Introduction

On-wall loudspeakers, to me, make a great deal of sense and yet, despite a burst in popularity a few years ago, they haven’t really caught on. This kind of saddens me a little for if one is in the market for bookshelf speakers, then, it is my opinion, they too could be in the market for on-wall loudspeakers. I’m not certain what the exact objections are to on-wall loudspeakers -save maybe the whole putting holes in ones drywall part -but suffice to say, there are some damn fine on-wall loudspeakers available on the market today.

I recently spent considerable time with one such applicant, EMP Tek’s EW35 On-wall loudspeaker. EMP Tek, also known as RBH’s Internet direct brand, has been a favorite of mine since I reviewed their diminutive bookshelf speaker, the E5Bi, a few months back. I was so smitten by the E5Bi that I kept a pair for myself, you know for a rainy day. Also, because the E5Bi retails for a meager $225 a pair, I could afford to do so -pick up a pair for fun that is. What the E5Bi has to do with EMP Tek’s on-wall loudspeaker is simple, because I was now a fan I became immediately interested in any other product they had to offer -enter the EW35.

The EW35, which I’ll admit is a horrible name, is the largest on-wall loudspeaker that EMP Tek offers. It retails for $218, which includes free shipping and a 30-day, in-home trial. I was interested in the EW35 because my wife and I had just recently upgraded our HDTV from a 50-inch Panasonic plasma to a 70-inch Vizio LED. Due to the Vizio’s larger “footprint” I had to re-think my loudspeaker situation, which up and to that point and been largely dominated by soundbars. The EW35 proved to be an nearly ideal match for larger HDTVs like the Vizio as its vertical length was almost a perfect match for my new display. Of course, those of you not rocking a larger than thou HDTV needn’t worry, for EMP Tek offers on-wall speakers in a variety of sizes -3 to be exact.

EMP Tek’s EW35 on-wall loudspeakers mounted in a stereo configuration next to my 70-inch Vizio HDTV display.

The EW35 itself is a two-tone design, its outer aluminum cabinet has a matte grey finish, whereas its metal grill comes in two finishes; black (standard) and off-white (also standard, though not attached). There are black plastic end-caps top and bottom that sort of bookend the speaker’s tailored appearance. The EW35 is rather large for an on-wall; measuring 7 1/8 inches wide by 35 inches tall and nearly 6 inches deep when mounted. It’s also quite heavy too, tipping the scales at a respectable 23 pounds.

A quick word on the EW35′s “girth”. Lately, or maybe a few fashion seasons ago, there was a movement afoot to make on-wall speakers and/or soundbars as thin as possible -you know, to match today’s uber-thin HDTV displays. The problem with this is that many manufacturers sacrificed sound quality in their quest for beauty, completely missing the fact that despite an HDTV’s inherent “thinness,” it didn’t much matter post wall-mounting. Depending upon which type of HDTV mount you chose to employ, you could effectively increase its overall thickness to 6 inches or more -even though the display itself was but 3/4 of an inch thick itself. So, what little market there might have been for on-walls was now divided; super-thin, or more traditional. Obviously, the EMP Tek EW35 erred on the side of traditional, which suited me just fine. More on that in a moment.

Closeup of EMP Tek’s EW35 mounted beside my 70-inch, Vizio HDTV.

Behind the EW35′s aluminum grill rests a pair of 5 1/4 inch Carbon Fiber bass/midrange drivers. Sandwiched between the two woofers is the EW35′s single, 1 inch silk dome tweeter. That’s it. The three drivers are good for a reported frequency response of 42Hz to 20kHz, and a sensitivity of 86dB into 6 Ohms. Recommended power handling is said to be between 50 and 200-Watts, which seems fitting based on my listening tests.

Application

As I stated at the top of this review, I was looking for a pair of on-wall loudspeakers to compliment my 70-inch HDTV. While it would be easy enough to assemble a full multi-channel system around the EW35, for the purposes of this review I opted to utilize them solely as a stereo pair.

Mounting the EW35 to my wall was simple and straightforward, thanks in no small part to EMP Tek’s excellent mounting template. However, because I did not have a stud in-line with where I wanted to optimally place either of the speakers, I used heavy-duty drywall anchors instead. Using a simple push-pin to hold the plastic mounting template in place, I was able to align both the left and right speakers -albeit virtually -before any holes were punched into my drywall or the speakers themselves hung. Once I had all my anchor points marked in pencil on my wall, I simply used 8 (yes 8) self-drilling drywall anchor/screws per speaker and away I went. With the EW35′s brackets now firmly in place, connecting the EW35 speakers themselves to the simple, L-shaped brackets was a relative breeze. The EW35′s brackets allow for a level of swivel so I do not recommend tightening the bolts down all the way until you’ve settled on the appropriate amount of toe-in for your EW35s. Depending upon your setup you may not require any toe-in, however it is nice that the included metal brackets allow for it.

