Essence Reviewer’s Guide

Essence 1200 NewShoot1Before you sit down to evaluate the revolutionary $2K / pair Essence Electrostats, its important to know something about electrostats in general, how they work and what makes them unique in the speaker world.  We cover these topics below:

  • What Wikipedia Says About Electrostats vs Dynamic Speakerswikipedia logo
  • How The Human Sense of Hearing Evolved
  • How Electrostats Outperform Dynamic Speakers
  • What’s New About The Essence Design
  • How Are They Better Than The Competition?


Advantages of Electrostats According To Wikipedia 

1.  Electrostatic loudspeakers include levels of distortion one to two orders of magnitude lower than conventional cone drivers in a box.

Click to view demo

Click to view demo

2.  The extremely light weight of the diaphragm, which is driven across its whole surface, has exemplary frequency response (both in amplitude and phase) because the principle of generating force and pressure is almost free from resonances unlike the more common electrodynamic driver.

3.  Musical transparency can be better than in electrodynamic speakers because the radiating surface has much less mass than most other drivers and is therefore far less capable of storing energy to be released later.

4.  Typical dynamic speaker drivers can have moving masses of tens or hundreds of grams whereas an electrostatic membrane only weighs  a few milligrams, several times less than the very lightest of electrodynamic tweeters

5.  Electrostatics can also be executed as full-range designs, lacking the usual crossover filters and enclosures that could color or distort the sound.

6.  Electrostatic speakers are tall and thin designs without an enclosure, they act as a vertical dipole line source.

7.  A large-panel dipole radiator is more demanding of a proper physical placement within a room when compared to a conventional box speaker, but, once there, it is less likely to excite bad-sounding room resonances

8.  Its direct-to-reflected sound ratio is higher by some 4–5 decibels. This in turn leads to more accurate stereo reproduction of recordings that contain proper stereo information and venue ambience

9.  Planar (flat) drivers tend to be very directional giving them good imaging qualities


Building A Big Box Is Expensive

1. Have you noticed how expensive all of today’s top speaker systems have become?  Its no wonder, the labor and materials to make a large speaker cabinet like the $60K per pair Magico’s takes up 80% of the labor cost & bill of materials to make large conventional dynamic Magico Inside the boxspeakers.  Instead of paying for a speaker, consumers are mostly paying for furniture, ironically on the part that costs the most so it cant make a sound of its own.

2. Eliminating the cabinet resonance requires extreme bracing and damping, adding thousands of dollars to the production cost.

3. Eliminating cabinet vibration requires extremely thick walls, well braced against internal pressure.

4. Eliminating internal standing waves with thick absorption material is marginally effective.

5. Eliminating front baffle coloration requires a cabinet only as wide as the widest drivers, rarely effective due to driver space requirements. In the speaker on the right, if the woofers were side mounted, the effect would be a thinner cabinet with lower baffle coloration.


Evolution and The Sense of Hearing

Over the last 100,000 years, humans learned how to recognize the sound of danger and how to avoid it in order to survive. The ability to localize on a twig breaking in the caveman-dietdistance and knowing which direction to run to avoid danger was critical. 

This skill allows us to accurately “see” without our eyes. Modern stereophonic recordings use a panning pot during the mixing process to place the instruments and voices along an imaginary stage between the speakers. We can all localize, it does not require gifted ears or hearing to recognize good stereo imaging.  All that’s required is to hear the direct sound of the source.

Our auditory system has trouble when the direct sound from the source is inter-mixed with reflections of that sound arriving ahead of the direct sounds. The stereo image gets smeared and vague, it losses its pin-point position when the ratio of reflected to direct sound exceeds 50%.

Most of todays dynamic speakers use dome tweeters to spray the high frequencies all over the room, this increase in dispersion creates room reflections of the sound that disrupt a speakers linearity and smears the stereo image, the sound becomes incoherent.


Essence Electrostats Produce Coherent Sound Waves

A One-way speaker produces no interference, delivering coherent sound

A One-way speaker produces no interference, delivering coherent sound

 A Three-way speaker produces more interference.

A Three-way speaker produces more interference.

Typical dynamic speakers use multiple drivers to cover the full frequency spectrum of human hearing.  They use cross-over networks to transition from one driver to the next.

In the areas where they overlap in the crossover regions, the same sound can come out of two or more drivers at the same time at two different points in space.  This confuses our ability to localize on the source. The result is incoherent sound that while on its way to your ears meets with other sound waves.  Where they meet in-phase the result is a peak in the frequency response. 

Where they meet out-of-phase, there is a dip in the frequency response. The result of the multiple driver array is a frequency response that is far from ideal, disrupted by interference.  Its these incoherent sound waves that make precision stereo imaging impossible.

