Wednesday, December 12, 2007

DIY Electrostatic Loudspeakers / ESLs - Why and How...

Electrostatic Loudspeakers or ESLs have always been thought of as very esoteric speakers to me. They seem to work on very hi-tech scientific principles only known to a few people. It was also thought of as the spekers that only the very well to do have access to. This idea was probably bourne out of the knowledge of how much it costs to buy one. My early education on the topic started thus. Little did I know that the ESLs have been around since the early1900s.

Then in 2006, I had the chance to listen to a pair of Martin Logans driven by Krells at one of the Hi-Fi trade shows. The fact that during my visit to the Hi-Fi trade show, I returned to listen to this setup 3 times speaks volumes. While seated in the sweetspot the Martin Logan ESLs did a dissapearing act, the singer was holographically projected into the room. I was really impressed. The music was, well.... very nice. Vocals were liquid, instruments were accurate and fast. The only drawback was the coned woofer at the base of the ESLs, they made the bass sound disembodied, slow and woolly compared to the rest of the music... literally.

Well after much thinking, I decided that I was not going to afford the Martin Logans on my budget. So the answer for me was going to be a DIY project. After having researched the internet for DIY ESL projects, and after reading of many successes, I felt confident enough to start my own project. While the priciples ESL are simple enough to grasp, however, I do admit that I do not have the aptitude to design and build an ESL from scratch. Through my research, I have learnt of several ESL Kit provided by ER Audio of Perth, Australia. The ESL kits comes complete with all components that would be needed to build a complete pair of ESL, with the exception of the wooden frames/cabinets, you'd need to source and build the wooden frame that holds the stators in place by yourself. Detailed instructions are provided and the support from the ER Audio is superb to say the least. ER Audio is run by Rob and Jan Mackinlay. I cannot say enough good things about Rob and Jan Mackinlay, they are both honest and helpful, eveready to offer advise and assistance at a moments notice. The fact that they are really pleasant to deal with is just a bonus.

This project is not for the novice DIYer, but the procedure to construct the kit is "foolproof". I also had the oppurtunity to discuss the ESLs with several owners that have built the kit, and all have reported outstanding reliability and support from ER Audio. What's more, all owners report that the performance of ER Audio's ESLs are equivalent to or even surpassing the ESLs commercially available today.

For my budget and my listening environment, I chose one of ER Audio's kits that bore the designation ESL III. The completed speaker is adequate for a room up to 6m x 4m. It will go down to 35-38Hz @ -5/-6db. Larger rooms would require additional reinforcements. The price of the ESL III kit by my standards, are not cheap. But its is infinitely cheaper than the of the shelf offerings by major manufacturers. The ESL III kit consists of 3 panels, 1 treble panel sandwiched on either side by full range panels.

After much thinking, I placed the order in November, 2006 or there abouts. Rob the owner then proceeded to send me the build manual, so it gave me plenty of time to get acquated in the build steps. It takes about a month to manufacture all the items and pack them. The package arrived just after christmas and I started the build almost immediately. I have now had the ESL IIIs completed for some time now. How do they sound....well... all the superlatives that you have ever heard about ESL and their inherent strengths apply here. These speakers really do need a good quality source and amplification. At the moment I am using a 100watt Yamaha AV amplifier as well as an old trusty 35watt Musical Fidelity amplifier to drive these speakers. The Musical Fidelity amplifier injects much excitement to the music, but does not have enough current to deal with the ESL's quirky impedance. The Yamaha AV amplifier is much smoother and adds a warm touch to the music, but ultimately is not fully up to the task of driving the ESLs convincingly. As such I will DIY a 200watt amp to pair with these speakers. This new amplifier is based on Pass Labs Aleph 1.2 with very good current capabilities. Stay tuned

I am doing a posthumous chronicle of the build process for the ESLs in this blog. Have fun reading.... Start Here


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