EMP Tek EF50 Build Quality
Very little gives me as much pleasure as reviewing gear that will be in reach of the majority of Audioholics readers. Sure, I like playing with the high dollar gear but you know that the majority of readers will be voyeurs at best. When reviewing more affordable stuff, you feel like people are studying your review to ascertain if the pros and cons are worth the money the products are selling for. Sure, I may think it is a good or bad deal, but that's not enough. It's what is important to the reader that makes the difference.
EMP Tek (designed and manufactured by the same folks who design and engineer the RBH Sound products) are one of the newest internet direct manufacturers out there. In fact, they are so new that when we get their products in for review, they are almost certainly either the first speakers off the production line or the preproduction model. This means that there may be some problems (usually fit and finish) that are already worked out on the models that will actually make it to your home. Unfortunately, since I have no way of knowing whether or not these issues will be corrected, all I can do is report them. Also, pricing is often not set in stone until near the end of the review process so in this case I spent the majority of this review not knowing what price bracket they were targeted toward.
First Impressions and Build Quality
Through my past dealings with the designers and engineers of EMP products, I've come to expect two things - Great price/performance ratio and ho-hum aesthetics. Since I'm not sure of the first yet, I've found a pleasant surprise in the second. The EF50 speakers were all fairly well packaged (even a large gash in one box didn't result in any noticeable damage to the speaker) in matching white boxes. With the EF50T tower speakers, the bases were packed separately in its own cardboard box. The screws for the base and the feet (both carpet spikes and rubber feet are provided) were placed in small zip-top bags and taped to the styrofoam packaging. In one of the boxes the little bags came loose but didn't seem to scratch anything or cause any damage. Each speaker was wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from the elements. While the cotton sock seems to be synonymous with "high-end" speakers, I much prefer some real protection instead of a slippery sock that makes it nearly impossible to unload your speakers without dropping them.
While each of the EF50T tower speakers were packed in their own box (as were the E10s Sub and EF50C center), the EF50 bookshelf speakers were packed together. And boy are they small. At only 8.5" tall, the bookshelves are so tiny that they almost seem out of place with the rest of the speakers in the system. While the center and bookshelves both have threaded inserts on the back for wall mounting, there was a disturbing lack of feet options. Since the center in particular will probably sit on a shelf, the lack of rubber feet seems like a "preproduction" error that most likely will never be encountered by Joe Consumer. Or at least I hope.
Each of the speakers (sans sub) has what amounts to dual grills. The top grill is an actual grill with acoustically transparent speaker cloth while the lower "grill" is a faceplate that outlines the drivers. The faceplate attaches to the cabinet itself while the grill attaches to the faceplate. There are multiple color options (none were provided with the review samples so I can't speak to their quality of fit and finish) available to help integrate the speakers into your décor. This is a pretty neat idea in that it adds a bit of customization without the need for hardware or simply changing the grill color. My issue here was that the grill/faceplate/cabinet connections were often inconsistent in their ability to stay together. On one of the tower speakers, the faceplate was nigh impossible to remove while the other could be knocked off with your elbow as you walked by. While this may be a preproduction issue, I urge EMP to ensure a tight fit between all these components. While nothing shook loose, the grills and faceplates were so easy to remove that my 2 year old could do it (and did… a lot). I personally want a little more protection for my drivers especially considering how vulnerable the tweeter is without the faceplate.
Aesthetically, the EF series speakers look great which surprised me a bit. The towers are small enough to blend into the background without being so small that they look fragile. The bases probably have a lot to do with their stability. The bookshelfs are practically invisible after being set up. The sub, at roughly a 14" cube, is as small as you could ever hope for while wishing for a sub and not a "bass module." The matte black vinyl wrap is virtually impervious to fingerprints and absorbs light very well also working to increase their ability to disappear into a room. The tops of all the speakers are rounded which reduces the harshness of their lines and gives them a more streamlined look. The aluminized fiberglass matrix drivers are very striking and the speakers looked great with the grills off. I did have to laugh when EMP included a set of white cotton gloves with the tower speakers. I know that people associate those gloves with "quality" but it was a bit ridiculous. There was no way I was going to leave fingerprints on those speakers. Unless I just ate a particularly messy BLT.
The fit and finish of the speakers was mostly good. That vinyl black matte veneer is very forgiving. I did notice a bubble or two near the bottom of the speakers but nothing that would make me think that it was a systematic issue. The silver five-way binding posts on the back may not have the audiophile approved finish, but they did look very nice with the silver drivers. None of the speakers (except for the sub) were ported so placing them near a wall or in a cabinet will be less of a problem (please read our article on in cabinet installation for more details). Even the sub with its downfiring port shouldn't offer much in the way of placement issues. Everywhere you were required to attach something to a speaker (feet/base) EMP provided a threaded insert. The rubber feet of the EF50T speaker were even on a threaded post so that they could be removed if you changed your flooring.
The sub is a front firing 10" with a downfiring flared port. While it generally disappears in whatever corner you set it up in, taking off the grill (no faceplate here) gives you an excellent view of the 10" aluminum cone woofer. The amp plate has all the usual with volume and crossover frequency knobs, phase switch, LFE line level input, L/R line level input, and high level inputs and outputs. For 90% or more of us, you'll use the LFE input which defeats the crossover setting in favor of your receiver's setting. I had two issues with the E10s - First there was no "on" mode. The "on" setting basically engaged an "auto" setting which shuts down the amp if there is no signal present for a period of time. It took just about a second for the sub to respond once a signal was present. My other issue is that there is no status indicator light on the sub. Basically you can't tell if it is on and working properly without making it play something. I'd prefer an indicator light that was off when the unit wasn't powered on, green when it was active, and some other color when in standby mode.
Taking the speakers apart I found that the cabinets were all constructed out of 1/2" MDF with heavily glued edges. Center bracing wasn't found on any of the speakers but the sub at all edges and the towers along the edge of the front baffle had some triangular bracing. The sub also had an addition brace along the bottom. The speakers themselves, especially the surrounds, were small enough that they actually self braced themselves and did not require any additional bracing. They all felt suitably inert. The sub, in particular, sounded much more inert than many of the subs I've tested.
All the speakers contained some polyfill to help dampen them with the sub having it glued to all the walls. The towers had three huge pieces jammed into the bottom. The drivers (sans sub) were all shielded so you don't have to worry about magnetic fields messing with your legacy CRT or DVR. All the baskets on the woofers looked to be stamped. The subwoofer utilized a fairly large magnet and the woofer itself is extremely heavy. The crossover utilized air core inductors with electrolytic caps and film bypass caps to improve the overall performance. The subwoofer port was flared to reduce turbulence and the amp utilizes and analog power supply with a fairly hefty E-core transformer and a linear amp.