It’s hard to not be excited by the Epos M16. For fifteen-hundredninety- five bucks you get an English-designed, Chinese-built speaker possessing truly special performance qualities. The M16 can whisper yet still be clearly heard; it can play loudly without getting aggressive; it is tonally quite neutral, has excellent rhythmic drive, and, with the best recordings, can do quite the disappearing act.
Handsome in a simple, Gary Cooperesque way, this pair of slim towers came finished in a light cherry wood veneer (dark cherry and black ash finishes are also available). Build and finish are of a notably high standard. Cabinet edges are smoothly beveled, and a small screw-on base widens the speakers’ footprint for added stability. Threaded spikes or peel-and-stick rubber feet are supplied, depending on whether you’re placing the speakers on carpet or hardwood, and the minimal assembly required takes only a few minutes.
A two-and-a-half-way design, the M16 utilizes the same 1" aluminum dome tweeter found in the rest of Epos’ M Series. As it demonstrated throughout my listening session, this tweeter has the extension and transient speed people like in metal domes, without the headache-inducing zing heard from some designs. The midrange/midbass and woofer drivers are similar 5.25" polypropylene units, but the woofer covers only those frequencies below 150Hz. A rear, trumpet-shaped port extends frequencies into the 40Hz range—the spec sheet says 48Hz—and a sextet of binding posts allows for single, bi-, or tri-wiring.
Though I’d heard Epos speakers at shows, and read about some of its designs—such as the $329 ELS3 that won a TAS Product of the Year Award in 2003—this is my first at-home experience with one of its speakers. To say that I’m impressed is, well, to say that I’m impressed.
Without deliberately bullying these little guys, I decided to challenge them right off with the hard contemporary rock of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “Gold Lion,” the opening track of the group’s second album Show Your Bones [Interscope], announces itself with the primal thump of Brian Chase’s drum kit. Before long, Guitarist Nick Zimmer tears out sheets of thickly distorted sound,while singer Karen O stretches her vocal chords raw. I slowly yet deliberately raised the volume level, half expecting the M16s to either blow up or at least signal discomfort. But neither occurred. Granted, my listening room is small; still, these speakers took all that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs could give them and maintained their musical composure.
Then on something like Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin, played by the Hungarian Barnabás Keleman on that country’s BMC label, the M16s’ displayed terrific subtlety of dynamic expression, a lovely and natural tonal quality, a good sense of the instrument’s body and string texture, highs that were extended and appropriately steely but not screechy, along with a solid middle register and impressive overall coherence.
But the recording that let the Epos M16s’ truly shine was HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! Recommended by my colleague Jonathan Valin and reviewed by Mark Lehman in Issue 174, this terrifically fun composition for orchestra, toy instruments, and voice (Gruber’s own) was brilliantly captured by Chandos. As heard over the M16s, the orchestra covered a large and wide-open soundstage that imaged well outside and above the speaker cabinets, with a fine sense of depth and precise image placement, an exciting dynamic pop, a taut, welldefined bass that seemed to reach the mid-40Hz range, and satisfyingly natural vocal and instrumental reproduction.
Being small towers the M16s are easy to place, too, and they make a super and simple $2600 system with another item from the same distributor, Music Hall’s Trio.
Music Hall Trio
For lots of folks, component audio just isn’t worth the hassle: all those confusing component choices, stacks of cumbersome boxes, a rat’s nest of cables—it’s enough to make you settle for something advertised in the Times Book Review.
Well, good music can be had without all that trouble, and without spending a small fortune. Music Hall Audio, distributor of the Epos speakers reviewed above as well as many other fine brands, has a line of its own that includes affordable turntables from the Czech Republic and some terrific-sounding Chinesesourced electronics, the latest of which is the $999 Trio stereo receiver/CD player.
With an amplifier section rated at 50Wpc, an AM/FM tuner, and a built-in CD player, the Trio consolidates three components into a single threeand- a-half-inch-tall chassis. Its quartet of audio inputs are labeled Aux, iPod, DVD, and Tape, and the Trio can even serve as the heart of a 2.1-channel home-theater system. When a DVD player’s stereo and coax or S-video outputs are connected, the Trio syncs them up and outputs both sound and picture when you select DVD as the source. My only gripe about the Trio’s connectivity options is that the speaker jacks are flimsy things that accept bare wire or banana plugs, but not spade lugs. For $1000, something more substantial would be expected.
Operating the Trio is easy, either from the slim remote control or the front panel, though again the two knobs for volume and source selection feel a little cheap. That said, the faceplate is brushed aluminum, the 20-pound chassis seems solid enough, and Music Hall did not skimp where it counts, which is in the Trio’s performance.
Most of my FM listening is done in either the kitchen or the car. So it was enjoyable to tune into my local PBS station to hear Terry Gross’ Fresh Air, or to a classical station that was playing Matt Haimovitz’s recording of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1. Both were good indicators of the Trio’s potential—human and warm with spoken word, smooth, lively, and open with music. The tuner’s performance was good, too. Even when using nothing more than the supplied wire antenna, I was able to receive impressively noise-free signals (though that, of course, is entirely dependent on one’s location).
The amplifier section seems conservatively rated. The Epos M16s may have a nominal 4-ohm rating, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs CD and everything else mentioned above were played through the Trio’s 50-watt amp—and impressively so.
In fact, the M16 review is essentially a review of the M16/Trio package. And though these are impressive components in their own rights, they also create a really nice-sounding and superbly valued “no-brainer” system.
An almost-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink disc player, Marantz’s $549 DV6001 plays CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, Dolby Digital, DTS, DivX, MP3, JPEG, and WMA-encoded discs. How many of these formats you play regularly will determine whether or not such a machine is for you. That said, the Marantz seems to handle the main formats I tried—CD, SACD, DVD, and MP3- encoded discs—very nicely indeed. (Note that these were in the two-channel mode. The DV6001 also outputs 5.1-channel sound, which my system is not set up to play.)
The sound of this player is inherently smooth and warm. Indeed, one could argue that the DV6001 is a bit overly smooth and warm, and like many such “universal” players it seems to homogenize things a bit. But that generalization doesn’t tell the whole story.
Which is that the DV6001 is a musically satisfying machine to listen to. Slide a really good SACD into its drawer, say the San Francisco Symphony’s Mahler Symphony No. 2 [SF Media], and you’ll hear rich, silky, even sweet-sounding massed string sections, throaty brass, a fine sense of bottom end weight, an impressive sense of air around instruments, and more than a hint of the live acoustic the Mahler was recorded in. Vocals were lovely, too, be it with large choirs or the two female soloists. The only area in which the DV6001 fell a bit short is during this symphony’s highly explosive climaxes, where the dynamic range was not as wide as it should be.
Another SACD, of the Romero family playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Andaluz [Mercury], revealed a wide and open stage, and a fine ability to reproduce this composition’s angular rhythmic pulse. Strings were again warm and sweet, and the Romeros’ guitars were lively and nicely defined in their own spaces. On slightly different guitar music, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Solos, Sessions & Encores [Epic CD], the DV6001 once again delivered the music’s drive, and did a nice job distinguishing the guitar tones of SRV and his contemporaries on this set, including Jeff Beck, Bonnie Raitt, Albert Collins, and the Kings, Albert and B.B.