Sean Killebrew began his writing career in the '90s, covering football for UCLA (his alma mater). His first foray into publishing was in 2000, with the below-the-line film- and TV-production guide books LA 411 and NY 411. For the past decade, Sean's passion for audio/video has been poured into writing for HomeTheaterReview.com. When not chasing A/V deals, Sean spends time skiing and losing to his son in basketball.
Due to my familiarity with, and love of, Episode speakers, it was without hesitation that I approached them when the need arose for in-ceiling speakers for a Dolby Atmos receiver review. The always-affable team at Episode sent me four of their Signature 1300T in-ceiling, thin-bezel speakers in short order, which I combined with my existing Episode speakers to form an Atmos-ready 11.1 system. The 1300 Series is the entry point in Episode's Signature line of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, with the 1500 landing in the middle and the 1700 comprising the top of the line. For more detail on Episode's full Signature Series product offering, check out Episode's site.
The 1300T in-ceiling thin-bezel speaker (model number ESS-1300T-IC-6) carries an MSRP of $199.95 and can only be purchased through Episode's vast network of AV installers. The speaker features a six-inch polypropylene woofer and a three-quarter-inch adjustable silk dome tweeter, which allows you to direct the sound to your sweet spot--a useful feature that's also found on my front L/R and center Episode speakers (I tweak it often). Frequency response is rated at 45 Hz to 20 kHz, and sensitivity is 89 dB. The grill is magnetic, which might not sound like a compelling feature; however, if you've ever wrestled with or destroyed skimpy metal grills that push into the frame of the speaker (as I have), then you know this is a noteworthy feature.
Installing Episode speakers is intuitive: You simply cut a hole in your drywall using the included template, set the speaker in the hole, and drive in each screw, which extends an anchor that locks the speaker into place. It's a very clever design and one that Episode has steadily improved with time. I installed four 1300Ts in the ceiling of my listening room in order to create a full 11.1 Dolby Atmos surround system. Then, after running room correction software and dialing each of the 1300T's tweeters toward the sweet spot, I dove right in to the limited amount of Dolby Atmos material I had on hand.
Listening to Dolby's demo disc, which is simply a collection of promos, was nothing short of spectacular. The 1300Ts blended seamlessly with the rest of my system and made their presence felt without drawing too much attention to themselves. Watching my selection of Atmos Blu-rays--which included Gravity (Warner Bros.), On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter (Red Bull Media House), and John Wick (Lionsgate)--was a game-changing experience. The opening scene in Gravity makes great use of the in-ceiling channels, as do all of the action scenes (especially those with rain) in John Wick. Watching a film in Atmos on the right system is about as visceral and immersive a movie-watching experience as you're going to get in the home. Let's just hope the studios continue to support the format, as the amount of content currently available is pretty thin. If you want to read more about my thoughts on Atmos, check out my full review of the Integra DTR-706 AV receiver.
In terms of music, with the Episodes engaged, I found them to be tonally balanced; and, as I stated earlier, they don't draw too much attention to themselves, which is welcome in a speaker mounted over one's head. Setting the receiver to its All Speakers setting is an interesting experience with an 11.1 system: some music--namely, well-recorded multi-channel music--sounds great and is immersive, but most two-channel fare sounds goofy and indistinct with all of the speakers engaged. Either way, the sonic signature of the 1300Ts (and Episode speakers in general) is remarkably balanced and articulate, especially given their price points.
The 1300T is intuitively designed and solidly built.
• The speaker's sonic signature is balanced and agreeable.
• Directional tweeters allow for more flexibility in terms of placement.
• Magnetic grill covers are a welcome design element.
• The woofer is only six inches in diameter, but the finished dimension of the speaker is rather large at 9.6 inches (including the grill).
• Despite Episode's DIY-friendly design, in-ceiling speaker installs are often better left to a professional, or at least an experienced DIY'er.
• These speakers might be somewhat difficult to find if you don't have a local dealer.
Comparison and Competition
This is a crowded marketplace and one in which, as a manufacturer, it's difficult to differentiate your products--especially given the fact that it's nearly impossible to find these products set up in a store for a demonstration. After you've pulled the trigger on a brand, you have to cross your fingers that you've made the right decision since, once you've cut holes in your walls or ceiling, there's no going back.
In the interest of providing some degree of guidance, I'll mention a couple of the brands I've actually heard. I'll begin with Klipsch, a company whose product line always resonates with quality, regardless of price point. The CDT-5800 C-II is worth a look; like the Episode, it has a directional tweeter but also adds a directional woofer ($399/each). Another brand I'm familiar with, as I use the company's in-ceiling speakers in my living room, is Paradigm. The CI Pro P65R ($279/each) is one of the newer speakers in Paradigm's lineup, and much is made of the company's X-PAL tweeter, which is said to block out-of-phase frequencies.
If you're considering in-ceiling speakers, whether you're upgrading an existing system or starting from scratch, Episode should be on your list to research and consider. The company has managed to hit the trifecta with its product line in terms of sound and build quality, as well as price-to-performance ratio. In the world of home audio/video these days, a clean look is definitely "in"...and there's no better way to keep it clean than to flush-mount the speakers in the wall or ceiling.
• Episode Landscape Speaker Kit and Burial Subwoofer at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Episode 500 Series Thin Design Three-Channel Passive Soundbar at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Check out our In-Wall and On-Wall Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
Wonder how they compare with HDT speakers?