Mounted to the wall and flanking the right and left edge of my 70-inch HDTV, the EW35 presence appeared deliberate and stately. Moreover, the EW35′s depth -grill to wall -was only marginally “deeper” than my Vizio LED HDTV when mounted. “They look like they go together,” my wife said from an adjacent room when she saw that I was finished with the EW35 install. She concluded after closer inspection with, “I like ‘em.”

Once mounted I connected the EW35s to my Sherbourn SR-8100 AV Receiver, mating them also with a single JL Fathom f110 I had lying around from a prior setup. Source components were my Dish Network Hopper DVR and Vizio Co-Star, GoogleTV device. All of the devices, speakers included, were connected to each other using various cables from Monoprice.com.

Despite the EW35′s reported frequency response of 42Hz, I can say they don’t offer much by way of bass. They may be able to “hit” 40Hz, but it’s not a particularly nice sound. I went ahead and experimented with the crossover point between the EW35 and my JL subwoofer, in order to achieve a more balanced presentation top to bottom.

Personal Impressions

Beginning with music, I cued up a favorite in “Everloving” from Moby’s wildly popular album Play (V2). The track was stored on my NAS server which I was able to access via my Vizio Co-Star. With my JL Audio sub in the mix, the two EW35s working as a stereo pair dished out a large and largely seamless performance from top to bottom. With my JL sub crossed over at 80Hz, the lower mid-bass wasn’t as full as I typically like. I was able to remedy this by bumping up the crossover point to 100Hz, which in turn “fleshed” out the lower mid-bass and brought a little more “punch” to the party. The presence of added weight also helped to balance out the EW35′s top end, which without (the sub) came across as a touch forward and/or lean. With everything dialed in and working in concert with one another, the overall impact of the EW35s with a sub was one of near envelopment.  Again, with a sub in tow, the EW35′s performance was nicely balanced but also possessed considerable punch -that is to say that the EMP Tek speakers are more than a little dynamic. Depending upon where you set your crossover point and how above or below axis you mount the EW35 as it relates to its tweeter will dictate how neutral the speaker’s overall sound will be, though in my setup, I’d have to classify it as still slightly lean or forward of neutral.

Still, the resulting sound wasn’t abrasive or harsh, but rather lithe, focused and impactful. The top end was nicely rendered, with a good amount of air, though when pushed, the tweeter could become a little two dimensional. The midrange too was nicely detailed and resolute. On its own the EW35′s bass is, in my opinion, largely non-existent. The EW35′s lower mid-bass has enough snap and impact to blend nicely with a wide variety of subwoofers, but if you’re looking to get away with a setup that affords you the ability to rock out without a sub you’re likely going to have to look elsewhere. In terms of dispersion, the EW35 is exceptional both horizontally as well as vertically. The soundstage width and depth was incredible given the EW35′s on-wall DNA. Center imaging was impressive too given the large hunk of glass -aka my HDTV -sitting between either EW35.

Switching gears to movies I went with the suspense thriller, House at the End of the Street (20th Century Fox) starring Jennifer Lawrence. The opening scene was rendered brilliantly with terrific space throughout thanks in part to the EW35′s terrific dispersion. The resulting sound was extended and bordered on 3D. While you may skew my words into thinking the EW35 was vague -don’t -for the focus throughout the soundstage, specifically the center image was superb. Dynamics were, again, incredibly “snappy”, which for a film with more than a few “BOO!” moments is a good thing. Dialog was always clean and intelligible even without the presence of a dedicated center speaker -in my setup. Moreover, tonally, the EW35 proved true to the actor’s natural timbres.

Next, I cued up an oldie but a goodie, the 90′s action classic, Daylight (Universal), starring Sylvester Stallone. What immediately captured my attention was the EW35′s ability -with the help of a subwoofer -to recreate a true sense of space, completely with near 360-degree ambience -albeit from a mere two speakers. Now, this effect likely was the result of the EW35′s positioning near my room’s front and sidewall boundaries, never the less it was enjoyable and welcomed. Again, center imaging, especially for dialog stems, was rock-solid; possessing good weight and clarity even in the face of chaos. The midrange on a whole could be described as slightly forward of neutral that made for an engaging and energetic presentation but not one that was harsh, brittle or two-dimensional. Again, the “severity” of the EW35′s “forward” nature is largely dictated by the ability and settings of your subwoofer. Still, the EW35′s sound is one of absolute engagement.

