Have we been here before? Not at this price…..
I think we have all started up the audiophile ladder with a monitor of some sort, or at least had some along the way. There are some great attributes to small monitors that are prized and loathed. Mysterious disappearing acts, Large focused sound stage, versatility of adjustment, small size, and a communicative intimate listening experience.
I for one have always understood and revered the audiophile with two monitors meticulously placed well into a dedicated treated room with LP covers and CD cases strewn
about. When I have come across audiophiles like this I know they are the serious type, and have been humbled by more than a few well set up monitor systems. No wonder I always keep an eye and an ear out for a truly remarkable monitor despite the gravitational pull of big floorstanding monoliths to excite the ego—and many times room nodes. What do we get for our $899? A lot more than we got 12 years ago when I was auditioning monitors….
The EPOS M12.2
Epos is a British brand that started in 1983 and was acquired in 1999 by Michael Creek, of Creek electronics fame. Both companies are known for excellent value and performance. The M12.2 is the Epos top monitor and features real wood veneers in Light and Dark Cherry as well as Ash and are solidly built for a speaker in this price range using 25 mm MDF throughout, this is a really attractive speaker especially when considering the cost.
There are some nice features included that should interest everyone in the market for a stand mounted speaker, no crossover on the woofer and a single cap on the tweeter, dual binding posts for bi-wiring and passively bi-amping, and a nicely flared rear port to reduce any noise on loud passages. The drivers are a 5.9” polymer driver with phase plug and a 1” aluminum dome with ferro fluid cooling and a neodymium magnet, both are shielded for placement near a TV if that’s important to you. The size is a nice 15”x8”x10” and weighing in at a respectable 17.5 pounds each. Most of your money is going into the drivers and cabinet…That’s ALWAYS good!
The New British Sound?
After the Stereo Mojo small speaker shootout was complete, I got to spend a good deal of time living with the 12.2s and really got to play with them. Their character is well known to me now but it was a perplexing start. What do I mean? Well they didn’t strike me as British sounding at first and I avoided contact with those who heard them at the small speaker shootout—on purpose! The only thing I knew was that they didn’t win and they didn’t lose. Fine, lets get to it.
Many speaker makers are a bit coy about being able to offer us affordable hi-fi that’s made in China. You see this all around insisting “This is a true Engineered and Designed British, Canadian, American, etc. Product”, but though they are designed in one country, they are often actually manufactured in China. Epos goes so far as to spell it out for consumers in their online FAQ. Epos insists its loudspeakers remain a “British Product”, designed, engineeredand made in the UK.
When set up with the tweeter at ear level as per Epos recommendation, I was concerned with an apparent brightness and distinction between the tweeter and woofer. It wasn’t unlistenable, but wasn’t what I was expecting in a minimal crossover speaker from Epos. A little upward adjustment of the cheapie Target stands was much smoother and provided a richer overall presentation. This put the tweeter about 3” above ear level. I went with it and I suggest you at least try this configuration as well as get rid of the speaker jumpers replacing them with some copper wire. David brings out a good point of which everyone should be aware; proper positioning, especially for stand mounts, include proper height orientation. To test to see if your monitors are too low, simply stand up from your chair very slowly, focusing on any shift in the treble response. If there is a change for better or worse, note where the sound seems most balanced from top to bottom. Using a pink noise test track usually works best. Carefully put something like magazines or books between the speaker and stand to raise both speakers to the height you noted and listen to some music you know well. Retry the test. If the spectrum is consistent, you might just have them properly adjusted. If you suspect your speakers may be too high, try turning them upside down with the tweeter on the bottom to see if that maneuver betters the sound. As it turns out, our measurements show that there is indeed an anomaly in the on-axis tweeter chart (see Mojo Measurements a the end of this review). Here are Technical Editor Danny Richie's comments regarding the measurements of this what David heard- publisher
Since this speaker has dual binding posts, it easily allowed the individual drivers to be measured. The crossover is very high and in the 5.5kHz range. Drivers are not in phase very well and the woofers response is canceling some of the tweeters output in the 8kHz to 16kHz range. Since the drivers did not appear to be in phase very well from the tweeter axis, the speaker was also measured above and below the tweeter axis to see if there was a height in which the drivers were more in phase. Here, an on axis response (red) is overlaid with a response taken 4" below the tweeter axis (blue). We see less disruption between the drivers from this height and a smoother overall response. This would be a more ideal listening height for this speaker - technical editor
David ended up with a position 3" below tweeter level - pretty much right on with 1" difference. Congrats to David for not only hearing the difference, but taking the proper action to fix it - and - report it. Great job, David - publisher
The normal equilateral triangle setup was used and things immediately snapped into place. I started about 2 ½’ from the back wall and noticed that the speakers had tremendous depth of stage that would extend to the rear wall at nearly 5’ out! I settled on 4 feet from the back wall and nearly 7 feet apart. The 12.2s are very easy to set up and offer a big convincing soundstage that is tall, wide, and deep - no miniature musicians playing miniature instruments here! The sound is big and full bodied.
