SnapAV Episode ES-HT900-LCR-6 Speakers
Aug 2, 2011 4:37 PM, by John McJunkin
Aesthetically pleasing speakers when in-wall or traditional pro audio speakers won't do.
There are speaker applications that require exceptional fidelity and preclude the use of in-wall units, and the specification of a typical professional loudspeaker wrapped in black cloth and heavy black metal grille will not do for aesthetic reasons. For example, think of an executive suite with a slick European motif—dance club speakers just won’t blend aesthetically. And indeed, there may occasionally be architectural reasons why in-wall speakers simply cannot be used. SnapAV offers its Episode line of speakers to meet just these types of application (and they do, in fact, also offer in-wall speakers as well). The company's ES-HT900-LCR-6 speaker falls right into this category, and I spent time with a pair, and I am frankly amazed.
SnapAV has developed a speaker cone material that they refer to as an NCS (natural cell structure) substance, a hybrid of Kevlar, which lends strength; and paper, which offers natural damping. The result is an open cell structure that delivers tighter bass with lower distortion, according to SnapAV. After some pretty extensive listening, I would definitely agree with that claim. The low end sounds full and round, but not tubby. There are two 6.5in. woofers in the enclosure, further reinforced by a flared front-firing port. As one might imagine, two woofers more than 6in. are not going to deliver earth-shaking low end to anger the neighbors. But through the important part of the spectrum for speakers of this size, they do the trick very effectively, tailing off at 6dB down at 47Hz. I was not bowled over by the bass, but it is sufficient, and more importantly, very natural sounding.
The speakers feature magnetic planar ribbon tweeters of 4.5in. in length. This is a premium attribute that very positively enhances the overall fidelity of the package. The ribbon is made of Kapton, a polyimide film that has been used extensively in various space programs. The tweeters’ dispersion is horizontally wide but vertically narrower in order to avoid floor and ceiling reflections. I was truly impressed with the large, open image the tweeters delivered. The high end was smoothly dispersed across the spectrum, and not harsh or brittle in any way. The speaker offers a Screen EQ setting, which is a high-shelf type boost of 3dB above 3kHz intended to compensate for the high-frequency absorbing grille cloth. Even with this boost engaged, the high end delivered by this speaker is smooth, creamy, and very open-sounding. I might even go out on a limb and say that the tweeters are the finest feature of these speakers.
The speaker cabinet is formed of 3/4in. MDF, and it’s 12"x18"x13" and weighs in at 35lb. This feels a little hefty to me, considering the size of the cabinet, and in this case, that’s a good thing—it indicates a welcome solidity of construction. A matte black finish coats the cabinet, and the edges and corners are ever so slightly rounded. The grille cloth is stretched over a plastic frame that snaps on to the front face of the cabinet. Looking straight on at the cabinet, the two LF drivers reside at the top and bottom, dominating the left 5/8th or so of the face. Between them is the speaker’s tapered port, which is rectangular in shape and oriented horizontally. Directly to its right and oriented vertically is the ribbon tweeter, and above that is a plate with two pushbutton switches; one is for the Screen EQ setting and the other for Boundary Compensation, a low-shelf type cut of 3dB below 80Hz, which helps to decrease boomy-ness if the speaker must be located in proximity to a wall or furniture or other boundary.
The speaker’s rear panel has a recessed binding post assembly that facilitates connection of the amp to the speaker in either full-bandwidth or bi-amplified mode. This is an appreciated option that can increase fidelity and grant the user control over the crossover frequency, should that be desirable. The speaker’s internal crossover is fixed at 2.6kHz, which to my ear is a great place for the transition. It’s smooth and not very noticeable. One other very innovative characteristic featured by these speakers is the capacity to rotate the orientation of the tweeter by 90 degrees by swapping it with the bass reflex port—very clever. Similarly, the pushbutton switch plate can be rotated so that the print on its face is in the proper orientation; this isn't necessary for proper operation, but it's useful for aesthetic purposes. As alluded to in the name, these speakers are very much appropriate for use in multi-channel applications (hence the “LCR” designation), and it would be necessary to rotate the center channel’s tweeter orientation by 90 degrees to get the proper image in an LCR application. I like this feature a lot.
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