ETI Lenehan S2R Speakers Review
The ETI name has been associated with high quality audio products since 1998, when Keith Eichmann founded the company in partnership with Rob Woodland.
Eichmann’s attention to detail and obsession with preserving and enhancing ‘electron flow’ would prove to be the key in the products released in the years that followed.
Over the years the company may have changed hands a couple of times and Eichmann himself has moved on to other projects, but the principle has not changed.
ETI has been rebuilt from the ground up, new alliances and licensing partnerships have been forged, and the next generation of products wearing the ETI name are hitting the market.
On the sunny Gold Coast of Australia, another obsessive audio master-craftsman going by the name of Mike Lenehan has been designing, refining and producing stunning loudspeakers for some years. A small operation, Lenehan Audio has enjoyed success Down Under, while just starting to pop up on the radar of overseas audiophiles.
You see, just like Eichmann was obsessed with optimal electron flow, Lenehan is also obsessed – with controlling resonance, vibration and damping. And just like ETI, Lenehan is all about that last ‘one percent’. Lenehan’s speakers, albeit a small range, are highly tuned and refined and while not revolutionary in overall design or high tech in terms of electronics, they do what they do, well. Very well.
A joint venture, or license agreement, between ETI and Lenehan Audio was either a brilliant coincidence, or smart business… I suspect the latter. So when the ETI Lenehan S2R stand mount loudspeakers were announced, fans of both companies took notice.
StereoNET has enjoyed the support of both for some years and it was fitting when ETI approached us to offer a ‘special edition’ of the S2R, exclusive to our readers.
I’ve enjoyed living with the first production model on a variety of associated components in a few different listening environments, for a number of months now.
First, let me begin by pointing out that I’m no audiophile, but with that I will pose a question; what is an audiophile? John Darko prompted a similar discussion that leads to this very question, here.
I’m first and foremost a music enthusiast and secondly, I appreciate high fidelity audio reproduction. Whether it be from my previous life playing in a band or working part time on weekends in a recording studio, instilled in me is a love for music and good sound. The combination of both leads me on a personal journey I enjoy, ultimately with no end goal and often limited only by what I can afford. I imagine this is much the same as the majority of our readers.
I’ll do my best to try and avoid using too many hi-fi review clichés, or highly technical critical analyses of the speakers. What you will find is an enthusiast’s take on them and that, I believe, is typical of the buyer of these speakers.
ETI Lenehan S2R is a two-way loudspeaker built with the same level of engineering as all the speakers within Lenehan Audio’s range. In fact, development of S2R was apparently a lengthy process in excess of two years and 1600 hours.
You might be wondering where they sit within the existing Lenehan Audio speaker range? Sonically, Lenehan rates them slightly better than the well-known ML1 speakers, not surprising given the S2R utilises a larger bass driver than the ML1, a 6.5” Peerless Nomex woofer, versus the 5” of the ML1.
The S2R enclosure is manufactured from 32mm MDF and braced with 13mm and 8mm steel rod. According to Lenehan, this reinforcement lowers the energy storage, or ‘box coloration’. It’s no surprise then that each speaker comes in at over 20kg.
The crossovers are a quasi-3rd order network, featuring Dueland VSF bypass capacitors and 12 gauge air-core inductors. At trade pricing this equates to over $400 in parts, and takes more than five hours to assemble the crossovers and wire the S2R internally, featuring hand-cut Ribbontek ribbon wire.
The attention to detail and engineering, that last “one percent”, is what makes Lenehan Audio special in my books. From the genuine Italian leather-wrapped enclosure, ultra-gloss polyester finishing materials, to the internal components and overall end result, this is the difference.
Arriving well packaged on a pallet from ETI’s warehouse, the S2R were freshly built, and against Lenehan’s will had not been run-in due to time constraints.
I had no stands on hand, so the S2R sat perched atop some other floor-standing speakers in our office at the time. Lenehan suggests at least 100 hours of run-in time to allow the drivers to free up and the crossover components to burn in, or something. I’ve always been a little sceptical on such great amounts of time to “run products in”. I now whole-heartedly agree with this concept and process.
In an ideal world we’d all have acoustically designed and treated listening rooms. In the real world however this is often not the case, and while we actually are in the midst of building said room, the StereoNET office had to suffice for listening.
The office system consisted at the time of a Consonance Droplet CD Player, up to the task of playing whatever was loaded on repeat for the burn-in period. This was connected to a pair of Burson Audio Timekeeper mono amplifiers (240w RMS). Interconnects included Audio Metallurgy GA-0 and ETI Quiessence speaker cables.
A phone call with Mike Lenehan was timely and his reminder that “they really need 100 hours on them” was encouraging, as my initial thoughts on Dire Straits’ - “Private Investigations” was a noticeable lack of bass extension, a thin sound in the high frequencies and an overall dryness.
I also had trouble with the soundstage projection and placement. Now whether that was because of the six-foot glass aquarium, the open fireplace or the fact that this system had been stuffed into a corner in the office; it was all working against an ideal scenario to review speakers, but I persevered remembering that not every enthusiast’s or customer’s rooms are ideal either.
Mike Lenehan was probably getting tired of my phone calls by this point, but quite the contrary. A likeable, obsessive individual, you’ll likely struggle to find someone more passionate about Hi-Fi and of course, his products.
