Epos ES 14 loudspeaker Page 2

Even more than the Monitor Audio 852s, the Epos 14s did not grab on first listen, but snuck up on you; once they caught me, they definitely had my undivided attention. Perhaps it is the minimum crossover, perhaps something else, but the 14s are superbly coherent loudspeakers. Nothing about them shouts for your attention, but with the notable exception of the extreme lows (and, to a far lesser degree, the extreme HF), everything is there in pleasing, natural proportion. That made it something of an annoyance to have to concentrate on individual aspects of the presentation, as a reviewer must do if the reader is to be given the analysis required. It wasn't that it was difficult to assess the salient points of the sound, it was just that the Epos kept drawing me into the music, disarming the need to be critical. But somehow I managed, and although I somehow suspect that I've just written my conclusion, I'll plunge ahead into specifics.

It should already be quite clear that the Epos shares one limitation with the other loudspeakers under test here: the lack of a really extended bass response, at least in my large listening room. It did seem to provide a bit more evident low-end range than the others, albeit with a slightly softer definition from its ported enclosure. Optimally positioned, the margin was definitely noticeable on material with a strong low end (most Telarcs, for example); but on most program it wasn't particularly significant. The mid- and upper bass of the Epos were very low in colorations and totally without boom or exaggeration.

Through the vital midrange, the Epos 14 is superb. It is, in my opinion, neutral in perspective, and very low in coloration. I occasionally was aware of just a trace of boxiness or nasality, but it was elusive. What set it apart from the other loudspeakers in this survey was a sense of inner detailing, "life," and dynamic transparency which were unique, in my experience, in a two-way design at this price. There was a striking reproduction of overall depth which equalled, or even exceeded, that of the Snell Qs. In the latters' case, the depth appeared to arise out of its extended, airy top end. The Epos struck me as being a result of superior midrange transparency (as its top-end extension is, subjectively, above average but not exceptional).

This contributed considerably to a sense of three-dimensional layering which, while less than that in the better (and largely far more expensive) high-end loudspeakers, was nonetheless very impressive. That, combined with realistic yet natural dynamics, a precise image which filled the space between the loudspeakers (though only rarely beyond), and a noteworthy rendering of vertical height, made for an overall presentation through the vital midrange which was convincing and, most importantly, musically valid and involving. On the soundtrack album of Empire of the Sun (Warner Brothers CD 25668-2; John Williams's best work since E.T.—trust me), the sense of front-to-back layering and inner detail, as reproduced by the Epos 14, good as it was in the choral sections, was stunning on "The Pheasant Hunt."

And I can't leave the world of film music without mentioning Star Tracks II (Telarc CD-80146). The Eposes' way with brass was especially evident here—a convincing blattiness without smear and with proper (unexaggerated) overtones which I have never experienced before in a loudspeaker of this size and price, and seldom in larger ones.

It didn't hurt a bit that the high end of the Epos was unexaggerated, coherent, yet finely detailed. Early on in the sessions I thought I detected a subtle excess in the lower treble (brightness) region; it either disappeared as the speaker loosened up (although, as in all of the speakers under test here, I had broken the Eposes in with several hours of pink noise at 75-80dB, footnote 1), or was easily ignored as listening progressed and the overall quality of the HF became apparent.

The extreme HF appeared to be softer in quality than that from the Monitor Audio 852—high strings, for example, were a bit less silky and open at the very top—but aside from that it shared the latter's ability to produce clean, subtle details with a lack of frizziness, dryness, edge, or other irritating characteristics. This was a major contributor to the Eposes' ability to disappear into the overall soundstage.

Footnote 1: Hint: To do this without creating a nuisance, face the speakers together as close as you can get them (be careful not to mash the tweeter screens together!) and run them out of phase. Check the level first, however, with the speakers apart and in phase to be sure you aren't running them at too high a level. The out-of-phase/close mounting cancels so much of the sound it's difficult to tell.—Thomas J. Norton