The humble desktop loudspeaker often gets short shrift among audio enthusiasts. Our traditional obsession with a stereo system in the listening room now has a challenger in the headphone and CIEM environment, but there’s little drive to improve the loudspeakers that flank our desktop and laptop computers. Eclipse TD – never a company to follow the herd – is one of the rare exceptions with its £999 TD-M1.
In great fairness to Eclipse, the TD-M1 is not a typical desktop loudspeaker system. Granted it is small and has built-in (20W, Class D) amplification, but similarities end there. The rear-ported, single-driver pods sit on a levered foot, which doubles as a combination DAC, AirPlay, and amplifier module, all rolled into one. As ever with Eclipse loudspeakers, the 80mm driver is a ‘full-range’ design (as in, it covers the frequency range from treble to bass on a single driver, rather than this being a single drive unit that can cover the 20Hz-20kHz range in one). This little drive unit is not attached to the loudspeaker baffle at all, and is instead mounted rigidly to a rear mass anchor system, which makes a vibration-isolated three point contact to the mid-point of the speaker’s side view. In basic terms, the loudspeaker drive unit does what it needs to do while the loudspeaker cabinet does what it needs to do, and the two don’t interact. Naturally, with just the one drive unit, there is no need for a crossover network, and the amplifier inside the base unit could be considered active as a result.
A series of touch-sensitive lights give the user a basic indication of volume level, but this is not related and not matched to the volume control on the computer itself. This is because a computer’s output is best served flat-out, and any adjustment is performed at the amplifier end, rather than risk less than bit-perfection from the connected device. The DAC itself shows just how serious Eclipse takes the project: it’s a non-oversampling, 24-bit, 192kbps capable DAC, the kind of thing you would normally find in crushingly expensive, hand-made digital products.
I work from home, and most of that work is spent in front of a screen. It’s not possible to work with headphones, because I would be forever removing them to answer my landline or mobile phone (although this would screen the telemarketers…), so I’m a prime candidate for good desktop audio. What I didn’t realise is how much pleasure I would extract from good desktop audio. What I also didn’t realise is just how easy it is to find distraction techniques when the audio quality is this good. YouTube becomes a significant time-vampire, luring you onto the rocks of spending hours listening to hitherto-unexplored classical concerts (and strange, lurid K-Pop). Spotify becomes a constant companion, and the sonic benefits of a recent upgrade Audirvana over iTunes are readily apparent, because the TD-M1’s are more than capable of resolving the differences between the two formats.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that a point source loudspeaker gives good soundstaging. However, what is surprising is just how good this speaker system is at imaging under the most hostile of conditions in the domestic world; situated to the sides of a whirring, noisy, and physically large computer-sized box smack, bang in the middle of the place where soundstages get undermined. You get a feeling of true, unforced, three-dimensional sound, the kind you normally get with an extremely carefully manicured audio system. This came over well on the Recomposed by Max Richter versions of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons [DG]; although the looped, treated strings are folded into the mix, they have their own physical space in the soundstage. The whole effect is atmospheric, if a little ‘film-scorey’. This track also highlights the tonal accuracy of the TD-M1 – because Vivaldi is so well known, this mixed up version can sound broken and unsettling unless the tonality is absolutely right, at which time the music becomes precisely the kind of thing you might have expected Vivaldi to do with his music today.
Of course, bass is not on offer here. In fact, it’s the frequency extremes that are inherently the weak spot of any small, single-driver loudspeaker like the TD-M1, but it’s the lack of bass that’s perhaps the most obvious shortcoming. Curiously, I think this to be a good thing all told. The TD-M1 is more about precision than depth, and the bass roll-off is steep, but extremely well controlled. In the confines of an ultra-near-field environment (I don’t need to outstretch my arms to touch the loudspeakers), it’s easy for too much bass to overreach, adding boom and bloom to an otherwise crisp, fast, and clean sound. Less really is more here, although if my musical tastes ran more to those of the organ enthusiast or reggae fan, I may not have been so enamoured with the curtailed frequency response.
As above, so below, and the roll-off in the LF exists to a lesser extent in the HF. This, coupled with the non-oversampling DAC, can make for a treble that is at once exceptionally precise, detailed, and occasionally a little too forthright. Once again, this comes down to musical choices; Elgar’s Symphony No 1 [Vernon Hadley, LPO, EMI] recorded in Abbey Road for the Classics for Pleasure series in 1979 (don’t knock it, it’s a fine recording) was absolutely sublime, but ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ by Arctic Monkeys [Whatever People Say That I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Domino] played through the TD-M1 exhibited a touch more spitchiness than I’m used to. While the track has raw charm and a great sense of fun, it can easily sound ragged. Played through the TD-M1, the track just manages to stay the right side of exuberant, but the rough edges of the raw, guitar-based music, and poor ‘Loudness War’ recoding techniques with heavy-handed signal compression might go some way to explain a sound that gets brash and raw.
I don’t want to overstate this, however, and my relatively limited portfolio of such recordings prevents me from further investigation. It didn’t warrant further investigation, too, because at no time did anything detract or derail the listener from the goal of listening to and enjoying music. Our job is to be observational, rather than objectionable, or sceptic rather than cynic, and to overstate the shortcomings of the TD-M1 crosses over from the first class to the second. The TD-M1 is extremely revealing, and doesn’t suffer foolish recording gladly, so I don’t think it should be criticised for being good at high-fidelity in a high-fidelity context.
Stating the obvious, I’m mostly describing the TD-M1 used in the way I mostly used it. There is a lot more to the Eclipse TD-M1, though. I can see it being used flanking a TV for someone who discovered there is more to life than soundbars. I can also see it being used by those with no desire to play music through a wired-in computer, with AirPlay speaking from iDevice to speaker system perfectly. Reception, from the stubby aerial on the rear of the main speaker, is very good, although it’s not one for establishing a connection at extreme distances; somehow, I doubt this will ever be a demand, and the joy of AirPlay here usually falls to being less than about 3m from the loudspeakers. Besides, if you aren’t able to AirPlay tracks from your iPhone, while less than 3m from the TD-M1, I’d be more worried about things more catastrophic than dropped signals. AirPlay sounds particularly fine through the TD-M1, paradoxically by seeming to limit the top-end honesty slightly. I found any major differences in sound through both wired and wireless to fall with in a ‘good enough for government work’ catch-all. Which makes this one of the better AirPlay installations I’ve encountered. And while it’s currently uniquely Apple-oriented, by the time this review goes to press, it will be just as friendly toward Android devices, too.
Truth is, I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Eclipse TD-M1, to the point where I’m reluctant to give them back in a hurry. Desktop loudspeakers are not for everyone, but conventional loudspeakers in a living room are not for everyone anymore either, and I suspect there are more people out there today for whom the TD-M1 is a more acceptable proposition than the full-scale audio system. This is just a good, fun, active loudspeaker that just happens to be designed for the desktop. Try it, you might find it changes the way you listen to music. And for once, that isn’t an exaggeration! Highly recommended.
- Ported single-drive active desktop loudspeaker with DAC
- Drive unit: 80mm glass-fibre, full range cone
- Frequency Response: 70Hz-30kHz
- Input: Wi-Fi, USB B (for PC/Mac), USB A (for iPhone/iPod touch), and analog 3.5mm stereo mini jack
- Amplifier power: 2x 20W, Class D
- DAC: non-oversampling DAC to 24-bit, 192kHz precision
- Impedance: 10kΩ
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 155x242x219mm
- Weight: 4kg
- Finshes: Black, White, Silver
- Price: £999 per pair
Tel: +44 (0)20 7328 4499
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