ERA Series 4 - $600 per pair
Silverline Minuet - $600 per pair
Heck! Those ERA speakers, what a pain in the neck! They sound so good I can't stop listening to music! I said listening to music, not listening to the speakers. I haven’t written a word worthy of describing the speakers under review, I’ve been busy listening to music.
I mean, reviewing is a tough job for a music lover. You may think it's cool that I get to listen to new gear and enjoy having it in my home, and yes, that is true to a point. When I have to send it back, I have to send it back; sometimes I just don't want to do it. Of course, there are those times I really don't care, equipment that sounds great but I just don't need it, or equipment that sounds phenomenal and yet it doesn't grab me by the jewels and scream, "Buy me!"
Listening to speakers isn’t as simple as some would think, I’d imagine many of you have gone through the agony of decision concerning which one to purchase. I titled this piece alluding to a man who played a position in Professional football often occupied by rather dangerous guys. Mike Singletary was, for lack of any other description, an elegant brute. A linebacker must be willing to hurt people…a former linebacker for Chicago said in an interview that he played football because he liked to hurt people. That’s part and parcel for the position of defensive linebacker.
The ERA Design 4 is elegant; looks and sound. The Silverline is elegant but a lot more forceful in its presentation. Both are damned fine speakers.
Hooking up the ERA speakers, with their gorgeous binding posts (gorgeous binding posts?) was a breeze. Just feeling those speakers made it worthwhile, what a tactile thrill; turned on by a speaker! Exclamation points would tell exactly how I feel about this little piece of musical furniture. I needn't write more. I'm done with this review, period (not exclamation point).
That would get me canned so I'll blather on with how impressed I am with the sound of strings and female voice. How the speaker layers the images on an expansive soundstage. I despise the word holographic, there's nothing graphic about speakers or music, but, if you like the term, then yes, the images were holographic.
They were more than that. I'd use the word tactile but I've expended the use of that word writing about other gear, and I'm not allowed to use it for the rest of this review. I have checked with the Bank of Punctuation and I still have a few exclamation marks I can use, however, so beware. What I want to know is why they allow me as many periods and commas, and even semi-colons, but I get an overdrawn notice if I use too many exclamation points. Why?
So, I enjoyed music. Worse, I had that "I don't recall hearing that" experience with every record I played! Background vocals more clear, instruments suddenly appearing from out of nowhere; consonants rendered more clearly (I have remained hidden from the Linguistic Police for a long time. I wonder when they're going to catch me and penalize me for speaking of how sounds are formed by our mouth, palate, teeth and tongue?) and instrumental timbre beautifully rendered. Every record I played I knew who was singing and playing, of course, but I knew that information better.
Sounds crazy, no? But in my little house of vinyl, tradition is important. Joni Mitchell sounded more like Joni Mitchell, Maria Muldaur more like Maria Muldaur; Ry Cooder's guitar, on Terry Evans’ Puttin’ it Down (Audioquest AQ 1038) sounded more like Ry Cooder's guitar; heck I knew it was him as soon as I heard it and I hadn’t read the credits in the cover!. That spells "upgrade your speakers" in the language of the wild Audiophilis Amelioratus.
I love my Infinity P-FR speakers, I don't want to get new ones, I can't afford them. O.K. there are things I don't hear from the ERA Design 2 speakers, deep bass for instance. Those tiny speakers will surprise you, but they don't do big bass. But then, there aren’t two powered subwoofers attached to the ERAs like the Infinity’s have attached to them.
A quick word about punch and dynamics, if you’ll pardon me. I’d just read a review about power and dynamics, the author wrote about needing gobs of power to “get it right.” One hundred watts is sort of the bare minimum (he did mention ultra-sensitive speakers and flea amps) according to his way of thinking.
My Monarchy 100 delivers one hundred watts of power, the subwoofers in the Infinity speakers are rated at one hundred watts, so…that’s two hundred watts of power delivered to my listening chair. In my largeish room, that’s an awesome sound when listening to Rock or large orchestral pieces.
The ERAs couldn’t do that with only the Monarchy amps driving them. How terrible that a small speaker couldn’t fill a 26’ X 15’ room with ear bleeding sound. How terrible that neither the ERA nor the Silverline could do it. Terrible.
But my God! Listening to them with my chair moved up so that my listening chair was the same distance from the speakers as they were from each other (approximately eight feet)…now THAT was something to stir the soul of the biggest Wagnarian! How can those little things accomplish such a thing?
While the ERA didn’t have quite the punch that the Silverline had, it was not left too far behind. A gorgeous, hand-built muscle car against a gorgeous hand-built sports car; it’s your choice which car you’d buy. From the starting point to the end of the race, the ERA was nipping at the heels of the Silverline. But, I mix my metaphors here!
