Ruark Epilogue Loudspeakers Reviewed

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'Y'gaddaseeit!' 'Y'gaddaseeit!' 'Y'gaddaseeit!' Three times is usually enough to convince me that something's afoot. Ordinarily, there's so much new and worthwhile kit at a hi-fi show that the surfeit of brilliant new products tends to overwhelm. But when a consensus forms by Day Two, then we're talking Possible Future Classic. And when a member of the press actually buys the thing on the spot...*

Admittedly, the Ruark Epilogue is a budget product; even I could afford a pair at list price. Which means that the latest UK hit is yet another entry level product. Despite hints that the British have ceased to act as if their privates are being cut off when they're told that a hi-fi component costs more than £99, the UK market is decidedly low-end. And however much a certain brand is revelling in the success of winning an award for a £600 speaker from the very magazine which perpetuates - nay, meanness, the reality is that the British would rather spend £300 on a couple of months' worth of beer than on a pair of speakers. Which is why Ruark's sells for £239 per pair, not £339. Let alone £2399.

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But we can't blame Ruark (or any other British speaker builder) for continuing to pander to an audience that thinks there was a price freeze in 1979. The very same people who'll invest up to a grand in an annual two weeks' worth of communal vomiting in Spain have forced this issue. Quite simply, the British are prepared to be realistic about the prices of everything hi-fi. Which is why the UK can boast an abundance of cheap speakers. But the Ruark Epilogue is hardly 'cheap'. More precisely, it's an act of charity.

I mean, just look at what's on offer for £239. The Epilogue is a pocket gem, measuring a tidy 290x170x220mm (HWD) - just the ticket for the myriad, underpriced 24in stands which the UK also has been forced to produce in abundance. The enclosure is rear-ported, and it's 'styled and voiced to complement both visually and sonically other Ruark systems'. And it's here that we betray a sad, sick, stomach-churning truth: we are considering this budget offering as a main speaker/full-range system.

It was demonstrated as such at the Hi-Fi Show, and it's being marketed here as a contender in the £200-£300 sector. But note the quote: '...styled and voiced to complement both visually and sonically other Ruark systems'. So now you know its actual : It was designed to complete a Ruark home theatre set-up... You know, mixing it with the likes of the Dialogue One centre channel and Prologue One floorstanding speakers. But for the UK market? It's also billed as a main speaker. Which is sort of like Lambretta marketing a moped as a motorcycle...or the UK alone.

This creates one helluva weird back-handed compliment: Ruark's rear-channel designs are good enough to satisfy UK front-channel needs. What does that say about our expectations? Or what Ruark makes of its home market? It's the sort of thing that leads to having non-entities as both Prime Minister Leader of the Opposition...

OK, OK, I fell for it, too, and the horrible truth was only imparted to me after I'd formed my opinions based on treating it as I would any small, affordable two-way. It would have been different had I only used it in rear-channel mode, and I might never have learned what the Epilogue can do. Yes, it's good a product, so much so that you can turn the dichotomy back-to-front and argue from across the room that it's an insult to the Epilogue to relegate it to rear-channel usage.

Epilogue is a clever, 'grown up' package, with no visible compromises. The cabinet consists of a 15mm MDF 'wrap' in a Satin Black finish, with side panels machined from 18mm MDF. A further sense of solidity and dependability greets the tyre-kicker as soon as the speaker is prised off its stand: the weight of a single Epilogue is 5kg. The £239 outlay pays for black lacquer end-cheeks while an extra £30 buys real wood veneers; it will be interesting to see how many Epilogue customers bite the bullet and plump for the deluxe finish. ('Holy cow!!! Thirty quid!!! I could buy two curry dinners and clothe my nine children for that!')

At the back of this beautifully manufactured enclosure are multi-way binding posts with bi-wiring facility, above them the 'gas flowed rear port', shaped to prevent whistling, whooshing or whatever other artefacts a poorly designed orifice might produce. Under the sturdily framed grille is a 140mm treated paper-coned mid/bass driver with high-loss rubber surround and a high-flux magnet system. The edges of the cone are cut not into a circle but into a pentagon to assist in dissipating vibrations around the cone rather than feed them back into the cone itself; this break-up typically occurs at the crucial 1k-4kHz region, so its removal ensures a smoother frequency response and lower coloration.

Handling the frequencies above 3.5kHz is a 19mm fabric dome tweeter with ferrofluid cooling and damping. Ruark tried to place it as close to the bass/mid unit as possible, stopping short of cutting a crescent out of the surround to make it even cosier. Then again, the frontal area is so small that you're guaranteed a minimal difference in the location of the 'acoustic centres' of the drivers regardless, their proximity necessary to improve driver integration and dispersion in the crossover region.

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