In the 1986 film Ruthless People, Judge Reinhold plays Ken, who works as a salesman in an audio store, the kind with boxes of cheap receivers stacked on the floor. In walks a gum-smacking heavy metal enthusiast, maybe 19, who is looking for speakers. Ken senses an easy mark and his presentation is pitch-perfect. “You know, when it comes to great stereo, you can’t beat big speakers. I’m talking about big speakers with big woofers.”
After quickly walking him past the models with eight, ten, and twelve-inch bass drivers, Ken steers the wide-eyed kid into the store’s inner sanctum where there stands an enormous, hideously ugly box with flashing lights and the biggest woofer cone you’ve ever seen: “Check it out, my man! The flagship of the entire Dominator line, the MX-10—thirty inches of thigh-slapping, blood-pumping nuclear brain damage! So what if it’s as big as a Subaru and costs as much? You’ll never have to trade this in; this is going to be with you for the rest of your life. And when you die, they can bury you in it!”
Comedic hyperbole, of course, but who among us at some point in our audiophile journey hasn’t imagined owning large loudspeakers that can begin to suggest the scale and dynamics of live music? There are three principal barriers to purchasing big speakers, however. In increasing order of importance they are: appearance, cost, and—perhaps most critically—the requirement for a large space to put them in, the kind of domestic environment most of us don’t have. You just can’t put a large speaker in a modest-sized room, right? I’m here to tell you that maybe you can.
Leif Swanson is a musician (a guitarist) who developed a strong interest in the design and manufacture of sound reinforcement systems. By the mid-2000s, Swanson owned a CNC shop in Riverside, California, and was building big PA enclosures for pro sound companies. It was during this period that Swanson was approached to construct cabinets for Von Schweikert Audio, which also happens to be located in Riverside [see sidebar]. Over the course of a decade, Albert Von Schweikert schooled Swanson in numerous aspects of mechanical and electrical theory. Along with Albert and his son Damon, Swanson participated in the design of every VSA product for more than eight years. Swanson started his own loudspeaker company, Endeavor Audio, and the elder Von Schweikert was impressed with his work. In September of 2015, VSA acquired Endeavor Audio and all of its designs: the two current EA models, the E-3 MkII and the E-5 are now their own “line” within the Von Schweikert range. Going forward, those speakers will wear the VSA badge.
The $35,000 Endeavor E-5 is a big speaker but it’s really more accurate to characterize it as a tall speaker. The cabinet is 66" vertically and the aluminum plinth it rests on plus the carpet-piercing spikes add another 2" to the total height. However, the front baffle is just 9" wide, tapering to 5" at the rear, and the speaker is only 15" deep. With the seven drivers per side exposed, the E-5 will not disappear into any décor outside of an audio store (though with their black cloth grilles in place, they are less obtrusive). Standard finishes are high-gloss black or metallic silver and other colors are available as options.
The E-5’s driver complement includes, at the vertical center of the loudspeaker, a 1" beryllium tweeter and a pair of 6.5" Kevlar midrange cones in a D’Appolito configuration. The tweeter is the same one used in the VSA VR-55, a modified ScanSpeak model that permits Swanson to utilize the driver’s full upper-range frequency response. Employing this device, he feels, results in less listener fatigue than with other metallic tweeters. Above and below the midrange/tweeter/midrange transducers are pairs of anodized aluminum woofers that are 7" in diameter. The woofers (and midrange drivers) all sport a phase plug that, in addition to making phase behavior consistent throughout the cone’s diameter, also aides in efficient heat dissipation which, in turn, is responsible for the high power-handling capability of these relatively diminutive drivers.
For the enclosure, Leif Swanson’s goal was to identify “a single composite material that cut and bonded easily, but would have no audible panel resonance.” He came across a composite used in the construction industry that was tweaked for his application. The material is a cellular matrix composed of long fibrous tubes filled with a viscous resin, Swanson explained to me, that’s “inherently self-damped. A honeycomb structure is evident when a cross-section is viewed under a microscope and it’s rigid enough to be used as a cabinet wall, but will not ring.” Complementing the physical properties of the enclosure material, the E-5 employs VSA’s proprietary “Triple Wall” technology—artificial stone is bonded with an absorptive material to the inner surface of the cabinet. The three layers of the enclosure therefore have different resonant frequencies, which makes the box even more inert. The cellular matrix material is also used internally to form chambers for the midrange drivers that are sealed off from the spaces the woofers inhabit. What appear to be two ports on the rear of the speaker, near the top and bottom of the cabinet, are actually aperiodic vents, a decades-old Dynaudio invention that relieves pressure on the woofers and facilitates the fastest possible motion of those drivers. “To my thinking,” says Swanson, “we have achieved the best of both worlds—the low coloration of a sealed system combined with the higher dynamic range of a ported system.”