Epos M16i loudspeaker
I quickly realized the foolishness of prejudging a speaker I had yet to hear or even see, and smacked myself across the face. Besides, small-footprint floorstanders costing $1000–$2000/pair have become a popular speaker subcategory. I told Music Hall's Roy Hall to send the Epos M16s on over. He did.
Later, when I ran into Hall at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, he sheepishly took me aside and asked if I'd begun listening to the M16s. When I told him I had not, he admitted that the M16 no longer represented current Epos technology: Epos designer Mike Creek had recently revamped the entire M series, and added to each model name an i, for improved. "Fine," I said. "Send over the M16i."
Do the i's have it?
All four of Epos's M-series speakers have now been upgraded to "i" status, from the M5i bookshelf ($899/pair) to the flagship M22i floorstander ($2599/pair). All i-series speakers include these four improvements: 1) cabinets with more internal bracing, hand-assembled and finished with book-matched, real-wood veneers; 2) an improved version of the original M-series 1" aluminum-dome tweeter, now mounted on a cast-aluminum faceplate for better cooling; 3) crossovers that use only polypropylene capacitors in critical positions, as well as metal-oxide resistors; and 4) higher-quality, "touch-proof" binding posts with side spade-lug slots, mounted on a metal terminal panel.
The M16i is a "2½-way" speaker; ie, the bass and midrange drivers run in tandem. The 1" tweeter has a molded surround, a ferrite magnet, and ferrofluid cooling. The 5.5" midrange driver, similar to that in the M5, runs in a sealed chamber and uses a stationary phase plug on the end of its voice-coil former rather than a conventional dust cap at the center of the cone. The woofer is similar to the midrange driver—both 5.5" cones are made of injection-molded polymer—but uses a dust cap and is mounted in a separate chamber and reflex-loaded with a rear-firing port. The woofer is filtered to roll off above 100Hz; essentially, the outputs of it and the midrange overlap so that they effectively work as a single, larger drive-unit within their shared range.
The magnetically shielded M16i can be triwired, and comes fitted with sharp carpet spikes; also available are cups to protect wood floors. Epos recommends removing the cloth grilles for greater transparency, and I agree—I preferred the sound with the grilles off. The M16i is available in Light or Black Oak real-wood veneers. The Cherry finishes of my review samples were stunning, and similar only to what I'm used to seeing on much more expensive speakers.
"Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, canta y no llores"
Canta indeed—boy, did the M16i sing. "It resolved quite a bit of detail for its price and had no colorations whatsoever" accurately describes the M16i without doing it justice. The M16i resolved extraordinary amounts of inner detail on all recordings, especially in the critical midrange and high frequencies. Moreover, the highs were extended, detailed, airy, and shimmering. The Epos revealed the magic in the best recordings, without shortchanging whatever musical values were contained by lesser recordings. High-frequency transients were incredibly fast, but never sounded etched or sharp. And the M16i's wide dynamic range was particularly intoxicating with respect to subtle, low-level dynamic cues, which gave it a sense of organic realism that made me want to listen longer and longer.
Tomiko Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul, from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2), showcases a stunning upper-register passage performed by flutist Carol Wincenc. Through the M16i, her instrument was airy, metallic, and extended, with tons of detail. Moreover, every thunk, plunk, and thwack of Tyler Mack's marimba shimmered with the instrument's resonant wood, with extended air and decay but no trace of softened transients. It was also very easy to pick out cellist Peter Wyrick's emphasis on the first few notes of his accented ostinato arco passages. The dynamic range envelope was accurately graded and more lifelike than I've heard from any affordable loudspeaker.
George Crumb's Makrokosmos III is scored for two amplified pianos and two percussionists. When I listened to Gilbert Kalish's and James Freeman's performance of this work (LP, Nonesuch 71311) through the Epos, the sense of air and decay, and my being able to pick out every ppp percussive gesture, were quite remarkable. The upper partials of the shimmering bells and the delicate articulation of the piano's top register were vibrant and involving. And, for the first time, I was able to follow each piano part separately, even in the densest passages.
The Epos was also a very revealing reproducer of the human voice. In the softer passages of Timothy Seelig and the Turtle Creek Chorale's recording of John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD), as I analyzed soprano Nancy Keith's diminuendos and heard the timbre of her voice change as some of her phrases faded into nothingness, it was almost as if I could see her throat change shape. With Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely (LP, Capitol 2 1053), the Eposes revealed every subtle phrasing and inflection of that rich, silky baritone. The M16i clearly revealed why the master was at the peak of his game in this 1958 session.