Epos Loudspeakers Are Born Again Under Karl-Heinz Fink
- Frequency Response: 40 Hz – 23 kHz (-6dB)
- Impedance: Average > 6 Ohm, Minimum 4.3 Ohm @ 160Hz
- Sensitivity: 87dB
- Dimensions: 19.33” x 9.84” x 15.16”
- Weight: 35.3 lbs
Depending your audio background, you might have fond memories of Epos speakers. The British loudspeaker manufacturer has changed hands a few times since it was founded in 1983 by former BBC engineer Robin Marshall, who had just finished a successful stint designing speakers for Monitor Audio when he decided to go his own way. (The company is not connected to the homonymous maker of and business headsets, formerly known as Sennheiser Communications.)
The first Epos loudspeaker model, the ES 20, never made it across the pond to the USA. But the company’s second effort — a medium-sized, ported 2-way stand-mounted speaker called the ES 14 — became hugely popular in the mid 1980s, both here and in the UK. In 1988, Epos was sold to Mordaunt-Short, which itself had just been bought up by the TGI group (Tannoy). In that same year, TGI acquired the electronics brand Creek Audio; Creek electronics and Epos speakers were often sold together. In 1994, Creek Audio founder Mike Creek bought his company back from TGI. In 1999, he bought Epos as well (after TGI sold Mordaunt-Short to Audio Partnership, the manufacturing/sourcing division of the company that owns Cambridge Audio.) Epos put out some very good speakers under Mike Creek’s ownership — I auditioned some of the M-series models at length back in the mid 2000s — but it never recaptured the “audio icon” status that it had in its heyday. In recent years, the company sort of fell off the map; I don’t recall hearing about a new Epos speaker since around 2014, when Mike Creek’s son Luke became the Epos brand director and introduced the lifestyle-oriented Epos K-Series. But in early 2020, Epos was briefly back in the audio headlines when the German loudspeaker designer Karl-Heinz Fink announced that he had bought the company and was going to start from scratch with new designs.
I’m happy to continue a well-established British brand that started its life with some great products, showing the unusual ideas of the founder, Robin Marshall. When he started Epos, it was not just a brand like many others, but unique in many ways. Be prepared to see more unconventional ideas in our new Epos loudspeakers.
— Karl-Heinz Fink, in 2020
Karl-Heinz Fink already makes seriously high-end loudspeakers under the brand, but he is best known for running Europe’s most successful acoustics design consultancy. Fink and co have designed speakers for Q Acoustics, Tannoy, Boston Acoustics, and countless other companies, some of which do not advertise the fact that they farm out their loudspeaker design to a third party. But now that Karl-Heinz Fink is becoming a household name in audio — joining the ranks of Andrew Jones, Paul Barton, Richard Vandersteen, et al. — some companies, including , are all-too happy to brag that their newest products were designed by Fink. The Fink Team speakers have 5-figure prices that naturally limit the customer base. Now the Epos brand will give Fink an opportunity to reach more people by way of its less expensive offerings, boosted by the name recognition provided by Epos. The first new Epos speaker will be the spiritual successor to the original ES 14. According to Fink, that means “a 2-way speaker in a fairly big… and classic-looking cabinet, to be used on a dedicated stand. The design should be classic, not lifestyle, only doing things that help with the sound, and as straight-forward as possible.” Fink spent the better part of two years on the design process, and he documented various milestones on his . He comes across as a no-nonsense designer with a belief that “measurements are not everything, but solid measurements can help to make better speakers.” The result of his efforts is the new Epos ES14N, which is expected to launch in September of 2022, selling for around $4,700 per pair (exact pricing TBA).
Like its namesake from the 1980s, the new ES14N is a 2-way ported speaker combining a 7-inch mid-woofer with a metal dome tweeter. But that’s where the similarities end. This isn’t a tweaked reboot of a retro design; it’s completely new from the ground up. The 7-inch cone is made from Polypropylene, a material chosen for its ability to be made with various fillers (such as mica), and injection-molded into intricate shapes with variations in thickness. Fink says that the driver design includes compensation for a high-resistance air coil, and that the use of a low-damping rubber surround contributes to good dynamics with very low coloration. The 36mm voice coil uses an 18mm-long, 2-layer winding of copper wire on a non-metallic former made of fiberglass and epoxy. Computer simulation was used to optimize the shape of the magnet in order to yield the best linear motor strength and a very low variation in inductance over the movement of the coil. Fink says that this design results in the lowest level of linear distortion and intermodulation distortion — a far cry from the magnet systems used in the 1980s. Fink explains the magnet system as follows: “The main magnet is a Ferrite type, the flux compensation magnet reduces the stray field of the magnet and set the right BL (motor strength) for the cabinet size. A Neodymium disk on the pole piece made the BL more linear and a metal phase plug helps to move heat from the coil. All the parts are mounted into a very strong glass-filled plastic basket made from scratch. The material was chosen for the combination of stiffness and good damping.”
