In the past, I’ve ripped into Ensemble’s names, for no other reasons than sport and devilment. But when it comes to the Natura loudspeakers, it’s humble pie time. I simply can’t think of a better name to sum up one of the most natural sounding speakers around.
These two-way ported and backswept ‘floorstanding’ loudspeakers are masters of decoupling. The speakers sit on a base with four squidgy rubber feet and a constrained layer base plate, so no direct coupling there, but then the loudspeaker cabinet itself is internally further decoupled from the base. This means the loudspeaker cabinet itself is free to move around, nearly independent to the base. This can be disconcerting for people more accustomed to loudspeakers rooted in place with spikes and high mass, but it seems to give the Natura several important sonic benefits we’ll discuss later.
The cabinet itself is a multi-layer aluminium sandwich arrangement, and Ensemble prefers the damping such an arrangement brings to overstuffing a speaker with wadding or long-haired wool. This means the cabinet is relatively lightweight (by audiophile standards), but surprisingly inert. The swept-back look helps to create both a natural time alignment and helps deal with some room acoustic properties (such as first reflections from the ceiling and floor).
The drivers are custom specified but not made from space age stuff; the 25mm fabric dome tweeter is notable in its deliberate lack of ferrofluid in the magnet gap, while the 180mm mid-bass cone is doped paper and custom made to Ensemble’s specification. On the end of the phase cap, there’s a very small white foam pip topped with what looks like silver foil, and there’s a felt over-baffle that visually connects woofer with tweeter. And at the rear are a couple of medium sized ports and the Ensemble-made connectors.
While I’m in humble pie eating mode, I’ve had something of a sea change about the Delrin-based Ensemble multi-way connectors. The Synergia posts take Ensemble’s oversized 6mm banana plug in the centre hole, pull the spring-loaded white Delrin sleeve out and there’s space for spade lugs. Unscrew the Delrin sleeve and you get access to a through the plug 4mm banana plug hole. Screw the Delrin sleeve back in and you can make them even grip bare wire. Ingenious? Perhaps, but practical certainly, although the Delrin itself can be slippery to gain purchase when scrabbling round the lower back of a loudspeaker. Behind the speaker terminals, the Ensemble custom devices continue with extensive use of Slinx Extrema cable, and Ensemble’s own high-grade Procap capacitors (alongside air-cored inductors) in the minimal phase, minimal group delay crossover.
While an obvious partner for Ensemble’s own Fuocco integrated amplifier, the Natura is in its comfort zone between 15-120Watts. With a modest six ohm minimum impedance and 87dB sensitivity, this doesn’t call for a powerhouse to drive it, but it shouldn’t be considered a speaker to be played at high volumes. If your tastes run all the way from AC to DC and like it loud, keep looking; the Natura isn’t the speaker for you.
The speakers I received were well run in (they were the demonstrators used at Whittlebury Hall) so I have no idea whether they require a significant amount of time to warm up. They were finished in Ensemble’s all-over silver-grey livery; an option of wood veneered side and rear panel is available. There is also an optional grille, with a little Ensemble logo standing proud at the top, like a small Rolls-Royce Silver Lady but without the cool retraction device. The grilles come supplied with little grommets that fit around the holes so that the grille does not rattle or buzz and the grille itself is damped, but still… £325 for a pair of grilles is somewhat ‘spendy’, even in the context of a £12,800 loudspeaker.
That decoupling mentioned earlier has a significant advantage it seems. It makes the Natura one of the least room fussy loudspeakers around. Put it in a room not much bigger than the box it comes in and it sounds great. Put it in a barn of a room and it sounds great. Put them in a room that doesn’t fit the profile (say, an L-shaped room, or something with an alcove) and they still sound pretty damn good. Just give them some space to the rear to let those ports breathe and try to have them form the bases of a triangle and everything is fine. This room independence is extremely good and uncanny. Yes, the more you can do to treat the room the better, but the Natura is a great loudspeaker for those who cannot add room acoustic treatment due to having to make domestic compromises. As in, any of us who have a shared listening room that doubles as a living space.
Now comes that name again… Natura. It fits so well, because this sounds remarkably natural. Natural, rather than neutral, although it makes a good stab at neutrality too. Like the Fuocco before it, there’s something inherently ‘healthy’ sounding about the Natura, very much the perfect loudspeaker for lengthy listening of acoustic instruments in their own space.
The acoustic instruments lends itself toward classical and jazz recordings. Especially smaller orchestral and jazz combos. This is perhaps one of the best chamber music loudspeakers I know of. The sense of interplay between instruments, and the flow they bring out of the music itself draws you deep into those wonderful Beethoven late string quartets by the Takàcs Quartet, on Decca. The sound fills the room well and gives a passable impression of there being four musicians in the room with you.
A curious by-product of my time with the Natura was the complete failure to need to turn the music up. If anything, I found myself turning the music down; not because it was hard or aggressive, but because the music didn’t need to be played that loud. It was as if a noise floor had been lowered in the overall performance.
I seem to be making the implication – by mistake – that the speaker only shines on string quartets and 1950s jazz trios. This is not the case; it sounded powerful and scaled up well to accommodate a full symphony orchestra. Once again that sense of flow and lyricism shone out. The realistic scale of the string quartet does extend up to the full orchestra, although the Natura doesn’t go for the holographic approach to soundstaging and it doesn’t play for the instantly impressive dynamics. It just does the sound of an orchestra recreated naturally in room; a concert hall in microcosm.
But where it really came into its own was solo piano. This difficult instrument to reproduce is something of bête noir for most loudspeakers, but the Natura aced the test with ease. I played the Uchida version of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 30 (Philips CD) and found the whole need for audio gratification just melt away. It sounded like music, and the sound was laid back and just breathed.
I found myself leaning heavily toward the classical and jazz ends of my collection and simply didn’t play as much rock, pop or electronica when the Naturas were in my system. Not that it made these genre bad sounding; far from it in fact. It simply seemed that I got my fill of rock that bit quicker than usual through the Natura. On the other hand, the likes of Brahms or Chopin… well, I could sit and listen all day. I’m not sure why this was – I don’t subscribe to the ‘good for classical’ argument and I think these speakers are universally good at everything they play – but the effect was clearly noticeable. Perhaps the loudspeaker creates a sophistication field that permeates the listener… not likely, but I’ve encountered more than my fare share of loudspeakers that create something closer to a zone of idiocy, so perhaps this isn’t so crazy. It’s not that rock was out of the question, but I did end up spending more time listening to music like Sylvia Plath by Ryan Adams rather than Public Enemy. I don’t think the speaker filters your tastes, but because acoustic music sounds so sublime through the Naturas, you end up playing a lot of acoustic music.
The Ensemble Natura is a lovely speaker to sit in front of. Its room-escaping properties and relatively easy drive make it almost universally accessible and its sophisticated presentation makes it a noble way to migrate audiophiles into classical music lovers.
Two-way rear-ported loudspeaker
Drive Units: 1x non-ferrofluid 25mm fabric dome tweeter 1x 180mm custom built mid-bass drive unit
Connections: multi-way Ensemble Synergia post single wired
Frequency Response: 33Hz-28kHz ±3dB
Impedance: minimum 6 ohms
Dimensions (WxHxD): 24x101.5x23.5cm
Weight: 34kg per speaker
Finish: body: all smoke silver or, optionally, smoke silver with wood veneered sides baffle: dark flannel grey, high-gloss finish footplate: smoke silver
Price: £12,800 per pair (grilles £325 per pair)
Manufactured by: Ensemble, Inc. Ltd.
Tel: + 41 61 461 9191