Author: Karsten Hein
Category: Gear & Review
When my good friend Luigi called to say that he had come across a pair of Epicure 3.0 speakers in Berlin, I was at first a bit puzzled why he was telling me this. The German capitol was located five car hours from Frankfurt, and I could not imagine how I might transport two 30kg tower speakers over a distance of 550km in any other way than by driving to Berlin myself. Nevertheless, I thanked Luigi for keeping me posted on new opportunities and said that I might consider these Epicure speakers for review someday. In the days that followed, I did some research on the 3.0 model and became even more interested in listening to them perform. I also remembered that we had good friends in Berlin who just might be spontaneous enough to pick them up for us, until we could find a way of transporting them to Frankfurt.
In a spur of the moment decision, I contacted the seller in Berlin and bought the speakers. That same evening, I wrote to our friend Enrico in Berlin telling him about my purchase and the difficulties involved. Luckily, Enrico said he would be interested in supporting me and the eiaudio project by picking up the speakers. I was relieved to hear this, because I knew that the Epicures would be in good hands with him. As it turned out, Enrico had to drive from Berlin Bernau in the north all the way across town to Steglitz in order to pick them up. To both our surprise, the Epicure were on sale from their original owner and came with all the documents relating to the purchase. The owner himself informed Enrico that he had bought these speakers at a time when he was still a university student, long before starting his career and, later, his own business. He had simply enjoyed listening to them for the greater part of 40 years. That was a good sign, indeed.
Once the Epicure 3.0 were safely stored at Enrico’s house it took me another month or so to find a professional carrier who would pick up the speakers and deliver them to our doorstep, labelled as ‘additional cargo’ as part of a larger delivery. I had found out that the Berlin-based freight company ‘KLTransporte’ organised regular transports between Berlin and Frankfurt that made additional cargo loads possible in most weeks of the year. To assure a safe journey, Enrico wrapped each speaker in multiple layers of bubble foil and indicated the exact positions in which the speakers could be touched and carried. It was due to his mindful preparation and support that the moving company was able to take all necessary precautions and deliver the Epicure 3.0 in one piece. I was truly grateful to all involved for making this new exploration possible.
On the images I had found on the Internet, but also in the photos that Enrico had sent me, it mostly looked as if one side of the Epicures’ truncated pyramid shape was off balance somehow. I am not sure what might have caused this first impression, but unpacking them at our house provided me with affirmation that they were indeed perfectly balanced. And although I had used a folding ruler to check the speakers’ approximate size and position in our room, I was surprised by how monumental and accomplished they looked in real life. The rounded edges, the unconventional pyramid shape, but also the high-quality waxed American walnut surface on all sides suggested that these loudspeakers were not to be taken lightly.
Similar to our EPI 500, the 3.0 were decoupled from the floor by means of a wooden base. But different to the EPI 500, the base itself was decoupled from the floor by means of four scantlings, with one scantling placed in each corner. In my attempts to get the EPI 500 to sound right, I had applied the same method of raising the base with great success and was pleased to see this confirmed. As the speakers of this era were mostly designed to be placed on American living room carpets, I achieved the most natural tonality by placing them on 5x40mm felt pads, sometimes in combination with 8mm thick steel plates. The base itself served to raise the bottom of the cabinet off the floor and allowed for the binding posts to be hidden from sight underneath the speakers, thus contributing to Epicures’ clean look from all around.
For those of us conducting lots of experiments with loudspeakers, the hidden position of the binding posts could become a bit of a nuisance, and I was further surprised to find that the supposedly original G.R. plugs had been upgraded (most likely by the company itself) to more convenient wire clamps that sadly were too puny to accept the hollow beryllium-gold banana plugs of my confectioned Belden speaker cables. In search of a quick solution, I grabbed a disused run of Belden 9497 cables and simply clipped the bananas off at one end. I then slipped the tinned copper Belden wires directly into the clamps. This did the job of connecting the speakers to our Hafler XL280 power amplifier, and, as usual, the initial sound emanating from the speakers proved to be quite horrible. With the cables and speakers having been dormant for many months prior to my purchase and with one end of the cables having freshly been clipped, there was obvious need for homogenisation of materials and perhaps fluids.
Another aspect leading to the at first poor sonic impression was the positioning of the speakers in the listening room. At first, I had simply placed them at the markers that had worked well with our Martin Logan electrostatic speakers, and this was obviously not the perfect position for the Epicure 3.0. In this position, the speakers were standing too far apart, far from the room’s front wall, and toed in towards the listening position. On the Epicures, this placement led to an over-accentuation of treble and lower bass with a complete absence of bass punch. It was clear to me that the room was interacting unfavourably with the speakers, and I was reminded of an Excel spreadsheet that I had received from a fellow audiophile called Peter Englisch. This spreadsheet permitted the calculation of favourable speaker placement positions simply from entering the room dimensions. It seemed that the process of placing the Epicures would present a good opportunity for me to work with this new tool. Based on the dimensions of our main listening room, I received the following values:
Speaker-to-wall distances in centimetres:
The Front Wall distance was measured from the room’s front wall to the woofer-plain (near the voice coil); the Side Wall distances were measured from the left and right side walls to the centre-axis of the bass drivers, and the Floor-to-Woofer distance was measured from the room’s flooring to the centre-axis of the woofer. Speaking to Peter Englisch about how to best work with the values, I was reminded that, while the front wall distances should be identical between the left and the right channel, the side wall distances should not be the same. The need for different distances between the side walls resulted from the listening position normally being located midway between the speakers. If the speakers were also positioned symmetrically within the room’s walls, the result would be a cancellation of frequencies in the listening position.
