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Eclipse TD508MK3 loudspeakers

Eclipse TD508MK3 loudspeakers

Eclipse TD speakers all pose a difficult question for the audio enthusiast… have we all taken an almighty wrong turn somewhere? And in a way, the TD508MK3 is perhaps the purest expression of that question, being considered the company’s core model.

The latest version of the 508 has a single 80mm fibreglass drive unit. That’s it. No tweeter, no midrange, no woofers, no crossover. Nada. Just the one drive unit connected to a pair of speaker terminals. Nothing is ever that simple, of course, and the custom made unit is not only extremely light and housed in a very flexible surround, but it’s one of the few drive units where the high-flux magnet is the virtually the same size as the cone. This is still a lightweight unit, so it sports a mass anchor at the rear of the magnet.

This mass anchor fits (more accurately, floats) in what Eclipse TD calls a ‘diffusion stay’. Looking like an X-shaped internal brace, this holds the driver in place within the cabinet, but minimising interaction with the cabinet. This means the driver is near-as-possible decoupled from the ‘egg-shaped’ (again more accurately, engine cowl-shaped) rear-ported cabinet. The internal chamber is filled with wadding, and the base of the diffusion stay connects the speaker to the outside world, through a clever and adjustable three-point contact; the desktop plate can be attached to a disc-shaped CB1 bracket for wall and ceiling mounting, or removed and what’s left attaches to the spindly 508DMK3 floor-stand. If you have seen or tried any Eclipse TD speaker (smaller, larger or older), you’ll know all this; although there is no wall hanging options for the bigger speakers, the one unit, no crossover, egg-shape, decoupled from the cabinet concepts are common across the range.

However, this doesn’t mean they are all alike, and the differences between the TD508II and TD508MK3 represent a complete ‘ground up’ redesign, with new drive unit, cabinet, base… the works. In fact the only thing that didn’t change was the crossover network; there wasn’t one in the TD508II and the TD508MK3 shares the same complete lack of crossover and crossover components.

 

The launch of the MK3 also represents something of a coming of age for Eclipse. As it launched, the company quietly dropped its TDA501 II amplifier. In a way, this is a shame, because it made a more obvious desktop system (currently at least, you have to think of an amplifier to go with the system; I suspect that electronics knowledge will be leveraged in subsequent models), but it represents a more pure direction for the brand. It’s a pure speaker-only brand, and I think that is the right direction for the company.

This is Eclipse’s core loudspeaker not just because it has an array of stands and brackets making it a universal speaker for two-channel and multichannel use. It’s the core model because it’s priced aggressively – it swims in a very fast stream, competing with quality ‘traditional’ box standmounts from the likes of Dynaudio,

Linn, Focal, KEF, Tannoy and the rest. This is the kind of marketplace that doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but is also one that is inherently conservative. Presenting a loudspeaker that doesn’t rely on the instant gratification of an 80Hz bass hump and a rising treble is a tough call at this end of the market, and Eclipse has a fight on its hands.

It’s a fight it can win. Not every time, granted. But if you are prepared to approach listening to music as an organised series of temporal elements, rather than a near-random assortment of sounds across a 20Hz-20kHz bandwidth, the Eclipse makes a lot of sense. This might take time, as we have grown accustomed to what a conventional loudspeaker can do and accommodate for that as a part of the audiophile experience. But there is an ‘intuition pump’ here; listen to the sound of a good table radio (for example, a Tivoli Model One)… although there is no deep bass or extended treble to speak of, the directness of that sound is more temporally correct with which many a full-range system struggles. Which is why they can sound so good and even more ‘immediate’ than larger systems. The Eclipse TD (for ‘Time Domain’) merely extends what that little radio does right to the audiophile domain, without wrecking the sound in the process.

Although we try not to repeat the same discs over and over (because it gets very samey, and makes it sound like hi-fi reviewers only own three or four recordings), we all have common musical elements used to check audio equipment, and somewhere in the arsenal will be spoken word, solo female vocal, and a solo piano. My ‘three’ here are Richard Burton, Suzanne Vega and either Alfred Brendel or Bill Evans. And it’s with all these where the TD508MK3 excels; Burton’s voice is sonorous and articulate, Vega’s pure tones are melodious and the close-mic’d detail is outstanding. But it’s piano where the difference between the TD concept and most other speakers begins to show.