The tweeter dome is made of a ceramic-coated aluminum alloy, which offers greater stiffness than pure aluminum. The 28mm voice coil reportedly provides better performance at the lower end of the tweeter’s operating range, while the fabric surround and “shaped Mode control ring” help push the tweeter’s resonance peak up to 30 kHz, well beyond the limit of human hearing. Distortion is minimized by the use of Ferrite magnets in the magnet system, which allow for more “air“ behind the dome and the surround, according to Fink. He states that Ferrite is the better material for a tweeter if a small size is not needed, since Ferrite magnets avoid the compression and harmonic distortion caused by too-small cavities within the tweeter’s physical design. At very high frequencies, a copper cap in the magnet reportedly reduces distortion and increases output. According to Fink, the tweeter does not use a waveguide “for sound reasons.” (I imagine that means it sounds better without one.) There is, however, a perforated metal grille to protect the dome. The grille is not removable, but Fink assures us that the speaker was voiced with the grille in place. Fink points out that the tweeter does not use Ferrofluid in the gap to suppress the resonance frequency of the tweeter. Although Ferrofluid “sounds like a good idea,” Fink asserts that it changes behavior depending on the level and style of music being played, and that it’s “a very non-linear process” that makes the tweeter’s sound inconsistent. According to Fink, “Tweeters with no Ferrofluid are more open and natural and show less dynamic compression compared to standard tweeters with Ferrofluid.” The tweeter is mounted to the cabinet via a massive metal plate that only touches the cabinet at 4 points, around the fastening screws. Fink says that this element of the design, taken from Roy George of NAIM (with his blessing, of course), reduces energy transfer between the tweeter and the front baffle of the cabinet. Internally, the tweeter is built into its own cavity within the cabinet.
Speaking of the cabinet, Fink says that it has roughly the same volume as the original ES 14, owing to the fact that the driver configuration and the defined bandwidth of the new speaker are similar to those of its predecessor. But it’s plain to see that the shape of the ES14N’s cabinet is different, featuring a slanted front baffle that time-aligns the two drivers while simultaneously combatting standing waves that might otherwise develop between the front and back of the cabinet. The rear-mounted port is specially shaped to minimize air flow noise, with internal openings in the port tube to compensate for open tube resonance. These openings are covered with soft material and tuned to kill unwanted port resonances without causing the speaker to lose low-end performance, according to Fink. The two-layer MDF cabinet uses “the latest generation of damping glue” between the fiberboard layers. Fink says that this new adhesive material is more consistent and allows for easier production. The panels are braced internally “to control the panel vibration modes and reduce the unwanted radiation of the whole cabinet.” Internal damping material is used sparingly. The front baffle includes an extra plate that is both glued and screwed onto the main cabinet. The front plate has a 45° chamfer around it to control diffraction around 2000–3000Hz. Fink does not recommend listening with the included grilles in place. All speaker designers face the challenge of working around one big unknown: the listening room. Fink goes into more detail than most when discussing the choices he made around the cabinet and the way it will inevitably interact with different rooms. He chose a “flat 4th-order alignment with a tuning frequency of 38Hz,” noting that this configuration plays nicely with the bottom-end room gain of many listening rooms, allowing for “fast and precise bottom end when used in the right position in the room.” On the back of the speaker, you won’t find big and chunky five-way binding posts. Although common on high-end loudspeaker designs, Fink says that these are high-cost parts that don’t justify their price tags. Instead, the ES14N uses recessed 4mm banana sockets, which Fink says offer the best sound. They connect directly to the crossover, which sits on the inside of the rear panel.
I was not really excited to follow some rules that were used in the 1980s. That was when I started my journey in HiFi and hey, I think I learnt something in the last 35 years that I wanted to use. (But) I found an interview with Robin Marshall, made many years after he sold the brand and moved on. (He) said clearly that he did the speakers based on the ideas and know-how he had at that time – not more and not less. That sounded like my way: trying to stretch boundaries and not copying the past. So I made the deal with Mike Creek and this was the beginning of the new Epos story.
— Karl-Heinz Fink
Redesigning Classic Designs Minus the Retro
I think it’s interesting that Fink didn’t go for a super-retro aesthetic, given the ES14N’s heritage, and the recent success of retro-inspired speakers like the , the Wharfedale Linton, PSB Passif, KLH Model Five, and the Mission 770. The somewhat utilitarian look of the ES14N might not be for everybody, but the speakers will certainly look their best on the dedicated 22-inch stands (sold separately, price TBA), which are built around a massive wooden bar that combines 4 layers of wood, joined together by the same damping glue used in the speaker cabinets. The speaker sits on a two-layer steel top plate, with a layer of Bitumen (mineral tar) in the middle to absorb vibrations. The thick steel bottom plate attaches to adjustable spikes. The ES14N will be available in Walnut veneer, or semi-matte white or black paint. It’s safe to assume that the ES14N is only the first in a series of new Epos models coming from Karl-Heinz Fink. Will this once-iconic brand reclaim its former glory under Fink’s guiding hand?
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I also had a good test experience with a replacement speaker which had a ceramic tweeter. But I can't understand the insistence on keeping the Epos name when there is nothing left of that name. I think he should just start a new brand of his own.
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