I cannot begin to understand those people for whom actual visible speaker cabinets – enclosures with loudspeaker drivers in them – are anathema. Personally, I love huge veneered boxes, shiny piano black monoliths and tweeters in sexy tapering tubes stuck on the top.
But sadly, there is the issue of sharing a film with others. It's like love-making versus self abuse; the former is far more fulfilling and one tries to please one's partner. Well, so I was told…
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) therefore remains of huge importance in the speaker industry. So, while any Trekker worth his salt knows the 'laws of physics never take a holiday, Jim!', and that really superbly potent and sexy speakers require the lebensraum of cavernous boxes, we also find whole categories of speakers that try not to obtrude.
There are funny little things with a cross-section no bigger than a slice of Battenberg cake; skinny towers to match sylph-like tellies; blade-shaped stumps on wall brackets; and flattened speakers hidden behind prettily printed canvas, so they don't appear to be speakers at all.
The Image Audio IA 8/5/C set here fall into the latter category: wall-mountable flat panel speakers covered in a designer grille. You choose the images you want from the company's wannabee Ikea selection, or you can pay an extra £25 per frame to use your own image.
Easy to hang
Called the 5, 8 and C, Image Audio's speakers have simple two-way designs and are ported cunningly. The boxes look basic yet are as clever as weasels.
For one, they have two-piece, spring-steel wall brackets. One bit goes on the wall, the other is well-fixed to the rear and as the two marry up when you hang them, they use the weight of the speaker itself to secure the box really firmly onto the rear Neoprene gaskets that isolate them from the walls.
Inside, they are well braced, and have some splodgy secret that absorbs the massive back wave from the driver (where it is so very close to the woodwork) and stops any bad effects from there.
More importantly, the drivers are crafted by Morel, a company which makes some of the very best in the world and are universally acclaimed. These run on passive crossovers using sexy capacitors of the sort adored by hi-fi nutters.
Image Audio's designer was not aiming at merely AV, he was aiming at studio monitoring, as he has done his whole career. So as R&D progressed, Image Audio went ever further into the zone, while perhaps never realising just how unique this made the product, or just how bonkers high-end the sound it was getting. Or maybe IA simply thought that was the only standard to go for.
Upon audition (at Image Audio's UK headquarters), any lingering preconceptions I had entertained about hidden wall-mounted speakers were quickly and thoroughly dispelled. I was played a clip from Spielberg's War of The Worlds and sat slack jawed. I was prepared to make allowances for the cabinetry, but the sheer levels of detail, resolution, clarity and purity were just astonishing.
As the Martians ray-gunned the place, the voices in all directions, be they querulous and quiet or distant and shouting, were all presented with accuracy that was hard to credit. Not only that but the two weightless droplets of water coalescing in front of Jake Sully's face as he wakes from Cryosleep have never 'plipped' with greater delicacy and rarity.
It was a great precursor to the hugeness and epic scale of Cameron's opening sequence for Avatar – which the Image Audios played without breaking sweat.
I should point out that for sub-bass we used a 10-inch MJ Acoustics Reference 100. This was crossed over pretty low, as the IA 8s reached down well below the regular crossover point of an active subwoofer with ease.
It must be love
These Image Audio speakers are easy to love. I found myself comparing this delicious experience not with other panel style speakers, but with true high-end offerings in big boxes, designed with clever baffles and sculpted sections.
The drivers in these boxes and the cleverness of the IA design, has added up to a virtuoso home cinema product. So, I'll take Stonehenge in a ruddy dawn for the rears, and monochrome Liberty, Eiffel and Big Ben for the fronts, please...
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