I was recently introduced to Episode Speakers by Sean Killebrew, who reviewed the company's in-wall speakers and had good things to say about them. When I was asked if I wanted to dig up my backyard to run wires and bury a large subwoofer, I was hesitant but, keeping Sean's recommendation in mind, I went for it. Episode sent out one its preconfigured systems, the Landscape Speaker Kit, which includes four satellite speakers (model #ES-LS-SAT-6) and a 1,000-watt Crown amplifier with custom DSP settings (which retails on its own for $2,863), as well as the Burial 12-inch subwoofer (model # ES-LS-BSUB-12-CPR, which is available for $1,500).
The satellites look like large landscape lights that measure 7.1 inches in diameter and 10 inches long, with a threaded post that accepts a variety of mounting options. The speaker is a two-way design with a six-inch polypropylene woofer and 0.75-inch aluminum dome tweeter with a second-order crossover. The speakers can be configured for use with either 70-volt or eight-ohm amplification. The speaker's rear cover screws off to access the volt-or-ohm setting, as well as adjustable volume in 70-volt mode to make it easier to balance the volume level among the speakers.
The subwoofer comes in two boxes and is immense. The enclosure itself is about the size of a keg of beer and contains an eight-ohm, 12-inch woofer that has a 2.5-inch, four-layer voice coil and an 80-ounce magnet in a ported enclosure. The subwoofer is not powered and needs external amplification (such as the amplifier that comes with the satellite kit mentioned above). The enclosure is designed to be buried with a mushroom-shaped cap at the end of its adjustable height port. The enclosure is made out of five-eighths-of-an-inch-thick HDPE and looks like it will hold up well to the weight of being buried. I buried the subwoofer in a landscaped area that does not get much foot traffic, but would not worry if it were somewhere where people walked around a lot.
The system includes a 500-watts-per-channel stereo amplifier by Crown. Crown is not a big name in home audio, but it has been a leader in commercial amplification for many years. The version supplied with the Episode speakers comes with preprogrammed and customizable DSP settings and can drive both 70-volt and eight-ohm systems. You can actually drive both 70-volt and eight-ohm systems at the same time, with one channel driving the 70-volt system and the other the eight-ohm system (with the eight-ohm channel being stable down to two ohms).
The instructions supplied by Episode were easy to follow; the hardest part of the installation was digging the large hole for the subwoofer. Once that part was out of the way and the subwoofer and speakers were in place, I experimented with both 70-volt and eight-ohm configurations. A benefit of 70-volt systems is that many more speakers can be driven with longer speaker wires. The adjustable transformers in the Episode satellites allow for easy volume matching in 70-volt mode (but can be bypassed for eight-ohm operation). While the 70-volt setting provides a lot of installation flexibility, the speakers' midrange presence is reduced. The amplifier's equalization helped bring the 70-volt sound closer to that of the eight-ohm connection, but the midrange in eight-ohm mode was fuller and more dynamic, with better tonal balance.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, Competition and Comparison and Conclusion . . .