|Escalante Design Fremont Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Saturday, 01 November 2008|
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Every AV enthusiast is different and we each use our systems for different types of music and movies. Many of us listen to a wide array of musical genres and must strive to get the best sound for each and every one we listen to from a single system, although some audiophiles go to extremes to accomplish this goal by having different speakers or even entire systems for different musical moods. This is great if time, money and space are not a limiting factor in your pursuit of audio nirvana, but for the rest of us, we need a universal system to accurately reproduce the different genres we listen to; often, this system must do double duty as a home theater.
Finding one speaker to achieve all these goals is not easy, and building one to do it isn’t either. Escalante is a company with a unique approach to speaker design, and to business, for that matter. They have a speaker they believe is the best fit for each and every listener’s uses. The premier speaker of their lineup is the Fremont, which is a gigantic two-way direct-coupled, full-range monitor speaker that defies rational thinking. Priced at $18,900 a pair (including stands) in bamboo or textured black finish and $20,999 in high-gloss bamboo or paint, like the ones that I received for this review, the Escalante Fremonts are designed to meet the needs of the most demanding audiophile, regardless of musical taste, and to be equally at home in a reference-level two-channel home theater or double duty system.
The Escalante Fremont is a unique speaker in many ways. First, it is by far the largest monitor I know of at 28.5 inches tall, 14 inches wide and 18 inches deep, weighing a smooth 100 pounds each. The matching stands add an additional 16 inches of height and are also 14 inches wide and 18 inches deep, weighing 88 pounds each. Each speaker and stand comes packed in its own custom-made wooden crate for a combined shipping weight of over 600 pounds per pair. From the outside, the speaker is pretty simple. It’s basically a large box with rounded edges and a huge 12-inch woofer just above the middle of the front, with the tweeter above flanked by two vertical slits for ports. On the rear is a single Cardas binding post with one large knob to lock in both speaker wires. Bi-wiring is not an option.
The Escalante Fremonts appear to be two-way units with a 12-inch woofer and a modified Scanspeak Revelator R2904 soft dome ring radiating tweeter, but there is more to these speakers than meets the eye. Inside each speaker is a second 12-inch driver. Yes, you read that right, two 12-inch woofers are directly coupled to maximize woofer response. A specially designed dust cap in the front-firing woofer functions as a midrange driver for the speaker and the Scanspeak tweeter picks up from there. These numbers only touch the surface of the design elements that make this such an amazing speaker. The direct coupled design not only increases the frequency response of the speakers, it also allows for increased power handling. The Fremonts can be powered by single-watt tube amps or 1,000-watt solid state amplifiers. I have heard you can connect them directly to a 15-amp power outlet and they will output 130 decibels of 60 Hertz hum, but I am not going to try it.
The woofers have been heavily modified by Tierry Budge, known to many from his work with Talon Audio and Wilson Audio, to lessen the rise, making them more than 20 times faster than conventional driver-based speakers, on par with ribbons and electrostatic panels. A progressive acoustic and mechanical impedance system ensures the bass from the internal woofers’ output through the front ports matches phase with that of the front-firing driver. Having these two drivers directly coupled also extends the frequency response up two full octaves and down one-and-a-half octaves, thus allowing these drivers to go down to 18 Hz while also covering the midrange frequencies.
The company that makes these speakers is pretty special, too. Escalante Design is a far cry from the modern for-profit machine and takes a real interest in both their employees and the world we live in. From the 100-percent recycled wood material soul boards that use no added formaldehyde (unlike other common MDF boards) and offer the exact density needed to build the cabinets, to eco-friendly finishes, glues with the lowest possible volatile organic compound content, grilles made from 100-percent recycled plastic and 100-percent organic cotton cloth from Patagonia, to the lead-free solder used on all the wiring in the speakers, these are as environmentally friendly as they come.
Escalante Design doesn’t stop there; they are also participating in the one percent for the planet program, donating one percent of their net sales to grassroots environmental programs. The company considers its employees’ needs, too, with out-of-the-ordinary humanitarian projects, environmental aid trips and field trips to help with the environment we live in and to keep up the mental attitude and health of the staff. Escalante has decided to set aside an additional one percent of net sales for these missions.
As a reviewer, it’s great to have the excitement of new audio gear arriving at the house. It’s like Christmas or your birthday 10 to 12 times over the course of the year. When the Escalante Fremonts arrived, I was at work and got another one of those phone calls from my wife asking where the keys were to move my convertible into the driveway. I had forgotten just how large these speakers were and the speakers and associated stands came crated and on a palate that weighed over 600 pounds. Clearly, I was going to need help to unpack these. I made a quick call to my friend with the nicest dolly and we got them inside. Unscrewing the cases gave me my first look at the large pearly-white speakers with aluminum side panels. Thankfully, the Fremonts have large front ports that I used as handles to get them out of the crates, as these speakers aren’t light. I managed to unpack them, got the stands into my main theater room and positioned the speakers atop them by myself, but you really should have two people do this or, better yet, have your local dealer come set them up for you, as it will save your back.
The stands are very, very, very solidly built of large three-inch square metal stock with a platform the size of the speaker base and a footer shaped like two wedges of a circle. The wedges are inset with brushed aluminum, as is the platform, which matches the side panels of the speakers. Four large brass spikes allow adjustment of the stands. The speakers need not be adjusted on the platform. Fortunately, the spikes are easily accessible and the large knurled knobs make them very easy to use. Thanks to the open and oversized design of the knobs, I got the speakers perfectly level in seconds.
Once positioned in my best-guess place, I connected them to my main rig, which went through several transitions over the months I’ve been lucky enough to have these speakers. The core of the system is wired with Transparent Reference interconnects and speaker wires; power to the Fremonts came from my trusted Mark Levinson 433 amplifier. Sources included almost everything in my home at one point or another. I used my Teac Esoteric DV-50s, Denon 5910CI, Apple Airport Express, Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player, Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player and even a Sony PS3. I used the newest version of the Anthem Statement D2 AV preamp with Anthem Room Correction, both with the room correction on and off, the Denon AVP-A1HDCI, and the Benchmark DAC 1 PRE as preamps. Power was always run through my PurePower 700 power regenerator with battery backup, fed by a dedicated 20-amp line. The speakers I received had been around a while, so they needed no burn-in and were ready to play once connected, but I still let it all settle in for a while before forming any opinions. I found the Escalantes did quite well where I initially placed them, just over three feet from the rear wall, and toed in to face the listening position. I was so happy with my initial placement that I only made minor changes to adjust toe-in to improve focus.