Eikon Audio Image1 Integrated Loudspeaker System

An Audacious Return

Equipment report
Categories:
Floorstanding
Eikon Audio Image1 Integrated Loudspeaker System

And this was without room correction. Hearing the system with and without room correction was very different from my previous experience with DSP. First, unlike the radical reduction in midbass energy of most room-correction systems, there was only a very small change in the bass balance—it became just a little leaner. That could be because of my purpose-built room, the design of the Image1 itself (remember that the Eikontrol uses DSP tricks on the two woofers to reduce room-resonance excitation), or the fact that optimal speaker placement already realized fairly flat response at the listening position. But what the room correction did was at once subtle and profound. Don’t expect a huge reduction in midbass bloat, a general tightening of the bottom end (like pulling a trampoline taut), and a lighter-weight rendering. Rather, the correction system clarified and pulled into sharper focus the bass region. Bass lines that were a little smeared and homogenized became crystal clear in dynamics and tone color. The starts and stops of each note were better articulated, and the texture and body of acoustic bass was more richly portrayed. The inner timbral details that convey the mechanism by which the instrument produces sound were better resolved, increasing the sense of realism. While I had the Image1, I discovered the wonderful new live acoustic trio recording Trilogy 2 by Chick Corea, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade. Everyone plays beautifully on this album, and bassist McBride has never sounded more inspired. I intentionally listened to this album on the Image1 without room correction (I discovered this recording on my desktop system) to get familiar with it, and then later turned on the correction. Even without room correction, the Image1 did a great job of creating a tangible sense of a large instrument’s wooden body, the attacks of each note, and the nuances of McBride’s virtuosity. But turning on the correction took the alacrity and definition to the next level of realism. Think of looking through a lens that’s slightly out of focus, and then suddenly pulling perfect focus. That’s the effect of the Böhmer Wavelet correction in the Image1.

The room correction also affected the clarity, openness, and transparency of the midrange. With the correction engaged, the lower midrange was less “thick” (it wasn’t thick in an absolute sense without correction, only by comparison). The room correction “lightened” the midband and created a greater sense of the music existing in space independent of the loudspeakers. Vocals were clearer, with the midrange taking on an almost planar-like level of transparency. Unlike my other experiences with room correction, which were a mixed bag, I heard no downside or unnatural artifacts with the Image1’s correction. Significantly, the room correction didn’t degrade the tonal balance or timbre through the midrange and treble.

As great as the Image1’s bass performance was, the midrange was just as impressive. Voices were particularly well served by the Image1’s smoothness, clarity, openness, and resolution. The midrange driver’s wideband operation conferred a sense of seamlessness and coherence, qualities that went a long way toward the natural rendering of timbre. The midrange couldn’t be characterized as “forward” or “laid-back”; rather, it had very little character and color of its own.

The treble was open, extended, airy, and well-integrated with the mids. The top-end’s texture was a bit on the dry side, with a hint of excessive brightness on cymbals and vocal sibilance. The dryness seemed to span just a portion of the treble range, primarily centered on “sss” sounds in closely miked vocals. The Contour control’s “Brilliance” and “Low Treble” adjustments were extremely useful in realizing a smoother and more relaxed sound. I shaved off a couple of dB in the treble for most of my listening.

In the ability to portray the large scale of orchestral recordings, the Image1 was surprisingly good, particularly considering its moderate size. The speaker’s relatively short stature (42") didn’t result in a soundstage confined to head-level; instead, the stage was wide open in width, height, and depth. Image specificity was particularly good, with clearly defined placement and image outlines. Many speaker systems become less precise in the imaging of low-frequency instruments, but the Image1 maintained its sharp image focus across the entire spectrum.

The digital nature of integrated systems requires that analog sources be digitized and then converted back to analog. Obviously, introducing an A/D and D/A conversion in an analog signal path will inevitably result in some audible degradation, particularly if you have very good quality analog sources. Nonetheless, the Eikontrol’s A/D and D/A were quite good judging by the sound quality of the system when playing LPs. Despite the added conversions, vinyl sounded clean, open, and spacious, without the attendant reduction in space and hardening of timbre of lesser-quality conversions. If the Image1 appeals to you and you play vinyl, I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the A/D quality.