As I explained my concerns about soundstage projection, it became immediately clear to Lenehan the problem was in fact the lack of decent stands for the S2R’s. It was concluded the soundstage projection was being interfered with by the other pair of speakers they were sitting atop of.
Now remembering Lenehan’s unrelenting importance of that last “one percent” I argued that if these were to be sold as “stand-mount” speakers, and sent for review then they should supply stands and should consider offering stands for sale with the speakers themselves.
Serveral discussions between Lenehan and ETI later, that’s exactly what happened. I promptly had some well-engineered stands arrive at the office. Problem solved.
Fast forward past the prescribed burn-in, and all was ready to put the S2R’s through their paces.
I know I’m harping on about it now, but immediately obvious was that the S2R’s had come to life. Any concerns I had previously had been resolved; one of those moments where you sit back not knowing what to expect and being genuinely impressed.
Armed with a handful of CDs, a remote and a few new arrivals to the office; namely, a Wandboard/CSOS high-res streaming system I had put together, coupled with a Hegel HD25 DAC and a SimAudio Moon P5 Preamplifier, it was time for some tunes.
First listening tests included a few different genres with United Blues Experience – “The Cologne Concert”, a live recording with great ambience and fantastic instrument placement, and some jazz with Hugh Masekela’s – “Hope”, another live album. The S2R performed flawlessly, particularly with Masekela’s “Stimela” where some transient “choo-choo” loud bursts can really bring a speaker undone and sound artificial, not so in this case.
The S2R punch well above their weight. Lenehan suggests that an ideal room size would be 4.5m x 7m with a 2.8m ceiling, but they’d also work well in a smaller 2.4m x 3.9m with 2.4 ceiling height; our office being somewhere in the middle. He also suggests the speakers be placed more than 0.5m from the rear wall with a listening position around 3m – 4m from the speakers; sadly not possible in their current location. So how would this affect the room loading and low extension ability of the S2Rs? I should point out that prior to living with the S2R’s, I was more of a floor-stander type guy, so low end response and dynamics were of particular interest to me.
Puscifer, a side project of Maynard James Keenan (of Tool and A Perfect Circle fame), is another favourite of mine. “Momma Sed” in particular, is one I enjoy for listening to the lower frequencies, as well as overall balance and I often use this with headphone tests. While the S2R won’t take you on a journey down to 20Hz, what they do extend down to is more than enough to keep you entertained in a small to medium sized room. The claimed 35Hz +/- 1.5dB frequency response seems accurate.
The tight and controlled lower frequencies would surely be a result of the damping and control exerted by the crossover network – the benefit of those high quality components.
Given the compact size of the S2Rs they could easily integrate into a living area and might need to double for home theatre duties, so integrating a subwoofer is always an option for the extended low frequencies.
S2Rs are accurate, unbelievably accurate. They project a three-dimensional soundstage that is true to the source. More importantly however, and I put this down to the design and refinement of the crossover network, the drivers blend perfectly creating a single point source and a smooth frequency response across the spectrum.
So refined in fact, that in all my years of playing with hi-fi no speaker has ever revealed so clearly the subtle differences in simply changing out cables and components. A big claim perhaps, but mid-review ETI provided a set of their flagship RibbonTek speaker cables, another Lenehan licensed product from ETI. I’m in danger at this point of sounding like an infomercial for ETI and Lenehan, and indeed they do sponsor this website, but we’ve called it how we see it with other brands and sponsors’ products, even when it hasn’t been so full of praise.
Cue the first cliché; a veil was lifted, elevating the clarity in the midrange and high level frequencies. And while S2R can handle all genres of music well, surprisingly an ability that not all speakers, even commercially available ones from big names in hi-fi can do, I found myself coming back to acoustic and blues time and time again. This could be due to the detail in the midrange and high frequencies, or it could also be the seamless blend between the two drivers. It could even have something to do with the fact I am told Lenehan himself loves acoustic and blues. Maybe.
The point is, the Peerless / Scanspeak drivers used in S2R are not exotic. They’re used by thousands of manufacturers around the world in various loudspeaker designs. The difference is in the execution, enclosure and crossover network. Lenehan has come damn close to nailing this. I’ll go as far as to say perhaps too well.
If I had to be critical, I’d say that the S2R are so true to the source that it’s a good thing as much as it is bad. They will reveal flaws in your system and depending on system components, could border on ‘clinical’, rather than ‘musical’ (cliché #2). The upside of this is that you can choose cables and components to fine tune the overall sound to your liking.
Ultimately the S2R are the result of years of research and development. This is obvious and the overall sound and the finish truly reflects that. I have no hesitation in recommending these speakers on those points alone, but be warned, your journey will not be complete if you choose to own these speakers. Like me, you’ll find yourself changing out other components to hear the differences you may not have been able to hear using your previous speakers.
You’d be rewarded for investing in ETI Lenehan S2R speakers. Pointing out the obvious however, an audition is always recommended before purchasing any hi-fi component, particularly loudspeakers.
ETI have announced an astonishing special price exclusively for StereoNET readers, via their sponsor forum above. There are just 10 pairs available at this price however.
ETI Lenehan SR2 Loudspeakers
- $4900.00 RRP pair