Little Speakers, Big World
Within a few days of set-up, the 12.2s were clearly better in all but the lower octaves than the 3 acclaimed, but modestly priced floorstanders I keep around; some costing twice as much. I preferred the way the Epos loaded my room and the way it presented the music in great pace that had my toe tapping. I say it now - these are musical and emotionally involving speakers that deserve a listen.
The bass packs a punch on kick drums, upright bass, and most of what was thrown its way. Organs and low bass fall off gracefully with no chuffing from port noise. A little bit of weight is sacrificed in order to avoid the bloat and dreaded one note bass of many monitors in this price range, the presentation is tuneful and surprising. My only gripe is toms are a little thin compared to the wallop of the bass line. The big Mcintosh and Classe amps were best is controlling the movement of the driver and delivering the best bass resolution. The small integrated Linn Classik lacked some punch but might have been the best match tonally for the Epos. The Audio Research KT-88 tube amp (on loan from local Tube-o-phile Chris Lambert) had expectedly less punch and bass control. We will revisit the different amplifier pairings in a moment.
The common theme amongst listeners was how big and open these speakers sounded. I agree with them. You are not going to be shortchanged in sound output and presentation at any sane listening levels. I did rev the Mcintosh to over 150 watts per channel and the Epos kept poise and control without any compression or limiting, though this is much louder than I typically listen. Even at lower listening levels, the detail and general character came through, providing a pleasing and musical listening experience which I think is very important to the overall satisfaction and versatility of a speaker. Despite the 12.2s modest 87dB sensitivity, in a smallish room I have no doubt believing that many listeners could use as little as 30 watts per channel and not run out of juice .
The 12.2s were able to convey the different upstream component characteristics with ease, though they responded more so with amplification. Let me say that as much as I tried, I couldn’t find an unpleasing combination. The little guys just rolled with the music.
The nearly 40 year old, overly tubey Audio Research was soft in the bass but provided a very organic and fleshed-out presentation that was responsible for a lot of my lost sleep. When used with a small musical subwoofer or two, they provided near full range performance with a seductive 3-D soundstage and a softer leading edge. Older rock recordings and Jazz and Blues were brought to life. On his Decade CD, Neil Young provided many moments of musical bliss. Disc 2 provides some late night favorites such as track 17, "Cortez the Killer". Young’s distorted, sustained guitar reverberated in a believable and life-sized rendition that was able to put you in the room.
The solid state Mcintosh and Classe were able to resolve the greatest detail and provide deep, layered soundscapes able to please the analytical listener who still values musicality and coherence without pulling the music into individual parts. These big transistor amps with plenty of current were able to provide the best bass slam and drive, but they added a touch of dryness to the midrange and flare to the leading edge of cymbals and horns. On the third album release of Canadian singer "Feist", the Epos were able to bring a presence to the players in space with plenty of air, focus, and blackness. Be sure and check out this album if you get a chance.
