Author: Karsten Hein
I listened to my first pair of Epicure speakers at Luigi’s house about two years ago. As Luigi was a seasoned audiophile who had provided me with many valuable insights over the years, I was a little sceptical at first to find the small and unpretentious-looking Epicure 20+ set up in the same position where his majestic Snell A3 had been before. However, I need not have worried, because these speakers sounded great despite their awkward and smallish look, or perhaps even because of this.
I kept the name 'Epicure' in positive memory, and, in early 2022, I picked up my very own pair of Epicure speakers from Würzburg in Bavaria. I did not want to buy the same model that Luigi had found for himself and was more attracted to the larger EPI 500 speakers that were also about ten years younger than the 20+ (from the 1980s rather than the 70s). Once I had the EPI 500 at our house, it took me a few weeks to learn how to position them properly. They were particularly fussy about their coupling towards the floor. In the end, I prevailed and they sounded great.
In the very beginning of listening to the EPI 500, I noticed a slight scraping of one of the midrange drivers. It was only on some frequencies and so short that I was never sure if the noise had been signal clipping or really mechanical scraping. In the end, it did not matter much, because I knew that the ferrofluid-cooled midrange drivers were still the originals and around forty years old. The driver that I suspected of scraping even smelled of burnt resin when I held my nose really close to the cone. Before each longer listening session, I would move this particular driver by hand a few times, carefully pressing down on the lower end of the cone surround. The midrange driver, being slightly corrected in trajectory, usually worked without noise for a few hours after this.
I loved the sound of these speakers, and, from personal experience, I knew that they could compete with some very pricy modern designs. Therefore, when Luigi called me up to tell me about another Epicure set on offer, I did not have to think about it very long. A pair of Epicure 3.0 was being sold in Berlin, and I knew that Luigi had initially been planning to purchase them for himself, until, finally, his wife revealed that she did not like the strange pyramid shape at all. I consequently showed the speakers to my wife, Sabina, who gave me instant approval. With all the preliminaries being settled, I only had to work out a plan on how to arrange for the transport from Berlin to Frankfurt am Main. Luckily, I had some highly supportive friends in Berlin who helped me make this possible. Enrico did a fabulous job, and I was indeed grateful.
Despite everyone’s sincere effort, one of the Epicure 3.0 tweeter’s inverse paper domes had a slight tear down its centre that was most likely from material fatigue. While the tear was never audible to me when listening to music from my usual 3 meters listening distance, I could see it expanding with each new session. This meant I now had two Epicure speakers that I enjoyed listening to a lot, but that each had a flaw which would make my pleasure short-lived and selling them later a nearly impossible task. After all, to knowingly sell broken speakers might work for some people, but it did not work for me.
Ever since my first research on Epicure speakers, I had come across the Human Speakers company in New Hampshire. At this time, it had just been an address in the USA for me, albeit, not too far from my former US home in White Plains, New York. On the Human Speakers website, I had read that Huw Powell offered parts and services for Epicure speakers. However, I did not know how old and accurate this information was, how old Huw himself was, if he could provide shipment to Germany, and if the parts were of sufficient quality and would manage to be integrated seamlessly in the otherwise pretty flawless Epicure designs. — On the other hand, I had little choice but to take the plunge and hope to end up in good hands.
I first sent Huw an e-mail to explain about my problems with the EPI 500 midrange drivers and Epicure 3.0 tweeters and ask him for advice. He informed me that he had designed replacement drivers that would blend in with the existing fixtures and crossovers in a way as to complement the original Epicure design. If there was any difference at all, he wrote, the new components sounded ‘better’. This made me a little apprehencious of what to expect, nevertheless I placed my order using my credit card and saw that there was a reservation in the amount of my purchase soon after. The drivers were built following my order and arrived at our doorstep just two weeks later. I was relieved to hold the little box of speaker parts in my hands.
I first unpacked and installed the midrange drivers on the EPI 500. Removing the original drivers was simple. I unscrewed each driver, taking care not to damage the foam surround and foam rubber insulator underneath. The wires were simply plugged in rather than soldered in place which required minimal effort from side. When screwing in the new PRO 025 driver, I noticed that the outer ring was not reinforced with a rim, as had been the case on the originals. As a consequence, the outer edges folded downward when fastening the screws. Huw suggested to stop tightening the screws right where they started to bend the chassis. However, this position gave the drivers' chassis a metallic ringing when touched. And so I tightened the screws until the ringing was deadened by the speaker cabinet.
It is possible that later EPI 500 versions had a slightly larger cutout in which the PRO 025 would have fit even better. I guess, I could have sanded the rim of the cutout before placing the new driver, but I decided that the slight bending would not matter and that I should give the EPI 500 a good listen first. I am glad that I did, because the new midrange drivers not only blended in with the original design and sound signature, they also enhanced midrange imaging and brought the whole listening experience to a new level. Reading about sonic improvements on Huw's website was one thing, but hearing this with my own ears was another. The EPI 500 still sounded tonally rich and painted wonderful natural instruments, but there now was a new sense of order in the mix that—once heard—I would not want to miss again.
Very pleased with my first repair project, I unpacked the Epicure 3.0 tweeters. The first tweeter was in good shape and was easily installed, involving only a limited amount of soldering. The original paper inverse dome tweeters had been round in shape and had stood out like protruding eyeballs. Their new replacements were semi-circles forming an arch on top of each pyramid. Although I liked the original design and would have preferred to preserve it for nostalgia sake, I could also see that the new design was a visual improvement.
To install the new tweeter, I carefully took off the plastic ring around the midrange, made note of the wiring and unplugged the driver. This gave me free access to the underside of the tweeter mount, where I could then easily loosen the screws that held both the tweeter and the o-rings for the wiring. I cut off the o-rings and soldered the replacement wires that Huw had sent into place after leading them through the two small cabinet holes that had been left empty by the original tweeter. The new PRO 002 tweeter was placed on top of the cabinet with the back of the driver plate about 40mm from the front baffle.
I could have easily replaced both tweeters within a single repair session, however, I was sad to see the second tweeter rolling out of the bubble film packaging in two parts. Without obvious damage to the packaging and also without any damage to the other parts inside, the face plate had come off on this tweeter. Looking at the parts, I first believed that we could fix the tweeter and even discussed this option with my trusted technician, but we soon learned that the face plate had been bumping against the voice coil during shipment which had led to the dome being dented inward.
I called Huw to explain what had happened, and he offered to send me a replacement for the broken tweeter. Two weeks later, a fully functional PRO 002 tweeter arrived in the mail, and the second Epicure 3.0 was finally repaired. Without having given the speakers a good listening test, yet, I can only say that the sound is a little brighter than it was before, especially with the treble adjustment on the speakers themselves set on flat. While the preferred tweeter level (0, -3, -6 dB) will depend on placement and listening distance, I have achieved good results dialling the treble down by 3 dB. The harder dome material has made the sound slightly more modern and less forgiving of poor recordings, but I will need to set up a proper test before I can report on final results.
[Listening test in progress...]