McGary Audio

Essential Sound

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Home Cinema Review!
Episode 500/700 Series Speakers,
ES-SUB-12-300 Powered Subwoofer

Price: $2,195 (direct order)
Likes: A+ sound, quality build
Dislikes: Only black/white finishes
More info: Episode Speakers

by Russ Long
  Don’t be surprised if you aren’t familiar with the Episode speaker brand, as they are singularly distributed by SnapAV and are exclusively sold to A/V professionals and custom installers. Everything Audio discovered this sleeper speaker manufacturer four years ago and has been impressed with the various models that have been reviewed.
  The company’s design team is made up of alumni from several well-known speaker manufacturers, and their design sensibility is evident in the look, build-quality, and most importantly, sound of this fabulous brand of speakers. Episode offers four speaker lines, the 300, 500, 700 and 900 series that can be mounted in-wall or in room on stands and wall mounts.
  In addition to the standard speaker enclosure, each series offers tower, in-wall and in-ceiling models providing installers with plenty of options for even the most challenging installations. Episode in-wall, in-ceiling and bookshelf Speakers have a lifetime limited warranty that includes parts and labor repairs on all components found to be defective in material or workmanship under normal conditions of use.
  My review system consisted of a pair of Episode ES-700-MON-6 speakers for Left/Right ($299/each), an Episode ES-700-LCR-5 for Center ($449/each), a pair of Episode ES-500-SAT-4 speakers for Surround Left/Surround Right ($199/each), and an Episode ES-SUB-12-300 powered subwoofer ($749/each). Since SnapAV only sells through installers, customers interested in purchasing the speakers must do so through an installer/dealer who handles the speaker line. 

  The Episode 700 Series speakers utilize unpressed NCS (Natural Cell Structure) Kevlar reinforced woofers and titanium catenary dome, ferrofluid-cooled tweeters, said to provide an uncolored, faithful sonic reproduction of recorded material. Distortion is minimized by the solid construction of the boxes, which eliminates cabinet resonance. 
  The full-range ES-700-MON-6 speaker measures 13.3” H x 7.5” W x 9.9” D, weighs 13.4 lbs. and is perfectly suited for home theater use. It includes a 6.5 in. woofer and a 1” tweeter. The speaker is rated at 130W RMS, 325W Peak — with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms. The speaker has a 1.9 kHz crossover frequency and a claimed 52 Hz - 23 kHz frequency response. 
  The full-range ES-700-LCR-5 measures 7.1” H x 20.5” W x 9.9” D and weighs 20.9 lbs. This is perfectly suited for left/right or center channel configuration; users that insist on all five channels of a 5.1 system being identical will love this enclosure. The speaker includes dual-5.25” woofers and a 1” tweeter. Between the unpressed paper/Kevlar woofers and dual front-firing ports, the speaker is capable of transparency and detail typically unheard of in a box of this size. The speaker is rated at 175W RMS, (325W peak) with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms. The speaker has a 1.9 kHz crossover frequency, key to its smooth, accurate character, and is rated at 48 Hz - 23 kHz in frequency response.

Episode ES-700-LCR-5

  The compact ES-500-SAT-4 speaker measures 7.9" H, 5.1" W, 6.0" D and weighs only 5.4 lbs. The box includes a 4.5” polypropylene-injection cone woofer and a 1” Ferrofluid cooled, titanium-dome tweeter. The speaker is rated at 80W RMS, 200W peak with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms. The speaker has a crossover frequency of 2.1 kHz and a 70 Hz - 23 kHz frequency response. Low frequency response is maximized via a precision-tuned tapered port. 
  The ES-SUB-12-300 powered sub measures 17.2” H x 16.5” W x 16.5” D and weighs 42.1 lbs. The sub features a single, forward-firing 12” woven fiberglass driver powered by a 300-watt BASH (Bridged Amplifier Switching Hybrid) amplifier. The sub has a 25Hz – 200Hz (+/-3dB) frequency response. The crossover frequency is continually adjustable from 40-200Hz. Connection can be made via RCA inputs, as well as five-way binding posts for speaker level inputs. With the exception of volume, which is located on the front panel, all of the sub controls are found on the rear panel. They include crossover frequency, phase and power (on/off/auto).
  I found the sub to be most impressive, thanks to its excellent design, wonderful craftsmanship and impressive performance from the BASH amplifier; the ES-Sub-12 delivers impressive levels of clean, deep bass that could easily be integrated into most any home theater system, Episode based or not. Since this sub includes five-way binding post and speaker inputs, in addition to RCA inputs, integration is simple. The patented BASH amplifier technology is claimed to combine the sound quality inherent to Class AB amplifiers with the efficiency of the newer Class D amplifiers. It provides hefty amounts of power — without the wasted heat and energy of Class AB designs.