I was thrilled with I Robot (Mobile Fidelity UHQR) when I listened to it with the ERA speakers hooked up, until I heard the LP with the Silverlines. Yet, Savall's cello on his CD or Starker's on the Mercury box set played through the ERA sounded so good I almost wet myself. I kept writing in my notes as I heard different stringed instruments, "These speakers love strings" and I wrote “They love the female voice” just as often.
When I look at the notes I've taken when writing about gear I really liked, I'm always skeptical as to whether I was really that excited over what I'd heard. I have a passion for music that exceeds my passion for hi-fi so strongly, so drastically, I'm often afraid I might exaggerate my wonder, my joy about a certain passage. Do I inflect my joy by raving about what I heard in the music rather than how the gear produced the music?
But of course, that's the entire point behind this hobby. If we don't seek to get a deeper meaning or at least a bit more enjoyment from a piece of music, then why do we spend the bucks?
The finish on the ERA speakers really helps, they look like the type of speaker one would choose to play refined music The cabinet work, the feel and fit of that cabinet reflect class, a caring for what that square box looks like as it delivers the goods. There are a lot of great sounding speakers that look more like they should be yelling, "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!" rather than playing music. I can't see why having a speaker that looks absolutely beautiful could do anything but enrich the listening experience. The cabinet of the Design 4 is gorgeous, sumptuous! Rounded sides rather than flat and squared, this pair of speakers would look great sitting in a House Beautiful living room. When I first removed them from their box, I sat there and stroked the wood of the cabinets for a few moments, really…I did!
I asked about design goals, why the speaker was built, why it exists. The answer explains everything I write here:
“The design goals were simple. The biggest selling segment of the speaker market are small mini monitors. We noticed there were little to no high-end models available from anyone and we knew that some would not only care about size, but quality as well. It's as simple as that... Everyone that buys small speakers doesn't want cheap plastic cabinets with off the shelf drivers.”
Don’t fret, the Silverline warn’t no slouch in that department. The speaker is a fine looking piece of woodwork, just a bit more box-like. But then, what does that have to do with the music one listens to…unless of course, that’s important to you or your sigot (significant other). By the way, them speaker posts on the Silverlines is purty, too!
Both speakers were set up in approximately the same spot where my Infinity’s sit. Both were placed on Definitive Technology speaker stands, approximately 29 inches off the carpet covering the concrete floor in my listening room. The ERA’s has a tapped hole so the speaker can be secured onto the stand. I listened to the Silverline with BluTak on the stand’s top late. I moved my listening position forward about 5 feet from the normal position. I liked the sound of both speakers close to the rear wall as they may be placed in a posh living environment, but they sounded their best where every speaker has sounded it’s best when I’ve listened to music in that room. The bass wasn’t too boomy close to the rear wall with either speaker, but I felt the mid-range and highs were far more pure in the spot where my speakers normally sat. Since most listeners will opt for a subwoofer to reinforce the bass, they may find (like many speakers) giving the speaker room to breathe will (in turn) breathe more life into the music.
The ERA manual does not address speaker placement, but is concise and a usefull tool none the less. I spoke with David Solomon about this and he informed me that in future copies, placement would be included information. The pair of Silverlines I received did not have a manual.
The speakers were driven with my Monarchy 100 SE monoblocks (100 watts per) and for a short time, a Mapleshade modded Scott 222C. The 30+ watts of the Scott had no trouble driving either of the speakers although tubes gave a bit more roundness to the ERA sound, not so much with the Silverline. Neither speaker is very efficient, but while listening to some rather bombastic music, neither made the Scott drop its drawers and sit upon the nearest toilet.
I played an absolutely ancient LP one night. Jelly Roll Morton sang to me. He played piano for me on Jelly Rolls On (Commodore FL 20.018 10” LP); he blew his heart out just for me. It was 2 in the morning and I wanted to play the record a second time. First, how a record that's probably closer to 60 years old than 50 sound that good? How does a system deliver the message 60 years later? "Big Lip Blues" had me singing those title words as I got ready for bed, got into bed; singing them as I fell asleep.
I was impressed over and over with every record I played. Switching to CDs, I was equally impressed (And why shouldn’t I be? There’s music within those silvery things!). Whether I played Rock or Classical, Bluegrass or Jazz, I was always drawn deeply into the music, switching hats constantly. “Review or listen to music, Michael! Make up your mind!” That sort of thing’s been happening a lot lately.
