Blackwoods, costing £1000, are the latest loudspeaker from Electricbeach and use an interesting driver layout. Electricbeach is a totally new company to myself and it never ceases to amaze me how many audio companies are out there beavering away to pursue their dreams and hopefully entice us the consumers and reviewers into their domain. Steve Jay is the man behind Electricbeach based in Southend and having spoken to him on several occasions he is obviously passionate about his design.
The Blackwoods are a compact floor-standing loudspeaker made from birch plywood which is a material I have found to work extremely well in loudspeaker cabinets, both from my own experience in building a kit speaker (see my review of the KJF Audio Frugal Horn Lite design kit I did for Hifi Pig in 2017). Many other manufacturers use birch plywood as it has many advantages over chipboard or mdf but it is difficult to work with and achieve a good finish. I must commend Steve in achieving a superb finish on his design and it has taken him many years of experimenting and patience to attain such high standards. Steve’s aim was to offer a superb looking and great sounding speaker at an affordable price. We’ll see if he did this later.
The Blackwoods are very neat and have a Mark Audio CHP-70 wideband, wide dispersion cone that is only 4” (10cm) in diameter mounted mid center on the front face of the cabinet near the top at ear height and a Chinese sourced ribbon tweeter on the top surface of the cabinet. Steve experimented with many drive units but found this Mark Audio driver suited his goals best along with the relatively inexpensive ribbon tweeter. Internal damping is in the form of sheep’s wool, a very effective natural material.
The cost was a factor too, but the drivers he chose worked best and proved that putting more expensive units it wasn’t a guarantee of improved performance. The same was true of the wiring and simple crossover components. He tried internal components costing more than the drive units themselves with no improvements.
The cabinet is rear ported (horn loaded) and the good quality speaker terminals (single wire) are on the back near the top. Steve uses a unique construction method that separates each panel with a neoprene damping layer, so reducing vibration transfer through the structure and the outer panels have a further neoprene layer sandwiched by a high-quality birch facing.
The finishes are hand worked direct treatments of the Birch surfaces and laminated baffles – very similar to stripping the heavy surface lacquer from a guitar to allow the wood a more natural resonance. Rubber feet are attached on the base which was ideal for my solid oak floor.
The speaker cabinet is wider at the base than at the top when looked at from the side being trapezoidal in shape which is part of the horn loaded design. The fit and finish was superb for the price and my review pair came in Vintage Cream which was a walnut veneered front baffle matched in pairs and a marbled cream natural wood finish for the rest of the cabinet. I loved this finish. The speakers were individually boxed and well packaged and protected for transit.
Having heard Mark Audio drivers both in their own models and other speakers and having spoken to Mark Fenlon himself at length about his design philosophy, I understand why they are very popular in many kits particularly. When utilised correctly the Mark Audio drivers have tremendous potential and Steve has nailed this.
He wanted a very natural and open sounding speaker that would convey real emotion to the listener and be a long-term pleasurable experience, not an instant impressive sound that you soon tired of. On initial listening, I was very impressed by the room-filling capability of the Blackwoods for such a small main driver and the bass output was more than adequate for my room and tastes.
The clever design of the horn loaded cabinet worked well and positioning the cabinets about 30cm (1foot) from the back wall and about 2m (6.5 feet) apart with my bass traps in the corners behind them was optimum. Unlike my Audio Physic Avanti 111 which are a lot bigger and tend to overdrive the room at times if I’m not careful with the volume, the Blackwoods were right at home.
Steve’s intention was to make the speakers engaging and detailed with good dispersion allowing for a wide listening area rather than a narrow sweet spot. A live sound with good presence so the listener has the same experience in space as the musician playing, but also be easily tuned into the emotion of the performance, as it is when at a live event.
Steve particularly wanted tone and character to be faithful and that is why he had an upward firing tweeter to provide a more realistic perception of reflected high frequencies as we hear them naturally. As the high frequencies are reflected off the ceiling, this gives the longest delayed time compared to the direct driver information. The clarity of sound is therefore not smeared but gives the treble more mass and body.
The paper Mark Audio wideband driver was chosen for its combination of a rich and warm tone and being a natural organic material suits our ears better. The good bass potential and rolled-off top end meant that the driver could be run wide open without a filter and give a good physical blend into the tweeter with a minimal filter, being simply a resistor and a small electrolytic capacitor. Keeping things simple makes life so much easier and the sound benefits as a result.
I put Marillion’s album on ‘Seasons End’ (the vinyl version) and the track Easter had me enraptured, not only because it is a favourite of mine, but also because it moved me in the way the Blackwoods conveyed Steve Hogarth’s gruffish vocals, and the backing vocals and the sublime playing of the musicians, especially the lead guitar. The track builds up so well and this type of progressive rock music which is so melodic lifts my spirit every time I hear it and I never tire of it.
Now if a piece of music can impress that much then the system must be doing something right. Synergy is one word used regularly and the Blackwoods were certainly gelling well with my Lime Tree pre and Temple Audio monoblocks. The title track ‘Seasons End’ also had me grinning from ear to ear as it sounded so good in a musical way because it was communicating with my inner psyche.
I hear a lot of systems at shows, at manufacturers when I visit their factories but it’s rare that products or systems move me enough to say I could live with that. Products and systems can sound very impressive but if they don’t move you what’s the point.
I used a variety of vinyl and CDs as source material and both mediums performed admirably. Steve said he was especially keen to see how I found vinyl on his speakers.
I would say that any good source would sound great through them. Sure, my Luxman PD300 and Ortofon Quintet Black
CD was equally spot on and my Luxman D-05 lapped the Blackwoods up. Lee Ritenour’s ‘Overtime’ live album has a brilliant version of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ on it. It is beautifully arranged and recorded with great spatial placement of the many instruments and vocals. At over 7 minutes long it is so good to my ear that it ends too quickly for me. (my dear wife has a different viewpoint!!).
Everything But The Girl is a fine duo and Tracy Thorn has a beautiful voice. On Amplified Heart there is the classic hit ‘Missing You’ a well-crafted song spoilt only by the many inferior remix versions subsequently made. The vocals were well placed and the Blackwoods drew me into the mix so I could float off in my mind with my eyes closed just concentrating on the music, not the equipment. I could go on and on about the different types of music I played, but rather than bore you let’s just say I was impressed with everything.
It’s obvious I loved these speakers. Steve has spent many years honing his skills to get the sound and finish on these speakers he wanted. The current model is a refinement of his original design incorporating all he has learned, and he has put hundreds of hours into this process. (Rome was never built in a day). These speakers suited my room and system, far exceeding my expectations and Steve is to be congratulated.
AT A GLANCE
Build Quality: Superb for the money with a flawless finish and very tasteful options.
Sound Quality: Room friendly, they easily fill a decent sized room no problem with surprising low-end performance. Heavy rock fans may want more weight or room shaking sonics, but I would trade that for quality and enjoyment.
Value for Money: Ultimately this will depend on your preferences. Compared to similar models and speakers in this price area they offer an awful lot to my ear and eye. I was more than happy with the finish and sound and ideal for a main or second system, brilliant.
Pros: Excellent organic sound and finish, easy on the ear and eye. Compatible with a wide range of electronics from budget to high end.
Cons: Very little to be honest.
Available in two designs:
- MARBLED BLACK – Cream main driver on Ebony baffle, with a proprietary Marbled Black wood finish to the cabinet.
- VINTAGE CREAM – Cream main driver on American Walnut baffle, cream natural wood finish to the cabinet.
Frequency response: 45Hz – 24kHz
Dimensions: 195 x 280 x 925 mm (WxDxH)
Weight: 13.8kg each