Eclipse TD-M1 AirPlay Speaker Review
Meet the most extraordinary AirPlay system on the market
What is the Eclipse TD-M1?In many aspects of life, the most practical and efficient solution on paper can often prove to be rather less than ideal when employed in reality. In efficiency terms, logic dictates that all cars should be powered by a two stroke diesel engine with a CVT gearbox. In terms of the theoretical economy and the ability to operate in the most efficient means possible all the time, little else comes close. In reality the noise, staggering lack of refinement and sensation you were driving around in a giant angry chainsaw means that we soften the approach somewhat. Reality doesn’t work out in quite the way that theory suggests it might.
In audio terms, we accept compromises throughout the signal path from source to ear but nowhere is this more apparent than in loudspeaker design. The conventional practice of building a box with multiple drivers that even when designed from scratch to work together have differing characteristics and requirements of the cabinet they are placed in is inherently flawed. Further compromises are apparent in the crossover which further complicates the relationship the different drivers have to one another. In a perfect world, none of this would be needed. A single driver producing the full bandwidth would negate the need for a complex crossover and the cabinet could be optimised for that single transducer. In practice of course, the laws of physics dictate that a single driver is being asked to do something almost impossible. A driver that is happy reproducing 100Hz will be all out of ideas at 10kHz and vice versa. Any single driver design is going to be a compromise in terms of frequency response.
That doesn’t stop people trying though. Eclipse is a subsidiary of Fujitsu and over the last decade or so they have applied themselves to making the single driver loudspeaker work in reality. Their range of ‘Time Domain’ speakers are some of the most extraordinary looking devices on the market but none of it is for styling’s sake. The TD-M1 you see here is an attempt to marry this unique design practice with the real world appeal of an AirPlay desktop audio system - do the on-paper advantages work in reality?
Eclipse TD-M1 DesignThe TD-M1 is first and foremost an Eclipse Time Domain speaker. This means that it uses a single driver in each speaker with no crossover or supporting features bar a port on the rear of the enclosure. The driver in question is an 8cm unit made from a woven Kevlar type material. 8cm doesn’t sound like very much in terms of radiating area and in fact the actual speaker part of the driver is smaller still as the measurement that Eclipse gives is edge to edge. This relatively small driver nonetheless has a quoted frequency response of 70Hz to 30kHz (albeit no roll off quoted at either frequency extreme) which borders on witchcraft.
The reasons for this impressive extension are down to the TD-M1 being designed from the outset to be a single driver speaker. The driver is bespoke and relies on very low mass and a clever magnet design to push it to achieve frequencies that simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise. This driver is then placed in a unique cabinet. This is somewhere between an egg and a jet engine pod (with the slightest hint of alien death machine from The War of the Worlds) and due to the absence of parallel surfaces, is extremely resistant to standing waves or unwanted resonance. The driver itself is not directly connected to the cabinet but is instead connected to a heavy zinc steel mass anchor which ensures that the driver energy isn’t lost to the mounts. The anchor in turn mounts to the cabinet at three separate points to improve its resonant behaviour. The driver relies on the firmness of the mount and the rubber surround to seal correctly at the front.
The result of this extensive effort is the surprising bandwidth and a speaker that has almost none of the phase or dispersion issues that a multiple driver speaker suffers from. The result is that the TD-M1 can follow a waveform with far greater accuracy than a conventional design. There is no real argument against the fairly obvious point that a conventional speaker of roughly similar dimensions is definitely going to be able to produce greater low end extension than the TD-M1 but hopefully the performance of the Eclipse within the boundaries of the available bandwidth will make the difference.
So far, the TD-M1 is ‘normal’ within the constraints of what that means in relation to Eclipse’s design principles but the reason it is of particular interest is that it also breaks new ground in that this is the first pair of active and completely self-contained speakers that the company has produced. As a stereo pair, the right hand speaker contains the Apple approved AirPlay module, a 24/192Khz capble USB-B input, a 3.5mm analogue aux in and a USB A input for direct connection of an Apple device. These inputs are then powered by an integrated Class D amp that delivers 20 watts with acceptable distortion figures and 25 with a rather eye opening 10% THD (if you are unsure about THD measurements, be under no illusion that 10% is a figure that is going to be very audible indeed).
The driver is bespoke and relies on very low mass and a clever magnet design to push it to achieve frequencies that simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise
All of this hardware is concealed in the foot of the right hand speaker which connects by simple 3.5mm-3.5mm jack connection to the passive left hand unit. There is a reasonably unobtrusive external power supply and that is it - the TD-M1 is a complete audio system with multiple inputs, small footprint and the ability to generate a genuine stereo image. The Eclipse joins a very small number of self-contained products that can actually do this. Control is available both via a touch panel at the front of the right hand speaker base or an iOS control app. This controls the volume, input and power status of the Eclipse but buried in the settings menu is yet another unique feature.
The Eclipse performs decoding courtesy of a single Wolfson WM8741 DAC chip. This is a well-respected and very capable design but the application here is unique as Eclipse has adapted the decoding to allow the TD-M1 to work both in the way the DAC was originally intended with upsampling to 24/192kHz carried out on all signals but also as a ‘NOS’ (non oversampling) DAC where no modification to the signal is carried out prior to decoding. Eclipse argues that doing this with 16/44.1 lossless material makes for a more natural presentation that needs much less aggressive digital filtering to sound ‘right.’ This has been a point of contention but there are some fine NOS designs on the market and Eclipse does at least give you the chance to choose between the two modes to make your own decision.
