Epos Epic 2 loudspeaker Robert J. Reina
Roy Hall of Music Hall Audio, US importer of Epos loudspeakers, called me a while back to tell me about Epos's new Epic line: three affordable speakers positioned to provide greater performance for the money than Epos's more expensive M models. Designer Mike Creek's design goal for the Epics was to reduce the cosmetic costs of the cabinets, and thus free up more of the speaker's manufacturing costs to be dedicated to sound quality.
Of the three Epics, Hall suggested I review the middle model, the Epic 2 bookshelf, which, at $799/pair, he thought represented the best sound quality per dollar. In his words, "Tell them it's great fucking value for the money." I've reviewed three Epos M-series speakers in Stereophile: The M5 in April 2005, the M16i in June 2008, and the M5i in February 2011. I was anxious to get a pair of Epic 2s to hear how they stacked up.
Given Mike Creek's stated design objective of cutting costs in cosmetics, I expected to see a brace of ugly ducklings when I removed the Epic 2s from their box. To my surprise, the speakers were quite comely in Cherry (Black Ash is also available), and though the cabinet lacks the sexily rounded corners of the Epos M5i, I found the Epic 2 attractive in a Harbeth-LS3/5A-British monitor sort of way. In fact, when I dropped the speakers off at Music Hall to be reboxed and sent to John Atkinson for measuring (UPS had destroyed the original cartons), I commented to Roy Hall that I thought the speaker's wood veneer quite attractive. "It's not wood veneer," he replied; "it's vinyl." My jaw dropped. I'd thought the Epic 2's finish comparable to the wood-finished M5i's.
The two-way, rear-ported Epic 2 has a 1" fabric tweeterthe first soft dome ever developed by Epos. With its high-temperature, ferrofluid-cooled voice-coil and shielded neodymium magnet, this tweeter is designed to produce high output levels for extended periods. The speaker also has a new 7" woofer with a polypropylene cone and a bullet-shaped dustcap. The woofer is loaded at low frequencies with a large-diameter port, this flared at both ends to minimize turbulence. The crossover includes second-order filters, metal-oxide resistors, and polypropylene capacitors. Air-core inductors are used for the tweeter, and an oversize, laminated-ironcore inductor for the woofer. Two pairs of gold-plated input terminals provide for biwiring. The Epic 2 has a specified sensitivity of 90dB but is said to be capable of handling high amounts of power; Epos recommends pairing it with amplifiers in the 20120Wpc range.
Finally, Epos has done something unique with their speaker grilles. The Epic 2 comes with not a removable grille but a removable front baffle. Using a handy tool (provided), the customer can switch between a grilleless baffle and one with a grille permanently affixed. I thought the sounds of the speaker with and without grilles were very close, though I slightly preferred the marginally increased detail I could hear when the grilles were gone. I placed the Epic 2s on Epos's own ST35 stands, which were originally designed for the M5 and M5i.
The Epic 2's warm, inviting, detailed, uncolored presentation of all midrange textures got me mining my collection of original mono LP pressings of classic jazz vocal recordings. Doris Day's voice was silky, rich, holographic, and voluptuous in her renditions of "It's Magic," from Greatest Hits (LP, Columbia CL 1210), and "That Old Feeling," from Day Dreams (LP, Columbia CL 624). I compared Day's take on the latter tune with Frank Sinatra's on his album That Old Feeling (LP, Columbia CL 902). The Epic reproduced the lower region of Old Blue Eyes' voice with body, delicacy, and no trace of unnatural chestiness. However, the upper end of Tony Bennett's range in "Rags to Riches," from his Greatest Hits (LP, Columbia CL 1229), sounded quite different. Bennett's voice didn't sound less natural than Sinatra'sboth were completely uncolored. Rather, the Epos's resolution of detail was such that it was very easy to hear how the Columbia engineers had bathed Bennett's voice in excessive reverb, while keeping Sinatra's almost bone dry. Doris Day's voice was presented somewhere in between.
The Epos's ability to unravel subtle low-level dynamic articulations made it an impressively realistic transducer of unique vocal phrasings. Laura Nyro's tremendous dynamic and frequency ranges in "Eli's Coming," from her Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (LP, Columbia CS 9626), was reproduced by the Epic 2 in all its dramatic, bellowing glory. The Epos also revealed every nuance of Lee Michaels' dynamic phrasing in his unaccompanied introduction, on Hammond B-3, to "Stormy Monday," from Lee Michaels (LP, A&M SP 4199).
The Epic 2 unraveled quite of bit of high-frequency detail from well-recorded music of all genres, but never felt bright, blunted, or constrained in the top two octaves. Organist Gerd Zacher's interpretation of Gyîrgy Ligeti's Volumina (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2543818) pushes the limit of the pipe organ's timbral, frequency, and dynamic ranges, and the upper harmonics of the highest-register pipes sounded pristine and airy even during the most dissonant passages. Jim McGuinn's arpeggiated solo on Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar in the Byrds' cover of Pete Seeger's "The Bells of Rhymney," from Mr. Tambourine Man (LP, Columbia/Sundazed LP 5057), sounded appropriately jangly and airy, with every transient preserved intact. And in "(She's in a) Bad Mood," from the early Sonic Youth album Confusion Is Sex (LP, SST 096), the interplay between Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo's just-tuned Fender Jazzmaster guitars was preserved with all upper harmonic resonances intact, even at volume levels exceeding 95dB. The Epos's high-frequency purity also made it a very realistic reproducer of brass instruments. Liam Sillery's trumpet in "Tristan's Way," from his Priorité (CD, OA2 Records 22082), was reproduced in holographic burnished brass with all phrasing intact, his instrument floating on a bed of airjust as I've heard him in concert.
