For the well-heeled wanting the ultimate in high- frequency transparency and detail, these interesting horn-loaded Electrostatic Sopranino supertweeters from ENIGMAcoustics are worth checking out. They’re designed to augment and extend the high frequency response of your existing loudspeakers, promising increased immediacy and clarity.
Being electrostatic, the moving diaphragm is extremely light, and the makers claim it achieves excellent transient performance with no ‘breakup’ modes or intermodulation problems. The unit is transformer coupled with a simple 2nd order crossover filter, and minimum impedance is about 3 Ohms at 12kHz.
Unlike other electrostatic units, the Sopranino’s diaphragms are self-polarising, so there’s no need for a separate power supply. ENIGMAcoustics call this technology SBESL – short for self-biasing electrostatic loudspeaker.
In terms of build quality, The Sopraninos inspire confidence. They’re solid and well made, with an aluminium case and a half-inch thick glass frame that’s sturdy, well- damped, and attractive to look at. The instructions warn against opening the enclosures up, indicating that damage will occur to the hi-tech drive units if this is done.
To help integrate them with your main speakers, each Sopranino has a three-way switch marked High, Mid, and Low. However, it’s not output level that’s affected, but crossover frequency. In the High setting, the cut off frequency is around 12kHz. Set to Mid, it’s about10kHz, while Low cuts off below 8kHz.
ENIGMAcoustics recommend the mid setting, and (after much experimentation) this was my preferred choice, too. Whichever you pick, it’s all very much down to individual taste, and the tonal balance/sensitivity of your speakers. Even the recordings played may influence your choice.
With a recording (or hi-fi system) that sounds dull and recessed, the Low setting might work best. Recordings that are forward and ‘toppy’ should benefit from the High setting. The Sopranino has a sensitivity of 90dB for 1W at 1m. This makes them work well with most loudspeakers, and in practise you’ll find there’s enough output.
The ENIGMAcoustics Sopranino noticeably improves clarity, timing, dynamics, and projection. It can tighten up thick flabby bass, as well as giving transients a crispness that sounds real. Sadly, ‘perfection’ doesn’t come cheap. But then it never does. I used the Sopraninos with a hybrid fully horn-loaded loudspeaker from Impulse and Klipsch, having a sensitivity of about 93dB. My loudspeaker arrangement features the horn-loaded bass/mid drivers from Impulse H1s with the horn-loaded upper mid and tweeters (padded down) from Klipsch Heresy IIIs.
The Sopraninos, being horn loaded, sound much more assertive than the Townshend Maximum supertweeters I use. The music gains noticeably in terms of increased transient attack and immediacy, but there’s no sense of the extreme highs protruding. Although you’re enhancing the high frequency performance by adding supertweeters, the benefits go far beyond sharper crisper highs. It’s amazing how much tighter, better controlled, and more powerful the bass sounds when you add a supertweeter like the Sopraninos. The music seems more vivid and alive, jumping out of the speaker boxes with added detail and dynamic projection. Everything is sharper and more crisply focused.
Imaging is more three dimensional, with enhanced height and depth, plus a more precise placement of voices and instruments in the soundstage. As you’d expect, the treble sounds crisper and more immediate, but at the same time the upper frequencies exhibit a lovely tonal sheen – helped, no doubt, by the Sopranino’s exceptional purity.
ENIGMAcoustics claim an upper response out to beyond 40kHz, so it’s possible to reproduce frequencies well outside the 20kHz limits of human hearing. Of course, once you pass the age of 20, your ear’s HF response starts to diminish. By the age of 60, you’re probably deaf above 14kHz – maybe even worse... Ah, the joys of growing old!
What can do about your flagging response? Perhaps surprisingly, a set of these Sopranino supertweeters will definitely help. They’re the sonic equivalent of Viagra, adding a brilliance and immediacy that’s captivating. Although exploiting the extended response argues for sources with information above 20kHz, the difference can still be heard on CD.
Since I added the Klipsch high frequency drivers a few years back, my system has sounded a lot more immediate and assertive. Transients have better attack, and dynamically the sound seems more integrated – doubtless because the whole speaker is now fully horn-loaded from top to bottom.
Into such a speaker system the horn-loaded Sopranino integrated very well. It added lustre to something that’s already pretty good. And being horn-loaded, it matches the other drivers in terms of dynamics and projection, although it was shown at this year’s CES in less horn-loaded surroundings with considerable success.
That said, there is a risk the upper frequencies might dominate the mid-range and bass. For example, if Sopraninos were used with insensitive bookshelf speakers having limited bass and a bright tonal balance, the result might be an excess of high frequencies. Conversely, any system that sounds thick and dull will be transformed.
I envisage the Sopraninos working best in hi-fi systems that already offer extended bass performance. If your system is slightly bass-shy, then adding super tweeters might not be a smart move. But maybe that’s an unnecessary warning, since anyone able to afford something like this will probably own big full-range loudspeakers already.
ENIGMAcoustics Sopranino Electrostatic Supertweeter (CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree)
Driver complement: self-biasing, horn-loaded electrostatic driver
Frequency Response: 8kHz – 40kHz, ± 3dB
Sensitivity (1m/1W): 90 dB
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Dimensions (W X H x D): 181mm x 193mm x 207mm
Weight: 10.4kg (shipping weight), 2.7kg (each)
Price: $3,690 per pair
Tel: +1 (949) 340-7590