It seems to be a bit of a French thing, weirdly shaped and spherical loudspeakers. Cabasse have long been an advocate, and Epsilon have for many years been manufacturing products that are about as far as you can get from conventional rectangular or square boxes, the Planet is no exception.
At just under twelve inches in diameter it is compact, and due to its shape stands out as unconventional, which is not difficult given how aesthetically boring most of the competition is. At a time when mid market loudspeakers all seem to look and sound alarmingly similar, it is at least refreshing to have a product that is not afraid to be different.
The cabinet itself is moulded from a reinforced glass fibre resin, suitably thick to make what feels like a very inert and solid structure with an internal volume of about 10 litres, assuming my O level maths is correct. The high quality Lacquer is well finished and is available in black red or white, very 70’s Habitat. The metal mesh grille is magnetically attached, personally I would like to see it available in black as well, and be warned that it dents quite easily. So, just before writing this piece I noticed the back page of a Sunday colour supplement with an advert for Roche Bobois - very cool furniture and a pair of red Elipsons in the photograph. Which means because of the way the Planet looks, there is always going to be a tendency for it to judged it as a bit of a novelty or a fashion product, and not taken seriously as a loudspeaker. Which would be missing the point.
Although they might not have had a particularly high profile in the UK, Elipson have been around for over seventy years, and in their native France have built up a quite a profile with strong connections to the broadcast and music industries. Strange looking speakers abound, particularly spherical ones, and somewhere in my past I recall a moody recording studio shot of Serge Gainsbourg with peculiar loudspeakers in the background - I’ll bet they were Elipsons.
I understand the Planet is a resurrection of a previous design by the company, but the adherence to a spherical cabinet offers a number of advantages over more conventional shapes. The structure is inherently rigid and non resonant, and with no panels to speak of vibration will tend to cancel itself out. The absence of any parallel surfaces should also minimise internal reflection, although one could argue that actually the internal spherical space is still prone to a standing wave pattern, just very different from a rectangular cabinet. The design is based around a nominal 6 1/2” co – axial drive unit comprising a treated paper cone for the bass and a 25mm soft dome tweeter, this looks to be of Seas origin. Crossover is formed from a second order filter for the bass and third order for the treble, component quality is fairly standard commercial grade constructed on a PCB. Input connections are via small but effective binding posts, above which is a small 3” deep port, internally there is a light amount of BAF damping against the cabinet wall.
The Planet comes with a small aluminium ring to allow positioning on a table or shelf, as well as the option to hang the speaker there is also a dedicated stand and wall mounting bracket available, both of which bolt into a recess on the bottom of the speaker. The stands consist of a single tall pole on a very heavy circular base; there is no provision for spikes on this.
The co – axial alignment has been around for many years with a heritage that goes back to Tannoy, KEF reinvigorated the idea with their UniQ designs some twenty years ago when the development of small neodymium magnets allowed positioning of the tweeter within the voice coil of the bass unit. In theory this arrangement should present a more coherent waveform across the frequency spectrum by getting closer to the ideal point source, but there are more complex mechanisms at work that complicate the situation in practice.
Tried in a number of different locations, the Planet is a relatively lively loudspeaker with a mildly forward balance, in contrast to the overly equalised ‘depressed’ sound that some smaller speakers exhibit in an attempt to impress. I will happily trade a bit of refinement for a sense of communication. As such, they benefit from being near a wall, but too close and the rear firing port becomes a little obvious. While there is a mild hint of coloration in the lower mid, they are mercifully free of the glutinous MDF character that afflicts so many boxes, and I think that this – coupled with the paper diaphragm - contributes to their sense of speed and musical dynamics. For a small speaker the Planets will play reasonably loud, but if the volume gets too high they start to lose definition and harden up, particularly with bass heavy material. But the good thing is, they are not a speaker that needs to be excessively driven to create excitement out of music. I spent a number of evenings listening to them running from a Radford STA25 power amp, (admittedly with upgraded silver wound transformers) and the results were sublime. Top end and mid sounded detailed and articulate, while the bass was rhythmic and tuneful as far as it went, hiding the slightly elastic quality of the bottom end typical of a medium sized valve amp.
Imaging and presentation (the things that small speakers should be good at) were quite precise, but benefited from careful positioning, and improved with the addition of cones under the stands. They are suitably open and revealing enough to easily expose differences thrown up by fine tuning throughout the system, and the use of superior cables cleared up a tendency toward a slight coarseness at the higher mid and top end.
The way that they responded to a high quality source and a bit of care made me wonder whether given a less salubrious environment they would hold their own. But sat on the desktop and fed from ITunes via a Cyrus 8 integrated they really didn’t sound bad, the saving grace being that they managed to convey that sense of energy and life with most of the material I listened to in this way. Interestingly, they also managed to maintain quite a clean and un – muddled bottom end in this less than ideal position, a feat which most box speakers fail to achieve by delivering one note bass in abundance.
As a result, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take them into work with me to see how they might perform as near fields. I have to say that they looked very, very cool sat on top of an SSL mixing desk, and the little I heard suggests that it might be an interesting path to pursue at some stage in the future. Another day…
I guess a lot of people might dismiss the Planets as being a bit too ‘out there’ in the way they look. That’s fair enough, but bear in mind that the visual appearance has come about through acoustic considerations rather than the other way round, and the result is a small speaker that hasn’t forgotten that listening to music should be fun.
Type: Two-way, bass reflex loudspeaker system
Drivers: Elipson 10mm soft dome tweeter, Elipson 650mm paper cone woofer
Crossover frequency: 3.8kHz
Frequency Range: 48Hz-20kHz (+/- 3dB)
Nominal impedance: 6 Ω
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Maximum music power: 60 Watts
Recommended amplifier power: 30-80 Watts
Terminal type: Silver-plated single wired
Internal wiring: 99.99% OFC
Dimensions (WxHxD): 29 x 29 x 29cm
Available finishes: Black, red and white lacquer
Price: £600 per pair
Manufactured by: Elipson
Distributed by: Lawton Distribution
Tel: +44(0)121 511 1128