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Product name: Envy 3
Manufacturer: Demand Better Audio - UK
Cost: From £4,499 depending on driver selection and finish. (Currency conversion)
Reviewer: Mike Cox - TNT UK
Reviewed: October, 2014
It is easy when reviewing audio equipment to jump to wrong assumptions, and I will admit, I did this several times with the Envy 3 speakers. The first mistake was to think the Envy 3 from Demand Better Audio are heavy, they are not, you can lift them with one hand gripped firmly round the upright support. The second wrong assumption was they would be room placement fussy, they are not. With help from Daniel, who is responsible for Demand Better Audio, we placed them in the usual place, equal distance from the side walls and pointing at the seating position. My final wrong assumption was to think, as they are a 3 way design, that they would need an amplifier with plenty of power and current on tap, they do not. Almost any amplifier will be capable of driving these speakers, although your choice will have a profound effect on the results obtained.
The parent company of Demand Better Audio is MCT Carbon, who specialise in composite manufacture for the automotive and motorsport industry. This alliance gives DBA access to the leading edge engineering capability not available to many audio manufacturers. With this technology available the next question is why spherical enclosures? Back in the 1950s Dr H Olson working at RCA did some pioneering research into the properties of the ideal speaker enclosure. The conclusion was that a speaker drive unit placed on the surface of a spherical enclosure was as close to perfection as possible, virtually eliminating both internal and external colourations.
Demand Better Audio have utilised the composite manufacturing skills of their parent company to produce a speaker that takes the Dr Olson ideas and deliver them using modern materials and manufacturing processes. The result is a thoroughly modern looking speaker that is remarkably compact for a three way design. The drivers in this model are a carbon fibre/kevlar composite for the bass (200mm) and mid range (80mm), with a 50mm x 13mm isodynamic driver with a neodymium magnet and flared wave guide for maximum dispersion.
The finished speakers utilise a bonded construction with a unique internal texturing for resonance reduction. There is internal sphere to sphere porting to maximise the effective volume and the extremely thin (<1mm) wall thickness also helps to maximise internal volume while keeping the external size to a minimum. This very thin wall is still very rigid, I tried compressing the wall without success. The main support leg is particulate filled to reduce resonance and lower the centre of gravity, making the Envy 3 very stable in use. The speaker cable is included in the design using quad-core 399, 0.1mm strand cable that has been cryogenically treated. The speakers as reviewed have an ultra smooth, clear lacquered finish revealing the carbon weave, which looks amazing. If preferred the Envy3 are available with coloured finish of your choice.
Most audio replay system must fit in with the rest of the household, and must be approved by all concerned. The speakers are the most obvious piece of audio equipement and therefore subject to a domestic vote! I have been through several speakers over the years, most eventually getting the boot as they are too large, ugly or the wrong colour!
The Envy 3 have a better than normal chance of fitting in with most households as they are the least box like 3 way speaker I have ever seen. A conventional 3 way, floor standing design using the same drivers would appear much larger, even a stand mount design using a regular box would occupy more space.
Not only does the physical design help domestic acceptance, the ability to customise the colour can help the speaker to blend in with the environment. The power amplifier requirements also help, you don't need a massive, heavy power amplifier delivering a huge quantity of watts and current. What you do need is a quality amplifier, as Dick Olsher once said "The first watt is the most important watt".
I started out feeding the Envy 3 from my Emotiva XPR-2, with the assumption they would need lots of power, how wrong could I be! The sound was terrible, thin, screechy, all that is wrong with solid state and there seemed to be little bass. The Emotiva was quickly swapped out with my regular Leak ST50 (just upgraded with Jupiter copper foil and wax coupling capacitors), and what a difference. The sound was still bright when compared to my regular, full range speakers but much more refined, detailed yet relaxing. I next tried my 300B SET amplifier which produces 8W per channel at best, my assumption being it would not have enough power. This 300B amplifier has just been fitted with new 300B valves with the rest of the valves only having a handful of hours on the clock. Even with the new valves, the sound showed great promise. The amplifier warmed up over the next few hours and the valves settled down to give a most enchanting presentation.
I continued to use the 300B amplifier for the next week with it continuing to burn in, improving all the time. I also replaced the stock MKP polypropylene coupling capacitors with some Mundorf silver/gold in oil polypropylene capacitors. The combination of the 300B amplifier with the Envy 3 speakers is very detailed and revealing of the source material. Next I tried a new Amptastic Mini-1 that delivers 12W into 8ohms. This is a Class T design (a high efficiency version of class D) using the Tripath TA2020 chipset. This amplifier is not your usual, made in China class T amplifier. The Mini-1 is designed and built in the UK by a small company based on the outskirts of Cambridge. The build quality is first rate, almost watch like, and the result is amazing sound quality for the money (£99+p&p). With the Mini-1 the Envy 3 speakers sounded very good, certainly way better than any other solid state amplifier I tried. I still prefer my valve amplifiers, if they were not available the Mini-1 plays great music with the Envy 3.
My final amplifier swap saw the Mini-1 changed for another Leak amplifier, this time a very special Stereo 20 that uses polystyrene coupling capacitors. For my taste in music and with the Envy 3 in my listening room this is my favourite combination. That EL84 sweetness works really well with the high frequency driver and is aided by the wonderfully rich midband tone the polystyrene coupling capacitors provide.
Now I have settled on the source, how do the Envy3 compare to other speakers? In my experience the Envy3 sound like no other speaker I have ever had the pleasure of using. There is no obvious box colouration, the sound is very clean and revealing of any issues with the source. During my time with these speakers I used several DACs with a range source material from regular CD rips to DSD. It was obvious each time a change was made and when the setup was right the system really shone.
The bass appeared, at first light in character, but always well timed. After a while, you realise the apparent lightness is actually correct, there is no artificial enhancement, bloating or overhang caused by box resonance. The lack of box character is also audible in the midband with excellent clarity, it is as though the windows have been just cleaned! Using one of my reference tracks, the Tallis Scholars and the Allegri Miserere, the ambiance of the recording venue (London Church) is more apparent with the depth easier to make out. The voices are set out with some placed a significant distance behind the front singers. On some audio setups it is difficult to place the singers, you can hear them but you are not sure where the sound is coming from. With the Envy3 the depth is much more clearly defined.
My favourite music is female vocal, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Eva Cassidy and I like to hear the voice clearly placed in the sound stage. The Envy3, while producing a large and clean soundstage, seems less precise at placing the singer. Vocals are very clean with low apparent distortion and box coloration, they are just not as precisely placed as with some speakers. This might seem at odds with my earlier comment on the Tallis Scholars, the reality for me is the speakers disappear providing a deep and well defined soundstage yet a vocal soloist seems less well defined.
The Demand Better Audio Envy3 is an unusual looking speaker compared with the norm and this has the effect of being less dominant in your room compared to a similar box speaker. The use of leading edge technology gives real benefits, a light weight speaker with a very low contribution from the case. Some manufacturers, attempt to damp cabinet resonances by adding mass using thick walled and heavy boxes. Other manufacturers don't add mass, they either add damping materials or tune the box so it contributes in a positive way to the sound. None of these solutions work as well as the carbon fibre spheres used by Demand Better Audio.
It is really nice to see a small UK based manufacturer pushing the technology boundaries producing something different. The result is a significant contribution to the audio world. Nothing is perfect, it does require some care to match the Envy3 with a suitable amplifier. Once you have found the right partner for the speakers, they deliver superb results at a price that is good value when you consider what is involved in the manufacture. I will miss the Envy3 and look forward to hearing other products from this manufacturer.
© Copyright 2014 Mike Cox - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com
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