Epos Elan 10 loudspeaker
I've long kept an eye on Michael Creek's loudspeakers (Epos) and electronics (Creek). He's always moving forward, with either updates of current designs or a revamp of an entire product line. And though I've found that many of his new-product ideas tend to feature evolutionary rather than revolutionary sonic improvements, I've found that they always represent excellent sound quality for the dollar in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Of the five Epos speakers I've reviewed, I have a soft spot for the M5i bookshelf ($899/pair). Ever since I reviewed it in the February 2011 issue, the M5i has been my benchmark for affordable speakers, has served me well in my evaluations of affordable electronics, and is usually the speaker I grab when I want to throw together a system for impromptu listening.
When I found out that Mike Creek was discontinuing the Mi models and replacing them with the new Elan series, I thought I'd better seek out the Elan model that replaces the trusty M5i. The catalyst was a letter I received from subscriber Richard Fischer, who suggested I review the Elan 10 ($1000/pair). (Fischer had also suggested that I look into Sonus Faber's Venere 1.5, which I reviewed in the January 2014 issue.)
I discussed with Mike Creek his philosophies for the Elan and Mi series. Although the crossover topologies of the two lines are similar, the Elan models are designed to be more efficient and to present a more benign load to the amplifier, the result being higher SPLs with less powerful amplifiers. Creek has accomplished this by using more sensitive woofers, as well as a soft-dome tweeter that's more sensitive than the metal-dome unit used in the Mi models. Creek claims that, all else being equal, the Elan 10 will also play louder than the M5i.
The Elan 10 tweeter's 1" (25mm), doped-fabric dome tweeter has a high-temperature, ferrofluid-cooled voice-coil and a shielded neodymium magnet. Its 5.85" (150mm) woofer is built on an open-frame chassis of cast aluminum alloy and has a vented magnet pole. The mid/woofer is loaded with a port that's flared at both ends to reduce turbulence. The crossover is set to just above 3kHz and uses metal-oxide resistors and polypropylene-foil dielectric capacitors. The tweeter's air-core inductor and the woofer's coil, with a core of laminated-iron, are designed for low distortion at high power. The Elans are biwirable, and that's how I hooked them up.
I tested the Elan 10s using both Epos's ST35 stands (designed for the M5 and M5i) and my Celestion Si stands, the latter loaded with lead shot and sand. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after I'd completed the listening and had sent the speakers on to John Atkinson for measuring that I was contacted by Music Hall's Leland Leard, who, after a discussion with Mike Creek, had realized that I hadn't been told about the new companion speaker stand for the Elan 10, the ST15 ($299/pair). Creek then told me that the ST15 is made using constrained-layer damping, and that the Elan 10 will perform better with the ST15 than with the ST35. Music Hall agreed to send me a pair of ST15s; I'll report in a future Follow-Up on how well the Elan 10 performs with the stand designed for it.
The Elan 10 is available in either cherry or black oak real-wood veneer. I found my black oak sample to be unassuming and non-descript; it should easily blend in with any décor. The Elan 10 also has an innovative grille. Each speaker comes with two front baffles: one with a grillecloth affixed, the other without. The speakers are intended to be used with the clothless "audiophile" baffles (the scare quotes are Epos's); the second set of baffles are for music lovers who are concerned about damage to the speakers from small children and pets. I found that the "audiophile" baffles resolved a hair more detail, but that the two baffles otherwise sounded identical. I conducted most of my listening with the clothless baffles.
I was immediately struck by the low-level air and room ambience the Elan 10s were capable of resolving. With Gina Bachauer's performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto 1, with Antal Doráti conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (CD, Mercury 434 374-2), the Elans rendered every silky nuance of the orchestra in its deep ambient space. And with "Maracatu," from Egberto Gismonti's Works (CD, ECM 2692), I was struck by the bed of air enveloping each note of Gismonti's piano, Mauro Denise's flute, and Nana Vasconcelos's battery of percussion. And the Epos resolved gobs of detail that enabled me to listen deeply into the mixes of familiar recordings and experience them in a new way. On every track of Björk's Homogenic (CD, Elektra 62061-2), I found myself analyzing the harmonic and dynamic envelope of each of her synthesizer patches.
On the downside, the Elan 10 was ruthless at revealing less-than-well-recorded music. Although I normally enjoy listening to "Sex Kills," from Joni Mitchell's Turbulent Indigo (CD, Reprise 45786-2), even though I recognize that it doesn't sound as natural as her recordings from the 1960s and '70s, through the Elans I was distracted by the track's dynamic compression, the digitally processed acoustic guitar, and the electronic glaze on Mitchell's voice.
The Elan 10's ability to render precise and linear articulation of low-level dynamics from ppp to p made it an excellent showcase for János Starker's recording of J.S. Bach's Suites for Solo Cello (CD, Mercury 432 756-2). On every track, his cello resonated with wood, bow, rosin, and air. Listening to "Chan Chan," from Buena Vista Social Club (LP, World Circuit/Elektra Nonesuch 79478-2), I followed every subtle striking of the congas, bongos, and udu drum, whereas I usually focus on the voices. And when I heard "Sleeping Metronomes Lie," from my jazz quartet Attention Screen's Takes Flight at Yamaha (CD, Stereophile STPH021-2), I focused on my unaccompanied intro. Even though the piano I was playing is fundamentally an electronic instrument, the Epos enabled me to remember just how delicately the Yamaha AvantGrande can re-create the low-level dynamic articulation of an acoustic piano.