Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review... - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 7 Old 09-26-07, 01:03 PM Thread Starter
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Matthew P.
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Edmonton, AB
Posts: 3
Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review...

Hi there,
You might have seen my review on a couple other forums, but I was encouraged to post a review of the EL3 kits on this forum in case people were interested or intrigued to look into the CSS kits a bit more for HT, or just home audio use which is what I am using them for presently. I have just recently completed the entire project including an MAW-12 top-firing sub.

To begin, I just want to say that I am continually impressed with these speakers the more that i listen to them. They excel with very fast, dynamic, and clean music, such as jazz, classical, and electro-ambient.

I had built the first two of the new entry level kits from Bob at CSS and was very impressed with both of them. I have posted some thoughts about the fr125s previously, and so I thought that a good review of the higher end EL3 kit was in due order. I was super impressed with the FR125s as a nearfield monitor (What I’m using them for)…particularly, the midrange was very detailed and smooth, surprisingly low bass in both the sealed and vented enclosures that I had them in (they are vented now – the efficiency went up quite a lot, the vent seemed to let the speaker breath through the mids a bit better). Since I was so impressed with this little driver, I thought that my parents would appreciate entering the world of proper listening so I decided to order and build the EL2’s for them – a wr125 and a hivi tweeter per side. I finished them with an oak veneer in a small vented cabinet tuned to specs. The hi frequency range was unbelievable…it seemed to open up a whole new realm of atmosphere compared to what I had before (monitor audio’s).

Then came the EL3’s, of which I promised Bob a decent review. These are 2 wr125s and a Hi-Vi tweeter per side with the wr125s wired individually and a simple 2nd order crossover. I built these speakers in a 14 liter cabinet using the port tunings that came stock with the kit. I like the look of speakers that have a bell shaped cabinet, so I decided to build the El3’s similar to those to test my enfeebled woodworking skills. This required kerfing the insides of the ¾ mdf about ½ inch deep with a thin blade in the table saw. The kerfing allowed a subtle bend of about 1-1/4” inwards. This seemed to work alright, but required immediate bracing – so I used a brad nailer and glue to hold everything in place. I have now finished the speakers in an ambrosia maple veneer, other maple woods, and walnut for inlay and banding. I made the stands with red oak veneer and textured black paint.

Being of Mennonite extraction, and hence a bit frugal, I was very intrigued about the DIY audio thing, and these speakers confirm how amazing this DIY world is. I always thought that the quote that DIY speakers can compare to commercial speakers 5-10x the cost invested in speaker parts would be a bit of an exaggeration, but these prove me wrong. It may be a bit of an understatement, to my ear anyways. Before this year, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford something that sounds as good as these speakers. So, I was very excited to listen to these speakers and see how they compare to other speakers, and wow, I’ve been giddy about these things since I’ve built them. Despite the shallow price difference between the three kits, this one is surprisingly different and disproportionately better. The EL3 has a substantial depth compared with the previous two kits and quite a bit higher power handling capability. These have a very full, nuanced, and clear sound to them. The detail is spectacular, and the mids are enveloping.

Since my speakers are close to the wall, they tended to have a bit of a LF (around 70-80hz) bloom to them that was corrected by plugging the ports. Plugging the ports also helped me integrate a sub with them without further crossover working. For this I have built a sub in a sealed, top-firing configuration using a BASH 300 and a MAW-12. This sounds great, is tight and clean, and integrates very nicely filling out the lower registers. You can see this in my flickr page as well.

