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Eminent LFT-16 (2)
Sound quality
Conclusion
Readers Letters
Manufacturer's Correspondence
Measured performance
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EMINENT TECHNOLOGY LFT-16 LOUDSPEAKER REVIEW

The final review, of the third sample, will be published in the December 2011 issue.  

 

lft-16-mk2

Eminent Technology LFT-16, our second sample - prettier than the first!

 

(at September 2011)

THE STORY SO FAR  ...

This is an update to our original review, which you can read below.

The first sample did not work properly, but neither did the second sample you can see above. The tweeter did not work properly.

More detail on this can be found in Readers Letters on the subject, at the end of the review (see link above).


ORIGINAL REVIEW (first sample)

Eminent Technolgy's LFT-16 may not be physically beautiful, but its sound is an aural wonder in many ways. And its price, at £1150 in the U.K. for this U.S. loudspeaker, is attractive too.

eminent_lft-16

 

Style wise, the LFT-16 isn’t going to ring bells with your “average man on the Clapham omnibus” in the UK, or on any other bus elsewhere I suspect, including those in Florida where it is made. The ‘floorboard’ is a solid plank of wood that forms the front baffle, sprayed gloss black with no attempt made to cover the end grain. OK, it’s strong and it’s non-resonant, but that’s hardly enough to stop people at Hi-Fi World towers showing alarm – and boy do we see a lot of weird products.


You’ll notice though that said floorboard has two unusual adornments screwed onto it, a large matt black slatted grill and a smaller one alongside it. These are the loudspeaker’s secret strength and the source of its uniqueness. Both are magnetic planar drive units. An aluminium track etched onto a light Mylar film sits between bar magnets. The audio signal passes through the aluminium track, setting up a magnetic field that interacts with the magnets, a electromagnetic motor in effect that drives the air in relation to the signal. The big advantage is the film is thin, light and does not store energy, so it suffers little colouration. It is open front and rear (a dipole) and the absence of a rear chamber removes another source of colouration. So think: clean and pure sound.


The advantage over an electrostatic is that no power supply is needed, and the advantage over a ribbon is that it lacks their metallic sheen.
A big drawback is low sensitivity, our tests revealing a miserable 82dB, so high power amplifiers are needed. I pushed 50 Watts into the LFT-16s playing Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ really loud (95dB), where I would normally use 10Watts or so, but they were able to handle it and sounded quite relaxed.


Eminent make their own magnetic planar drive units and buy in a 6in bass unit, which they house in a sealed (‘infinite baffle’) bass chamber. Magnetic planars aren’t new: I first heard them in Leak 3090s I used way back in the early 1980s; they were fitted with Wharfedale’s Isodynamic magnetic planar tweeter. Eminent’s drivers cover a wider frequency range; in the LFT-16 the midrange unit works from 700Hz upward and the tweeter from 10kHz upward, our measurements show. The midrange unit resonates and peaks around 10kHz and I clearly heard this. The small 2in high super tweeter contributes little.


What can I say about build quality, styling and finish? Well, the LFT-16s are quite sturdy, as is a brick whatsit house. And they bear other similarities. Styling is non-existent and finish execrable. You have to be a true adherent of the faith or a style challenged engineer to appreciate these loudspeakers, and to help Eminent fit open electrical connections and good qualitry bi-wire terminals that allow bi-amping should you be so inclined. The terminals cater for 4mm plugs as well as American spades, but bare cables must be wrapped around the posts as the through-holes are occupied by wire links.


The LFT-16 comes in ‘handed pairs’ with tweeters on different sides. It’s usual to place handed loudspeakers with tweeter on the inside, to lessen reflective cancellations from cabinet surface waves and physical discontinuities. It does work: I designed World Audio Design loudspeakers with tweeter on the inside, asymmetrically positioned, after hearing clear benefits of more certain and ‘solid’ imaging, during comparative listening tests.