The design of the TD-M1 means that form follows function but when the result looks like the Eclipse, that is not really too much of a bind. I don’t want to argue that £1,000 is anything other a than a fair amount of money but the Eclipse looks and feels special. In a perfect world, Bluetooth functionality might have been offered or direct UPnP access but the TD-M1 is a perfect candidate to sit on a desk with a high quality Mac or PC and provide both decent audio and a visually interesting product at the same time.
Eclipse TD-M1 SetupAs a standalone product, the TD-M1 was plonked on a pair of Soundstyle stands and AirPlay was tested exclusively via iPad 3 - I’ve made the mistake of installing iTunes on a computer of mine once before and have no intention of repeating this error. The USB was tested via my Lenovo ThinkPad and Foobar. Material used was the usual combination of lossless and high res material as well as Spotify, Grooveshark, YouTube and Netflix.
Eclipse TD-M1 Sound QualityAs a confession to get out of the way first, I’ve generally liked the way that well sorted single driver speakers make music. Speakers like the gently bonkers Lowther based horns and the equally mad 47 Laboratory Lens speakers have always charmed me into accepting what they did wrong because I liked what they did right so much. The Eclipse is a different case altogether. To be clear there are still compromises to be accepted in the way that the TD-M1 makes music but they are smaller than I expected and the payoff is still significant.
First the downsides. Like other members of the Eclipse family the TD-M1 isn’t hugely sensitive and the 20 watts of power into a pair of 8cm drivers is not the sort of thing that gets dubstep vibrating your internal organs. The Eclipse design principle favours nearfield listening with significant toe-in to generate a comparatively small sweet spot and the decision by Eclipse to supply the TD-M1 with a 1.5m cable gives you a clue as to the sort of distances that this triangle of toed-in speakers and your listening position is likely to be. If you live for chest vibrating bass or you have a huge room to fill, the Eclipse is unlikely to demonstrate its true colours.
Accepting that there are £1,000 solutions that don’t have this problem, why would you persevere with the Eclipse? The answer is simple. With any piece of music where the bits that matter happen between 100Hz and 13 or 14kHz (that is to say pretty much everything bar heavy dub and dance music), the Eclipse is staggeringly good. The single most extraordinary ability that the TD-M1 possesses is that voices are simply incredible. Returning to John Allen’s lovely Deep River, the first track, Night & Day is a pared back piece with sparse instruments supporting Allen’s vocals. Park yourself in the sweet spot and suddenly the bonkers shape, the limited bass response and possible competition simply don’t matter. The performance is so completely convincing that the flaws simply become a total irrelevance.
Much of this singular ability comes down to speed. Speed is tricky to measure in audio as it really concerns the ability of a speaker to ‘change direction’ and follow a recording. There are plenty of fast speakers on the market that use crossovers and more conventional technology but the TD-M1 is simply in a different league. You become aware that even the most well sorted conventional speaker is still held back by allocating sound to different drivers and sorting things out via crossover. This is not an ability that relies on the music being played being high tempo either. One of the more peculiar albums I own (and love, I make no apologies for that) is the Flying Picket’s cover album. The concept of a men’s A capella group singing Nivana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is profoundly weird but the stacked voices singing everything from bass to high tenor shows exactly what the Eclipse is about. Listening to it on almost anything else straight afterwards just sounds disjointed and confused. The clarity and cohesion of these little speakers is simply phenomenal.
The clarity and cohesion of these little speakers is simply phenomenal
Once you adjust and accept that bass is only ever going to be heard rather than felt and that the scale of the performance is fairly close knit - at times the effect is like wearing the most open backed pair of headphones ever devised - the Eclipse is an endlessly appealing partner. The effortless extraction of detail and the sheer energy of the performance is something that is hugely and constantly enjoyable. If you are in a working environment where you will be near field with your speakers, there are few finer partners.
I would advise that you keep the quality of your recordings at a reasonable standard though. Like a number of devices I have tested over the years, the Eclipse is bothered less by the sampling rate of the material as it is the actual quality of the recording. A well mastered album on Spotify is less of a problem than a poorly mastered one on CD. Keeping the DAC in the NOS mode seems to add a little sweetness to the presentation that helps but the extremely revealing nature of the Eclipse is such that it simply can’t flatter a poor recording because there is nowhere for the problems to ‘hide.’ I would expect that people spending a grand on a system of this nature might not be existing on a diet of 64kbps internet radio though.
- Captivating Sound
- Beautifully built
- Flexible connections
- Won't go hugely loud
- No Bluetooth
- Not Cheap
Eclipse TD-M1 AirPlay Speaker ReviewIn amongst my genuine and slightly unbridled excitement for the Eclipse, I hope I have made clear what the downsides to these unique little speakers are. They can’t rattle your chest with bass, they are not at their happiest in large rooms and they can’t flatter poor recordings. Eclipse has worked wonders at domesticating the single driver loudspeaker but they cannot subvert the laws of physics. Much anyway.
If you manage to get a listen to the TD-M1 though, I really don’t think that many listeners will care. The effortlessness with which the Eclipse picks apart complex recordings and delivers everything with a compelling life and energy is utterly addictive. The market for self-contained AirPlay products is growing and there are some increasingly expensive options out there. The Eclipse arrives in this category with well developed technology and some useful extra features that make most of the competition look a little staid and conventional. If you are after the best desktop audio system a grand will get you, this has to be top of the list.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £999.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money8
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