Review: EgglestonWorks Oso – Beyond Sound

At times, writing about hifi makes me search for the right words, and this search can be rather arduous when a product’s performance is very nearly overwhelming. Such was the case with the EgglestonWorks Oso floor standing speakers.

I also admit to some visual bias as the Oso’s look rather stunning in their custom gloss “Barn Red” finish [footnote 1], every pair of Oso’s can be ordered in the color of your choice, so I had thoughts about them before they played a single note. I also like the Oso’s clean curved angular shape and the aluminum plate that acts as driver surround. Handsome, I thought.

Now some people will try to tell you this attraction to the Oso’s look is an unwanted distraction, potentially polluting my ability to hear them without bias. Seeing as I’m not a monk living a cloistered existence, how things look, especially things that stand out in a room of my home, is important. Certainly more important than playing pretend science.

From EgglestonWorks:

Science In The Service Of Music: One of the unique aspects of our design process is our insistence upon achieving superb measured specifications from all of our products. Unlike our competitors, we have a Ph.D physicist on staff who not only explores all the parameters of our final designs, but investigates each cabinet, driver and crossover component employed by EgglestonWorks. Placing emphasis upon both audible and measured performance gives EgglestonWorks unparalleled insight into the design and manufacture of reference-quality loudspeakers.

EgglestonWorks calls Memphis home, and every pair of EggelstonWorks speakers are made in their Memphis factory. The current lineup consists of nine models, including the Andra III SE, a direct descendant of the company’s first speaker which saw critical acclaim upon its release in 1997. The Oso sit at the top of the Artisan Series, the company’s more affordable speakers.

The Oso are a 3-way design with a 1” fabric dome tweeter, 2x 6″ midrange drivers, and a side-firing 10″ woofer. One reason for this woofer placement is to keep the Oso’s footprint slender, while still managing to get a claimed 28Hz to 24kHz frequency response. The Oso sport a slot port around back along with a single pair of copper binding posts. Sensitivity is rated at 87dB with a 4 Ohm nominal impedance. Measuring 9.25” W x 18.25”D x 45” H and weighing 115lbs a piece, the Oso do not disappear visually, but once they were dialed into Barn-space, they disappeared aurally. Without a trace.

I used a number of amplifiers with the Oso including the review sample Bel Canto E1X integrated, the Ayre EX-8, and the Parasound JC 5 with the Ayre running as preamp. In addition to using the Bel Canto and Ayre’s internal streaming DAC, I also spent time with the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer in the mix. All cables are AudioQuest.

Care & Feeding

It took me a few days of dedicated listening to get the Oso dialed in, placement-wise. This is not all that unusual, every speaker deserves time and attention when it comes to placement, but the Oso were unusual in terms of how well they reacted to this attention. Once properly placed, the Oso disappeared as a sound source about as dramatically as I’ve heard in the Barn. I say dramatically because music sounded as if it was being reproduced from any number of places, depending on the recording. I’m talking about musicians taking up very specific places within the Barn, separate and apart from the Oso.

While I know some people don’t get excited about this kind of thing, I do because it helps me forget that I’m listening to music on the hifi. To clarify, I don’t look at this disappearing act as being akin to the hifi placing the musicians in the room, or in-Barn, rather it places us in the same moment, with nary a thought of anything other than the music being made. It’s not a case of “You are there” or “They are here”, it’s here we are. As far as I’m concerned, this is an ideal when it comes to hifi and the Oso deliver ideally.

Another positive outcome of spending time moving the Oso around, and we’re talking about inches not feet, is bass response improved in every way once properly situated. While I have measurements for where the DeVore O/96 are happiest, there are obvious reasons why this exact placement doesn’t apply to the Oso — namely they are not the same shape as the O/96 and they sound different.

While I mentioned a number of amplification partners, my absolute favorite combination for driving the Oso to musical heights was the Parasound JC 5, Ayre EX-8 as preamp, and the totaldac d1-tube. This system brought out the best from everyone, I tend to think of hifi as having personalities just like people, and music rang out true. To give some idea of how true, and what that translates into out in the real world, I got emotional, very emotional, triggered by certain songs on many an occasion during the Oso’s stay. Sure, this can happen while listening to the car radio but in my experience if a hifi can pull this off numerous times over the course of days and weeks, the system is firing on all of the important cylinders.

Regardless of the accompanying components, the Oso always came across as a rock solid music maker, with rich tone colors throughout the spectrum, and a very fine sense of texture. I found that the Bel Canto E1X offered a very tight, controlled, and exciting presentation when driving the Oso but I missed the timbral and textural richness offered by the Parasound/Ayre/totaldac combo. I would describe the overall sound of the Oso/Bel Canto pairing as being rather cool and punchy with loads of resolution. Using just the Ayre EX-8 as streamer and integrated amplifier brought more upper end sparkle and generally a more lively and richer sound. While the Ayre didn’t quite match the Bel Canto’s speed and articulation, its strengths made for an interesting comparison of the horses for courses variety.

One thing I’d like to highlight right here and now is how different the Oso, and most highly resolving speakers for that matter, sound depending on the accompanying system. This is one of the benefits of spending real time with review gear and listening with different associated equipment. I would go so far as to suggest that if you’ve only heard a loudspeaker in one system, the best we can do is talk about that system and making any kind of declarative statements about individual pieces becomes a guessing game at best.