Our review samples came with bass units connected out-of-phase, measurement showed, which isn’t right. Conveniently, the open terminals allowed me to re-connect the bass units in-phase and this is how I reviewed them. Our exchange of e-mails with Eminent designer Bruce Thigpen provides an explanation. It seems our samples are likely to be updated so we have a rolling review situation here, an on-going story. I think the LFT-16 needs tidying up a little, with bass/lower midrange output reduced a little. The bottom line with this loudspeaker is, however, that it offers fairly spectacular results in many areas at an affordable price. It is a real taste of high end at a peanuts price, in a room friendly package (well, size wise!). That’s why I was so keen to review it (I reviewed their larger LFT-08 in our January 2010 issue).


Surprised the bass units were connected wrongly? A lot of loudspeakers arrive at Hi-Fi World for review faulty one way or another. Some that aren’t faulty get sent back in any case because they are so bad as to be unreviewable. In this context the LFT-16 situation wasn’t so extra ordinary. You have to hear this loudspeaker before passing judgement because even though imperfect it shades most else. The final iteration we will review in the magazine; this interim review is on our website where space isn’t limited, to explain the review circumstances. Correspondence on this is after our Verdict.


SOUND QUALITY

Clarity, speed and timing are cliched necessities of audio and to get them, just raise the upper midrange; everyone else does it. What I love about the LFTs is that they don’t do this and yet I’ve never heard such breathtaking clarity, sizzling speed from cymbals and metallic percussion instruments and, given both, it is hardly surprising that the LFT-16 is right on the mark with its timing. Tambourines in Sade’s ‘When Am I Going To Make A Living’ were sparklingly vibrant and pin sharp clear on both sides of the stage, they stood out like bright beacons. There’s some upper treble emphasis, that’s for sure, treble has a sting, but the LFT tweeter is super clean so it mattered little.


Eminent make a good enough job of the bass chamber; it keeps up with the planar magnetic midrange unit, playing bass lines with enough expression to make the whole picture plausible, more convincingly than most Martin Logans. The repetitive bass line in Sade’s ‘Hang On To Your Love’ rolled along nicely, propelling the song in firm fashion. There’s no deep bass but what is there gets on with the job, giving even handed treatment across the bass scale. There’s the expected small sense of box warmth and thrum, a slight tubbiness, but this at least adds some bulk to the bottom end.


With the bass unit connected out of phase the LFT-16 as delivered sounded balanced but there was obviously a gap between bass and the rest caused by the suck out we measured. You might be surprised to learn though, that the LFT-16 planar drive units are sufficiently spectacular in their own right that this did not dominate the picture.

eminent_lft-16_rear You want insight, detail and clarity like few other loudspeakers can manage? The LFT-16 has them in spades, so much so it is frightening. Just like the larger LFT-8b, the small LFT-16 sets a standard few loudspeakers can match in these areas. I’ve always admired magnetic planar drive units since living with Leak 3090s; their Isodynamic treble unit I’ll never forget: it delivered definitively smooth treble, nothing came close. The LFT tweeter is more prominent, very prominent in fact, but it spills out a stream of fine detail with chiselled perfection.


The LFT-16’s sound stage stretched linearly between the loudspeakers, neither throwing the sound forward nor back. Yet images hang upon an open canvas with infinite space behind them. I’m not sure I have ever heard Duffy sound so convincing singing Warwick Avenue; she was intimately present and exquisitely expressive in the way Duffy can be, because of the way she modulates her voice. There was plenty of midrange dynamism, at least with our Icon Audio MB845 MkII power amplifiers, so Duffy had convincing body.


So did Jackie Leven singing ‘Boy Trapped in a Man’, although the box added in some warmth and thuddiness to bass. Jackie fairly yelled out though; solid midrange dynamics again making these loudspeakers a lively listen, more so than most methinks and here they are a nose ahead of electrostatics. The twang of plucked guitar strings on ‘Desolation Blues’ jumped at me as Jackie crooned about ‘winter in Kilbride’. The LFT-16s pulled me in very close; it was like sharing the singer’s experience; they’re almost frightening.


With ‘Extremely Violent Man’ the crashing guitar chords had real bite but were also richly textured, much more so than I am used to from spinning this song through innumerable loudspeakers in for review. Hand drums staked out a steady, compulsive beat and Jackie sung threateningly centre stage, his deep resonant tones tumbling out at me. It was a great performance, one of the best.