 

More accurately, you begin to hear where other loudspeakers don’t sound quite like a piano. The middle and upper registers of a piano are fine, both on conventional speakers and here. There is possibly a touch more detail on the Eclipse design, making the difference between playing styles and piano designs more noticeable. But that’s not where the Eclipse scores. It’s in the way the piano sounds like a whole piano, rather than a bass instrument distinct from the treble-and-midrange instrument. In fairness, some love the way conventional speakers separate the left and right hands of a piano, but in the real world, this doesn’t happen… and it doesn’t happen here. Instead, the Eclipse makes that left/right hand split sound like there’s an unneeded and uncalled-for delay in the bass notes. Not massively so, but enough to make you think something’s ‘off’ on an unconscious level, and that unconscious level is suddenly rendered all too conscious after spending time with the Eclipse designs. The intuitive way of thinking would be to dismiss the TD508MK3 for not portraying the full weight of the instrument, but the counter-intuitive thought (to dismiss almost every other speaker as not portraying the correct timing of the piano) might be right.

No speaker is perfect, and the limitations of the TD508MK3 are pretty obvious. Parking the frequency response for the moment (a claimed 50Hz-27kHz with a fairly steep -10dB limit is perhaps hard to park, but it’s a function of the design itself), an 82dB sensitivity with a partnering amp recommendation of not much more than 30W means this is not a loud or dynamic sounding loudspeaker, and that has its effect on the presentation. Those wanting to simulate the sturm und drang of an orchestra in full throat, expecting bordering on pain threshold levels of sound in anything larger than a broom cupboard will be disappointed. This is a more measured, more mannered presentation.

Now that Eclipse has no external amp in the line-up, the question arises about partnering equipment. Yes, of course it sounds wonderful through a Devialet 170, or the Esoteric RZ-1 that Eclipse routinely uses to demonstrate its products, but these are the kind of electronics partners that don’t commonly sit in front of a pair of £1,000 loudspeakers in the real world. I could dance around this, but the Arcam irDAC and A19 amplifier go with the Eclipse beautifully. The Eclipse speakers are notably amp-insensitive (realistically, you could use them with any system and you’ll get good results), but the Arcam/Eclipse pairing should be considered a benchmark.

I’ve had a pair of TD508II in since the review, and they have been slowly growing on me (I liked them to begin with and I liked them more and more as I listened). I deliberately put them away in the run-up to the TD508MK3 review, but the comparison deserves being run. The MK3 is a universally better speaker; there is a lot more detail, the very mild ‘quack’ of the drive unit is eliminated, it’s slightly more dynamic, has better soundstaging… the works. In daily use, I found it hard not to think of the TD508II as anything other than the best desktop speaker I’d heard, but the TD508MK3 genuinely extends the performance out into the listening room. However, I don’t think owners of TD508II should rush out and ‘side-grade’ to the MK3, because they already have 80% of what the MK3 does so well. Perhaps a better change is the move up to the TD510MK3. I can say that with fair confidence though, because I doubt anyone who ‘gets’ the Time Domain concept of Eclipse will be comfortable with anything else.

Eclipse has a reputation for being the loudspeakers that musicians buy, and the TD510MK3 explains why. They don’t do things the way other speakers do, but instead of just being some kind of self-absorbed conceit, they make you think the rest of the loudspeaker world is wrong. Best of all, they are probably right! Very highly recommended.

Technical Specifications

  • Ported single-drive loudspeaker
  • Drive unit: 80mm glass-fibre, full range cone
  • Frequency Response: 52Hz-27kHz (-10dB)
  • Input resistance (rating/max): 15W/30W
  • Impedance: eight ohms
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 18x29x27cm
  • Weight: 3.5kg
  • Finshes: Black, White, Silver
  • Optional floor-stand and mounting bracket
  • Price: £960 per pair

URL: www.eclipse-td.net

Tel: +44 (0)20 7328 4499

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