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The closest experiential precursor for my encounter with the Encore was Green Mountain Audio's Continuum 3 flagship. It relies on conventional (albeit very good) dynamic drivers and conventional passive networks (though via exceptionally well-executed minimum phase/time 1st-order filters). It employs cast marble sculptures with user adjustments for the critical 200Hz+ range [below]. In its review, I described the C3 as free from both transient fuzziness and its polar exaggeration -- hyped incisiveness -- to become an unusually clear window on spacious sonic vistas. Its relative lack of time-domain errors vis-à-vis higher-order networks manifested as excellent spatial precision and depth of field.

My catch phrase for the Green Mountain Audio design thus became transient fidelity. That's an often underappreciated dimension wherein human perception is extraordinarily acute, far more so than in the frequency domain. When adhered to, performance makes strides in precision, accuracy and "life" jump factor to become most tangible with percussive sounds. Their encoded dynamics then rise from zero to redline nearly instantaneously. Sticks crack, strings pop. Applying conventional transducers and crossovers, the C3 perhaps pushes the inherent limitations of its approach as far as humanly possibly. Enter the Manger-fitted Overkill Encore with its digital crossover. It picks up where the Continuum 3 left off. Covering the equivalent critical range with one single driver rather than two eliminates the need for Roy Johnson's Soundfield Convergence adjustments. This also makes for a visually more pleasing solution. The only physical adjustment which your Overkill setup agent will have to perform is alignment of the head's longitudinal axis with your primary listening area.

This tilt/aim is accomplished by how the Manger enclosure nests into the very thick contoured Sorbothane pad [above]. To appreciate the following comments, a look at the impulse response of the bending-wave driver is instructive. The horizontal axis represents time in milliseconds Like any
mechanical engineer's ideal, this driver stops nearly instantaneously with nary any overshoot. It reputedly does so over its entire bandwidth, especially when rear wave elimination is as ambitiously pursued as in Derek Wilson's enclosure. It's vitally important how any reproduced event begins (the transient, the original rise of sound from utter silence). Alas, it's equally important how this reproduced event ends - on time, coming to a dead stop with minimum driver breaking distance. If the driver overshoots and rings out, you'll have accidents in time. These accidents are ghost echoes and smearing. How wide-spread DUI drivers are on the audiophile roads becomes truly apparent when you encounter a loudspeaker/driver that accelerates and breaks far harder than is the norm, with unencumbered reflexes not under the influence.

What's that sound like? Exceptionally micro-dynamic and realistic. Most of all, effortlessly clear and transparent. In some ways, it's as though one listened in an anechoic chamber. An anechoic chamber eliminates room echoes via radical absorption of all boundary reflections. But this simile only carries so far. The Encore eliminates echoes inside the playback system. Naturally, your room still imposes its own signature. It always does and a certain amount of acoustical reverb is mandatory to avoid an overly dry and dead sound. The room simply remains the final frontier but one for which the DEQX can partially account by compensating for certain negatives which every room inflicts on smooth and even frequency response. Common standing-wave aberrations in the critical bass area can be notch-filtered. Hence, this Overkill system can cure common pains of verkackte room-induced nonlinearities.
For context, this is the step response of a $29,500/pr speaker as measured and published by Stereophile. Used here with express permission from John Atkinson.

The resultant crystalline clarity and purity of the Encores can initially be disconcerting. Our ear/brain bio computer has been trained for so long to "auto-eq" for the artifice of playback that when you first remove many of the triggers that prompt this mechanism, something seems amiss. For one, what's missing are effects of "room muck" you've come to take for granted in how it imprints itself on your playback chain. More importantly yet, there's the wholesale subtraction of blurring, overlay and ghosting (softness and warmth) within the actual signal. Encountering your signal in the raw can be a bit of a shock at first. However, once your ear/brain switches off its customary auto-eq, you see two truths - one auditory, one whole-body sensorial. The auditory one shows that you now hear the recorded room -- not your own -- far more clearly than before. The whole-body sensorial means that the act of listening has become very easeful. Some uninspected neural activity ceases to be invoked. A
certain amount of deliberation -- to get into serious listening mode -- ceases to be required. You know the caricature. "Hey, don't disturb me, I'm going into the basement to enter the zone." Add the furrowed brow, creased forehead and shut eyes. Call them all indicators of a certain efforted stress to maintain focus and concentration. Those are part and parcel of the audiophile's routine. It's called subliminal work.

With the Encores, the habitual prerequisite of this experience no longer applies. Here's a good question: Do you constipate and struggle during a life concert to make out certain things? Or do you relax into your seat and get played by the music? It's popular and trite as hell to say that it's all about the music. Alas, what we usually mean by that is a particular experience. It's a psycho-physical gesture or frame of mind. It's not really just the music doing the talking. It's us working consciously and subconsciously to enter a specific state and keep the enemies (the reminders of artifice) at bay. Our biological EQ filters them out. Once we're past whatever our personal outer routine happens to be -- disconnecting the phone, dimming the lights, cleaning and cueing up the record -- this psych work begins behind the scenes like a computer's defragmentation program.

It's somewhat anti-climactic to observe how in the presence of the Overkill Encore Audio system, this work relaxes to a profound degree. It's because in the vital time domain of clarity, there's so much agreement between what's real and natural and what's playback. I deliberately call it anti-climactic because it is. Instead of obsessing over this new-found level of realism (by exploring every crevice of the soundstage, for example), you simply find yourself in the physical place where music happens. You don't try to get yourself there by activating some serious listening mode discipline. Once you're free of this need to constantly collect proof that things are real and not fake -- or more accurately, disregard all the proof to the contrary -- some internal judge retires his check list. He calls it a day. Good riddance, your honor!

I'm not saying that the Encore system matches up perfectly with reality. That's never possible. What is the case here I believe -- because the Encore plainly demonstrates it -- is that active digital crossovers are far superior to analog variants. First-order series or parallel passive crossovers are the closest approximations of in-time rather than out-of time solutions we have in the Old World of speaker design. Hence there are distinct parallels between the best of those efforts and this New World of phase/time-correct digital crossovers. This becomes more relevant even when we add into the equation a multi-concentric wide-band transducer like the 7.5-octave Manger that reacts precisely enough to not blur most of the subtleties that show up when time aligns.

The professional market knows full well the advantages of active crossovers while HighEnd audio resists the whole notion like a five-legged hyena. Derek Wilson cleverly circumvents our option of refusal. The electronic outboard crossover mandates four channels of amplification. You gotta go 'pro' whether your cherished beliefs like it or not. This equates to active drive. How active?

There's nothing between the Cardas speaker terminals and the voice coil leads (four for the Manger, two for the woofer) but a choice run of Dutch silver/gold Crystal cable. That connecting cable is cold-welded to the terminals (no solder) and direct-soldered to the driver voice coil leads via a protracted process that has to -- perfectly -- account for the weight of the Crystal wire and the exact angle by which it approaches the voice coil leads. Say "Sayonara" to the reactive shock absorbers and buffers of the usual passive networks. Those insert themselves between the output current of the amplifier and the physical driver they're supposed to control. Active drive gets its hands directly on the driver. There's no intermediary. Each time an intermediary crossover is involved, something gets lost in translation.

As far as I'm concerned, the Overkill Audio Encore is the blueprint for the future of loudspeaker design. Other speakers will undoubtedly follow. In fact, NHT already has, with a less ambitious system that incorporates DEQX from inception as well. Part of Derek's recipe is the marriage of an active electronic DSP-based filter with the Manger driver, spending a good three years learning how to make the latter come into its own. Having heard the Continuum 3 rather recently in this same space, I feel comfortable stating that the Encore -- as it should for the money -- goes beyond the C3. Alas, how much of that advance is a function of the digital crossover and how much credit must go to the extreme drivers chosen and the overkill cabinetry I have no means of knowing. So let's move on to what I can talk about, namely the influence of the upgraded Overkill DEQX and thereafter inserting two Audio Aero DACs to replace the Overkill 4-channel converter.

First, an example that demonstrates the resolution of this speaker system already with the stock DEQX. On La Nuit Obscure [Virgin France B00004S6LN], a tenor slowly and steadily builds to a gigantic climax. Halfway into the crescendo that coincides with a heroic ascent into his top register, a bowed double bass enters very faintly behind the singer. This occurs extremely stealthily, at exactly the same pitch and at a very subdued volume. It's thus spatially and tonally completely overshadowed by the vocalist. There's one moment where the physical scraping noise of horse hair across strings has the two drift apart to even notice that there's two simultaneous performers. The bass changes momentary timbre. It becomes a distinct yet short-lived separate entity. Then he recedes again into the singer's shadows. But now that you know he's there, you can still make him out as a blended presence - if you pay attention.

We all have stories of suddenly hearing things on treasured records we never heard before. This is one of mine. I'd never heard the bassist bowing in this section of the track before. Considering that my usual reference system isn't exactly chopped liver in the resolution department, this example and what it points at become testament to the spatial separation power of the DEQX/Encore system. It truly operates at a very high level of precision. Simply put, hearing new things very rarely happens around here anymore. From component to component, things certainly sound different but to discover raw data that remained completely obscured before... well, that's somewhat of a rarity.

Now it's popular to talk about musically irrelevant Uber-resolution. This strange concept suggests that resolution is a sentient being. It can deliberately distinguish between what to resolve and what not to, what to shove into the foreground and what to obscure. Musically relevant stuff over there, musically irrelevant stuff over yonder. Not. The data is either on the software or it isn't. Heightened resolution doesn't invent information. Neither does it grab more data off a disc that somehow eluded lesser system (generally speaking). With lesser systems, less of the available data makes it through the convoluted chain and to the other side where things become audible. Envision two sheets of fine metal netting. You find them in window screens to keep the insects out. Even a slight misalignment of these screens, one atop the other, will either prevent you from looking through them altogether or make the remaining holes so tiny that you see more grid than landscape. One overlooked mechanism of musical misalignment occurs in the time domain. Skew things in time, offset a few screens and sacrifice literal in-sight into your recordings. Clearly, the Overkill credo is one of keen resolution. But to attach different importance values to different portions of the resolved signal -- some relevant, some not -- seems like a very flawed mental construct. If it's on the disc, it's relevant. Getting everything that's on the disc is the relevancy of high fidelity, period.

Quite distinct from resolution is tonal balance, however. It determines how what is resolved gets presented, either in balance or out of whack. Here the frequency contour facility of the DEQX can spell the difference between flat boredom and dimensional involvement. A very general rule of thumb for what most people consider a musically pleasing balance is a tilted axis. It slightly dips in the treble and slightly rises in the bass. The DEQX lets you have it level-flat. Trust me, flat ain't involving at all. Or, the DEQX let's you bypass any digital correction altogether. Unless Rives Audio eq'd your room with one of their all-out Level 3 acoustic make-overs, bypass won't be the ticket to bliss either. What's most educational when a laptop screen gives you visual feedback for very specific adjustments? The difference a very subtle presence region lift can make to your emotional rapport.

Adjust for half a dB in the bass instead and you'll be hard-pressed to tell. My favored compensation curve eq'd for some <60Hz crap and then installed three little lifts centered on 350, 800 and 10,000Hz respectively. Curve 1 flat-lined above 1kHz which didn't have quite enough air on good recordings but clearly took the edge off some forward-but-fun high-power Turkish pop by Yildiz Tilbe. Curve 2 and 3 differed only in the 800Hz-centered lift and then just by a skoch. Guess what? Said skoch gave vocals that magical lock/thereness factor. Ty to nail that G-spot the old-fashioned analog route. You could chase your tail for years and never catch it. That's one reason why the Encore system heralds the future. It takes the guess work out of achieving magic. It puts you (or your expert) in full control.

This flexibility had one showgoer at CES ask a both strange and valid question: "Isn't that cheating? This can make any bad speaker sound really good." I refer you to the above impulse response graphs. The DEQX has zero control over driver behavior. A slow and sloppy speaker will still sound slow and sloppy. But it is true that a digital correction engine can minimize room-induced peaks and dips that are usually blamed on a speaker. The question really should become this: "If DSP can address certain room interaction issues, why does the whole industry remain married to analog crossovers?" Why indeed. Once the competition hears the Encores, they'll be forced to reconsider this now outdated notion.