Thrilling, large-scale sound
Sweet high-frequency reproduction
Other systems offer greater bass depth and musical fidelity
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US brand EMP Tek was founded as recently as 2007, but was set up by audio boffins with over 30 years' experience, designing speakers for esteemed names such as ParaSound, McIntosh and JBL.
They've been brought to the UK by distributor Aldous Systems, which has set the ball rolling with the Impression series. Although this range includes four off-the-peg packages, this 7.1-channel system has been pieced together from the individual components.
The tower speakers used for the front and rear channels are the E55Ti, a slightly taller version of the E5Ti towers, but offering greater power handling than their shorter siblings.
These American-made towers are stereotypically big-boned – 1.2m and 23kg of pure beef – but they're also elegant, thanks mainly to the gently curved sides that taper off toward the back. Traditional yet trendy, they're fashioned in a dreamy and somewhat unusual high-gloss Red Burl finish, with Black Ash as the equally stylish alternative.
You might break your back unpacking them, but you're getting a lot of speaker for your money. Nestled inside the three-way E55Tis is a trio of 6.5-inch poly matrix woofers providing the necessary low-end punch for two-channel use, plus two 5.25-inch aluminised poly-matrix midrange drivers with fixed phase plugs, and a 1-inch poly-silk soft dome tweeter lined up in a mid-tweeter-mid (D'Appolito) arrangement.
The magnetic liquid cooling used for the tweeter ensures higher power handling with a current-limiting polyswitch on hand to prevent it from being overdriven. Sending the right frequencies to the right drivers is a computer-optimised crossover network, which uses the minimum amount of components to minimise driver interaction.
Fine craftsmanship runs throughout the system, which is made up of the E5Ci centre speaker and a pair of E5Bi bookshelf speakers on surround back duties. They're all fitted out with the same 5.25-inch woofer and 1-inch dome tweeter found in the towers to achieve that all-important sense of homogeneity across the system.
The centre speaker features two woofers, sitting either side of the fabric dome tweeter. Like the towers, their construction is nigh-on faultless, but if you're harbouring thoughts of perching the centre speaker on your TV stand, think again – at 55cm wide and 20cm deep, it's a bit of a beast.
Anchoring the system is the ES10i, a front-firing sub that easily matches the stature of the other speakers with first-rate build quality. This isn't a sub you'll necessarily want to hide away in the corner, as its curved edges and Red Burl enclosure give it an unusually chic appearance.
Of course, it's a powered affair that packs a 100W amplifier and a 10-inch poly-matrix woofer, ready to unleash on your neighbours. There's a built-in limiter to stop it from bottoming out and a full buffet of controls on the back panel, including dials governing gain and crossover (ranging from 40 to 180Hz), line-level input and outputs, a switch that flips the phase 180˚ plus two sets of high-level springclip terminals.
These controls make the sub a cinch to integrate. It took no time to find the sweetest crossover point for my test room and lock it into the other speakers. In fact, apart from hauling them into position, you'll find the entire system is easy to install.
All the bits and pieces you need are in the boxes, such as the spikes needed to de-couple them from the floor, and each speaker is equipped with sturdy gold-plated binding posts.
Get them up and running with a decent Blu-ray soundtrack and the EMP Teks will take you to home cinema heaven. When playing Inception, for instance, they have no trouble conveying the epic scale and of Christopher Nolan's unbelievable in-dream action sequences. The sound is crisp and urgent, and easily fills the room.
Right off the bat you're plunged full-pelt into Sato's dream-within-a-dream vortex of huge rumbling earthquakes and Japanese architecture being torn apart in a flurry of cracking wood and crashing glass. This is all blasted out with considerable relish by the E55Ti's poly-matrix cones.
These are fast, dextrous drive units, able not only to convey effects with bite but also to sift out small sonic details like a prospector panning for gold.
High-frequency reproduction is gorgeous. The E55Ti's tweeters articulate twinkly top-end, such as Cobb's ice cubes rattling in his glass, with a smooth, perky quality, and even the brightest effects at top volumes couldn't phase them. And with two of these towers also running things at the back of the room, there's a fullness and grandeur right across the soundstage that's impossible not to love.
They easily tease out gentle ambience and subtle effects, but when the ante is upped they can shoot loud effects towards your head with the same snap and vigour as the fronts.
When playing the 7.1-channel mix on Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the E5Bi surround backs hold their own next to these behemoths. It's a seamless rear soundfield, reproducing the 360˚ sweep of effects during the Troll Market scene with pleasing clarity and accuracy, beautifully shaping every little flutter and tinkle. I also tried the system with two sets of E5Bis at the back and, although you lose a little of that all-round richness, they still conjure up a wonderfully absorbing atmosphere.
There's also a lovely robustness to the midrange, which keeps Inception's verbose dialogue consistently audible throughout the quiet and the carnage.
Unplugging the sub, I soon discovered the value of those three woofers, too. In isolation they provide plenty of punch, which makes music sound wonderful in a straight stereo setup. It falls short of the absolute silkiness of the very best systems but for the money it's a sterling effort.
For movie listening the sub adds another dimension. Taut, potent and free from unwanted resonance, it fuses with the towers and injects healthy doses of deep bass. It doesn't have quite the same fearsome, foundation-shaking power as subs from some similarly priced systems (Teufel's THX Ultra 2-certified System 9 springs to mind) – but it's not far off.
Welcome to Blighty
So, all things considered, does EMP Tek deserve a place on the busy home cinema highway? Emphatically so. It makes a sensational UK debut with a system that's got the lot – power, dexterity, smoothness and exceptional clarity – all of which will leave a lasting Impression.
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