I had a phono stage in for review that I kept taking out of the system, using the stage in my Anthem. I’d listen to one side of an LP, then switch from Phono to Aux, switch some wires, and listen to the other side. Thankfully, it was a breeze, I could do it with my eyes shut; but what was revealed came as a big surprise. Totally different presentations! If I’d tried to tell you what the ERA speakers sounded like with the Anthem and switched without making note of the switch I would have been mightily confused. I believe you would have been confused also. If I do end up confusing the issue, I apologize, it was just too much fun to NOT do it. The differences revealed by the ERA speakers were startling.
I played the Mobile Fidelity UHQR LP of Alan Parson’s I Robot, took notes, switched phono stages and played it again. I did that with Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and again with Janis Ian’s Breaking Silence (Analogue Production LP). The phono stage under review delved a bit deeper into the bass than the Anthem, with more authority. That little speaker didn’t even breathe hard, telling me in no uncertain terms what the differences were between the sound delivery of both phono inputs.
When I’d played some of the same music through my Infinity speakers, I had no trouble hearing differences, but since the ERA speakers handle detail a bit better than the Infinity speakers, I heard those differences quite easily. Sibilants were a bit cleaner, none of the singer’s spit reached my ears.
Then, to make things even more difficult, I switched cartridges. I had listened to everything I wished to make note of while the ERA speakers were hooked up. I then hooked up the Silverline speakers, listening to every recording I’d listened to with the ERA speakers and the Dynavector cartridge. THEN, I switched from the very capable Dynavector DV 20XL to a hand built Win SMC10 Frankencartridge; deemed that because Sao Win had put the guts into a Monster alpha 2 cartridge body. This cartridge gathers up information like the largest computer anyone’s ever built, digging information from the grooves that astounded me.
So, I had a speaker (the ERAs), a phono stage, and a cartridge that were, collectively, far more transparent, far more detailed, and very different from my normal listening set up. The point I’m trying to make is that the ERA speakers always let me easily hear those differences. Easily delineating the differences in a wider soundstage via the phono stage I’d added, plus the cartridge with a design that delved deeply into untouched territory on any LP I thought I knew quite well.
Playing the switching game with the Silverline’s in place, I heard different stuff, different because the speakers are so different. In the past, I could never bring myself to accept that a speaker would sound better playing one music than another. These two speakers changed that viewpoint. Not, of course, that either of them played any music poorly; I felt that the ERA bested the Silverline with Classical music that used a low number of instruments and also with small combo Jazz. The Silverline rocked out with big orchestral music and Big Band. Strings and female voice are definitely the ERA strongpoint!
While Bruce Springsteen sounded great on the ERA speakers, the Silverline made me shiver just a bit more listening to those lonely lyrics on Nebraska; a great example of how different speakers can sound. The Silverline’s are the speaker my Led Zeppelin fan wife would buy, her husband would get the ERA.
Let’s face it, different music gets played differently. Simple, perhaps stupid comment, right? But it is quite true. Do you play a Led Zeppilin record at the same levels you play an Oscar Peterson recording? Do we even listen with the same mind-set? Party on! I can’t see a group of college frat boys dancing wildly around the room to Oscar Peterson’s music. While either could be used as background music for studying Shakespeare, I think there’s a greater chance that Oscar would be in the background rather than Robert Plant.
Smashing Pumpkin’s Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness somehow ended up on my CD player some years back. Being the snob I was (and still am), I dismissed the music before I even listened to it! It couldn’t be any good, it wasn’t recorded before the CD era. I’d listened to my sons talking about it, telling me it was pretty different from most of the music at that time. I didn’t, couldn’t believe them. They put a Blues Traveler CD on , asking me to listen to it. I did, half-heartedly.
I played both of those CDs at a rather respectable level for an octogenarian. The neighbors didn’t call up or come and slam their fists on my door, telling me to “Turn it down!” Why should they, I’m a listener that never blasts his music so the entire street can hear it. Beethoven Quartets, Schubert Quartets, perhaps, leaning toward the bombastic Carmina Burana, but never a feather was fluffed on the poor robins trying to grab worms from my front lawn. BUT THEY SHOULD HAVE FLOWN AWAY, SCREAMING IN FEAR!
I’m not saying there are no subtleties in the two bands I just named, but one just shouldn’t be an uppity Classical/Jazz listener when listening to any Rock!
So, where does that leave us concerning these two speakers? Could I not listen to Rock on the ERA speakers? Would it be heresy to play Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra through the Silverlines? Heck no!
But, none the less, I think there’s a bit more enjoyment to be had listening to my old Jethro Tull LPs on the Silverlines. I think that listening to the Budapest Quartet playing any of the Early Quartets by Beethoven would be a slightly more enjoyable experience if I hooked up the ERA speakers.
Heck, if I was going to buy speakers for a small room I might just get both. The price surely wouldn’t be too much of a deterrent.