.
Warranty: 5 years

Price when tested:
£13,000
Manufacturer Details:

Etude Loudspeakers
etude-speakers.com

Type:

floorstanding loudspeakers

Author:

Chris Baillie

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments