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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Home Theater Review!
Episode ES-500 Series
LCR/Sat/Sub System



Outstanding 5.1 Integration
For Those Smaller Rooms

by Tom Jung

From the folks that brought us the high-quality ribbon speakers reviewed on EAN last year, Episode Speakers has made a further commitment to its speaker program with the addition of well-known speaker designer Rune Karsbaek. One of Mr. Karsbaek’s first design projects was the new Episode ES-500 Series. This speaker system represents a compact solution — consisting of three (LCR) front speakers, two SAT surrounds and an option of one or more subwoofers (stand alone or in-wall) — at a very competitive price.

Features
Designed in the U.S. and manufactured in China, the Episode ES-500 Series speaker system is oriented for small home theater rooms in condos, apartments and homes with limited space dedicated for the cinema experience.
The LCR-4 (MSRP $249 each) is designed with two 4.5-inch polypropylene injection molded woofers and a single 1-inch titanium dome tweeter. It measures 13.8-inches tall x 5-inches wide X 6-inches deep. It is used horizontally for the center channel and vertically in the L/R positions.
The SAT-4 (MSRP $199 each) uses the same drivers with a single woofer, while measuring 8-inches tall x 5-inches wide x 6-inches deep. Frequency response for both speakers is rated at 70 Hz - 23 kHz. However, I have found the bass rolls off pretty fast, starting around 100 Hz. If you look at the factory spec graphs, the SAT-4 is incredibly flat from 150 Hz to 6 kHz.
Normally, I am not a big fan of metal-dome tweeters, but the HF driver used in this design is very well behaved — without the familiar sizzly, harsh, top end I often hear with poor-performing metal tweeters. Linearity of both speakers is very smooth without any significant peaks or dips. Crossover is second order and set fairly low (2.3 kHz for the LCR-4, 2.1 kHz for the SAT-4).

Dialog in movies was clean and crisp —without being too sibilant — and music was smooth with good frequency extension both top and bottom. The speaker matching is first rate.

A tuned, rear-tapered port keeps the low frequency response flat, down to where the system starts to roll-off. Many compact speakers have a bump in the midbass to give the illusion of more audible bass than it really has, which turns out to be a huge trade off in accuracy. Because of the LCRs and rear speakers’ smooth frequency response at the crossover point, the integration with the subwoofer is very good as well.
The freestanding, active Cub-Sub 8 (MSRP $349 each) is a small (10.5 inches tall x 10-inches wide x 11.75 inches deep) 100-watt/Class D amplified, 8-inch paper-fiber cone, front-firing subwoofer; it has solid response down to 40 Hz. The sub sports inputs for both RCA line level and speaker-level binding posts.
The Cub-Sub 8 back-panel controls consist of a low-pass filter that goes from 40 Hz to 180 Hz, a gain control, as well as auto on/off and 180-degree phase reverse switches. The crossover does not provide a high-pass filter for the SAT-4 speakers which is no big deal because — more often than not — the crossover duties are carried out by the receiver.
The LCR-4, SAT-4 speakers and the Cub-Sub are available in a quality piano-black finish as well as white. The 1/2-inch MDF cabinets are rock solid with first rate fit and finish.

Episode SAT-4

I really liked the optional optional In-Wall ES-Dual 8 subwoofer — with its dual 8-inch fiberglass woofers. Sold either as a separate passive sub (MSRP $599 each) or with a companion 300-watt amplifier (MSRP $1,299 sub/amp package) this in-wall unit sounds better than many stand-alone subs. The cabinet is solid and is only 3.75 inches deep fitting nicely between typical wall studs. The In-Wall sub works nicely out-of-wall as well. In my main set up I placed it on the floor in front of my center speaker. With rated response down to 30 Hz, this sub does not exhibit the usual boom found in many small subwoofers that often peak at the more audible midbass frequencies.

The audition
The Episode ES-500 Series was a bit too small for my large main home theater room (remember, the LCR and SAT-4 speakers are only four-inch drivers). But in a more compact room, it was a very good performer. In my secondary, smaller home theater room with a 90-wpc Onkyo 5.1 receiver and Samsung 50-inch DLP TV, the three LCR-4s, the two SAT-4s and the powered In-Wall sub filled the room with natural, uncolored audio that was not fatiguing.

Normally, I am not a big fan of metal-dome tweeters, but the HF driver used in this design is very well behaved — without the familiar sizzly, harsh, top end I often hear with poor-performing metal tweeters. Linearity of both speakers is very smooth without any significant peaks or dips.

Dialog in movies was clean and crisp —without being too sibilant — and music was smooth with good frequency extension both top and bottom. The speaker matching is first rate.

Episode LCR-4 Center Channel

The subwoofer is amazing, considering its size. Although it does not give you the window-rattling sub 25-Hz bass of larger (more expensive) subs, you don’t feel you are missing any bass in a room that is appropriate for this system. And it was plenty loud with the separate amp kicking out the watts.
I had a hunch that since the SAT-4 speakers worked so well for home theater surrounds, that they might make a great compact speaker system for close-field audio monitoring, such as computer music listening/recording/editing. I was correct. A pair of Cub-Subs along with two SAT-4s on either side of my computer monitor made for an incredible-sounding, A/V audio workstation set up. With the listening position approximately three feet from the speakers and the Cub's slightly outside of the main speaker plane, the imaging and tonal balance made this a high-resolution monitoring system! These speakers can do justice to more demanding audio tasks, such as professional audio editing.

The verdict
Once again, Episode has scored a big bang-for-the-buck winner with the Episode ES-500 Series LCR-4, SAT-4 and In-Wall ES-Dual 8 powered subwoofer system. I found no negatives in this speaker system for home theater or music use — when used in the right room. Considering the price and performance, the system gets a Stellar Sound Award. And the SAT-4s and In-Wall ES-Dual 8 sub get an extra rap on the top for their extra-impressive performance/price ratio.
For more information, click on Episode ES-500 Series Speakers.

A professional audio engineer for almost 50 years (Sound 80, DMP Records), Tom Jung reviews home theater, audiophile and high-end recording gear for the Everything Audio Network, testing products from his home studio in North Carolina.


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