Anyway, back to Avatar and Chapter 18 "Last Shadow," which pounds every speaker in a surround sound system with a wide range of frequencies. Jake's narration came through the center channel with stellar detail and I was a fan of the Episode tweeter straight away. James Horner's score was also brilliantly reproduced with dramatic effect. As Toruk Macto (that massive orange Pterodactyl-looking thing) drops in on Jake and Neytiri's heads, his screech scared the hell out of me as it popped right out of the center channel. As I said, this scene runs the gamut in terms of low and high frequency material and the thump of Toruk's wings flapping was incredibly impactful - the Episode subs passed their first test flawlessly. As they fly through the jungle, the creatures are so powerful that they snap the tree limbs, and this was another sonic treat and the transition from the front to the surrounds was seamless. I ended up watching this scene three or four times for obvious reasons.
Sticking with movies I cued up Quantum of Solace (MGM) on Blu-ray in DTS-HD Master Audio. The intro to this film is not only exhilarating; it's also a great test of a speaker system's mettle. I was surprised to hear the Episodes provide a level of performance on par with floorstanding speakers.
It's simply difficult to look at a smallish in-wall speaker and comprehend this level of depth and coherence. The dual subs, working together seamlessly, brilliantly conveyed the low frequency hum of Bond's engine in the Aston Martin. This sort of bass performance from an enclosure that's less than four inches deep is pretty amazing and a testament to solid engineering. The opening scene has it all - explosions, gunfire, shattering glass, etc. and the Episodes provided a truly immersive experience. The word that kept coming to mind as I listened to the speakers was lively, which is exactly what you want in a home theater speaker. They were lively in the best sense of the word.
Now it was time for some multi-channel music, which came in the form of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon on SACD (Capitol). My first move was to switch the in-ceiling speakers to bipole mode and then prepare for what I hoped would be sonic bliss. On "Breathe," the Episodes did a masterful job of conveying the emotion of the song. I was impressed with the overall balance of the speakers; they were bright and revealing, but not overly so, which made for an engaging listening experience. The track "On the Run" has a nice build to it, not to mention the fact that, at least on the SACD mix, it sends quite a bit of information to each channel. As such, it's a great track for testing speakers and the Episodes conveyed the tension of this song about as well as I've heard, regardless of speaker type. Does this mean the future will be void of floorstanding speakers? I doubt it, but it's nice to know that well engineered in-walls can hold their own. One other track worth noting was "Time," as the detail in the guitar riffs was simply stunning.
Continuing with multi-channel music, I went with another classic and fired up the Eagle's Hell Freezes Over in DTS 5.1 (Digital Sound). Listening to "Hotel California" for the 800th time, I was immediately struck by how well the Episode speakers conveyed the rasp in Don Henley's voice. They displayed solid mid-bass character and were wide open, but never the least bit etched. Again, that word appeared in my listening notes - lively.
In order to test the versatility of the Episodes, I did do a bit of two-channel listening through my Apple TV, which I run through my Cambridge Audio DACMagic. The long version of the track "Jamming" from the Deluxe Edition of Bob Marley's Exodus (Island) is the best version of this song I've heard. I listened to it with the subs engaged and also disengaged in the Arcam's Stereo Direct mode. While I preferred the sound with the subs engaged, I was impressed with the bass of the ES-HT700 speakers on their own; those dual six and a half inch drivers are no joke. The instruments sounded as though they were floating in space, a testament to the imaging capabilities of the Episodes. And just as with Henley, the rasp and nuance in Marley's voice was palpable.
Competition and Comparison
Unlike back in the day, there are quite a few players in the in-wall speaker realm now. Curiously, Episode lists some of their competitors on the spec page of each speaker on their web site. Listing your competitors on your web site and going so far as to include specific model numbers is a sign of confidence in your product, and from my experience with the Episodes it's warranted. Specifically, in comparison to their ES-HT700, they list the Triad Silver/4 LCR, Speaker Craft AIM Cinema Five, and Atlantic Technology IWCB-727. In terms of in-wall subwoofers, Episode's site mentions the Klipsch RW-5802 and the PSB CWS8. Another in-wall speaker manufacturer that might be worth a look based on their solid reputation is Sonance.
More detail on Episode speakers can be found on their web site and further reviews of in-wall speakers in general can be found on our site.
This section is part of every review posted on HomeTheaterReview.com, though I had to dig deep to find anything negative to say about the Episode speakers, and none of it is related to their sound quality. I don't think I'm in the minority when I say I'm running out of room on my gear rack and also running out of plugs in my power conditioner. As such, it's a bit difficult to take on two more pieces of gear (the sub EQ and amp) in an already crowded space. I'm sure Episode has their reasons for not building the EQ into the amp (likely for added customization potential), but it would be nice to have one less piece of gear; though not at the expense of solid bass response. To clarify, just about any audiophile will find space, not to mention a plug, for a piece of gear that will make his or her system sound even the slightest bit better. Did I just nullify my whole point of building the EQ into the amp? Maybe. That's it, that's the only semi-negative thing I have to say about Episode's 700 series of in-wall speakers. Ok, if pushed, I'd say that the manuals are a bit sparse and could use more technical detail. Ok, now I'd like to get back to why I love these speakers.
For lack of a better way to put it, the Episodes sound like they should cost quite a bit more. They're solid across the frequency range, image well and throw a convincing soundstage, pretty impressive for an in-wall set of speakers. I've never made this statement in a review before, but with the exemplary performance and versatility of the Episode 700 series speakers, I feel confident in recommending them without an audition. The bottom line is that it's not easy to find a good speaker demo these days, with so many of the high-end shops either shutting their doors and/or scaling back the size of their shops to the point that they only have enough space to demo a couple of different lines. I love a solid demo as much as the next guy, but the bottom line is that consumers have to rely more and more on reviews like this in order to make a decision. That's especially difficult when you're talking about five grand plus. For that kind of money I guess you can go out and buy a 2002 Passat, but I doubt you'll have as much fun and you sure as hell won't get the lifetime warranty that Episode provides. My one caveat is that you must bring the right source components/material to the party, in which case you're likely to have that same "you are there" experience that I did. They're that good.