Surround speaker
Episode ES-700-MON-6

  From the small ES-500-SAT-4 surround speakers up to the 42 lb. ES-SUB-12-300 sub, the packaging of the speakers was fantastic. I wish more manufacturers were this meticulous when it comes to protecting their gear for shipping. The beautiful, high-glass black finish with brushed metal faceplates will look wonderful in most rooms; for customers who don’t like black, the same high-gloss finish is also available in white for many of the models reviewed.
  While I chose not to bi-amp the speakers for my review, removing the terminal jumpers from the five-way gold plated binding posts makes bi-amping or bi-wiring a simple process with the ES-700-MON-6 and the ES-700-LCR-5 (the ES-500-SAT-4 only has only one pair of binding posts).

The setup
  I placed the ES-700-MON-6’s on a pair of 18” speaker stands with the ES-700-LCR-5 at the same height — mounted just below a Sony KDL-46EX640 LCD TV. The ES-500-SAT-4’s were mounted slightly higher at 36 inches. All five tweeters were focused at the listening position. The entire Episode speaker system, with the exception of the ES-SUB-12-300 powered sub, was powered with a Sony DA5600ES 7.1 channel 120 watt A/V Receiver. CD, DVD, DVD-A, SACD and Blu-ray disc playback was via a Pioneer Elite BDP-53FD Universal Blu-ray Player.
  As expected (since they were new), the speakers were slightly bright right out of the box but after a few days of burn-in, their tone mellowed — resulting in a natural, warm sound that I immediately fell in love with.

The Audition
  I used my standard evaluation Blu-ray material to test the playback quality of the monitors. The Batman — The Dark Knight Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track is simply stellar; this disc remains one of the quintessential purchases for Blu-ray audiophiles. From the low-frequency prominence of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s powerful soundtrack to the spine-tingling laugh of the Joker, the sound of this disc excels in every way; the Episode system did a fantastic job of reproducing the detail of the BD and allowing the quality of the ES-SUB-12-300’s bass to shine. As is the case with the entire Pixar collection, the Ratatouille Blu-ray is worth purchasing for chapter two’s audio track alone.
  The Episode speakers faithfully reproduced the dynamics and details of the disc without a hitch. Hugo, my favorite film of 2011, which won the Oscar for both sound mixing and sound editing, as well as receiving an original score nomination, is a sonic masterpiece and is a must for system audition. The Episodes again did an impressive job reproducing the film in all its sonic glory — especially the sweeping surround effects.
  I make my living mixing music so when it comes to audio playback in my home theater; anything less than perfection isn't acceptable. I auditioned my staple music discs, including Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon, Elton John —Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and James TaylorHourglass SACD. DVD-A music included The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, The BeatlesLove, Bjork — Vesperine, and Fleetwood MacRumours. In every instance, I was overwhelmed by the low-cost speaker’s punch, tight bass, vocal clarity and overall smoothness. I’m convinced there isn’t a music disc available that the Episode system won’t render the audio in a realistic fashion.

powered subwoofer for home cinema
Episode ES-SUB-12-300

  I was continually impressed with the smooth transition between the 500 series speakers used for the rear speakers and the 700 series speakers used for my LCR speakers. While the speaker size is drastically different, once I properly calibrated my system, I found the timbre of the speakers to be remarkably integrated. I anticipate we’ll be hearing a lot more about Episode, as there are few negatives to these speakers. They do tend to be slightly more directional than some speakers I’ve auditioned, creating a smaller sweet spot. But for home cinema use where the position is fixed, it just requires proper positioning to keep the speakers aimed at the sweet spot. Also, the ES-700-MON-6 and the ES-700-LCR-5 are a bit shy below 50 Hz. But they are fairly compact boxes, and you would expect them to have some compromise in the low end. Thankfully, the sub adds in the lowest bass, making a well-integrated system.

The verdict
  The Episode 500, 700 amd 300 speaker/sat system is a great value for the money and will work well in virtually any music or home cinema situation. They excel when reproducing aggressive rock or dynamic cinema, but they have the necessary finesse and imaging to faithfully reproduce classical and jazz. The bass is tight, defined and controlled and the highs remain smooth and natural — even at loud volumes. I have also selected the system as a recipient of the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

   An avid home theater and audiophile listener, Russ Long makes his living as a Nashville-based professional audio engineer, who has recorded hundreds of albums for various artists, including Grammy Award winner Sixpence None The Richer.

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