A fundamental question posed by a product like the Image1 is whether its performance can be matched, or exceeded, by a component-audio system of the same price. I imagined the system I’d put together with a $25,000 budget for an integrated amplifier, DAC (or DAC module in the integrated amp), speakers, and cables. It’s highly unlikely that the component audio system could match the Image1 in any aspect of the bass performance—extension, resolution, power and weight, pitch precision, dynamic impact, or clarity. The room-correction system elevates what was already exceptional bass performance to a new level. The Image1’s midrange and treble quality and balance could be equaled by a component system provided those components were carefully chosen. The Image1, however, can be tuned to the room via the Contour controls, which is not possible with most component-audio systems. 

Toward the end of my time with the Image1, I put on an old standard that I’ve used in just about every speaker evaluation over the past 20 years, Keith Johnson’s remarkable recording of Rutter’s Requiem on Reference Recordings. I listened to this title on the Image1 primarily to hear how low the bass extends, and to gauge how well the speaker conveyed the pitch of the organ pedal points in the wonderful acoustic of Myerson Symphony Center. Yes, the Image1’s bass extension and pitch precision were exceptional, but I quickly found myself immersed in the way the Image1 presented a natural rendering of instruments and massed voices within a huge and beautifully portrayed acoustic space. This recording demonstrated everything that the Image1 does well—presenting a huge sense of scale, precise imaging, realistic timbre (particularly on the massed voices), superb bass extension and clarity, and just a generally well-rounded and engaging musicality. 

Conclusion
The Eikon Audio Image1 is a bold, forward-thinking product that brings something new and different to high-end audio. By combining the friendliness of a “lifestyle” system with the sonic performance of high-end audio, the Image1 makes great sound easily accessible to anyone who loves music. The Image1 is also an ideal system for someone downsizing and looking to eliminate “system clutter.” 

Among its many virtues, the Image1 can deliver big-speaker sound in a package small enough to fit in just about any room. The bass performance is outstanding, aided by the innovative DSP room-correction system. In the ability to present a large sense of scale, spatial and dynamic, the Image1 is an overachiever.

Still, the Image1 isn’t for everyone. It isn’t compatible with DSD or MQA, can’t be upgraded over time, and requires that analog signals be digitized. For many listeners, however, the Image1’s simplicity of operation and sound quality will outweigh these limitations. If you want a great-sounding system that liberates you from thinking about your next upgrade, the Eikon Audio Image1 is hard to beat. 

Specs & Pricing

Image1 Loudspeaker
Frequency response: 24Hz–24kHz ±2dB
Driver complement: One forward-firing 8" woofer, one rear-firing 8" woofer, 5" midrange, AMT tweeter
Loading: Quasi-transmission-line bass, vented midrange
Inputs: Four line-level on balanced XLR jacks, AC power
Integral amplification: Four 100W Class D
Dimensions: 9.5" x 42" x 15"
Weight: 95 lbs. each

Eikontrol
Analog inputs: Two pairs stereo balanced XLR, two pairs unbalanced RCA, XLR measurement microphone; input attenuation of –3dB, –6dB, –12dB
Digital inputs: USB, SPDIF, TosLink
A/D conversion: 96kHz/24-bit PCM
D/A conversion: 96kHz/24-bit PCM
Analog outputs: Four balanced on XLR and RCA connectors per channel
DSP: Analog Devices 96kHz/56-bit
Processing: Wavelet time and amplitude correction
Crossover: Four-way, digital domain
Control interface: Ethernet, TP-cable, WLAN
Supplied accessories: Measurement microphone, microphone tripod
Dimensions: 17.52" x 3.74" x 11.85"
Weight: 13.5 lbs.

System price: $25,000

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