In the same way the LFT-16s brought Jackie Leven close, they lifted Nigel Kennedy playing Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ into a joyous occasion. The lightning speed and deftness of playing that Kennedy manages was illuminated in no uncertain way, again the LFT-16s injecting a sense of dynamic resolution that made most rivals sound timid. I will point out again though that this is a strength of our MB845 MkII valve amplifiers, being revealed by a good loudspeaker. Use a transistor amplifier of questionable ability and you may just get a horrid screech – don’t blame me!
As Massenet’s ‘Meditation’ slipped gently past me the LFT-16s illuminated every little nuance of Nigel Kennedy’s sensitive interpretation. His violin was full bodied and richly detailed too, with not a hint of the wiriness and phasiness so common with conventional loudspeakers, especially those with poor dome tweeters.


With larger orchestral performances like Holst’s ‘The Planets’ the LFT–16s were convincing, with lively kettle drums pounding away in Mars to give a sense of power to the piece. The drive units resolve timbral signatures of individual instruments with alacrity, horns were fruity and rich yet hard etched and clear and cuttingly fast. With volume cranked right up to very loud the LFTs sounded unstrained and in perfect control, even kettle drums sounded tight and in time with all else.


As a test of real life use I chose to push the LFT-16s with Lady Gaga and saw 50 Watts come up on a power meter with Bad Romance, SPLs toping 95dB on an SPL meter where I was sitting: the speakers were chewing up power, yet sounded relaxed and in control. So these loudspeakers rock but they need a muscular amplifier. I used the LFTs with our Musical Fidelity AMS50 pure Class A transistor amplifier and was pleased to hear less of a difference against the Icon Audio MB845 MkIIs than with many loudspeakers. Curiously, upper treble sounded more muted and there was less midrange depth, but then this is usually the case. Some of the loudspeaker’s drama left in a huff and I would choose to use a high quality valve amplifier with the 16s. As they need high quality and high power, unless volume is kept in check, the loudspeakers are demanding in this respect.


CONCLUSION

Eminent’s LFT-16s are far from perfect: one look tells! Until they improve styling and finish the world isn’t going to beat a path to their door for them. But the UK industry threw out tone controls and much else long ago in the pursuit, they said at the time, of simplicity, purity and better sound quality, at an affordable price. Using this argument the LFT-16 muscles its way from bottom to top!


What you get here is sound quality quite obviously a step up on most else, at an affordable price. It’s a loudspeaker well worth hearing, something of an education in truth about what a good loudspeaker can sound like – and the truth is exciting to hear.


*googly - see Wikipedia


verdict four globes (4/5)

A unique loudspeaker with great sound quality at a low price. It is well built, but styling and finish are awful.


EMINENT TECHNOLOGY

LFT-16    £1150

+44 (0)23 9225 7759

www.eminenttechnology.co.uk


FOR
- pin sharp imaging
- super fast transients
- crystal clear mid/treble


AGAINST
- ‘tubby’ upper bass
- needs lots of power
- dreadful appearance


READERS LETTERS

 

TOP NOTCH

I am happy to say I received my pair of Eminent Technology LFT-16 loudspeakers on the same day you got the new review pair. They were delivered by Darren Hatcher of A&D Audio. The fit and finish does leave something to be desired. There were loose screws in both treble units, one that had no wood behind to fix to. Some glue or other material is evident on the midrange units and the wood has a small crack above one unit. Having said this the boxes are heavy and feel sold. They certainly pass the knuckle wrap test.


Initially I was underwhelmed by with sound, it was a little muddied and veiled. The speakers were initially on low heavy spiked bases tilted backwards and angled inwards. The system they are in consists of a Benchmark DAC 1 pre amp, Channel Audio D200 power amps an Xtreamer digital source and Michell GyroDec with Hadcock 242 arm Benz M2 cartridge and Benz Micro PP1 phono amp. All connected with a mix of Van Den Hul The First interconnect and Odyssey 2 speaker cable.  The speakers were run in with a burn-in CD from a rival magazine for 48 hours (source: an X Box). After running in the sound opened up a little, sounding more transparent with good front-to-back depth. They did however still seem a little dull to me. I experimented by putting the treble on the high (0 dB) setting. This was not successful and made them sound a little phasey on some material. 