The Epic 2's low end was quite impressive. I whipped out an album I used to test speakers when I shopped for my first high-end stereo back in 1978: Stanley Clarke's Journey to Love (LP, Nemperor NE 457). "Silly Putty" showcases some dramatic interplay between drummer Steve Gadd and Clarke, the leader playing melody and bass lines simultaneously on his Alembic electric bass. Clarke's bass lines and Gadd's bass drum were very easy to separate without a trace of coloration, loss of clarity, or bass overhang. On the acoustic side, Lonnie Plaxico's double bass in "Strange Fruit," from Cassandra Wilson's New Moon Daughter (LP, Blue Note 837183 1), was clean and woody, with plenty of punch. For pure electronic bass, Lady Gaga's rapid-fire bass synth in "Judas," from Born This Way (CD, Streamline B0015373-02), was slammin' and, at levels above 95dB, literally shook the floor. For pure headbanging drama, however, I cued up my favorite heavy-metal tune from the 1960s, Vanilla Fudge's arrangement of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On," from Vanilla Fudge (LP, Atco SD 33-224). It was the perfect body-twitching complement to the wine party I was hosting at my summer house.
What most impressed me about the Epic 2 was how much of a floorstander's bass extension and dramatic high-level dynamic performance it had. Of the several dozen affordable speakers I've reviewed for Stereophile over the years, most have been easily categorizable as either a bookshelf or a floorstander: Each category has its own, unmistakable presentation. However, had I listened to the Epic 2 blindfolded, I'd have bet a considerable amount of money that I was hearing a larger, floorstanding speaker.
I was also impressed by the degree to which so affordable a bookshelf speaker could resolve the inner details of well-recorded classical music. In Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (UK LP, EMI ASD 2470), Gervase de Payer's clarinet was open and airy, and the extended upper-range harmonics of Erich Gruenberg's violin sounded natural, with the requisite bite. In the Allegro moderato of Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto, as performed by Pierre Boulez and his Ensemble InterContemporain (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2431378), Michel Arrignon's staccato clarinet lines blended perfectly with the air of the recorded acoustic.
Finally, I was impressed with how the Epos perfectly integrated the rhythmic parts of well-recorded R&B and rock music into coherent, unified wholes. In "Time Is Tight," from Booker T. & the MGs' Greatest Hits (LP, Stax MPS-8505), the rhythm section chugged along in toe-tapping splendor. And "Freedom Rider," from Steve Winwood's Winwood (LP, United Artists UAS-9964), had my hips bouncing during Chris Wood's saxophone solo the same way they did when I first heard this song on Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die, when that album was released in 1970.
The tune that put the entire Epic 2 package together for me was "Yulunga (Spirit Dance)," from Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (LP, 4AD DAD-3013). The track opens with delicate, gradually building percussion over a big, airy, atmospheric presentation of the group. In linear fashion from ppp to fff, the music gradually crescendos to a dramatic climax; as it became busier and more cacophonous, the Epic 2 kept every transient intact, and the band a coherent whole. The total effect was captivating, with an immediate presence in the listening room that I've heard only from more expensive floorstanding speakersor at live performances.
I compared the Epos Epic 2 ($799/pair) with the Nola Mini ($799/pair when last offered) and the NHT Classic 3 ($800/pair). But I most eagerly awaited the opportunity to compare the Epic 2 with Epos's own M5i ($899/pair), given the role that the M5i and its predecessor, the M5, have played in my listening in recent years. Although I reviewed the M5 and M5i very favorably in Stereophile, these speakers mean even more to me than those reviews implied. Although I always have several affordable speakers lying around the house, whenever I've felt like putting together an impromptu affordable system just to enjoy music, I've almost always grabbed the M5s or the M5i's. And when I've needed to review an affordable turntable, CD player, or integrated amp, the M5 or M5i has served as a reference to help me understand what was happening with the component being reviewed. To that extent, the M5/M5i has become, over the years, my reference for affordable loudspeakers.
I felt the Epos M5i's bass didn't go as deep as the Epic 2's, nor were its high-level dynamics as forceful and dramatic. I did, however, feel that the M5i resolved a bit more detail in the midrange and highs than did the Epic 2. The M5i's upper bass was also a touch cleaner, and its overall sound more delicate and subtle. However, I felt the Epic 2 was, overall, the better-balanced speaker. Both models had very revealing and extended highs, but the fact that the M5i's bass extension was shallower than the Epic 2's meant that the M5i's highs called more attention to themselves. I can't state a clear preference; Epos's Epic 2 and M5i are of comparable quality, with trade-offs that must be weighed against the individual buyer's listening priorities.
The Nola Mini had a richer, warmer lower midrange than the Epic 2, and comparable midrange detail. The Nola's bass extension was also comparable to the Epic 2's, but its highs were much less pure. Also, I felt that transients sounded cleaner through the Epos.
Finally, the NHT Classic 3's midrange was the equal of the Epic 2's in terms of timbre and detail; the NHT's highs weren't as refined, but were just as well balanced with the rest of the audioband as in the Epos. Bass extension and high-level dynamics, however, were superior through the Epic 2.
With the Epos Epic 2, Mike Creek has a hit on his hands. It's the perfect bookshelf speaker for someone who wants the bass and high-level dynamic performance of a floorstander, but either has cost constraints or a spouse who won't let anything bigger than a bookshelf into the house. And while some costs have been cut in the cosmetics department, the Epic 2 does not look cheap. I believe any Stereophile reader would be proud to have these attractive little beauties in his or her living room. Hats off to Mike Creek, who continues to raise the bar of sound quality per dollar in affordable loudspeakers.Robert J. Reina