I ended up with a front wall distance of 70 centimetres (which was 10-30 cm less than I usually positioned our speakers at) and a right channel to wall distance of 94 centimetres. The floor to woofer distance was naturally at about 56 centimetres with the Epicure 3.0. On the left channel I could not quite match the prescribed value, because of a door being in the way. I added round 5mm high and 40mm wide felt pads underneath the four scantlings to decouple the speakers from our hardwood floor for more tonality. The speakers were placed in parallel to the front wall to improve channel separation and bass agility. The Epicure 3.0’s freestanding invert-dome tweeter provided linear frequency response over a super-wide dispersion angle and was said to show variations by 3dB over a 180° angle only. This resulted in the speakers sounding relatively balanced anywhere across the room and even outside the listening room. When standing right next to the speakers or grabbing a cup of coffee from the kitchen, the emanating sound remained natural and balanced, more so than we were otherwise used to.
The Epicure 3.0’s unusually wide dispersion angle and its flat frequency response over the whole bandwidth was accompanied by excellent phase linearity resulting from the front plate being slanted backwards towards the pyramid top. Earlier models of manufacturers such as Cabasse, KEF, B&W, etc., had added additional cabinet boards under the bass and midrange drivers to reach a similar effect, but Epicure’s soft edge, soft slope approach would also lessen the unpleasantness caused by sound waves hitting on sharp edges. The pyramid structure had the advantage that the reflecting surface around each driver was proportional to the driver’s size, thus minimising harsh refractions. The tweeter and the midrange driver were housed in their own separate compartments, and there was little interference between the chassis that would jeopardise acoustic integrity. This resulted in low distortion, reduced time-smear, excellent transient response, and, above all, natural tonality.
On the 3.0 model, Epicure made use of a relatively large 140mm ferrofluid damped midrange driver that was allowed to mechanically roll off at 6 dB per octave from 75 Hz towards the woofer. Its potential high frequency content was kept from interfering with the tweeter via crossover at 2,600 Hz and 18 dB per octave. The bass driver was kept clear of the midrange by sloping at 12 dB per octave. Next to the active ferrofluid damping of the tweeter and midrange drivers, the model 3.0 eliminated internal resonances through a combination of bracing and anti-resonance matts. The resulting effect was a linear frequency response from a very low 32 Hz to 10,000 Hz over an impressive 180° angle. Needless to say, shoppers today would be hard-pressed to find loudspeakers that deliver a similar performance. And measured from the sweet spot, frequency response over the whole spectrum of human hearing was quoted at 32 to 20,000 Hz with a mere 3 dB variation towards the fringes.
With their high level of resonance absorption, the Epicure 3.0 turned out to be power hungry. Sensitivity was rated at a low 83 dB, which would have made them a companion for beefy amps. I did achieve good results driving them with a 40 WPC Dynavox VR-70 tube amp and with a 145 WPC Hafler XL-280 solid state amp. Epicure actually recommended amplifiers from 30 to 500 watts, and I can confirm this to be realistic, if the lower watts amplifiers are tube driven. Ferrofluid cooling made the speakers withstand even high levels of continuous power without any immediate danger of them overheating. Their impeccably flat impedance curve at 4 Ohms made the choice of amplifier relatively easy. With the foam grills in place, especially those covering the tweeters, listening at slightly elevated volumes proved to be more rewarding. However, for greater musical detail and nuance, the grills needed to be removed. Sadly, removing the frameless frontal grills without running the risk of breaking them in the process had long since become a challenge on my specimen. Perhaps to compensate for its wide dispersion angle, the tweeter’s output could be attenuated in -3dB steps. This could be a practical feature, for instance when highly reflecting side walls contributed to the amplification of the output signal in an undesirable fashion.
In my extensive listening tests, the Epicure 3.0 played all kinds of music program, film score, and effects with ease. While their specific sonic character was not immediately noticeable and would be difficult to spot by the casual listener, these speakers certainly had the potential to surprise. Their linear response made them sound rather inconspicuous until the music program itself demanded attention. From the beginning, I was perplexed by the Epicure 3.0’s bass response and extension to which there was no warning. While other speakers would let you guess their intrinsic abilities by the sound signature they produced, the Epicure were capable of dishing out bass attacks without even the faintest hint of having this ability. And these bass moments could either be surprisingly low or astonishingly loud, depending on the music chosen. I would have expected this kind of bass from a subwoofer, perhaps, but I had never actually heard a subwoofer that was so well integrated with the music and not once seemed misplaced.
In our setup, the Epicure 3.0 performed well in terms of smoothness, balance, and natural tonality. They were not the most exciting sounding speakers in and of themselves, but they were always ready to accentuate the music when this was called for. I enjoyed the natural sound and kick of percussions and the many tonal layers by which the music was presented. In the field of tonal separation, the model 3.0 was similar if not superior to the EPI 500 series. Stereo imaging was not as wide and crisp as on the EPI 500 when sitting in the sweet spot, but it was far superior to the EPI 500 when listening from almost all other positions in the room. In my nightly sessions I noticed that the model 3.0 took the whole room into the acoustic equation which had its advantages when it came to maintaining lots of musical nuance. Some listeners had described the Epicure’s freestanding tweeters to have an ambience effect, however, this was something that I did not notice as outstanding or even care for so much.
Listening to the performance of the Epicure 3.0, it was difficult for me to imagine that these had been relatively affordable speakers at the time that could be purchased by a university student. But then again, the 70s and 80s were still about showing customers what was possible in HiFi, and the Epicure 3.0 did strech those boundaries.