Epos Epic 2 loudspeaker
Roy Hall has his famous Music Hall MMF (Make Money Fast) turntables made for him in the Czech Republic.
Roy has also long been associated with Epos Limited, since a chap named Robin Marshall started the company in 1983. Their first product was the ES-14 loudspeaker, followed by the smaller ES-11. Both were largish, stand-mounted models, and both offered a lively, expressive, unstuffy sound. The speakers have always been fun to listen to, even if they lackedand still lackthe refinement of some far more expensive speakers.
I was thinking of what Bill Conrad told me last month: that Nature seems to have a rule that says the more expensive a dielectric is, the better it sounds. Hence Teflon capacitors, the most twitchy to make, sound best of all.
Speaker drive-units are this way, too. The best ones are expensive, and are usually made in Europe, especially Scandinavia. European manufacturers are also making drivers in Chinadrivers that sometimes find their way into speakers that say "MADE IN THE EU" or "MADE IN USA." (The same thing has been going on for years in the furniture business.) The good news is that all speaker drivers have been getting better and better, and now some of the less expensive ones can come very close to the sound of their more costly counterparts.
Epos's Epic line of speakers are designed by Mike Creek's team in the UK. They're made in China, of course. At the moment, there are three Epics: a small minimonitor, the Epic 1; a larger stand-mount, the Epic 2; and a floorstander, the Epic 5. An Epic 4 is not forthcoming. What? You haven't noticed that there's no fourth floor in Chinese buildings?
The Epos Epic 2 ($799/pair) measures 16.4" (415mm) high by 8.32" (210mm) wide by 11" (280mm) deep and comes in your choice of Cherry or Black Ash vinyl veneer, over 18mm-thick MDF. The speaker requires stands20? high would be about right. It has a 1" (25mm) soft-dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet and a 7" (179mm) polypropylene mid/woofer. The frequency range is given as 45Hz25kHz, the sensitivity as 90dB, and the nominal impedance as 4 ohms. The Epic 2 is suitable for amplifiers ranging from 20 to 120Wpc, says the manufacturer: none other than designer Mike Creek, who is also the current owner of Epos.
Those who fondly remember early Epos speakers might recall them as sonically a little rough around the edges. They were some of the first speakers to have a metal-dome tweeter. Roy says this gave them uncommon clarity. At the time, and for the price, this was true. Still, they were perhaps better suited for certain types of music than others. They weren't my first choice for string quartets. But for the prices, there was no cause to quibble.
I don't remember the prices of the Epos speakers of 25 years ago. But at $799/pair, the Epic 2 may actually sell for less, in real dollars, than the ES-14 and ES-11 of yore and of lore. For the money, you get a much better speaker. Much, much, much better. That tizzy treble has been tamedas has Roy Hall himselfyet the speaker retains something of the lively Epos quality. Like Roy (and Mike Creek), the Epic 2 is sprya fun speaker to listen to.
Its "baffle removal tool," too, is fun. It looks like a long screwdriver rounded off at the tip. Insert it in a hole on the back of the speaker, give it a gentle nudge with the palm of your hand, and the standard cloth grille pops out of its frame. You can then replace it with the "audiophile baffle," which presents a plain front surface of painted MDF and leaves the drivers exposed. Both grilles and the removal tool are included.
I wouldn't keep popping off the grille. The audiophile baffle sounded better but leaves the drivers exposed, and an unprotected soft-dome tweeter is highly vulnerable. You might be careful, but your kids or the cleaning person might not benot to mention those audiophile pals who feel compelled to touch any tweeter they see.
Mike said his aim, "when designing all the Epic speakers, was to give a really high sound quality at sensible prices by concentrating on quality components and careful design, but saving on elements which were not so crucial. Covering the cabinet with vinyl veneer and using plastic terminal panels saved a lot of money, which we have spent on very extensive bracing within the cabinet. We designed the drive-units to be very well behaved, without peaks, dips, delayed energy, or distortion, but made them on pressed-steel chassis to save cost." And by designing their own drivers, Epos is able to avoid a complicated crossover.
Creek also pointed to the large port on the back, and the way it flares to the inside and the outside, to achieve low-distortion, well-defined bass. Some British designers refer to chuffing; that is, when too much air poops from the port. The Epic 2 exhibited no sign of flatulence.
I listened with the Conrad-Johnson ET3 SE and Amtrans APCG-01S preamplifiers, and my Quicksilver Silver 88 monoblocks. For the purpose of evaluating the preamps, I thought I needed more resolving (and much more expensive) speakers, and turned to the Devore Fidelity Gibbon XL, which is about the same size as the Epic 2 and five times more costly: $3700/pair. The Gibbon is in a different league: Class A (Restricted Extreme LF) of our "Recommended Components."
But for $799/pair, what you get in the Epos Epic 2 is remarkable.
For starters, I found the Epic 2 very much at home with classical music. This is not to say they're for classical music only, but you know what I mean. They were lively, but at the same time nonfatiguing. It's a matter of tonal balance, and the Epic 2 nailed it. No edginess, no excessive brightness, no clarity achieved at the expense of brittle sound. I haven't heard the other models in the Epic series, but I'll bet there's a strong family resemblance. Epos now comes much closer to the classic British sound I associate with brands whose sonic signatures derive from the BBC's heritage: brands like Spendor and Harbeth. Not that Epos has turned excessively polite; you wouldn't expect that from Mike Creek, and certainly not from that scruffy Scot, Roy Hall.
Try as hard as I could, I could find nothing at all irritating about the Epic 2: nothing that kept reminding me I was listening to a pair of inexpensive, if not dirt-cheap, speakers. No obvious colorations. No excessive bloom or boominess in the bass. No top-end tizz.
I'll hazard a guess that the smaller Epic 1 stand-mounted speaker might be capable of a more holographic soundstage and more pinpoint imaging, but at the expense of bass extension. It would be fun to audition them side by side. Meanwhile, the Epic 2 was beautifully balanced, as I said. The pair of them was capable of reproducing a very wide, deep soundstage and precise imaging. I heard air aplenty. And I don't mean port pooping.
Still, there are limits to what a manufacturer can offer for $799. What Epos has done in the Epic 2 is minimize the effects of those limits through clever driver design, a well-braced cabinet, and an overall speaker design that has been well thought out. So many speakers strike me as hastily or too casually conceived: not half-assed, but half-heartedly made in a hurry, to be replaced by something equally mediocre in two years' time.
I didn't rush this review, partly because I was so enjoying the Epic 2s, and partly to rile Roy, who tried to get me into a race with Bob Reina, who's reviewing the Epic 4oops, the Epic 2in a future issue.
"Bob takes his time," Roy told me.
"Yes," I replied; "he's a thoughtful reviewer."
And the Epic 2 is a thoughtful speaker.
There must be some way to rattle Roy. I racked my brains, or what remains of them. Then I hit on an idea. I would use the new Rega Brio integrated amplifier, just arrived, with the Epic 2. Serves Roy right for not supplying a Creek. It proved a swell combinationas did the Eposes and my LFD IV LE integrated.
I'll rile Roy some more by pointing out how good Musical Fidelity's M1 series of electronics sounded with the Eposes. Maybe you need a Musical Fidelity M1 CDT CD transport and M1 DAC to know how good the Epos is. In all seriousness, I think you could do just fine with a CD player and integrated amplifier from Creek or Music Hall. The Creek ethos is like the Epos ethos: build high-quality products without extravagance for those who love their 'umble-pie eye-fye.Sam Tellig