Having spoken to Darren he suggested the speakers be raised so the treble unit was at ear level. The speakers now reside on Atacama SL400 stands. These are sand filled, very rigid and not prone to ringing.  I have liked the bass on the LFT -16 from the beginning. It is very tuneful and fast, no doubt due to the sealed box. However, on the stands it takes another leap forward and integrates with midband seamlessly. The speakers are far from being dull as I first thought and are very well balanced. They don’t shout the midrange or treble, but there is no lack of detail or insight. Tonally, I have never heard instruments more convincing. As for the sound stage there is space and air around each instrument and a real sense of height. I am genuinely hearing aspects of recordings I have not before, such as dubbed instruments and room acoustics.  The speakers are understated but dynamic, it is this ability to reproduce dynamics that gives the realism to the music. Records I have previously found difficult to listen to, such as the Sundazed reissue of MC5’s ‘High Time’ (Sundazed make the best of a poor original recording) now have more body and atmosphere that allow you to concentrate on the music for what it is. It is enough to say I usually combine listening with reading a hi-fi magazine or two, but since I have had these speakers I just find myself putting it down to listen.

Thanks for a great magazine.

Kevin Foster


Hi Kevin - that was a timely and interesting e-mail. I have only measured our second pair and even with the tweeter at ‘high’ the ‘speaker barely makes 10kHz – see our graph. Moreover, this was the best it could do over a narrow forward angle, so there is little treble energy going into the room and it will sound dull, exactly as you say. The speaker must be pointed at listeners for strongest treble. As you note though, the loudspeaker still offers fabulous results, quite different from cone loudspeakers and much better. I wondered whether the originals were the best loudspeaker I had ever heard at the price. NK

lft-16-mk2-fr1

Our second sample measured flat to 10kHz and is deadly accurate - but where's the high treble?

 

KEVIN REPLIES

I am so glad that you agree with my ears. I did not realise that much treble was missing, but cymbals and high hats, etc., do sound recessed. Despite this they are solid and lifelike. I have lived with Monitor Audio GS 100 for some months and a speaker based on the Loki dual concentric drive unit, both of which are more brightly lit and forward, but neither have the presence or realism of the LFT-16. Darren had told me the speakers were delayed because a crossover component was not available. Could a wrong value item in the crossover be the problem? Or perhaps it is different tweeter unit? I do think the bass is very tuneful and well integrated. At ear level and pointed at me, the speakers now seem well balanced but a little dull, I shall try the high treble setting again. Presumably we shall get some feedback from the manufacturer; he seems an approachable man. I do hope that a solution to the treble fall off is available as these are great speakers that are getting better each listen. Once again many thanks for replying. I may see you at Whittlebury Hall if you are there, Darren promised me a couple of tickets! 

 

NEXT CUSTOMER?
I have been following with interest, your review of the Eminent LFT-16. I see that the review did not make it to the August magazine, and all is explained on your new website. I first heard these speakers about a year ago and was very impressed, and was almost ready to buy, but I did have a couple of concerns. In the UK a got the impression that these were being distributed by a one man team, so I was concerned about continuing support, although there is a three year warranty. Styling and look were quite basic. However, given the sound of these speakers, I think that is not so important, as any other type of electrostatic/ribbon type speaker will either be too big for the room, or could never be placed in an optimum position. I also noticed that on the Eminent website there is a very good user guide for the LFT-16s which details the design theory, measured performance and component values. I also notice that there is another downloadable document, which describes how to adjust the film tension, using the adjustment cams. Although the LFT16s are not specifically mentioned, I wonder if you could enquire when you revisit the review if any adjustments are required during the life of the product. We know that companies like Quad and other independent traders can offer rebuilds, repair and upgrades and I wonder where we stand with Eminence. If these support issues could be addressed in the review, I could well be their next customer.

