Eikon Audio Image1 Integrated Loudspeaker System

An Audacious Return

Equipment report
Categories:
Floorstanding
Eikon Audio Image1 Integrated Loudspeaker System

The cabinet is built from fine-grained MDF in a multi-constrained-layer-damped structure. Sheets of ceramic material are attached to the MDF with a flexible acoustic adhesive that has a specific compliance, and that stays flexible after it has cured. The ceramic layer forces cabinet resonances into the acoustic adhesive where it is dissipated as heat. The idea was to make the cabinet as quiet as possible yet keep the enclosure cost-effective. The multi-faceted enclosure, with its swept-back baffle, is designed to reduce diffraction. The baffle is matte black, and the sides, top panel, and rear are finished in a beautiful wood veneer. (The same veneer vendor supplies Rolls-Royce.) Three wood finishes are available.

The Eikontrol is a standard-size electronic component with a large front-panel display that indicates the system volume. A row of front-panel buttons selects an input, switches between stereo and mono, inverts polarity, mutes the output, and puts the unit in standby. The rear panel houses three digital inputs (USB, SPDIF, and TosLink) along with two pairs of balanced and two pairs of unbalanced analog inputs. Note that the analog inputs are immediately converted to PCM digital by on-board 96kHz/24-bit A/D converters. Eikon says that the Image1 may be upgradable in the future, and that additional features could be added. A bank of rear-panel DIP switches provides a rudimentary gain adjustment for the signal feeding the A/D converter, permitting -3dB, -6dB, or -12dB of attenuation (or no attenuation). Note also that the DACs operate at a maximum sampling frequency of 96kHz. Higher resolution signals must be downsampled in your music server to 96kHz. The digital-section designer, Bernt Böhmer, believes that D/A conversion is better performed at 96kHz than at higher frequencies because jitter becomes more audible the higher the sampling frequency. The DAC features custom digital filters with virtually no pre-ringing. An Ethernet and a USB communication port round out the rear-panel connections. The power supply is housed in a small outboard box.

System control is via a web-enabled device such as a smartphone or tablet. You simply connect the Eikontrol to your network (wired or wireless), enter its IP address in your browser, and a screen pops up on your phone or tablet with two volume controls (coarse and fine), a balance adjustment, and a mute on/off button. A row of buttons selects other screens. The Settings screen allows you to set up the system’s many functions, including the start-up volume, engaging the “home theater” mode, turning room correction on and off, and adjusting the frequency response with the “Contour” control. The Contour section is essentially a five-band equalizer that allows you to fine-tune the system to your room, or even for certain recordings. The Contour Memory will store up to eight equalization settings that you can engage with just a couple of taps. For example, I dialed down the “Brilliance” and “Low Treble” settings by a couple of dB each, saving the setting for recall on overly bright recordings. You are asked to name the settings as you create them so that they are recognizable later. A sixth adjustment on this menu, marked “Punch,” allows you to tune the low bass, from a tight and lean sound to a bigger, bloomier rendering. I found the Contour adjustments useful both in giving the system that last bit of tuning to my room, and also for shaving off excessive brightness in some recordings. One pitfall is that when swiping on this screen to access different frequencies you must be careful not to touch the other sliders because the system interprets this as an attempt to change the setting on the band that you accidentally touched. Also, any change in equalization or selection of a Contour memory causes the system to mute or sometimes stutter on and off for a few seconds, which is distracting. Overall, I would prefer to use a conventional remote control for volume and balance.

The Image1 incorporates DSP room correction, but it’s very different from conventional room correction. With conventional room correction, you place a measurement microphone at the listening position, drive the speakers with a test signal, and repeat the process with the microphone at various locations a few inches away from the prime listening position. The room correction program analyzes the frequency response peaks and dips, and then creates an equalizer in DSP from the measurement data that boosts the frequency bands where there are room-induced dips and attenuates those frequency bands that have room-induced peaks. The equalization curve is optimized specifically for that microphone/listening position, and may introduce large frequency-response errors outside the prime listening spot.

The Image1’s Wavelet room correction works very differently. Rather than trying to flatten the frequency response, the Image1 correction optimizes the system’s time behavior. It was designed by Swedish academic Bernt Böhmer using “wavelet” analysis of sound in a room, and is based on psychoacoustic principles of how we perceive time-domain information. It’s rather complex, so I’ve summarized in the sidebar how this system works, and how it is different from conventional room correction. In practice, the system is easy to calibrate. You (or your dealer) place the supplied measurement microphone 4' from the speaker at tweeter level, push a few buttons on the app, and the system does the rest. 

Listening
Gayle Sanders, Eikon’s Sales Manager Jerry Stoeckigt, and development engineer Evan Fahr visited me to set up the system and give me a technical briefing. During the visit we had a phone call with Bernt Böhmer in Sweden about the room correction and the A/D and D/A sections of the Image1, which he also designed.

Having seen the Image1 only in photographs, I was surprised by how small the speaker is—just 42" high and with a very narrow baffle. It’s impossible not to look at a speaker’s size and drivers, and then consciously or unconsciously make assumptions about its bass extension, dynamic capabilities, and ability to present a sense of scale. 

Whatever your expectations for the Image1 are in this regard, they are undoubtedly wrong, as mine were. If someone listened at length to the Image1 behind a curtain that prevented them from seeing the speaker, they would be shocked when the curtain was removed. The Image1 sounds like a big speaker in every way—soundstaging, bass extension and weight, and dynamic scale. The Image1’s ability to extend into the lowest bass regions, and to do so with such authority and effortlessness, is what I’d expect from a speaker at least twice its size. I don’t think that I’ve ever been more astounded by the quantity and quality of bass from a moderately sized speaker. The Image1 reproduced the full weight of a Fender bass, along with the impact and punch of a kick drum, with satisfying power and precision. Even when playing bass-heavy music at very high levels, the bottom end maintained its clarity and definition, never sounding thick or woolly, or exhibiting signs of stress. A good example is the hard-hitting Jeff Beck album Performing This Week . . . Live at Ronnie Scott’s with Vinnie Colaiuta’s depth-charge kick-drum barrage; the Image1 conveyed the power and energy of this remarkable trio at live listening levels with no hint of strain, dynamic compression, or congestion. 

The Image1 is also very punchy, dynamic, fast, and full-bodied, and is remarkably adept at communicating an upbeat propulsive drive. I also got the impression that the Image1 had more dynamic headroom than I was using. A volume setting of 92 (out of 100) on the control display was a little louder than I’d ever want to listen, and I assume that the system is calibrated so that a volume setting of 100 is just below the point of driver overload (the power of DSP again). Incidentally, Eikon Audio specifies the Image1’s bass extension at 24Hz, a figure that I can believe. Unlike many frequency-response specs that state a low-frequency extension figure without a tolerance, Eikon Audio specifies the Image1’s response as being down by 2dB at 24Hz—a remarkable spec for any loudspeaker, never mind one of moderate size. 

The bass was exceptional in other ways. It was extremely linear and smooth, with very little trace of the midbass thickness that plagues most speakers. The transient performance was outstanding, likely due in part to the use of two smaller woofers that can start and stop faster than larger cones. There was no trace of overhang or slowness in the bottom end, a quality that wonderfully conveyed an upbeat sense of music-making and propulsive drive. The bottom end was beautifully articulated in pitch and dynamics, making it easy to follow bass lines. It took a bit of placement experimentation to realize this performance (57" from the rear wall), but it was worth the effort. Incidentally, my listening room has a volume of 5350 cubic feet.