Energy Take Speaker System

Energy takes the plunge: It's a new lifestyle.

At about the same time the Spice Girls hit number three on the Billboard charts with "Say You'll Be There" in 1997, Energy Speaker Systems was striking gold of their own with a set of tiny home theater speakers called Take 5.

The budget Take 5, a satellite five-pack that promised an instant home theater—just add a subwoofer—foreshadowed the spectacular rise in popularity of the HTIB system.

In speaker years, and pop-music years, 1997 is several lifetimes ago. The Take 5 has undergone several reformulations, but none as radical as the latest flagship, known simply as the Take Series. This new series recognizes the modern home theater owner's obsession with flat-panel displays and the speakers that are compatible with this new lifestyle look. For speaker manufacturers, that means a dramatic shift from the traditional large, boxy speaker to smaller, shapelier, wall-mountable, color-coordinated speakers. Nowadays, a home theater isn't right if it doesn't look right.

Energy, a division of Canadian speaker giant Audio Products International, has created the Take Series with 21st-century features like anodized-aluminum cabinets and mounting flexibility. Wall brackets and elegant glass bases are included with all models, and optional glass-and-metal stands are also available. The color-matched grilles snap in magnetically, and four speaker models ranging from 8 to 44 inches tall are sold à la carte.

Energy sent us four diminutive Take SAT satellites, a Take LCR to use as the center channel, and their new S10.3 subwoofer. The larger Take FPS ($375 each) and even larger Take TWR ($500 each) were still in production at the time of this review.

The new Take Series departs from the budget Take 5 in design but only slightly in price. The Take SAT, all of 8.1 inches tall and 3.5 pounds, retails for $175 each. The Take LCR, 12.5 inches tall and 5.2 pounds, retails for $250. The $500 S10.3 subwoofer, designed and made in Canada, is a conventional, boxy sub with 1-inch medium-density-fiberboard walls and a silver-vinyl or black-ash finish.

Total speaker system price: $1,450. That's not out of whack for a lifestyle system these days. The good news is that, unlike many lifestyle systems, Energy has attempted to make a flashy-looking speaker series that sounds like the bigger, boxier speakers that inhabited the earth, circa 1997. For the most part, it's mission accomplished.

Energy has invested in a chambered 1-inch aluminum-dome tweeter designed to offer better response and stability than previous Take models. They also developed a ribbed elliptical surround for their woofers, a patented technology that the company says eliminates the distortion found in the industry-standard half-roll rubber surround. Energy's engineers say that, whereas the half-roll surround creates an average of 14 percent distortion, the elliptical surround creates none. The driver's increased efficiency allows it to move more air, producing higher volume levels from smaller drivers. The elliptical surround's deviation from the standard half-roll is most noticeable in the ribbed surround of the S10.3's 10-inch driver.

Shooting the Half-Moon
The Take SAT's curved, half-moon cabinet not only looks sexy but also improves performance by reducing internal standing waves. Energy created the new Take Series in the spirit of its other speakers, with design goals of wide dispersion, flat on-axis response, and low distortion.

The little Take SATs were ideal for my smallish (11 by 14 feet) home theater room and looked at home next to the silver trim of a Samsung HLP4663W 46-inch DLP high-definition TV. The Takes come with attached wall mounts, so I had to remove each Take SAT's pivoting, toothed bracket, then snake bare speaker wire to the gold-plated, push-style spring-clip connectors before securing the glass base. Energy positioned the lowrider five-way binding posts so that you can mount the speakers flush against the wall. Energy's rugged spring clips accept bare wire and exert a death-vice grip.

Integrating a subwoofer with a little satellite whose low-frequency output expires above 80 hertz is always a lifestyle-system challenge. I tried the S10.3 in two places, and I got the best results when I positioned it in the front of the room, near the satellites. The S10.3, despite its conventional shape, makes life easy with a volume dial on the front panel (just above the Energy logo that glows blue when the subwoofer is turned on). A continuously variable phase control (–180 to +180 degrees) on the back panel helps you dial in the best-quality bass. I wish all subs had this feature.

The S10.3, using the mono RCA connection, was more than enough subwoofer for my room. The smaller S8.3 ($350), with an 8-inch driver, would probably have done the job, too, and would have dropped the system price by $150.

The Take speakers' wide dispersion and the S10.3's socko depths translate DVD soundtracks into great action sequences, intelligible dialogue from every seat in the room, and dynamic surround effects. The battle scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl sparkled through the Take system. It passed the chopper-flyover test from the Superbit edition of S.W.A.T. and negotiated the nuanced dialogue details—the anxiety and exasperation in the whispers of Cate Blanchett and Evan Rachel Wood while captured by Indians—in another Superbit release, The Missing.

The best test, however, was volunteered by an Energy representative who showed off the system with two scenes from Kevin Costner's Open Range: the opening scenes, replete with rainfall and thunder, and the climactic gunfight, with its astounding special effects. Hear this on the Take Series in a store, and you'll likely declare, "I'll Take it!"

Quiet, Please
Of course, a DVD soundtrack isn't the full picture. At a modest volume—let's say 80 decibels or so at the listening position—the Take system will not disappoint. With certain material, it will play even louder without strain. Ron Carter's "Mi Tiempo," from When Skies Are Grey (Blue Note), is an extended feature for the noted bassist, accompanied only by drums (Harvey Mason) and percussion (Steve Kroon) that turns into a workout for the S10.3. The cymbals sound dead-on accurate through the Take SATs, and the S10.3 hangs on with only slight boominess.

Robert Cray's Time Will Tell, a DualDisc release (with a DVD on one side and a CD on the other), showed off both sides of the Take system. I watched a concert video of Cray's "Back Door Slam" in Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD side then flipped it over for a much more lively and dynamic studio version on the CD side.

As always, multichannel high-resolution discs are a treat on a home theater system. Tierney Sutton's "What'll I Do," from Dancing in the Dark (Telarc), and Ladysmith Black Mambazo's a cappella "Black Is Beautiful," from Raise Your Spirit Higher (Heads Up), makes it easy to fall for the Take system.

• Movable, magnetically attached Energy logo on speaker grilles accommodate either horizontal or vertical placement
• Speakers come standard with beautiful glass bases, and optional matching stands are available
• Take SAT satellite features a curvaceous half-moon design

(416) 321-1800