“One Dove” from Anthony and the Johnsons supremely lovely The Crying Light was one song that flipped my switch from listening to feeling. Anohni, as she now prefers to be called, has a voice that can melt hearts and “One Dove” with its simple acoustic accompaniment highlights her vibrato’d brilliance. Through the Oso/Parasound/Ayre/totaldac system, each instrument spoke with full voice that felt fully formed in-Barn making interplay that much more dramatic. When the music image is spread out yet perfectly stable, my brain interprets this as an event in and of itself to be given my full attention. The Oso, therefore, are not great for background music because they need to be played at a reasonable volume level, not loud but not quiet, and they are about as seductive a speaker as I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in Barn.

I spent a few weeks just listening to this system, letting my whims and Roon Radio lead me to places, times, and moods unfettered. If you ever read a speaker review and the reviewer starts to talk about what kinds of music are best with that speaker, something is wrong. The last thing anyone in this whole wide world needs is a speaker that limits music choice and I can only think that such a speaker is inherently flawed.

My single playlist, called “Fun”, contains 150 songs and 12 hours of music and I listened to every last one during the Oso’s stay. “Fun” is full of music I love for one reason or another, while offering a very broad palette of sounds, styles, moods, and more and the Oso played them all very nearly flawlessly. From the delicacy and slow swing of “Warm Canto” from Mal Waldron’s wonderful The Quest, to the kaleidoscopic tone colors of “Sweet Jane” from the Rolling Stones Flowers, the delicacy and sorrow of Giacinto Scelsi’s “Ave Maria”, to the barroom scuffle that is “My Baby’s Got The Strangest Ways” from Southern Culture on the Skids, to the Swans brutal “Cloud of Unknowing” from Deliquescence, Grinderman’s pounding “When My Baby Comes”, and a hundred plus more in between, the Oso was more than capable of matching the sheer scope of sounds and moods on offer.

One more thing — Boris’ blistering “Absolutego” from Dear is about as big, bold, and woolly as songs come with that fat badass Boris guitar sound backed by thunderous drums and the Oso/Parasound/etc system played this at near concert levels without breaking a sweat. I say “near concert levels” because I saw Boris perform this song live and I had to leave the room because a) my pants were flapping so hard I thought they might tear apart, and b) Boris were playing so loud, my Etymotic ear protectors ran out of the room screaming.

Another aspect of the Oso’s way with music is they really zero in on time and timing as an essential ingredient in music reproduction. To my mind, this is another outcome of what strikes me as a very nicely balanced speaker. Reproduction is so believable, so consuming, that I felt free to explore different aspects of the music at hand. While some speakers can nearly overwhelm with some aspect of reproduction, Great bass!, the Oso overwhelm by delivering music as a container of things deeper and more meaningful than an accumulation of sounds. If I were to create an ideal hifi wish list, this quality would certainly be near the top.

Getting back to system building with the Oso, think quality and power. While all of the integrated amps used for this review had no trouble driving the Oso, they really shined with the Ayre EX-8 (100 watts x 2 @ 8 Ohms) and even more so with the Parasound JC 5 (400 watts x 2 @ 8 Ohms). I would suggest sticking to amplification that is on the rich and powerful side, as opposed to lean and punchy. The Bryston B135 Cubed Integrated Amplifier (review) comes to mind as another suitable partner based on its strengths. I did try the Audio Note Cobra integrated (28 watts x 2 @ 8 Ohms / review) with the Oso, but it was an unhappy affair as neither sounded anywhere near their best. I will note that I initially heard a touch of upper-midrange hardness with the Bel Canto, but this was ameliorated with the Parasound et al system and placement tweaking.

While the Oso do not have the deep bass extension of the GoldenEar Triton Reference Towers (review), which house powered subwoofers, I never felt wanting for more bass from the Oso because they are so nicely balanced and the bass they offer is fit, full, and tuneful. The Oso are not as tonally saturated sounding as the DeVore O/96, nor can they play as convincingly at lower volume levels, but the Oso did not leave me wanting here either because they are so nicely balanced. I have a very strong hunch that with these three speakers we are talking about three different types of buyers. If you are interested in using low powered tube amps or sweet solid state to bring out music’s fullest voice with stunning immediacy, the DeVore’s fit that bill. If you want very full range sound that is not the last word in delicacy, the GoldenEar may be for you. Compared to the recently reviewed Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand Reference Speakers (review), the Oso’s simply sound like more speaker which in turn sounds like we’re hearing more of the music being reproduced, which can lead to a greater connection, which is exactly where I want to be.

It’s worth noting that I used the Ayre’s internal streaming DAC, which is very good, and the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer and the latter was my clear favorite as it made music sound that much richer, and even more untethered from the speakers. In a word, more real. The Oso allow for a very clear view of what’s going on upstream, which may or may not be a good thing. I believe this a very good thing because it means that the Oso’s sonic character does not overwhelm the rest of the system. While everything in a hifi, including the room, leaves a sonic fingerprint, the last thing you want from a speaker is for it to smear the voices of the accompanying cast. Give me transparency or give me dearth.

Beyond Sound

What should we ask from a loudspeaker? Ideally, everything. But everything is a very tall order. While I’m sure you can get more from the larger EgglestonWorks speakers, for example, the Oso offer more than satisfaction, as they are capable of delivering every aspect of music’s full voice, reaching well beyond sound into music’s heart and soul. Bravo!


1. Its not really called Barn Red. The official name for this color is Firenze Red (a Land Rover color)


EgglestonWorks Oso
Price
: $13,995

Specifications

Frequency Response: 28Hz to 24kHz
Impedance: 4ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 87dB
Inputs: One set of copper binding posts
Woofer: 10″ Side Firing woofer
Midrange System: Dual 6” woofer
Treble System: 1” fabric dome tweeter
FootPrint: 9.25” x 18.25” x 45” H
Weight: 115 lbs

Company Website: EgglestonWorks