Escalante Design Fremont Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Ken Taraszka, MD   
Saturday, 01 November 2008

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.

Music and Movies
A system is only as good as its weakest link, which often consists of the software being played on it.  The Fremonts are quoted to reproduce down to 18 Hz and are designed to be highly dynamic.  One disc I therefore had to hear them play is an old audiophile classic, the Sheffield Lab Drum and Track Disc (Lim) on XRCD24 disc.  From the start of the first track, “Drum Improvisations 1,” it was clear I had hit on something special.  Having grown up with and around drummers for most of my life, I am quite aware of just how powerful the drums can get and how demanding they can be on a system.  The Fremonts took these difficult passages and not only rose to the occasion, but surpassed my expectations.  Sure, the bass drum was solid, but more importantly, it really sounded like a bass from the initial punch to the reverberation that followed.  Rim shots smacked from the monitors as though the drums were in the same room, and when the Tom Toms were run, each drum was perfectly placed along the line.  The speakers simply disappeared and it was as though the drum set was a few feet in front of me.  Even more impressive was the Fremonts’ ability to play as loud as a true drum set and still sound as good as when played at normal listening levels.  The cymbals had all the sparkle I’d expect and decayed as well as I’ve ever heard in my system.  They just did everything right on these wonderful drum pieces, keeping the pace, rhythm and timing spot-on, regardless of listening level.

I must admit, I don’t often believe manufacturers’ specifications, and the claim that the Fremonts could reproduce 18 Hz was one I had to test.  I cued up Dr. Chesky’s Magnificent, Fabulous, Absurd and Insane Musical 5.1 Surround Show (Chesky Records).  I started it off with the “Heartbeat Announcement: 50 Hz” and the subsequent “50 Hz Heartbeat.”  The bass was clearly done at this level, so I continued on to the 40 Hz, 30 Hz and finally the 20 Hz track. Well, when I got to the 20 Hz heartbeat, I was pleasantly surprised to actually hear the bass as well as feel it.  Few instruments can reach as low as 20 Hz, and only the pipe organ can truly go lower.  Not only was it good to hear the thumping heat tones at such a level that it proved I could hear this frequency, but it was great to know the Fremonts really could reproduce them.  I can say you truly won’t be shorted for bass with the Fremonts.

During my time with the Escalante Fremonts, I found that they sounded great at obscenely high listening levels, as well as low levels.  While I had proved they handled their quoted frequency response, could they rock?  I cued up Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love (Experience Hendrix) to find out.  This is a classic rock album and one of my favorite Hendrix discs of all time.  From the start of “You Got Me Floating,” the stereo effects spun around the room while the drums stayed perfectly placed.  Hendrix’s vocals had depth and breadth I have rarely heard.  “Wait Until Tomorrow” showed an entirely different side of the Fremonts, which were able to display subtle bluesy rhythms, as well as all-out rock and roll.  Hendrix’s guitar stayed placed in the identical spot throughout the song and his vocals had the smooth depth I wish more systems could give to this classic recording.  “Little Wing” is the best known track of this album, for good reason.  This is an unusual song for Hendrix, as it is very mellow and relies on few special effects for the tones the band produces.  Once again, everything was done perfectly.  The attack of the initial guitar notes were so accurate you’d have thought Hendrix was sitting in your room playing for you.  As the drums kicked in, the bass was perfect.  I started out listening to this CD at a tame level, and formed the impressions above from that.  After a little while, though, I really got into the tunes and had to step back and crank it up, and the Fremonts never faltered.  “If 6 Was 9” provides an entirely different challenge to a speaker, with the intro’s wide swings and deep bass, and the Fremonts again had no trouble blowing the room out to obscene listening levels while maintaining clarity.

Moving onto something mellower, I cued up the Cowboy Junkies’ Miles From Our Home (Geffen Records) and was again impressed by how well the large Fremonts simply disappeared.  They projected a particularly wide soundstage on the title track, while keeping the vocals clear and surprisingly distinct.  “Blue Guitar” gave my room a cavernous feel and an eerie resonance that made the song so totally enjoyable, it was as if I had never heard it before.

The Downside
The Escalante Fremonts are big.  They are actually the biggest monitors I have ever seen, and are quite frankly larger than many floor-standing speakers I have seen and/or reviewed.  They are heavy, too, and as such can be difficult to move, but I suspect if you are buying speakers at this price point, your dealer should be delivering them and setting them up, so you shouldn’t be bothered by these factors unless you relocate often.  While the two-way design here actually functions more like a four-way design, they are only capable of single-wiring.  For me, this wasn’t an issue, as they sound incredible wired this way, but for those who simply must bi-wire their speakers, the Fremonts won’t allow that. 

Aesthetics are a very personal thing.  I liked the large, bold look of these speakers and, to my surprise, so did my wife, but you and yours will need to formulate your own opinions.  The Fremonts are some of the more revealing speakers I’ve had and, as such, require the best electronics to get the most out of them, so don’t plan on running them from a receiver and getting the performance I did in this review.

I have heard the Escalante Fremonts at several trade shows prior to getting them into my home for review and, despite playing with vastly different systems, from tubed mono blocks to high-powered solid state gear, the Fremonts have always impressed me.  They present music with an ease and absolute truth to the source.  The Fremonts delivered music with a speed and ease not found in other systems.  They seem to give rise to music rather than just reproducing it.  They image incredibly well and, thanks to the front drivers and ports, are very easy to place in a room.  They are large, but you just aren’t going to get good, deep bass from a tiny box or from tiny drivers, and these speakers will clearly go as low as you need for anything but pipe organs, while the detailed and extended highs go far beyond anything you can ever hear to give that real-world sound to delicate instruments.  The Fremonts are highly efficient, but can also handle immense power. 

Many speakers can do a single genre, or listening level, but my experience with the Fremonts showed they can do any genre and can reproduce it to any level you might want with ease.  No matter how hard I pushed the volume, the Escalante Fremonts pumped out the sound with the same ease and control as when they were barely on.  The Fremonts are very accurate yet musical speakers, and are highly revealing, so they will demonstrate even minor changes or deficiencies in your system.  If your system is up to it, these speakers will reward you in spades with perfect sound, regardless of use.  Pair them with worthy equipment for the best results.  When you do, be prepared to be amazed and finally happy with a single system for everything.  I think I have found my ultimate speakers in the Fremonts, and would encourage you to listen to them yourself if you want it all: timber, high and low extension, incredible detail, finesse and a dynamic range that will astound.  The Fremonts have set a new standard for me in speakers, one I don’t see being easily beaten.
Manufacturer Escalante Design
Model Fremont Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Reviewer Ken Taraszka, M.D

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