Another big take away from my time spent with the EW35 was its ability to play “nice” with a wide variety of source material. My wife and I like to stream Internet radio or the like (think Pandora) while eating, and the lower bit-rate music did little to upset the EW35′s performance benchmarks. In truth, it all sounded rather good. Feed it Blu-ray content and things get even better, but I appreciate the designers’ intent to try and make the EW35 as versatile as possible; something I believe they succeeded at accomplishing with the EW35 on-wall loudspeaker.

Things to Consider

The EW35 is a fantastic on-wall speaker that also happens to be a terrific value. That being said, there are a few items about its performance and application worth noting. First, if you’re still hung up on needing a non-invasive, “invisible” speaker -albeit on-wall -the EW35 isn’t likely going to be for you. There is no mistaking the EW35 for anything else but a loudspeaker. All that said, it performs similar to that of a quality monitor loudspeaker but takes up zero floor space in the process. If you’re playing the pros versus cons game, that’s two in the pro category to one in the con -just saying.

Despite its physical size, the EW35 doesn’t possess a great deal of bass, which means adding a subwoofer into the mix is a must for peak performance. You don’t have to go buck-wild on a subwoofer, hell, EMP Tek offers several that would likely work brilliantly, but you do need a subwoofer in order to balance out the EW35 overall sound. Go it alone -aka without a sub -and the EW35 will likely come off as sounding forward or lean.

While it is possible to mount the EW35 horizontally, based on how the brackets are designed, it likely isn’t preferable. Therefore, those looking to use a matching EW35 as a center speaker might have to get a little creative in ensuring a secure fit to one’s wall when mounting horizontally. Conversely, if you affix the brackets to the speaker, but set it atop a shelf, they (the brackets) work brilliantly as stabilizing feet.

The EW35′s binding posts, while incredibly robust, are not the easiest things in the world to work with. I recommend connecting your speaker wire first, then mounting the EW35 to its respective brackets versus the other way round.

Comparable Products

As I said earlier, I’m a fan of on-wall loudspeakers and as a result have owned a few over the years. The EW35 remind me most of Morel’s old on-wall, the Vario. In their heyday, the Vario retailed for $999 apiece, which is a far cry from the EW35′s roughly $200 asking price. Still, the two share more similarities in size, build and even sound than some may be willing to accept. However, the Vario is no longer available, so while I can attest to the validity of the comparison, it likely isn’t going to do you, the reader, much good.

Compared to on-wall speakers available today I’d have to say the EW35 is more evenly matched with the likes of Definitive Technology’s Mythos on-wall speakers, Paradigm’s Millenia Series of on-wall speakers and even MartinLogan’s Motion Series of bookshelf/on-wall speakers. Of course, which of the before mentioned options is going to be right for you and your system is going to be left to you and your personal tastes, suffice to say, the EW35 isn’t the only on-wall speaker from which to choose.

Conclusion

At just over $200 each, the EW35 represents a remarkable value among not only on-wall loudspeakers but loudspeakers in general. While what’s left of the on-wall speaker market may have chosen to value beauty over performance, the EW35 isn’t what I’d classify as a mongrel. Moreover, when mated properly to a capable subwoofer, its performance is on par with and in some ways superior to its affordable bookshelf brethren. The icing on the cake being that the EW35, unlike its bookshelf cousins, do not require stands (more money saved) nor take up an inch of floor space as a result.

So if you have a moderate to large HDTV and are looking to “upgrade” your sound but the thought of using a soundbar terrifies you to no end; I can think of no better, or more affordable, solution than EMP Tek’s EW35 on-wall speaker. Pay attention during  the EW35′s setup and experiment with their crossover point, and you’ll likely be wondering to yourself why you never considered on-walls before. I mean it, plus, at $218 each, with a 30-day in-home trial, what do you have to lose?

 

  • Kibwe Huffman

    Hey man when are you gonna review the emptek e55ti towers and e56ci center?

  • AndrewRobinsonOnline

    Maybe someday soon. I can’t just review just one company’s entire product catalog :) . I am interested in them for sure though, just was more intrigued by their on-walls first.

  • Kibwe Huffman

    Do you plan to review any sonus faber speakers? Maybe the venere or the Olympia Line? I just heard the Venere 3.0′s and WOW!!!!
    Sonus Faber>>>>>ALL

  • Jay

    Great review. I’ve been using (3) ew35 as my LCR speakers for close to 4 years now. Your comments about the sub and missing low end are spot on, but mounting this speaker as a center channel presented zero issues.