Wilson Benesch Eminence Loudspeaker

Towering Achievement

Equipment report
Wilson Benesch Eminence
Wilson Benesch Eminence Loudspeaker

The other drivers are the latest versions of Wilson Benesch’s Tactic drive unit, introduced in 2001. The Tactic name is derived from the cone material, isotactic polypropylene. Isotactic polypropylene differs from conventional polypropylene (widely used in driver diaphragms the 1970s) in that rather than being a homogeneous material it is made from woven polypropylene fibers, a technique that increases the material’s stiffness five-fold. Conventional homogeneous polypropylene has very good self-damping but lacks stiffness; the new material reportedly realizes polypropylene’s high damping while overcoming the stiffness problem. The isobaric woofers, lower-bass drivers, upper-bass drivers, and midrange all feature isotactic polypropylene cones. The two upper-bass drivers and midrange also include a Fibonacci Element dustcap.

The Eminence’s conception is decidedly different from other statement-level loudspeakers, reflecting the sonic priorities of its designer. The technology behind the speaker has been meticulously researched, and represents the culmination of 25 years of loudspeaker building. It’s worth noting that one can trace the Eminence’s fundamental design goals, and the technology that realizes them, back to Wilson Benesch’s first loudspeaker. The Eminence represents the ultimate realization of the design principles Wilson Benesch has hewed to since the company’s inception, rather than a platform for introducing entirely new concepts. Finally, the execution is exemplary; I got the impression that no corners were cut to save cost. The Eminence wasn’t built to a price point—Wilson Benesch created the speaker and let the final price fall where it may.

Because of its small footprint, the Eminence will fit in many rooms where a conventional flagship speaker would look bulky or imposing. A variety of natural wood finishes, along with different carbon-fiber colors, will also help the Eminence integrate visually with the décor. 

Wilson Benesch’s Director of Marketing, Luke Milnes, and U.S. distributor, Brian Ackerman, set up the speakers in my newly constructed listening room and were happy with what they heard at the end of the set-up day. But as good as the system sounded then, as it broke in over the next few weeks it transformed into something truly remarkable.

You can read about the room’s design and construction in our previous issue, but here’s a recap. The dedicated room is 27' by 17' with an 11' ceiling. It was built with Acoustic Science Corporation’s Iso-Wall System, which uses on the interior wall a damped resilient channel and two layers of drywall separated by a viscoelastic material. The wall forms a classic constrained-layer damping system that is allowed to flex on the resilient channel. The Iso-Wall System simultaneously prevents the wall structure from vibrating (called “wall shudder”), absorbs bass through diaphragmatic movement of the walls and ceiling, and reduces the transmission of sound inside the room to the rest of the house.

To maintain as much continuity as possible when moving into an unknown room I chose the Constellation Reference electronics, Berkeley Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 MQA, Aurender W20 music server, and Critical Mass Systems equipment racks and amplifier stands. These have all been my references for many years, and I know of no finer electronics, digital sources, or equipment supports. I also brought with me from my temporary listening room the Acoustic Geometry Pro Room Pack 12 that I reviewed in Issue 290. (See Associated Equipment for a full components list.) 

Listening to music through the Eminence was a startling experience. It reproduced certain aspects of the music in a way that I’ve never heard from any loudspeaker—dynamic, planar, or horn-loaded. First, the Eminence exhibits astonishing transient speed and dynamic agility. This speaker fosters the impression of removing a dynamic-compression filter between you and the music. That is, the Eminence doesn’t slow down transient attacks or compress their peaks. The speaker doesn’t do this by exaggerating leading-edge transients, but rather by getting out of the way and allowing the music’s transient nature and dynamic contrasts to be rendered without alteration. It’s not just that initial transients are lightning fast, or that the decays are equally quick—which they are. That alone would have been noteworthy for a dynamic loudspeaker (this quality comes naturally to planar designs). But what puts the Eminence’s dynamic performance in a class of its own is the total and utter coherence of this transient fidelity from the lowest bass to the treble. The Eminence speaks with one voice dynamically, with exactly zero discontinuity along the frequency spectrum. Frankly, the Eminence makes most other speakers sound slow and thick in the bass. 

The musical consequences of this transient fidelity cannot be overstated. Intimately familiar recordings sounded as through they had been liberated, taking on a new verve, immediacy, and realism. The Eminence resolved a wealth of dynamic inflections, subtle accents, and rhythmic interplays among musicians, and reproduced the overall rhythmic flow in a way that was revelatory. For example, I hadn’t fully appreciated how Dave Holland’s pulsating bass line is the anchor of “Shhh/Peaceful” from Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way (MoFi LP), or how the rim shots halfway through Joe Pass’ solo on “Contractor Blues” from 88 Basie Street kick up the sense of swing. By realistically resolving these dynamic inflections, the Eminence more faithfully conveys the musicians’ intent. 

The dynamic performance was equally spectacular on high-level impacts as well as on the subtlest musical details. Snare drum had a lifelike pop that made the instrument seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. The best recorded drum sound I know of is on Sheffield Lab 17, James Newton Howard and Friends. Through the Eminence, the snare was rendered with a hair-raising realism, conveying the speed, dynamic impact, and physicality of the instrument. Again, it’s not that the Eminence highlighted this aspect of music more than other loudspeakers, but rather that it lacks a form of distortion that slows down transients or changes transient fidelity as a function of frequency. It wasn’t just percussion instruments that sounded more real by virtue of the Eminence’s speed. Listen to the way Roy Hargrove’s trumpet fairly leaps from the soundstage on “Chasin’ the Bird” from Parker’s Mood. Through the Eminence the trumpet has a startling dynamic verve that one hears from the instrument in life. Frankly, I’ve never heard a loudspeaker sound as much “of a piece” dynamically as the Eminence. It sounds like a full-range planar in top-to-bottom speed and coherence, but with more weight and better bass extension.

This dynamic coherence across the frequency spectrum was mirrored in the Eminence’s portrayal of instrumental texture, detail, and pitch definition. Many loudspeakers resolve instrumental timbre, inner textural detail, and subtle dynamic inflections in the lower midrange to upper treble, but the Eminence resolves these characteristics all the way into the low bass. Alan Taffel commented at length on this quality in his review of Wilson Benesch’s $69,500 Resolution in the December, 2018 issue. Alan wrote, “Listening to bass, even on familiar recordings, through the Resolution is a constant journey of discovery.” Simply put, I’ve never heard a loudspeaker that resolves bass lines like the Eminence. Reference recordings that I’ve listened to for decades were revealed to have a previously obscured wealth of textures, pitches, and timing cues. I could clearly hear everything the bass player was doing rather than having to infer it. Christian McBride’s bass playing on the aforementioned Parker’s Mood, particularly the very fast runs on “Steeplechase,” was exquisitely articulated and resolved. Or try listening to the bass pedals on a Hammond B-3, such as organist Joey DeFrancesco’s playing on his album Part III (or the bass pedals on “Squib Cakes” from the Sheffield Lab Tower of Power Direct). Other speakers tend to smear the dynamics and blur the pitch definition of the bass pedals. Through the Eminence I could more clearly hear individual pitches as well as the starts and stops of each note. The Eminence also resolved textures and timbres in low frequencies, revealing them to be richly nuanced. In addition, the bass was extremely smooth and flat, with no discernable peaks and dips. The upper bass blended seamlessly with the lower midrange with no discontinuity at the crossover points.