There’s no getting away from it, I have been on a great run recently. Since earlier in the year I have been spoilt rotten with the quality of the equipment that has passed through my hands. It has also been an instructive experience as I took active steps to rebuild my home system from the base up after several lengthy conversations with the editor. His notion that conventional system-building wisdom was somewhat skewed had intrigued me for some time but as ever, it was only when we found ourselves in the same room, at the same time and with all the required hardware that I fully understood the musical reality of what he had been getting at. Someone can tell you something a thousand times, but they only have to show you once and you either get it or you don’t. Audio, like life, is about learning and I’ve learned a lot this year.
This brings me to the Eben C1. This is a small, beautifully proportioned and finished loudspeaker, designed literally from the ground up. I often ask myself why any loudspeaker manufacturer would make a standmounted speaker without designing the stand as well? They all know that you can kill performance by using the wrong support and any company that leaves the choice of stand to the dealer or customer is gambling with variable consistency and performance. The C1 comes with its own stand, one that is cleverly conceived yet apparently breaks quite a few “rules” along the way. We are talking about resonance control again and these stands incorporate several interesting ideas. The top and base sections are of MDF while the arched support is formed from plywood and the bracing strut is a hollow aluminium shaft. The base contains four loosely coupled, radiused rod and cup feet, while the speaker is decoupled from the top of the stand by small felt topped discs supported on captive ball bearings.
The stands are very light and you could easily hold them both in one hand. They also allow the speakers to sway back and forth – alarmingly so if you adhere to the high-mass, highrigidity school of thought. But Eben believe in low-mass, lightweight designs with low stored energy that won’t sap dynamics. They point out that no matter how hard you try, the speakers will always move, so controlling critical resonance is actually more important. That way you don’t rob energy from distinct bands within the musical spectrum – or even worse, feed it back in after some delay. So much for the theory, in practice the result is a sense of speed and solidity that seems quite at odds with the speakers’ flexible perch – more so than even the heaviest stands provide. As always, reconciling what you see with what you are hearing is never less than fascinating and quite often mind-blowing as yet another audio taboo bites the dust.
The cabinet is small but exquisitely finished with a tapering boat-back and a smoothly flared, rear facing port. The two-piece baffle is made from 20mm aluminium, with each driver assembled directly onto its rear face, eliminating the conventional spider and its fixings. The top, back and sides are of MDF. The mechanics and diaphragm of the ribbon tweeter are the same as those found in other Eben designs, only here the shallow recess that loads the driver is precision machined into the baffle face. It is designed as a sealed unit, constrained around its edge and offers remarkable clarity and bandwidth with none of the associated beaming problems often found in ribbons.
The bass/mid unit is fascinating, also completely designed and built in-house. Having spent several months with the C1 I have to say that I believe it to be one of the world’s great drivers. Again this is built straight onto the baffle and is a low-mass design that finds the magnet transformed from a single ring at the rear of the cone to an array of Neodymium rod magnets separated from the chassis by soft-iron sections and placed in front of and behind the voice coil in a patented, push/pull arrangement. The rear of the driver is left completely open and this means that there is no reflection back into the cone and far less mechanical or thermal compression. The whole driver has been stripped back to the bare essentials, the cage replaced by stand-offs in the effort to further eliminate reflective surfaces.
The cone itself starts life as aluminium alloy but undergoes plasma electrolysis to create a ceramic/aluminium sandwich in which fully two-thirds of the material has been converted to ceramic. This (again) patented approach helps to preserve the integrity of the cone shape, always difficult with all-ceramic cones due to problems inherent in the cooling process. Eben were looking for a true pistonic driver with minimal reflection and resonance from the surrounding superstructure, and it doesn’t take an awful lot of listening to realize that this is exactly what they’ve achieved – or just how important it is.
Two-way stand-mount designs of this size can often be impressive and the best are extremely articulate and tight. With no real low frequency extension to trouble them they should be explicit and detailed as well as delivering a sharp sense of focus. Many will have a fair amount of mid/bass driver compression, giving them a punchy character and their small cabinets will minimize enclosure effects and resonance, leaving them somewhat dry sounding but always fast and fun. The best will leave you with the impression that they defy the laws of physics with both their low frequency abilities and their sense of scale. But the C1 is a new breed of small loudspeaker, in that it doesn’t require you to make any allowances for its size. A lack of very low bass is the only obvious limitation, because in all other areas this Eben is a totally world-class performer worthy of comparison with other designs at just about any price. At the heart of its powers you will find a balance, integration and musical coherence that is stunning. There is no sense of any discontinuity through the crossover area, or of the tweeter being an individual unit. The weird looking, slab-like crossover components – all handbuilt and hardwired with Nordost cable – keep the music whole and focussed, but with a sense of instrumental continuity, separation and dynamic independence that is mesmerizing. Eben speakers have always excelled in the fine resolution of micro-dynamics and the C1 has taken this to a completely new level, making it the most revealing speaker of pure musicianship I have heard. Phrasing is at the heart of so much that makes a great player. You can teach a novice how to play a six-note sequence, but understanding how that line can be shaped and phrased can take years. For a master musician, fine changes can be channelled through the instrument to project your feelings and convert them to lyrical expression. Resolving the subtleties of phrasing is one major area that separates great systems from good systems.