Well built and attractively styled miniature at a competitive price. Bass is solid, treble is smooth and sweet, but lack of presence energy impairs intelligibility especially at low listening levels, while dynamics lack grip
Very well built and styled
With careful positioning bass is solid and quite even
Treble is smooth and sweet
Not good for late-at-night listening
Lacks dynamic vigour
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According to Epos, the new ELS 8 has been designed to develop a wider bandwidth and have improved appearance. It has a larger, internally braced cabinet made from substantial 18mm-thick board, with a stylish curved front baffle to reduce diffraction.
Certainly it's a very good-looking example of the type, albeit studiedly conventional and conservative in shape.
The 150mm bass/mid driver has a moulded frame, a 100mm diameter polypropylene cone and a pointy central dust dome that moves with the cone. A new 25mm metal dome tweeter has a very shallow horn-shaped front plate and is claimed to supply smoother and more extended high frequencies.
The speaker comes in a choice of light maple or black vinyl finishes, the former a very fine imitation indeed. The rear panel accommodates a relatively large-diameter port, which is tuned to 56hz and a single pair of good quality-terminals feeds second order crossover network arms, with film capacitors in the tweeter feed. A removable cloth grille fixes to tiny and very discreet black lugs. A partnering Epos ST35 stand is available, though we actually used our reference Kudos S100s.
Sensitivity is conservatively rated at a modest 85dB, alongside an impedance described, again conservatively, as '6 ohms nominal'. In fact, both figures err on the cautious side: we'd be generous and go for 86dB sensitivity, while pointing out that the impedance stays above 6 ohms throughout, indicating an 8 ohm rating. Though an easy enough load from the amplifier's perspective, the modest sensitivity will probably put a ceiling on the loudness capability.
The specification that accompanies the Epos recommends that the ELS 8 should be located, at least, eight inches (20cms) out from a wall, presumably to avoid the wall interfering with the rearward output from the port.
According to our in-room far-field averaged technique, this gives as good a 'power response' as any, though in truth none of the locations we tried gave a particularly smooth, even or flat tonal balance. Certainly this speaker needs some help from a nearby wall, in order to avoid sounding too lean and lacking through the mid-bass region.
A related problem is that the closer a speaker is to a wall, the more the reflection will interfere with and cause peaks and/or troughs in the midband, so a compromise has to be found. Under our conditions, the best overall siting seemed to be with the speakers a little more than a foot out from the wall (say 30-35cms for metric fans).
There's some exaggeration around 50hz, because the 56hz port tuning frequency is very close to a major standing wave in our room, but for the rest the bass end is reasonably well-balanced with worthwhile extension down to 40hz under in-room conditions.
Further up the band, output in the upper bass and lower midband is a trifle lean, but then starts rising towards a prominent region in the upper midband, 800hz- 1.2khz, followed by a rather steep drop of about 8dB into a suckout at around 1.8khz, which doesn't bode well for voice reproduction.
Happily, the treble above 2khz looks smooth and well judged and reasonably well extended – the tweeter's dome diaphragm resonance occurring above 20khz. However, while the top end trace does indeed look significantly smoother than that found in the ELS 303, the ELS 8's crossover transition is rather less well handled, with a rather more obvious suckout at a rather more sensitive (ie lower) frequency.
The sucked-out presence zone tends to dominate the sonic character of this speaker. Bob Dylan's excellent Theme Time Radio Hour (broadcasts every Thursday evening on Radio 2), requires one to listen rather quietly because it goes out at a very anti-social time slot. This can be difficult with the ELS 8 because of the way consonants – especially sibilants and fricatives – are somewhat suppressed. Dylan's speaking voice isn't the easiest to understand at the best of times, but with these speakers we had to turn the volume up higher than we'd normally like, to hear what was going on.
The upside, of course, is that it's quite difficult to make these speakers sound aggressive. Sticking with the Dylan theme, his harmonica work on Highway 61 Revisited can be unpleasantly edgy and altogether too close-miked for comfort. However, this was not the case with the ELS 8.
The speakers rendered the harmonica much more tolerable than usual and allowed the volume to be turned up quite high without any significant discomfort. However, dynamic expression and grip are both a little weak and while stereo imaging is spacious and free from boxiness, the focus could be tighter, and we found depth a little flattened in our testing.
If the relative lack of presence energy is this speaker's most salient subjective feature, then the ELS 8 is not without its merits. Timing and overall coherence is impressive and it's very clear that the tough little enclosure is doing a very good job. The top end too, is sweet, clean and very nicely judged.
Ultimately, the ELS 8 is fundamentally inoffensive and is unlikely to reveal any unpleasantness during performance if used with low cost sources and amplification, but the end result is inescapably closer to bland than invigorating.