I've been on an affordable two-way bookshelf speaker kick as of late. I've recently reviewed bookshelf speakers from Aperion, SVS, Paradigm and HSU Research. I've done this primarily for two reasons. First, I believe two-way bookshelf speakers, when combined with a capable subwoofer, are not only a cost-effective solution but also able to actually outperform larger, costlier floor-standing speakers. Second, I believe two-way bookshelf speakers, when properly configured and mated to a subwoofer or two, get you closer to the cinema ideal than anything else, because they rely heavily on the same principles of divide and conquer, albeit on a smaller scale. This is why all my bookshelf speaker reviews have been compared not to each other, but to actual cinema loudspeakers - JBL Cinema 3677s, to be exact. It should be noted that the 3677 also has a two-way design. The latest two-way bookshelf speaker in question, the E5Bi, comes from another Internet-direct brand, EMP Tek. EMP Tek is an offshoot of a larger and arguably more notable brand from Utah, RBH. I've been an admirer of RBH for some time, though admittedly have never spent any quality time with the company's loudspeakers, so I had no idea what to expect when it came time to listen to one of RBH's most affordable loudspeaker designs to date. Suffice to say, never judge a book by its cover, or in this instance a loudspeaker by its size or price, for the E5Bi from EMP Tek doesn't just challenge the status quo - it takes it out back and shoots it dead. Fans of music and movies, read on. Manufacturers, take notice.
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The EMP Tek E5Bi (E5) bookshelf speaker retails for $250 per pair and is sold direct via EMP's own website. Like other similar Internet-direct offerings and all EMP products, the E5 comes with a 30-day risk-free trial period, with EMP paying the return shipping should you not like what you hear. The E5 is part of EMP's Impression Series of loudspeakers, which also includes the floor-standing model E55Ti ($795 per pair), center speakers E5Ci ($220) and E56Ci ($450), the E55Wi surround speaker ($499 per pair) and two subwoofers, the ES10i ($375) and ES1010i ($499). It isn't difficult to build a multi-channel speaker setup comprised entirely of EMP-branded loudspeakers without breaking the bank. For the purposes of this review, I'll be focusing on just the E5.
The E5 is a moderately-sized, two-way bookshelf speaker that features a high-gloss finish - your choice of Red Burl or Black Ash - wrapped tastefully around a tapered cabinet. The speaker measures nearly seven inches wide by twelve-and-three-quarters inches tall and eight inches deep. Weight is solid, but hardly backbreaking at seven-and-a-half pounds. Despite its somewhat compact size, light weight, and affordable retail price, the E5 feels solidly built.
At first glance, the E5, like all the speakers in the Impression Series, bears more than a passing resemblance to some of Revel's more pricey loudspeakers - not suggesting they're the same, just that there are some stylistic cues shared between the two vastly different loudspeaker brands. Behind the E5's removable grille, you'll find a single one-inch fabric dome tweeter mated to a single five-and-a-quarter-inch aluminized poly-matrix woofer, an RBH staple. Around back and slightly recessed into the spine of the E5's cabinet rests a single pair of five-way binding posts, along with a single threaded mounting point and a small rear port. Pretty basic, but then again, most two-way monitors are. The E5's one-inch tweeter and five-and-a-quarter inch bass/midrange driver are good for a reported frequency response of 60Hz to 20kHz. Impedance is listed at eight ohms, while sensitivity is rated to be 85dB. The E5 is therefore not hugely efficient, but still suitable for a wide range of amplifiers and/or AV receivers.
For the purposes of this review, I requested five E5 loudspeakers to be used in conjunction with a subwoofer in a 5.1 setup. The total cost of five matching E5 speakers in their Black Ash finish would be $625 plus shipping which, depending upon where you live in relation to EMP's warehouse, may be free. Just sayin'. The five matching E5s were set up in my reference theater, which is home to a variety of loudspeakers and electronics. For the purposes of this review, the E5s were powered by my reference Parasound Halo A21 and A31 amplifiers. AV preamp duties fell to my Integra DHC 80.2, while I used my Dune HD Max as my source. Content was streamed locally to the Dune HD Max via a custom-built NAS solution. All cabling came by way of Monoprice, with the exception of speaker cables, which were courtesy of Binary, a SnapAV company.
The front three E5 speakers were placed atop 26-inch Sanus Steel Series stands behind my 120-inch AcousticPro4K screen from Elite Screens. Projection duties fell to my reference SIM2 M.150 single-chip LED front projector. My room is roughly 11 feet wide, meaning the center-mounted E5 rested approximately five-and-a-half feet from either side wall in the center of my room, about three feet forward of my front wall (still behind my screen). The left and right mains rested, slightly toed in, about 18 inches from their respective side walls. My entire front wall is treated using GIK Acoustic products, which include the amazing Tri-Traps running floor to ceiling in my two front corners. The remaining two E5 speakers were used as surrounds and mounted to my ceiling using a pair of wall/ceiling mounts from Monoprice. I had to make an adapter of sorts in order to secure the E5s to the Monoprice mount, as the E5s have but one threaded mounting point, whereas most speakers and/or mounts have or require two. The E5s used as surround channels were then mounted horizontally, near my ceiling and aimed slightly downward at my primary listening position - a configuration that works well.
Because the front three E5s were resting behind an acoustically transparent screen, I removed their grilles, but left them on for the surround channels. Lastly, I mated the E5s to a subwoofer, RBH's reference SX-1212P/R. While the SX-1212P/R may seem like overkill (it is), integrating it with the E5s was simple, thanks in part to Room EQ Wizard and my outboard parametric EQ, the Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro. All speakers were then level-matched inside my Integra's setup menus and allowed to play together for an afternoon before sitting down for any sort of critical listening.
Read about the performance of the EMP Tek E5Bi on Page 2.