What makes a speaker a home theater speaker? Most of the speakers we use in our home theaters aspire to be more than just loudspeakers - they're audio jewelry, for they're meant to be placed in plain sight for all to admire, which, if I'm honest, is very un-theater-like. Notice I said un-theater-like, for if home theaters were truly designed to be scaled-down versions of their cinematic counterparts, then all speakers would look more like Episode's new 900 Series of products. When you go to your local theater, the only speakers you see are often those dedicated to the side and rear channels, leaving the front speakers (left, center, right and subwoofers) behind the screen. With the front speakers resting behind the screen, they can be any size, shape, makeup or finish, for what do we care, we can't see them. Another advantage is that the designers no longer have to account for and/or make room in their budgets to allow for furniture-grade finishes, which means more money for what actually matters - getting the speakers to sound good. Well, if sound quality is what you care about most of all and you're looking to build a home theater inspired by your local multiplex, then keep reading, for the Episode 900s reviewed here are bound to be right up your alley.
The Episode 900 LCR retails for $799 and is a two-way monitor loudspeaker that is designed to be installed behind an acoustically transparent screen and/or into a custom home theater cabinet. The 900 can be wall-mounted via its included keyhole-style mounting brackets, it can be mounted inside a false wall, inside a cabinet or out in the open atop a dedicated stand. The last option will mean that you'll have to endure the 900's plain outward appearance, which is boxy, to say the least, and clad in a satin black finish. The 900 is large for a bookshelf speaker, which is why I'm labeling it as a true monitor loudspeaker, one that is a little over 12 inches wide by 18 inches tall and 13 inches deep. The 900 is also solidly built - one indication of this is the speaker's weight, which is a stout 35 pounds.
Behind the 900's non-magnetic grille rest two six-and-a-half-inch paper/Kevlar bass/midrange drivers, mated to a single one inch wide by four-and-a-half inches tall planar magnetic ribbon tweeter. The 900's ribbon tweeter is adjustable, meaning it can be repositioned to fit inside the speaker's bass port when using a 900 as a center channel, but I'll talk more about that later. Above the tweeter rest the 900's adjustment options, which include "screen EQ" and "boundary compensation." Again, more on these later. The 900 has a reported frequency response of 47Hz to 20kHz, with a nominal impedance of four ohms and a sensitivity of 90dB, making the 900 an ideal mate to both AV receivers and separate amplifiers. Speaking of amplification, the 900 connects to your amplifier of choice via its dual five-way binding posts.
As I mentioned earlier, the 900 retails for $799 each and can be purchased via your local SnapAV dealer. The 900 is designed to match seamlessly with Episode's other 900 Series speakers, which include several in-wall, on-wall and subwoofer models. Like the 900 LCR, the rest of the 900 Series line-up of products are equally focused on performance and value.
Integrating the 900s into one's home theater is simple enough, though it's probably best to know how one plans to integrate them before making a purchase decision. If you're going to put them on stands, then the process is practically plug-n-play. However, if you're installing them behind a perforated screen, then perhaps you need to consider building a false wall or some sort of structure to support them in such an installation. Obviously, your local SnapAV dealer can assist you with these questions and/or help you with construction, should you need assistance.
As for me, for the purposes of this review, I installed the 900s on 26-inch Sanus Steel Series stands, as well as mounted them (via the 900's keyhole mounts) to my front wall at varying heights in order to test the ribbon tweeter's off-axis response. At their maximum height, the left and right mains were mounted 36 inches (measured from the floor to bottom of the speaker) off the ground. In order to use one of the 900s as a center channel, I had to reposition the tweeter. This entailed a simple procedure, whereby the ribbon tweeter is removed, rotated and re-installed where the speaker's bass port once sat (images at HomeTheaterEquipment.com). The process involved the unscrewing of 12 screws, six for the tweeter and six for the bass port. From there, I was able to remove the bass port, push the tweeter into the cabinet and then pull it through the vacant bass port. Using the same 12 screws, I reattached the tweeter and the bass port and, voila -instant center channel. Well not instant, the whole procedure took about 10 minutes. The center channel was then placed on the same Sanus stand, so as to keep the tweeters largely at the same level, which on 26-inch stands was ear-level in my room.
I connected the left-, center- and right-channel speakers to my Parasound 5250 v2 multi-channel amplifier via either generic in-wall speaker cable or eight-foot lengths of Transparent MusicWave speaker cables. A word to those contemplating wall-mounting their 900s: you're going to want to run your cables either behind the drywall or use a flexible speaker cable, for the space between the wall and the 900's cabinet is very, very tight.
The rest of my system consisted of the following: Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp, Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD universal Blu-ray player, Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 DAC, AppleTV and two JL Audio Fathom f110 subwoofers. The subwoofers were crossed over at 80Hz for most of the review and were EQed using Room EQ Wizard and a Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro. I had two Episode subwoofers on hand during my time with the 900 Series speakers, but wanted to use the JL Audio subs in order to see how well they integrated with other speakers. This is also why I did not use Episode speakers for my rear channels, instead relying on my Noble Fidelity L-85 LCRS in-ceiling loudspeakers.
I let everything settle in and get to know each other for a few days before sitting down for any sort of critical listening.
While the 900 is clearly a home theater-oriented loudspeaker, I decided to begin my evaluation with some traditional two-channel music, courtesy of Diana Krall's "I'm Coming Through" from her album The Girl in the Other Room (Verve). Right off the bat, what struck me most was how open and articulate the 900's ribbon tweeter was, possessing both air and agility, yet having an almost laid-back demeanor, which hasn't been my experience with ribbon tweeters in the past. Now, I will say this: the 900's ribbon tweeter doesn't have the same sparkle or shimmer that you'll get from a metal dome tweeter, but that's not to suggest that it's somehow lifeless -it's not, it's just black coffee without any sweetener. Still, Krall's vocals were natural and full-bodied, with a true sense of weight and presence.
Read more about the ES-HT900-LCR-6 loudspeaker's performance on Page 2.