I saved the Linn for last as I felt it provided the best overall performance with the Epos M12.2s. Tonality and pace were the best of the group over the largest range of music. By nature, the Linn presents a slightly thicker and closer-spaced rendering of music that was decidedly less 3-D than any of the other power amps though. I would probably agree with the Epos recommendation of pairing with high value Creek electronics, in fact I think there are many terrific offerings from the UK which are likely to be a perfect fit for those purchasing the 12.2s. The Dresden Dolls self-titled album is an one that many high end systems can’t discern properly or musically. The Epos/Linn combo was a great match in its ability to present the busy soundstage and high end energy without glossing over details or overly emphasizing the high end.
So, It’s perfect then?
No, maybe someday I will find speakers that leave me wanting nothing. I have a feeling it’s going to cost me more than $899. These really are good solid speakers, but like all overachievers they have some flaws. I felt that the leading edge of cymbal crashes, horns and the like were presented with a touch too much bite that didn’t extend through the very top end. The highs were always very clear and detailed, lacking any glare or grunge, but I felt the top end energy didn’t quite match the low/mid treble energy. On the opposite end I thought the low end was tuneful and forceful but the mid bass didn’t quite match perfectly - though I am picking at some micro nits. Already mentioned was the slight dryness to the midrange with some solid state amps that’s more a system dependant trait and can’t be laid totally on the Epos as the Linn and ARC provided a much more organic picture in this region.
The Epos 12.2 has to be at the upper end of affordable monitors that are growing daily due to the trickle down technology and the lower cost to produce overseas, though notably"overseas" in this case means 100% made in the UK. These speakers exhibit a great amount of physical quality and craftsmanship that exceeds that normally found under $1,000 per pair. Once the optimal height was determined, timbres were nicely balanced and I found the 12.2's to be very musical overall - and that is high praise! These speakers have serious Mojo in that they will rock hard and loud without falling apart, though they are also quite lovely and detailed at soft levels as well - an unusual trick to pull off at their price. Though placement is not difficult, make sure their height is correct or you may cheat the speakers and yourself.
This is the response on tweeter axis. The response is a little choppy but within normal industry standards. Baffle step compensation is minimal and it could give a thinner sound to the vocal region as it is several db down below about 700Hz and below. By contrast the peaked area in the 800Hz to 1000Hz range may be perceived as a brightness.
Since this speaker has dual binding posts it easily allowed the individual drivers to be measured. The crossover is very high and in the 5.5kHz range. Drivers are not in phase very well and the woofers response is canceling some of the tweeters output in the 8kHz to 16kHz range.
Since the drivers did not appear to be in phase very well from the tweeter axis, the speaker was also measured above and below the tweeter axis to see if there was a height in which the drivers were more in phase. Here an on axis response (red) is overlaid with a response taken 4" below the tweeter axis (blue). We see less disruption between the drivers from this height and a smoother overall response. This would be a more ideal listening height for this speaker.
So at a height of 4" below the tweeter axis we see the response of the pair of speakers. The speaker with the response shown by the blue line had a tweeter that was slightly more efficient than the one that produced the red line. With the speaker producing the red line being closer to accurate, it was used for the rest of the measurements.
The spectral decay is not too bad but there is some stored energy shown at each octave. The one in the woofer range could cause some smearing while the small resonances in the upper ranges might add a bit of ringing.
The horizontal off axis response shows a pretty even decay across the top end but quite a bit of loss across the board. These were all made at 4" below tweeter axis.
The vertical off axis is where things look a little out of whack for the Epos. Here we see the response on tweeter axis in red. Just 4" up (in orange) we see quite a bit of cancellation at 6.6kHz. Just 4" higher again we see and even deeper dip at 5.6kHz. Up an additional 4" and the heavy dip shifts to 4.6kHz.
The impedance looks pretty good and the tuning frequency of the rear firing port shows to be in the 55Hz range. There is one small bump just above 600Hz that coincides with some stored energy in the woofer range. This could be a woofer or damping material issue. Adding or changing the type of damping material used might solve this.
Finally here is the response on tweeter axis with and without the grill.
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