The Avance Epsilon 980 Loudspeakers
|9 May 1999|
Type: 3 Way Ported Floor Standing
Bass/Midrange: 2 × 7″ Scanspeak Drivers
High Frequency Driver: 3/4″ Scanspeak Tweeter
Frequency Range: 38-20,000 Hz
Impedance: 4 Ohm
Recommended Power: 50-200 watts
Size, H/W/D: 39″× 8.3″ × 13.8″
Price: $2,099 Recommended Retail
After spending countless hours listening, and breaking in, many different loudspeakers during and after the making of StereoTimes, I must tip my hat to designer Poul Rossing, president of Avance International. Not for making a splendid sounding loudspeaker (read: easy to break-in), but for making an affordably priced speaker that just happens to sound good. Real good!
The Epsilon 980s, in my opinion, are heir to the throne of $2,000-$3,000 floor standing loudspeakers. Actual cost is $2,099, but the real question should be “how?” How has he managed to keep the price so low? Consider this: the competition asks way more when boasting even less “PPC” (premium parts count). Consider if you will: dual 7″ Kevlar woven Scanspeak midrange drivers equipped with massive motor assemblies and extra-large voice coils. The Epsilon’s 3/4″ fabric dome tweeter, specially designed with a concave mounting flange. First and third order crossovers are employed perfectly inphase; first order on the mid/woofers while a third order high pass crossover is used on the tweeters to improve power handling. Solid construction of the cabinet was apparent in my knuckle rap test. Up, down and along the sides I rapped verifying that this speakers a solid design. I’m told, up to 35mm MDF was used in design and construction to deal with any unwanted resonance (and hard-hitting knuckle rappers).
Listening was done using the 980’s five feet out from the front wall exactly in the same spot my reference, (albeit, sadly out of business) Von Schweikert VR6’s were set. The amplifiers were Odyssey Line’s new stereo Stratos 150, Blue Circle’s wonderful single-ended BC6 and Lamm’s incredible M1.1 mono’s.
The digital front end was Ed Meitner’s recently updated (3/99) Bidat processor and transport which require no intermediate preamplifier. All cabling is the excellent Harmonic Technology. The Epsilons standard dual binding posts, allowed bi-wire capabilities with the HT’s Pro 9 speaker cables. Needless to say, the 980’s were ready to dance!
Here’s a three-way ported floor standing speaker that reasonably reproduces the full frequency range along with an impressive dose of dynamics. But the Avance 980, in truth, really wins in the area that counts most, and where many others fail in this price range, and that is…Envelope please: the midrange!
Whether choosing between the silky smooth saxophone of Ike Qubec or the hypnotic tenor phrasings of Jose Cura, the Epsilon 980 proved more than competent. The Epsilons kept the music intact, clean and open with a remarkable sense of resolve, timbre and correct tonality. Ike Qubec’s stylistic phrasing in It Might As Well Be Spring, (Blue Note 99178) revealed this speakers true character. The bold, big sound that becomes immediate in Quebec’s approach is never compromised. The 980’s performance is seamless, from top to bottom, as though listening to one driver. It never shouts or draws attention to itself; it allows the listener to become involved on a more intimate level with Quebec’s tenor expressions. It was amusing to grasp this level of resolution and sophistication in the Epsilon 980’s. These speakers handle jazz in an exemplary manner.
So, I thought, lets see how well behaved this baby is with the dynamic intricacies of the Philharmonic orchestra featuring Jose Cura (Erato 18838-2). This excellent audiophile recording took the 980’s on a rhythmic trial that showed how well put together this speaker really is. Listening to Nessun Dorma, an instant liability with speakers of lesser design, was a pleasure with this speaker. When played at realistic volume, Cura’s voice typically breaks up and compression of the background choral is heard. This reduces the overall size and scale of this magnificent performance. The 980’s showed their true merit in the realistic replica of Jose’s’ voice, neither faint nor forward but solidified dead center between the loudspeakers. There is however, a slight sense of strain when attempting to push these babies. That told me when I was driving them too far and they do not reproduce the same sense of effortlessness as high efficiency designs such as the 96db VR6’s.
That’s not to say, dear reader, what I have before me isn’t a revelation in it’s price class. Bear in mind the cost normally associated with loudspeakers supposedly capable of recreating this scale of soundstage and imagery. Never light in the pants either, the 980’s reproduce a tangible, beefy, yet realistic bass that will surprise most big speaker lovers when you consider it’s intermediate size.
What about the potential system buyer on the serious budget?
Okaaaay…you wanna play rufffff…lemmee inaa-duce yuutu my liddle friennnd! Wahhla! Enter the $1,299 Odyssey Stratos 150 stereo amp, along with Bob Finch’s delightfully affordable line of Custom House Cables strapped to these marvelous loudspeakers.
What you now have is the most inexpensive separates offering the best sound I recall hearing from a system in this price range….ever! Example number one: when some of my friends came over for a visit; I played the incredible Stevie Ray Vaughan cut, “Tin Pan Alley,” from the killer Couldn’t Stand The Rain disc. This disc easily demonstrated all the finesse, speed, bass definition and control one could wish for in a system at this price range. Stevie’s guitar sounded so clean and so sharp and detailed, without a hint of that etched upper treble emphasis noted on some systems costing far more. My friends swore up and down that the system cost much more than it did. They considered it a bargain if the cost were between three and five grand.
Grasshopper….Snatch this Pebble from My Hand
The Epsilon 980 is a bargain hunter’s dream, an audiophile’s starter kit of the highest order. You’ll literally have to scour the earth like Cane from Kung Fu to find, both in terms of build, parts, and performance, a better loudspeaker. Quite simply it is a more expensive loudspeaker that’s affordable. Need I say more?
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