Epos M5i loudspeaker

When I reviewed the M5 bookshelf speaker from British manufacturer Epos (Stereophile, April 2005, Vol.28 No.4), I was sufficiently impressed with that $650/pair design by Mike Creek that I chose it as a benchmark for bookshelf speakers in the sub-$1000 price range. In late 2007, Creek redesigned the entire M series, incorporating more rigid handmade cabinet construction with real-wood veneers, an improved tweeter, and upgraded capacitors and resistors in the crossover. The new line was dubbed the Mi series (i for improved).

When I reviewed the M16i floorstander ($1998/pair) in June 2008, I was again delighted, and it, too, became for me a benchmark in the $2000 class. But while it was clear that the M16i outclassed the earlier M5, I didn't know how much of that improvement was due to its larger size, and how much to the i-series improvements. The only way to find out was to compare the M5i with the M5 and the M16i. Roy Hall, of Epos importer Music Hall, sent me a pair of M5is.

The M5i, basically a two-way bookshelf version of the 21½-way M16i, has the same tweeter, woofer, and footprint as the larger model, less its larger cabinet and second mid/woofer, and incorporates all of the i-series updates included in the M16i. The speakers look very similar; like the M16i, the M5i is available in gorgeous cherry veneer or basic black. The price ($899/pair) is $249/pair higher than the original M5. I placed the M5is on Epos's dedicated stands.

Sonics
The M5i's detailed, uncolored, voluptuous midrange made it a perfect match for well-recorded voices on vinyl, from the silky sheen of Doris Day on "Makin' Whoopie," from her Cuttin' Capers (LP, Columbia CL-1232), to Elvis Presley's rich dynamic phrasings on "Love Me," from Elvis' Golden Records (LP, RCA LPM-1707)—a track that, to my ears, demonstrates Presley's multi-octave range better than any other. The M5i's detailed, extended, pristine high frequencies impressed me even with well-recorded electronic rock music, such as the silky sound of the electrotrance chestnut "Echoes," from Pink Floyd's Meddle (LP, Harvest SMAS 892). Of course, acoustic instruments with extensive HF articulation, such as Charlie Shoemake's vibraphone on "The Happy Madness," from his Sunstroke (LP, Muse MR 5193), were shimmering and airy, with not the slightest trace of hardness.

The M5i's flawless reproduction of detailed, lightning-fast transients made me want to mine my collection of percussion recordings. In On a Bach Prelude: Phorion, from Lukas Foss's Baroque Variations (LP, Nonesuch H 71202), the battery of percussion instruments on the deep, wide soundstage popped out of thin air to smack me in the face, when appropriate. The solo by percussionist Dom Um Romao that begins "T.H.," from Weather Report's I Sing the Body Electric (CD, Columbia PC 31352), gave me a feeling that the percussionist was in the room with me—I could almost visualize his hand movements. No drum solo is hairier than Chester Thompson's in "Dupree's Paradise," from Frank Zappa's You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol.2: The Helsinki Concert (LP, Barking Pumpkin BP D1-74218). The Epos picked up every nuance of even the most demanding passages with crystal clarity.

I loved the sense of the M5i's rhythmic pacing as it revealed how Ella Fitzgerald's phrasing loosely tracks the rhythm section in "A Night in Tunisia," on Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! (LP, Verve V-V043), as well as the stunning interplay between alto saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Steve Gadd in the explosive instrumental interlude on the title track of Steely Dan's Aja (LP, ABC AA-1006). And explosive was also the word for how the M5 effortlessly tracked the bass and electronic percussion blasts in "Rockit," from Herbie Hancock's Future Shock (LP, Columbia FC 38814), which set my room a-shakin' with no smear or compression, even at 95dB. This track's bass extension and dynamic slam were about as good as I've heard from a bookshelf speaker.

But to really hear the M5 strut its stuff with high-level dynamic passages, I needed to wheel out some orchestral vinyl. From my notes from a listening session with Gustav Holst's The Planets, in the recording by William Steinberg conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2530102): "a sense of drama during Jupiter." And Pierre Boulez's reading, with his Ensemble InterContemporain, of György Ligeti's Aventures (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 410651-1), captivated me with its blend of explosive vocal and instrumental dynamics, showing off how well the M5i could handle both extremes of the loudness envelope in a convincingly linear fashion.

Comparisons
A comparison of the M5i with the older M5 was interesting. The M5 wasn't quite as clean or as delicate as the M5i, had less detail, and its transients a bit more relaxed. I also felt that the M5i had a touch more dynamic slam. Even though HF transients were quicker through the M5i, during high-level dynamic passages I thought that the M5 had added a touch of unnatural sharpness to some transients that the M5i didn't. However, these differences were subtle, requiring very careful listening through revealing associated equipment to recordings I know intimately. That said, the M5i was such a clear improvement over its predecessor that I would unhesitatingly recommend it over picking up a pair of used M5s.

When I compared the M5i with the M16i, it was clear that the smaller speaker has been cut from the same sonic cloth. The main difference was where you'd expect to find it: the M16i had much deeper bass, with a greater sense of high-level dynamic slam. That said, with less complex works, such as female voices accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano, the M5i sounded a touch lighter and airier than the M16i. This may be due to the difference between the cabinets; the frequency at which the mid/woofer hands off to the tweeter is the same in both models.

Conclusion
Although my familiarity with Mike Creek's designs began over 20 years ago, with the integrated amplifiers bearing his name, in recent years he has impressed me even more with his speaker designs for Epos. Despite the many fierce competitors at all price points in the realm of affordable speakers, the Epos M5i and M16i are two models to beat at their respective prices. Keep up the good work, Mike.

Company Info
Epos Ltd.
US distributor: Music Hall
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
(516) 487-3663
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