An Essence electrostat is capable of delivering a coherent full range sound wave to your listening position with no peaks or valleys, linear in its response because a single full range diaphragm with no crossovers generates the sound. Voices and instruments dont have crossovers, neither should the speaker that reproduces them. When our auditory system receives more direct coherent sound waves from the source, the stereo imaging becomes palpably realistic.


How Electrostats Outperform Dynamic Speakers

1.  They eliminate the traditional speaker cabinet and in doing so bring the cost of high performance down to an affordable level.

2.  They avoid the use of multiple drivers and crossover networks so the sound remains coherent with a stable and realistic stereo image.

3.  Because electrostats deliver the sound waves coherently, the frequency response remains linear, without the interference patterns typical of all dynamic speakers.

4.  Because the output is directional, the ratio of direct to reflected sound at the listening position is increased by 5 dB, adding clarity and resolution by decreasing the amount of reflected sound that reaches our ears and reducing the effects of interference substantially.

What Makes Essence Electrostats Special                                                                                                                                                

1.  Essence is the world’s first producer of electrostatic speakers using the revolutionary “printed electronics” process to produce the electrostatic field. The field is more precise and more stable than ever before, providing an exact replica of the original every time for consistency and long life.

2.  A large scale high definition ink-jet printer applies layers of conductive inks on the interior side of an acrylic panel called the stator. These panels are perforated and form a sandwich between which a 4 micron thin sheet of Mylar film is suspended                                                      

3.  When the music signal from the amplifier generates a positive  voltage, it pulls the diaphragm forward; when the amp generates a negative voltage, it pushes back in the opposite direction.  This movement creates the sound waves we hear. A single moving part responding to a basic law of physics., like charges repel, opposite charges attract.

4.  The result is extremely fast, transparent sound from a single lighter than air diaphragm, directed at the listening position called the “sweet-spot”, the only place where both channels arrive simultaneously at our ears. 

5.  The sound of Essence Electrostats when set up correctly* and heard from the sweet-spot is a singular listening experience that outperforms all dynamic speakers, producing a euphoria in the listener, a feeling of audio nirvana as its known among audiophiles.


Award Winning Industrial Design by Maarten Smits

Maarten Smits

Maarten Smits

The iconic combination of aluminum rails and transparent black acrylic stators creates the perfect speaker for the modern age. No more wasteful, huge cabinets. Building upon and improving his original Final designs, Maarten takes us closer to the ideal speaker.

The stators are transparent when viewed on-axis with back-lighting, a design theme that takes you by surprise because it doesnt look like any speaker you’ve ever seen before and conveys a magical sonic transparency that makes you feel closer to the music.

With the ability to deliver a coherent sound field, these slender panels convey all the music in the recording without much interference from the room acoustics or reflections from the ceiling, floor, and walls.

This ability to closely match the sound quality of the best sealed headphones from a real full size loudspeaker in a real full sized listening room is unique in the art, very few brands can make the claim of full range performance from a single line source.

*Proper Installation

Contrary to popular wisdom, dipole planar loudspeakers like the Essence models do not require mid-room placement far from the rear wall, in fact we recommend against that.  The further a dipole speaker is from the wall behind it, the longer the time-delay of the reflected sound that reaches your listening position.  This increased time-delay creates interference with the direct sound of the recording and disrupts linearity, smearing the stereo image.  Mid-room placement increases the so-called stage depth but sacrifices image specificity and is un-natural, meaning it’s not actually in the recording.  Essence believes that by positioning the speaker closer to the wall behind it, the time delay of the reflected sound is short at the listening position, preserving the all important direct sound localization cues that allow our auditory system to perceive the illusion of precisely placed instruments and voices between the two speakers just as they would sound if listening to sealed headphones, with no added “ambiance” that’s not in the recording to begin with, and with the stereo image out in front of you rather than above your head.  

sweet spot 2The two speakers should be “toe’d” in, aimed directly at your listening position, which should be equidistant to the speakers as they are too themselves. This is known as the sweet spot, the only place in the listening room where both channels can arrive simultaneously at your ears. There is no such thing as a speaker with a wider sweet spot due to the Precedence Effect.  The speaker you sit closest too will sound louder than the other, making it impossible to hear both channels equally at the same time, a minimal requirement for proper stereo imaging. The imaging is always perfect when listening to sealed headphones because the arrival time of the sound into each ear is always equal, the goal is to equal that precision imaging from a real speaker in your listening room.

Curved vs Flat Stators                                           

Fans of Martin Logan electrostats will notice that the Essence models feature flat stators rather than curved, perhaps thinking the ML’s are superior in that regard.  I like to point out that the inventor of the curved stator design is Roger Sanders, he worked for ML in 1990 and has since started his own electrostatic speaker company called Sanders Sound Systems.  These days he admits he was wrong about curved stators and has since adopted the flat is best point of view, notably on video at CES a couple of years ago, see what he says now about that and why flat stators are indeed superior to the curved design.