The crossovers’ circuit boards are built in-house and are hand-wired with Teflon-coated single-crystal copper. The design employs Linkwitz-Riley filters; there are eight versions of this filter and Swanson arduously tried each one with the E-5’s drivers to decide which was best. A single pair of robust binding posts that will accept spades or banana plugs is located near the bottom of the speaker.
The E-5s arrived in two substantial wooden crates. Though it definitely takes at least two people to get each speaker out of its box, setup is otherwise straightforward. Once uncrated, the E-5 is turned upside down so that its plinth can be bolted on, and then righted. After the final position (or something close to it) has been settled on, the four top-adjusting spikes are easily installed by tilting the speaker slightly—another two-person operation. Anticipating that the E-5s will need to lean back somewhat to assure that the tweeters are aimed at the primary listener’s ears, the rear two spikes are shorter than the front pair. My room is 15' x 15' with a 10'-to-12' ceiling height—with every speaker review, I remind the reader that there is a hallway leading off one sidewall near the front of the room and standing waves haven’t been an issue with any of the numerous loudspeakers I’ve tried in the space—the E-5s ended up 8' 6" apart (center-to-center) and canted in towards the listening position. At their closest, the speakers were 18" from the shelves behind them and the distance from the front baffle to the sweet spot was about 10'. Mostly, amplification was provided by David Berning Quadrature Z monoblocks, though the lower-powered Pass Labs XA60.8s saw some service as well. I used my usual Anthem D2v processor and also T+A’s DAC 8 DSD, the baby brother of the PDP 3000 HV that Robert Harley reviewed in Issue 268. Digital sources were an Oppo 93, used as a transport, and the Baetis Reference 2 computer.
Hearing music through the VSA Endeavor E-5 is like sitting down in front of a 110" video screen for the first time. If you are someone who goes for Row D seats at orchestra concerts or fights his way forward to stand in front of the stage at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, this loudspeaker deserves your closest consideration. Their presentation is vivid, bold, excitingly realistic, and highly involving. There’s no point in using them for background music; with these speakers, you’re all in.
Naturally, large-scale music of all stripes—late Romantic and twentieth-century orchestral repertoire, balls-to-the-wall rock, the most exuberant big band recordings—would be expected to thrive via the E-5s, and I wasn’t disappointed. Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 begins with eight French horns playing fortissimo, in unison, a mighty and heroic theme (in the score, it’s marked entschieden, or “resolute”) and the sense of restrained power, that these eight musicians were part of a much larger orchestral organism, was palpable—an impression amply confirmed over the next 107 minutes with Michael Tilson Thomas’s performance with the San Francisco Symphony. Likewise, the impact of Gordon Goodwin’s highly virtuosic Big Phat Band, executing their leader’s challenging arrangements on Act Your Age was more than just suggestive of the actual experience of hearing five saxes, four trumpets, four trombones, and an amplified rhythm section playing full-out. And, when there were no witnesses around, I put on Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and was instantly transported back to a sweatier, more hormonally driven time in my life.
Swanson doesn’t view the Endeavor E-5s as a difficult amplifier load, and recommends 50Wpc as a satisfactory minimum. However, he does allow that since there are seven drivers per side to set in motion, “you will need some current to push the drivers at loud volume levels.” Indeed, I found that while the sound was quite impressive with the 60Wpc Pass XA60.8 amplifiers, the speakers performed at their best with the sort of program material noted above when the 200Wpc David Berning amps provided the necessary muscle for playback at enthusiastic levels.
Of course, scaling that’s exaggerated isn’t a desirable thing—who wants giant flutes and violins, or pianos that are ten feet wide?—and here I learned a valuable lesson. I picked out several recordings of much more modest musical forces—a string quartet (the Hagan Quartet playing the slow movement of Beethoven’s Op. 18, No. 3) and Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue, for which the singer accompanies herself on only guitar or piano for several selections. Initially, I did hear some bloating of the vocal and/or instrumental images. The quartet was standing up playing enlarged violins, viola, and cello; Mitchell’s voice and guitar on “Little Green” were plus-size. Then, an astute audiophile friend, over for a listen, pointed at the 58" video monitor mounted high on the wall behind the speakers, positioned from 62" to 97" above the floor. I got a stepladder and draped a small blanket over the screen and, voilà; the image height and size anomalies were eliminated. I’d not had speakers nearly this tall in my room previously and, evidently, a highly reflective surface behind them made a difference that had not been apparent with shorter speakers.
The E-5’s bass is exceptionally articulate, fast, and tight. Swanson isn’t the first designer to recognize the advantage of having many smaller, widely spaced low-frequency drivers. (The ultimate expression may be the Audio Kinesis Swarm subwoofer system—see REG’s review in Issue 252.) Having four 7" woofers, two high up and two near the floor on each tower, contributes to very smooth bass response, even in a relatively small space. As always, I performed DSP room-correction measurements, utilizing the Anthem’s ARC software, and based on the resulting room response curves, correction was needed only up to 300Hz, the least I’ve required with any loudspeaker to date. Having an enclosure that behaves largely like a sealed box also facilitates ideal positioning of the speakers for even bass response, as well as the best possible soundstaging and imaging. The E-5s do not create bass that isn’t there on the mastertape. Many favorite rock albums from the 1970s and 80s lack true deep bass—I’m thinking of some Genesis recordings, say “No Reply at All” from Abacab, where much of the electric bass part is played on the instrument’s upper strings—with the Endeavors, that musical element is lithe and tuneful. On the other hand, the bass drum pulse that continues throughout “Udu Chant” (as heard on the superbly recorded DVD-A The Best of Mickey Hart) has middle-of-the-earth extension yet still maintains definition and clarity. Unless the E-5s are used in a home theater setting and fighter jets and angry dinosaurs are involved, I can’t imagine a subwoofer will be desired except, maybe, in the largest rooms.