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November 15, 2008

Ficion Audio at Redmond Town Center

Last Friday we went to have dinner with friends at the Redmond Town Center. While leaving the restaurant I saw a speaker in a store window that looked oddly familiar – especially the tweeter looked like a typical Aurum Cantus ribbon tweeter.

While I still checked out the store the owner Peigen Jiang came out, told me that they had literally opened that same day and we agreed to meet on Saturday morning for a listening test.

The Ficion Audio store in Redmond Town Center  Listening Room

Fast forward to Saturday: I showed up with a stack of my CDs and Mr. Jiang gave me a run-down of his company eFicion and the speakers that he had set up for demonstration: eFicion was created out of the desire to build better and more affordable speakers and at the same time have the designs manufactured in China for lower costs. Currently eFicion offers two models for test listening sessions in their store:

  • Ficion F200, a larger ported bookshelf speaker with an Aurum Cantus ribbon tweeter and an Aurum Cantus woofer.
  • Ficion F300, a fairly large two-piece speaker with an Aurum Cantus Air Motion Transformer, a rear-firing ribbon tweeter, and a midrange and a woofer also all by Aurum Cantus.

I was very curious about how these speakers would sound, having enjoyed Aurum Cantus Leisure 2 SE and Music Goddess speakers for years at home.

Mr. Jiang explained the rest of the system (components by Balanced Audio Technology) while I checked out the finish and craftsmanship of the speakers. They are beautiful and meticulously built. The finish is flawless and far superior of the typical China-made OEM speakers - no comparison! The F200 speakers were in natural cherry and the F300 speakers in rosewood veneer.

Audio Set-up

First up was the F200 and Sniff ‘n’ The Tears with “Driver’s Seat”: highs were very smooth and although just bookshelf-monitor-sized the speakers had a surprising amount of fairly low base. But unlike my Aurum Cantus L2 SE which are just a tad boomy the  F200’s base was dry and very neutral. I moved on to Norah Jones’ “Turn Me On” which is beautifully recorded and has some very prominent vocals as well as a clear base drum. Again the F200’s ribbon tweeter reproduced the vocals very clearly, transparent and without any discoloration. Despite the speakers being away from the soundboarded back wall by at least 3 feet the base was very authoritative yet dry.

F200 bookshelf speaker

No doubt – the F200 is an amazing speaker, especially given the relatively small size and the very fair price of $3400/pair. Very neutral, surprisingly deep yet dry base and very detailed highs and vocals.

 F300 full-size speaker

Next up was the F300 and well… let’s just say I haven’t heard speakers like that before. Neither in the price range nor in this range of sound reproduction quality. I am not a professional audiophile, just a bumbling amateur but wow, did these speakers sound good! Mr. Jiang played “Jun Fukamachi at Steinway”, a direct-cut LP transfer CD from First Impression Music. I must honestly say: rarely have I been so impressed and impacted by music. The F300’s AMT tweeter is unbelievingly transparent and neutral and when closing my eyes the grand piano was right there in the room! Truly an amazing experience! I played some other CDs and just as expected vocals were effortless and neutral, base was very deep yet neutral and if I had $15K I would have taken these speakers home that very same day!

But I don’t… sigh!

F300 full-size speaker, notice rear ribbon tweeter 

Overall I was very impressed with Mr. Jiang’s creations and his willingness to explain the details, provide background information and let customers like me take the time to listen to their own CDs. Personally I think that locally designed speakers like this deserve more attention, especially given the excellent price/performance ratio of these products!

So, next time you are in Redmond Town Center, stop by at the eFicion store, right next to Matt’s Rotisserie & Oyster Lounge. Or look them up on the web at http://www.eficion.com!

Eficion LLC
Redmond Town Center F225
7525 166th Ave. NE
Redmond, WA 98052
Tel: 425-882-1717

Thanks Mr. Jiang for two hours of wonderful music!

October 16, 2007

Amy Winehouse - Godawful Audio Engineering

I recently bought Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" CD and while I liked most of the music (ranging from great to OK) the audio engineering is just awful. I am used to some extreme levels of clipping and distortion due to the increased loudness levels but "Back to Black" is downright ridiculous! Listening to the CD on Aurum Cantus Music Goddess speakers with the fabulous G2 ribbon tweeter the lack of smooth trebles was very frustrating. The CD sounds muffled, flat and well... clipped! Bass is very accentuated which I am sure sounds better on small speakers but on the Music Goddess it sounds very boomy. Since I bought the CD from an Amazon seller I first thought that it might have been a pirated copy it sounded so bad, but no - it's 100% legit!

I understand that popular music has to obey the perceived marketing laws (level it out as loud as possible!) but it's pretty sad when music is engineered to sound better on shitty speakers. There is plenty of popular music out there that's not ridiculously over-leveled and still commercially successful, for example Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me". It hardly gets more popular than that one with multi-multi-platinum and diamond certifications, so enough with the loudness-madness already!

OK, I'll get off my soap/speaker box now :)