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The Pinnacle of The Electrostatic Sound

Monday, January 3, 2011

Audiophile/Home Cinema Review!
Episode Model 700 Tower
Two-Way Loudspeaker



Brevis...
Price: $749 each
Likes: Smooth accuracy
Dislikes: Not a thing


by John Gatski

Since 2009, EAN has covered Episode extensively — and for good reason; their speakers are very good performers, offering quality at a great price. With parent company SnapAV's successful formula of USA-based design and engineering for Episode, with overseas manufacturing, the company has produced sonically impressive products at a lower price.
Thanks to savvy designs by the Episode product development team, they have been able to produce some outstanding sounding speakers, including its line of HT ribbon speakers that Tom Jung reviewed last year. As part of a recent trend of comparatively low-priced, U.S.-designed/Chinese manufactured speakers I have seen on the market the last few years — and now based on my own sampling of the Model 700s — the Episode line has reason to be noticed.

Features
The Episode Model 700 towers are an attractive black finish speaker that utilize two 6.5-inch paper-reinforced Kevlar bass/mid drivers and a 1-inch titanium catenary dome with neodymium magnet tweeter. The crossover is centered at 1.9 kHz, and the sensitivity at 1-watt/1 meter is 90 dB. Nominal impedance is 6 ohms. The ported enclosure plus bass driver tandem enables an impressive bass extension down to 35 Hz (-6 dB). Overall dimensions are 37.5 inches tall, 7.5-inches wide and 11 inches deep. They weigh about 40 pounds each.
The speaker cable binding posts are easily accessible and the overall quality of the cabinet, including internal dampening material and bracing is quite good. The Episode speakers are designed and spec'd in the USA and built in China. Price is $749 each, and because they are only sold through qualified A/V installers, they may not be easily available in all areas.

I was impressed with how natural sounding the Episode 700s were. That metal dome tweeter sounds pretty sweet — without the edgy resonances you hear on many cheap, metal-dome tweeter speakers.

Since a horizontal Model 700 center was not on the market at review time, Episode also sent along its Model 700 Monitor speaker for me to use as a center channel speaker in the home theater setup. It is designed more for music use — with its single 6.5-inch bass driver (front-port augmented) and the same tweeter as its bigger brother. The company claims the Model 700 Monitor works as either a center channel, stereo or large surround speaker. It is just over 13-inches tall and priced at $299 each.
Overall, the Episodes’ construction is very good, the attractive, grey silver driver baffle mounted on the black cabinet not only looks high-end, but functionally they are high-end as well — with strategically braced, 3/4-inch MDF cabinet construction and internal anti-resonant materials used to keep the speaker tightly focused and natural sounding.
Like its other speaker lines, Episode also offers the options of in-wall versions of the Model 700, but with 5.25-inch woofers. The system can be used with the company’s superb in-wall subwoofer/amp system.

Setup
Episode sent me two Model 700 Tower speakers for stereo playback, and a single Model 700 Monitor so I could also use the three speakers as a L-C-R setup in my home cinema system. I first installed them in my audiophile set up. Test components included the Pass X350.5 MOSFET amplifier, Bryston 14BSST amplifier, CODA/Legacy preamp, Rogue Audio Model 99 tube preamp, Esoteric Audio DV-50 universal player, and Oppo BDP-83SE universal/BD player. I threw in a couple of DACs: the Benchmark DAC1 Pre, Lavry DA10 and the professional Audio Technologies ADAC-2, an all-inclusive D/A, A/D and sample rate converter.
The speakers were wired with Alpha-Core solid-silver cables, as were the components. AC was routed through Essential Sound Products Essence power cords and power strip.

The audition
In my initial sampling of several jazz SACDS with the Esoteric DV-50, I was impressed with how natural sounding the Episode 700s were. That metal dome tweeter sounds pretty sweet — without the edgy resonances you hear on many cheap, metal-dome tweeter speakers. The bass was fairly tight and deep to about 45 Hz (measured with an RTA) in my room — with virtually no exacerbated mid-bass bloom. Piano tone, drum cymbals, female vocals, violins all sounded hi-fi to my ears.

Much of the aforementioned driver smoothness is attributable to the low-crossover point. Many times, I find that the best-sounding, two-way speakers have their crossover frequency centered at 2 kHz, so the woofer does not have to reproduce tones that are beyond its effective accuracy range.

I played a number of my own guitar recordings (custom Martin 00-28 recorded with Audix SCX-25 lollipop mics), and again the 700s did their job — sounding as good as $2,500-$3,000 speakers I have used. Versus my multi-driver Legacy Focus 20/20s, the Model 700s did not quite have the ambient soundfield, but the Legacys were $6,000. In their price class and even beyond, the Episode 700s offer significant image depth and width with a good spread of sonic detai
Much of the aforementioned driver smoothness is attributable to the low-crossover point. Many times, I find that the best-sounding, two-way speakers have their crossover frequency centered at 2 kHz, so the woofer does not have to reproduce tones that are beyond its effective accuracy range. For the money, the Episodes do an amazing job.
I also set up the speakers as L-C-R in the home theater room — with an Onkyo Professional PR-SCX885 preamp/processor, Carver amplifiers and a Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD Blu-ray player. I left my soft-dome tweetered NHT1s in the rear channels; all the speakers were connected to the amps with MIT cables.
After a reset of the levels, I played some of my favorite Blu-rays. The Model 700s were just as good in the home theater. Running the towers and the Model 700 Monitor full-range in conjunction with the Paradigm Sub 15 subwoofer, I got full bass out of the system — with clean dialogue, smooth music soundtracks and sonic detail projected around the room. Shutting off the subwoofer and directing the LFE signals to the front speakers, the Model 700s still delivered pretty good bass. The tonal match with the NHTs was very close.
Overall, I had no quibbles or complaints about the Model 700 Tower (or the Model 700 Monitor speaker). How could you have a complaint when a speaker sounds this good for less than $1500 a pair?

The verdict
Although I am a big fan of USA-designed and manufactured speakers, there is no denying the lure of a good-sounding, overseas-produced speaker that is so well priced. The Episode Model 700s Towers (and Model 700 Monitor) are prime examples of this trend. Like its ribbon brother HT Series, the Model 700s get a Stellar Sound Award.


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