These realisations are certainly not the sole responsibility of the speaker, and you’ll also need the right electronics and installation if you want to explore this aspect of music, but few designs are as sensitive to the subtleties of these shifts as this Eben. This is due, in part, to the speaker’s uncanny quietness. Low noise floors are usually applied to electronics but the C1 has an inky black quality to its backgrounds that leave the music sounding even more vivid and colourful. There is no other speaker of this size, in my experience, that comes close to being able to show tonal colour with anything like this complexity and texture. Resolution is tremendous too, right across the impressive bandwidth and from front to back, where the C1 opens deep, wide soundstages, completely out of the box and rock solid. The lack of compression is at the heart of so much that they do. Large scale instruments, mixes and orchestral works never present a problem to that driver, and even when you give it a lot of work to do it always seems to have reserves in hand and the uncanny ability to allow complex pieces of music, brimming with dynamic detail and tonal variety, ample headroom and freedom. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at the size of that unit and wondered how it can cope. Although, to some extent it lives in the shadow of the remarkable mid/bass driver, the ribbon tweeter is the unsung hero of the design. As well as phenomenal articulation and a total absence of harshness it has remarkable high frequency extension and never draws attention to itself for a moment. I much prefer this shallow baffle loading to the deeper, horn-type that I have heard on other Ebens. Here it has real freedom to breathe and while it may lack the sheer air and obvious sparkle of Focal’s Beryllium tweeter, it has a very natural feel to it and is equally dynamic and textural. Then there is the amazing integration that Eben have achieved in this speaker – and that elevates it to another level completely.
The bass is nothing less than astonishing, both in extension and quality. It is fast and dynamic yet tremendously stable and again, focussed. Its sense of pitch and colour are extraordinary for a speaker of this size and are better than many speakers I have heard with far greater internal volumes. Even if you are into the wildest slapped bass funk you won’t feel let down. In the bass, as throughout the bandwidth, the C1 is endlessly detailed and it can punch hard or be extremely close and intimate, full of the most delicate musical nuance and flavour. But, like all speakers, they are a slave and an open window to the system. This is a truly exceptional design of brilliant potential, but like other great audio components it is the easiest thing in the world to make it sound bad. Stick it on the end of an inappropriate, poorly thought out system and you will certainly wonder what all the fuss it about.
I love listening to music with these Ebens and have used them with several amplifiers without ever feeling short-changed by their limitations. They were masters of time with the rhythmic suppleness of the Vitus SS-010 integrated and exhilarating with the Lyra Connoisseur and the Ayre MXR mono-blocs but they were something else again with the David Berning amplifiers reviewed elsewhere in this issue and able to translate their brilliance into some of the most intense and beautiful listening sessions I and any who dropped by to listen had experienced. Just don’t expect them to tolerate poor amplification. These are superb loudspeakers that set a new benchmark for two-way stand mounts. But their abilities go far beyond that and they should be heard by anyone who loves music and has a system good enough. I have always been slightly uncomfortable with the idea of the single product review. When I read them, there all too often seems to be a subtext that suggests, “ This is the new reference product; buy it and all your audio problems will be solved”. While I can see the attraction of such reviews and the promise they hold, I have always been acutely aware that we listen to systems and not individual components. Good amplifiers don’t always make beautiful music, even when paired with good speakers. But what the Eben C1 does more clearly than any other speaker I’ve used is let you hear what your system and the musicians are doing. And when the news is good, it’s very, very good indeed.