Alan Ralph 

 
Hi Alan. You are a brave man methinks, but the LFT-16 is arguably one of the best £1k loudspeakers going and out runs others sonically by a big margin I feel. As we are finding though, U.S. production seems a little – erm – variable. We await more news of the fix for depressed tweeter level.  In the meantime, another manufacturer tells me they are to revive their ‘Isodynamic’ treble unit from the 1980s and we might hopefully see a midrange unit too. Magnetic planar drive units have potential, the LFT-16s show. NK


MANUFACTURER'S CORRESPONDENCE

 

From Bruce Thigpen of Eminent Technology

 

Noel,

I want to apologize because you received a version of the speaker that we are no longer producing. The measurement flaw is our mistake, a failure to analyze a replacement woofer carefully.

 

We started producing the speaker with a woofer that we designed in-house and was manufactured by Eminence. The cone supplier at the time (Nuway) was acquired and no longer makes the cone we want, so we substituted a woofer without checking the impulse response. In fact the speaker you have will not exhibit the dip you find with either a sine sweep or pink noise or music reproduction. The dip occurs in the first .0006 seconds of a step or mls response centered around 700Hz. It should measure fine with other techniques, this is why we missed it.

 

About 50 pairs of speakers went out with the woofer you have and will be replaced at no charge to any customer who wants the new driver.

 

The replacement woofer we are using now does not exhibit the problem and passes all different types of frequency response measurements. We can arrange to have Darren change the woofer and send it back to you.

 

We like to produce the same product year after year. We manufacture the planar transducers and the cabinets in house and the quality can remain consistent. We never undertook cone loudspeaker manufacturing because it is highly competitive, now with changes in loudspeaker suppliers, for the last ten years or so we have not been able to source the same cone speaker components for any length of time.

 

Thank you very much for looking at our products.

 

Bruce Thigpen

Eminent Technology (Florida, USA)

 

Hi Darren,

Here are Pink Noise and Sinusoidal (stepped &  gated) responses for the LFT-16 and indeed they show just the same picture: drive units out of phase. Re-connected in phase they sum as expected and change the aural character of the loudspeaker. But obviously the bass unit is too sensitive for the mid and treble units. There are various ways of overcoming this but sensitivity will suffer of course. All the same, they  have smoother mid and treble than most loudspeakers, in spite of everything.

regards

Noel Keywood (London, UK)

 

Hi Noel

Thanks for your reply, are you happy to publish the review with you findings or would you require the LFT-16 with the newer bass units?

Darren Hatcher, Eminent Technology UK


Hi Darren,

Probably both.  We will put an in-depth look on the website with updates as they come in, and notice of updates too. The loudspeaker is worth covering because it is unique and strong in crucial areas.  The magazine may perhaps take a shorter condensed version, that refers to the website coverage.

regards

Noel Keywood

 

Hi Bruce,

It seems both sets of LFT-16s you sent over are not working to their full potential, such a shame as we were hoping to get the review in for this month. Could you please contact Noel and cc me in and I will forward your reply to the customer. Is it a component error? I have no way of testing these things, any help would be useful.

Kind Regards,

Darren.


Darren,

We found the problem, the microphone and preamp combination we used to measure the speaker had a peak at 20kHz. The microphone with a different preamp calibrated very nicely, but the measurement preamp we use did not agree with it which resulted in a pretty big peak, about 10dB, in the response at 20kHz. So the resultant speaker design using that combination has a significant roll off at 20kHz, opposite the microphone. The irony is that I took the speaker home and pronounced it as good, unfortunately I evaluated the redesigned crossover on an FM tuner for several hours, since the FM tuner was at best flat to 15Khz I completely missed that fact that the tweeter is down 10dB at 20kHz.   We are trying to solve the problem and determine the best solution. Hopefully we can do this quickly. We will need to modify or exchange both pairs speakers  Needless to say I am disappointed and will endeavor to make this right.

