Epos ES25 loudspeaker Page 2
Once everything settled in, the '25s generally had the ability to disappear, allowing better recordings to fill my listening room with music. Soundstages typically developed just behind the plane of the speakers, with very good width and depth. In addition, the sound was open and spacious. A good example was the Musical Heritage Society disc of Vivaldi's Mandolin Concertos (MHS 1100). Gone were earlier problems of excessive warmth and slight loss of detail. The plucked strings were clear and rich, with very good delineation and precise control.
Even on essentially horrible recordings, such as The Young Rascals' "Mickey's Monkey/Love Lights," on Collections (Atlantic 8134), the sound was tight, quick, and fast, with driving rhythmic integrity. The bass, in particular, continued to improve, as evidenced by my long-time favorite, "Comin' Home Baby" (Herbie Mann at the Village Gate, Atlantic 1380). Once again, the dual-bass–driven rhythms were clean, strong, and propulsive, with very good resolution and transient character. Low-level dynamic contrasts were good, adding further life to recorded performances.
Clarity was much improved through the mids and consistently excellent in the treble, as evidenced by the guitar work on Blues Traveler's "Just Wait" (Four, A&M 31454 0265-2). Vocals were well-articulated, with fine resolution and clarity contributing to the overall cleanliness of the presentation. Equally important, the well-broken-in speaker maintained much better composure when pushed to rock levels. The tonal balance was just that—balanced, with good extension at both extremes. Unlike the '11, the '25's bottom end had weight and authority, with nothing sacrificed up top.
While the mids were musical and smooth, they were still a touch recessed. A good example was Anita Baker's Rapture (Elektra 60444). She sounded lusciously smooth, with rich harmonic body and good resolution, but still pushed a bit farther back than I would have preferred (and had grown accustomed to with a number of other outstanding speakers).
An even better example was Muddy Waters' Folk Singer LP (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-201). With some speakers, this disc almost sounds as if the recording mike had been implanted in Muddy's throat. The '25s added a bit of space between Muddy and the technology.
My impressions at this stage of the review crystallized listening to Barták's Concerto for Orchestra, with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony (Deutsche Grammophon, BMG pressing D103116). Resolution of detail was first-rate, allowing me to almost count the individual artists in the various sections of the orchestra. Soundstaging was very good, the boxes generally getting out of the way. Width and depth were expansive and continuous, allowing the orchestra to be located in a realistically sized space with adequate room for everyone. Dynamics were good but not breathtaking. The '25s had deep bass extension, but there were traces of unevenness as the relatively smallish boxes grappled with their limitations in the very deepest bass region. The speakers may have had limitations, but these were carefully nurturing of the music.
Using a higher standard
To be successful at its $3500/pair price, the ES25 has to be a lot more than an improved ES11. Michael Jackson's HIStory (Epic E2K 59000) proved to be a more rigorous test. The most telling was the talk-back/fight-back "Scream." With the '25s, the opening lacked adequate deep-bass wallop or grab-you-in-your-seat dynamic contrasts. More critically, the tonal detail of the various distorted tones lacked much of their true complexity. If I hadn't driven the '25s with both the Conrad-Johnson Premier Eights and Classé One Thousand, I'd have guessed there wasn't adequate amplification. In my room, the '25s did not sound as if they were reaching anywhere near the stated 25Hz, –3dB point. Other, admittedly higher-priced, speakers were far more impressive in the bottom registers with similar specifications. While my room is problematic in the deep bass, the '25s failed to match the performance of other designs. No amount of fiddling with room placement was able to correct this shortcoming.
Jackson's "Beat It" made it abundantly clear that midbass performance was uneven. Certain notes jumped up significantly in level. In addition to being louder, these particular notes were also less well defined, which made them all the more obvious in contrast to the '25's overall clarity. It sounded like either a resonance problem, or the excitation of something in my listening room that had heretofore gone unnoticed. So, yes, the '25 clearly bettered the '11 in deep-bass reach, ability to play loudly, and dynamic punch. But being "better" didn't strike me as good enough at this price point.
Making things worse was a pervasive midrange recession. Stated favorably, the speaker was smoothish, roundish, polite and non-offensive, adding no noxious colorations. Stated unfavorably, something was always missing—an immediacy, presence, or energy. A typical example was the Original Broadway Cast recording of Annie (Columbia CK 34712). Eleven-year-old Andrea McArdle (Annie) became too sophisticated and distant. I wanted that brash youngster back in my listening room with me.
The ES11 has proven to be a world-class speaker with well-defined limitations. To Epos's credit, the ES25 has addressed those limitations directly and effectively. The '25 extends deeper into the bass, can play appreciably louder, and is more dynamic. Musical weight has also been significantly improved. Like the smaller speaker, the '25 has no offensive additive colorations to get in the way of the music. On the other hand, its polite/recessed midrange, limited true deep bass, and uneven midbass are tough pills to swallow for almost $3500/pair.
Given these pluses and minuses, it would have been easy to withhold a recommendation of the ES25s. But what didn't come through in all of the micro-level analysis was the many pleasurable hours I spent with these speakers. I truly hated to see them leave. While they could play all day and never get in the way, the Eposes could just as easily provide me with a joyous window into the fantastic world of recorded music. Whenever I wanted to listen, the '25s let me—for as long as I wanted, with no hint of fatigue or hi-fi artifact. Having been offended by the sounds of so many pieces of audio gear over the years, I may overvalue the general character of the '25s. On the other hand, you too may have had the same experiences.
When all is said and done, however, the Epos ES25 is just too expensive to merit recommendation. [For not that much more money, the Thiel CS3.6 and NHT 3.3, and the $1000-cheaper Snell C/V and Thiel CS2 2, provide overwhelming competition.—Ed.] But Epos recently announced a slightly smaller floorstander for a lot less money. That may indeed be the one to hear.