I haven’t watched too many movies through these yet, since my place isn’t really set up for that, but I have listened to everything that I possibly can through the EL3’s. I have some favorites – Pat Matheny’s question and answer; Fretwork Ensemble’s recording of Purcell’s Odhecaton and the William Lawes consort cycles; HIM; Tom Waits Mule Variations; SO Percussion from the cantaloupe music label; Sufjan Stevens; and some heavier music –Helmet, Cryptopsy, etc. I won’t talk about all of these, but just a few highlights. The Pat Metheny album in particular sows the strengths of these speakers, but is still fairly old – 1990? So, pretty much an analog album that went digital to CD. But the production quality of this CD is amazing and these speakers reproduce this very well. These speakers represent this very dynamic recording with lots of air between the dense and complicated instrumentation. The drums in particular sound spectacular with these speakers – you can notice the individual timbres of the various rides and crashes, and the snare work is particularly extremely dynamic that produces the highest peaks on the CD that sounded more compressed on my other speakers. The El3’s reproduce this dynamism incredibly, giving a neutral sound to each instrument, without any coloration. As well, since this is such a technically complicated and fast jazz album, slower speakers tend to mud things up whereas with the EL3’s, everything sounds precise and very crisp. The fretwork recordings are all produced extremely well, and these speakers really bring out the complex sound of the traditional baroque instruments. The speakers help bring out the wooden sound of the instruments and highlight the harmonic overtones that are specific to the baroque instruments themselves (as opposed to contemporary strings). Sufjan Stevens is a very talented multi-instrumentalist that has consistently put out well produced albums, the Illinois and Michigan albums stand out. In particular the piano and bell tracks on these albums really exemplify the quality of the midrange on these speakers. The bell tracks are reproduced so wonderfully and with such presence that one can feel absolutely engulfed. SO Percussion uses a mix of acoustic and live instruments and electronic ones in a more avant-garde format heavily influenced by Steve Reich. This CD is also highly dynamic, with both acoustic drums and electronic, and the acoustic instruments are highly altered (tempered piano, etc..). I first listened to this CD on a 10,000$ set of berylliums (I think that’s the name of the speaker) and decided to buy the album to listen on my speakers. These speakers did not buckle in shyness or humility compared to the Berylliums, but rather showed me that I will never buy another commercial pair of speakers again. The EL3’s held their own in comparison to the expensive ones in the high frequency and mid ranges, and we just won’t talk about the LF comparison, because it might be a little unfair. Regardless, one might think that the entire comparision is unfair, but the EL3's still hold their own in a lot of respects. That all being said, I'm extremely happy with these speakers. And if anybody is in the Edmonton, Alberta area, they are welcome to come and have a listen, I usually have a couple of beer in the fridge.

here's the link to my flickr page:

Well, I hope this is informative for people, and thanks,

Best Regards,
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post #2 of 7 Old 09-26-07, 09:35 PM
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Re: Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review...

The wood used for those speakers and the finish...are stunning!
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post #3 of 7 Old 09-26-07, 11:28 PM
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Re: Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review...

Hi Matt and Welcome to the Shack!

Thanks for the review... and wow... I must say you did an awesome job... beautiful...

I hope you hang around and help us stir up some more interest in the diy arena...

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PremierHomeAudio: Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Yamaha, Sony, Pioneer, Def Tech and more. Shoot me a PM!
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post #4 of 7 Old 09-27-07, 04:29 PM Thread Starter
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Matthew P.
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Re: Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review...

Hi, and thanks, Sonnie and Willy. I'm pretty new to the DIY thing, so its all a little bewildering, but very exciting - endless possibilities (and research), for much less than consumer equipment. I'm pretty pleased with the speakers, the wood is wonderful to look at and with the oil and wax finish, they have almost come out like a French polish. not nearly as smooth, but it has a really wonderful luster and depth to the grain. I found the ambrosia maple went on really easily as a veneer, but working with it afterwards took some elbow grease. I was thinking eventually of starting the amp building thing sometime this year, but starting small with a tripath chip kit or something, and slowly working up from there. My FR125s might get an upgrade eventually too by pairing them with a woofer at a 250-400 HZ X-over. Unfortunately rent just increased, so it might take some creativity to make those projects viable .
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post #5 of 7 Old 09-27-07, 10:27 PM
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Re: Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review...

Nice job on the speakers and sub. They look awesome!
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post #6 of 7 Old 09-28-07, 11:50 AM
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Re: Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review...

Great work Matthew. I've been itching to try out some of those WR125ST drivers, perhaps in a line array.
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post #7 of 7 Old 09-30-07, 12:33 PM Thread Starter
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Matthew P.
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Re: Finished CSS EL3's and MAW-12, and review...

Hey Mike and Geoff, thanks a lot for the nice comments.
I'm very pleased with the wr125s. I think in a line array they would sound incredible. There's a couple of kits like that posted on the CSS site I believe. They are quite pricey because they include the aurum cantus ribbon tweeters but they would make a stunning reference/critical listening system. The detail and presence exhibited by these things are wonderful.
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