The Take Classic 5.1-channel system ($800) from the Canadian firm Energy has the distinction of being the lowest priced surround system in our survey, but don’t let that fact dissuade you from giving it serious consideration. Energy, you see, has a long history of building sub-$1000 surround systems that both look and sound as though they should cost more than they do. A case in point would be Energy’s well-liked Take 5 system, which garnered more than 20 industry awards over its lifespan. And though the Take 5 is a tough act to follow, Energy’s new Take Classic has arrived as that system’s successor, promising even higher performance.
The Take Classic package consists of four compact two-way Take Classic Satellites, a slightly larger two-way Take Classic Center channel speaker, and a substantial, 200-watt ESW-8 powered subwoofer. The Take Classic Satellites and Center speaker feature ported bass-reflex cabinets and identical “Coherent Source” arrays, which incorporate .75-inch “Hyperbolic” aluminum dome tweeters and 3-inch poly-titanium mid-bass drivers mounted quite close together in an oblong frame. The concept behind the array is to have the two drivers speak with one common, coherent voice.
The subwoofer, in turn, provides a 200-watt amp equipped with the usual sets of phase, crossover, and level controls, and an 8-inch “MPP” woofer equipped with Energy’s patented, signature ribbed elliptical surround. A “surround,” by the way, is the rubber-like ring that encircles the driver cone, acting as a suspension system to allow the cone to move forward and backward. What’s significant about Energy’s ribbed elliptical surround is that it allows larger woofer movements (meaning more air gets moved), while still ensuring that the cone stays under control, even in the midst of heavy-duty bass moments.
To help keep costs in check, Energy follows an “any color you want as long as it’s black” approach with the Take Classic system, with all cabinets featuring crisp, clean edge lines (rather than the radiused corners that are currently in vogue) and gleaming, high gloss finishes. Playback’s Art Director, Shelley Lai, who has a good eye for such things, pronounced the Take Classic system “very attractive.”
The crowning achievement of the Take Classic system is its overall tonal balance, which is smooth, natural, and delightfully uncolored over most of the audio range, apart from a trace of treble roll-off way up high. Even so, those slightly subdued highs may prove a blessing in disguise for listeners who seek to use the Energy rig with lower-cost electronics, which can often have exaggeratedly bright treble response. Now sonic neutrality may not seem like the most exciting of virtues at first glance, but in my experience the long-term benefits of a neutral and uncolored speaker system cannot be overstated. Neutrality in a speaker system is really a “gift that keeps on giving,” so that over time you come to trust and then rely upon the fact that the Take Classic system consistently presents instrumental and human voices in a natural, unforced, and unexaggerated light.
The speaker system offers good levels of detail and transparency, especially for its price, though it is not quite the equal of some of the more expensive systems in our survey. Bass is firm, reasonably deep, and generally very well controlled, provided the system is not pushed to overly high volume levels. Dynamic capabilities are good up to a point, though the system occasionally sounds slightly compressed on sudden loud passages, and can run out of steam if driven overly hard on large-scale movie soundtracks or musical pieces. For this reason, we think the Take Classic system will work out best for use in small to medium sized rooms.
Nothing shows off the fundamental goodness of the Take Classic system better than the sound of human voices, either in song or in soundtrack dialog. As an example, try watching the opening minutes of Swordfish with the Energy rig in play, and you’ll instantly appreciate how the system’s honest, unvarnished presentation exposes—but does not try to embellish—the eerily calm, man-on-the-edge-of-madness tone in John Travolta’s voice. Unlike some systems, which take the liberty of adding a touch of tonal color to “enhance” the material they reproduce, the Take Classic rig takes the much more admirable approach of stepping aside and letting the material speak for itself.
The Energy system generally acquits itself well on soundtracks, especially in terms of smooth, continuous surround sound imaging. One slight drawback, however, is that the system can sound compressed on sound effects that involve hard, sharp, explosive transient sounds. For instance, the gunshots heard in the famous shootout scene from Open Range can become somewhat quashed—lacking the fierce energy and transient snap they can and do have through bigger systems.
On the whole, I found the Take Classic to be even better for music playback than for movies, perhaps because music more often lets the system’s inherent smoothness and finesse shine through. If, for example, you’ve never heard Feist’s The Reminder [Cherrytree/Interscope] played through a good system before, then hearing it through the Take Classic system can prove a real eye-opener. Feist’s high, pure voice combines hard-to-reproduce sonic qualities that include wit, sincerity, and vulnerability, mixed with a touch of self-aware toughness—qualities that the Energies reveal and handle gracefully.
But if The Reminder shows how lovely the Take Classic system can sound, it can also expose the system’s dynamic constraints. On the popular track “My Moon My Man,” for example, heavily modulated bass passages occasionally overwhelm the system, temporarily muddying its characteristically clear midrange. You can restore clarity, of course, by turning the volume down, but the point is that you’ll encounter the Take Classic system’s dynamic limits earlier and more often than those of other— admittedly larger and more costly—systems in our Buyer’s Guide.