Based in Schaffhausen – Switzerland’s northernmost canton – Feniks Audio has been around since 2010 but only achieved notoriety with a recent successful KickStarter fundraising.
The concept was a mini-monitor speaker – the Feniks ESSENCE.
The ESSENCE is either an expensive computer speaker system, or a remarkably inexpensive and versatile mini-monitor. At Feniks, they believe the latter to be true.
They claim it is the most compact sound system in the world with genuinely high-end performance, perfect for small spaces, bedrooms, and offices.
April 15, 2016 KickStarter appeal launched.
May 24, 2016: 100% funding target reached.
May 31, 2016: 110 backers had pledged CHF 96,742: average of CHF 879 each (translated as $894 for our American friends).
At $890, a set of computer speakers may be quite costly but those KickStarter bargains are over. Today, you can pre-order a pair for $1449. Now, they had better be really good!
“Perfectionism: It’s not just a word or a goal at Feniks. A no-compromise approach is at the core of our DNA. Designed by audiophiles, for audiophiles, the ESSENCE places sonic perfection first and foremost, every nut and bolt of the design aiding in this quest. It truly is the Swiss watch of loudspeakers” – Ted Kwolek, Founder and CEO.
Bold words indeed but is there any substance to them? The basic concept is for a self-powered, not active speaker (crossover filter between amplifier and drivers, not before the amplifier) with analogue and digital inputs. They had already a modicum of success with the discontinued ES2 speaker, which was for multi-media computer applications.
The key feature is that the Essence bypasses your computer’s sound card; substituting its own 24-bit / 96kHz asynchronous USB DAC designed by the legendary Gordon Rankin and based on the ESS Sabre DAC. That got your attention, didn’t it?
Digital connectivity is available via USB and Optical TOSlink input for televisions or Bluetooth® receivers, while for analogue options, 3.5mm and RCA analogue inputs allows connection for all other devices such as phono stages.
The Essence is powered by a 50W/channel ICEpower® amplification module, driving a 4.5-inch coaxial driver for point-source stereo imaging and time coherence. Coaxial drivers aim to place multiple drivers at the same point in space, which allows better stereo imaging, but is also difficult to manufacture. This particular driver only weights 4.5 grams, and is said to offer a quicker response than traditional drivers of this size.
Feniks Audio emphasises the die-cast aluminium cabinet composed of three interlocking panels in a unique fully modular assembly method called Feniks Modular Assembly System (FMAS) fastened “under immense forces” with stainless steel bolts. Ted Kwolek says this, combined with a system of grooves running along all joints and tension rods across the length of the cabinet, acoustically seal and locks the entire cabinet to form one solid inert block free from resonances that can plague plastic and MDF cabinets.
The Essence uses an automatic sleep / wake function, so users don’t have to worry about constant drain of power or remembering to switch on. The unit also features a switchable headphone output and a top-mounted volume control fitted with a Teflon® washer for smooth adjustment.
Dimensions WxHxD: 12.0 x 19.5 x 17.5cm (4.7 x 7.7 x 6.9in)
Weight: Right channel 3.4kg (7.5lbs), Left channel 3.0kg (6.6lbs)
Finish front panels: Powder coating in matte
Finish side panels: Powder coating in glossy
Power consumption: Idle 7W, maximum 125W
Power amplifier: 50W/channel, ICEpower® audio technology
Frequency range: 48-30,000Hz
Driver: 4.5” 2-way coaxial with paper cone mid/woofer and soft textile dome tweeter, neodymium magnets, kapton voice coil former, magnetically shielded.
Digital resolution: Up to 24-bit/96kHz
Inputs: *Digital Asynchronous USB Type B (no drivers required Mac/PC) and TOSlink Optical.
Inputs: Analogue 3.5mm stereo mini jack and AUX/RCA stereo.
Outputs: Subwoofer 3.5mm stereo mini jack and Headphones (amplified) 3.5mm stereo mini jack.
Voltage: 200-240V or 100-120V 50-60Hz.
Features: Auto standby/wake function, multi-colour mode LED.
In the box: Power cord, USB cable, premium mini-XLR speaker cable, user guide, quick start guide, two velvet carrying bags, and microfiber cloth.
Shipping weight: 8.3kg (18.3lbs).
Warranty 3 years limited.
*Streamlength™ Class 1 asynchronous USB code licensed from Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio Ltd.
Obviously no 4.5-inch “woofer” can move enough air to reproduce the bass response from 20 – 45Hz. It will need a subwoofer for 20 – 45Hz action, which is why they fitted a 3.5mm stereo sub output. A matching EverSound subwoofer is still on the Feniks drawing board….
This wide-dispersion coaxial does not suffer tonal-balance shifts despite the low mounting but does project a lower soundstage. As the Essence is mostly going to be at desk top level, that is not a bad thing. Some pedantic or tall people may want to raise the speakers on mini-plinths but you’ll have to find acoustically inert ones.
The thick grill rim is bolted to the driver assembly with eight bolts, which makes the front into another stressed member, giving a 14mm effective baffle. This hard coupling and the solid, inert enclosure creates a punchy and clear sound attack. With only 2 Litres of free volume, you don’t get the raw air displacement of a bigger driver but the speed and deftness of articulation is evident with timing, transient precision and dynamic range. Ahh…dynamic range; no flabby blandness here.
Audio geeks will wax lyrical about the warmth of ICEpower and tonal fullness of weight and lateral staging opening at louder settings. As PC speakers, the psychological barrier of a monitor screen in-between must be considerable but the point-source radiation and minimal baffle width give exceptional specific imaging. The sound “appears” outside those two small boxes.
For night time quiet use, a pair of low-impedance headphones can be plugged in.
What’s not to like? There are 8 standard colour combinations and the price is reasonable, considering the award-winning industrial design, build quality, and SwissMade. It achieves its goals to be a perfectionist product within size limits without compromising bandwidth or sound levels (SPL). Although best for near field applications where the speaker monitors are 1 m apart and 1 m in front of your head, the set-up can also be applied to any small bedroom or nook for your personal “Cone of Audiophile-ness”. 🙂
Who would have thought that two Polish émigrés who moved to Switzerland would redefine expectations from computer speakers, each no bigger than a cigar box?
More about Feniks Audio
Ted Kwolek, Founder and CEO
A lifelong audiophile with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering (Krakow, Poland), Ted has over 35 years experience as an engineer in the United States, Germany, France, Japan, and elsewhere.
Robert Kwolek, VP and Design Director
Robert is a BA (Hons) Architecture graduate (London Metropolitan University). He has worked for 2009 Young Architect of the Year David Kohn and is a recipient of the A’ Design Award for the ES-2 loudspeaker.
Together, this father/son engineer/designer team collaborates closer than any corporate team could, and covers a diverse range of skills which makes Feniks’ unique products possible. Having lived for nearly 20 years in North America, they are global citizens who feel equally comfortable working in the Midwest as they do the Far East.
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelog ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).