Bruce Thigpen 
Eminent Technology


MEASURED PERFORMANCE 

Initial measurement revealed a sharp phase dip between bass and midrange drivers. Reversing the connections to the bass unit – easy to do on this loudspeaker – brought the drivers into relative phase with each other and produced the frequency response shown. In essence the m midrange and treble ribbon drivers are quite flat and even, free from the small peaks of local resonance that colour conventional drivers. The small treble unit has a peak of a few dB unless measured slightly off axis (as we measured it), whereupon it measures quite flat. So, for flattest response the LFT-16 should be pointed straight down a room; for slightly stronger treble that should be pointed at the listener. Either way, the magnetic planar drivers measure very well, being unusually smooth in their output – expect a silky sound.


The sensitivity of such drivers is usually on the low side and this explains why their output is slightly below that of the bass/midrange unit. This makes for an easy, full bodied sound and also keeps sensitivity up. Measuring just 82dB sensitivity is low even with such measures in place and the LFT-16s need a little power to go loud – around 60 Watts or more. Overall impedance measured 7.3 Ohms with pink noise and the impedance curve is very smooth; how LFT prevent the sealed-box bass driver from peaking sharply I do not know; it looks quite well damped and gets down to a respectable lower limit of 55Hz before output falls steeply. So low bass and subsonics are limited and near wall use preferable. Our decay plot shows a good result with little overhang generally from the magnetic planar drivers n particular. Our distortion analysis shows quite clearly how distortion descends to less than 0.1% where the magnetic planar driver operates, from 800Hz to 10kHz. 


The LFT-16's magnetic planar drive units and bass driver measure very well. This is a loudspeaker with unique properties.  NK


FREQUENCY RESPONSE (what it means)

lft-16-fr1-final2

Green - as delivered; White - re-connected in-phase.


IMPEDANCE (what it means)

lft-16-z-final


DECAY SPECTRUM 200mS (what it means)

lft-16-decay-graph


DECAY MAP 200mS (what it means)

lft-16--decay-colour-2

DISTORTION (what it means)

lft-16-thd


BASS DISTORTION (what it means)

lft-16-lf-thd

 
Comments (3)
Precision
3Thursday, 17 May 2012 22:22
Romarin
What these speakers offer is a precise sound stage along with reflected sounds (more natural) too. (Many much more expensive spkrs are sadly devoid of those.) Even more so than it's big brother. The 8's lose the precision of the 16's. The bass to me is not an issue.
I couldn't care less what a speaker looks like. if you don't like them hide them in linen. Form follows function for me.
These things are phenoms!
LFT-08b etc
2Tuesday, 12 July 2011 17:10
Noel Keywood, publisher
Hi John,

The LFT-08b I reviewed in our January 2010 issue was better finished than the LFT-16, due to absence of floorboard! It's somewhat agricultural construction was obvious in the pictures I felt, but perhaps I should have been specific. In the final analysis though I forgive designer Bruce Thigpen just about everything for producing a truly innovative and better loudspeaker at a - relatively speaking - bargain price. Thanks for letting us know your view of them.
The red pen is being sharpened for Alvin!

best regards
Noel Keywood, publisher
Eminent LFT-16
1Tuesday, 12 July 2011 16:35
John Oakman
Hi Noel,
Floorboards indeed. Of course you're right, however the LFT 8B's (which incidentally encouraged me to buy a pair) are no better in terms of fit & finish & can only be intended for the 'enthusiast'.Maybe you were just being kind when you reviewed them (no mention at all of the f & f but then of course there is none) !

But what a loudspeaker.Totally rewired with your chosen brand of cable (Nordost here) (the stuff Bruce uses is - er - well wire. Bruce's capacitors I suppose have a use somewhere in the world of electronics(Mundorfs work wondrously), decent terminals rather than the throw away Chinese specials,etc etc & you have a loudspeaker to take on the world.Not to mention most important of all a design genius who is a joy to email & responds accordingly. The rotary sub up next for review ?????

Enjoy the magazine hugely & pleased to see Alvin on the team, but 'please' not too much composer pomposity. I'm sorry if Tchaikovsky has too much heart for him to handle. Perhaps he needs a pair of LFT 8B's in his life.

Best Wishes
John Oakman

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