Osborn Loudspeakers
     Model Epitome MK V

             Source: NewView Audio Tech
             Price: $8,500.00 Cdn (Epitome MK V)
                                                      $4,950.00 Cdn (Epitome bass units optional)
                                                       $13,450.00 Cdn (combined)
                                                       Rating:
                                                     
  (Ratings 3 notes = Excellent.  4 notes = Best we have seen)

                          

 As we stated in our last issue, high - end audio gear is designed in almost all of the civilized world and the Osborn speakers under review are a perfect example. Osborn Loudspeakers is an Australia company that has been in business since 1984. The company offers ten models, including HT systems and, while shipping to North America and duties add considerably to the costs, they must be considered relatively inexpensive when performance is used as the yardstick.

Appearance:
These loudspeakers are very large, all four enclosures. The main cabinets measure 45.5 inches high, 15 inches wide, 18 inches deep and weigh a hefty 150 pounds. The bass units measure the same width and depth as the mains, but stand "only" 37 inches high and weigh 100 pounds each. Each enclosure offers gold - plated binding posts Bi - wiring for the main speakers) with a rear opening sporting 4 inch round ports.

 
(As the Epitomes are very efficient designs, low-powered amplifiers can easily drive them)

Technology
Let us begin with the cabinet construction that houses the speaker's components. The entire system consists of four enclosures, all massive wooden structures braced throughout to yield a solid resonance restrictive environment.
The main enclosure accommodates three drivers, a Focal 1 inch inverted dome tweeter, a 6.5 inch bextrene cone midrange and a 9 inch paper cone woofer. In the main enclosure, the midrange driver operates in its own vented chamber and, according to the company, is enabled to handle      low frequency within its range. Bass is augmented by the 9 inch paper cone woofer, operating in its own chamber within the main enclosure. The Epitomes are two way systems with subwoofers in their dedicated rear - vented enclosures. The separate subwoofer enclosures accommodate another, identical, 9 inch paper cone bass driver which operates within the same volume and offers the same port size as in the main loudspeaker. Thus, when both enclosures are connected, the two subwoofers (per channel) present more bass energy, not necessarily additional bass. The bass units operate under 55Hz and therefore are true subs. An electronic crossover can be used, of course. For those so inclined, a small toggle switch on each main enclosure allows choosing sound with or without the separate bass enclosures. Frequency response for the main speakers is quoted from 20Hz to 18kHz +/- 3dB) The subs will go down to 14Hz (at -1OdB). Though a 6.5 ohm system, when the sub is used the system operates at 4 ohms.

             (The Osborns' capabilities almost refute the belief that only small speakers can image appropriately)                     

The Sound
As the Epitomes are very efficient designs, low powered amplifiers, such as single-ended designs, can easily drive them to deafening volume levels. Thus, we connected a pair of Antique Sound Lab monoblocks,  reviewed in this issue, for our first auditioning session. The Chord preamplifier, reviewed in this issue, a Sugden preamplifier, reviewed in our last issue (Vol. 12#0 and our in house Wyetech Opal preamplifier were  also used. Cabling was accomplished with Nordost Quattro Fil interconnects, Nordost SPM and the Audioquest Everest speaker cables, also reviewed in this issue. A Bryston and a McIntosh amp was used for  further sessions. Source components included the Audio Alchemist DAC/DT1 Pro Elite and our trusted  Magnum Dynalab MD 108 tuner.
The setup was a bit tricky as we had to accommodate four large enclosures. We positioned the main speakers in our usual auditioning spot - that's about 7 feet apart and the sub enclosures 16 inches behind and inside the main enclosures. We reasoned that - as in any good subwoofer setup - the deep bass energy will arrive at the listeners' position coherently with the upper frequencies. Though we were prepared to experiment regarding positioning, our first try yielded the appropriate tonal integration. The listening sessions began and it didn't take very long for our panellists to determine that the Osborns offered similarities to the JMIab Mezzos (reviewed in Vol. 12#3). Specifically, the highs were wonderfully succinct, while retaining smoothness right up to the dog - whistle range (the house cat confirmed this). Upper midrange information was handled with absolute clarity, missing nothing in delicate inner detail, but with best results using the Antique Sound Lab monoblocks. Bass (with or without sub enclosures) was most realistic using the Bryston 8B ST amplifier. This combination introduced a high degree of resolution with the sub bass enclosures in operation. The ASLs, though superior in the midrange and highs, didn't quite wrap up deep bass resolution when connected to the Osborns. The McIntosh MC 602 amplifier (reviewed in Vol. 12#4) did a wonderful job in the high and midband area, but failed to match the performance of the Bryston in resolving deep bass Thus every amplifier or preamplifier introduced differences?none came up with mediocre sound and all provided musicality galore.
Every single system configuration showed that these full - bodied, large speakers can disappear - sonically, that is. Every panellists commented that the Osborns can captivate and delight listeners with their ability to transcend their location. Imaging- on the horizontal and vertical plain - is, if not out of this world, most certainly out of the speakers. Conspicuous front - to - back information, plenty of air around instruments and voices and admirable focal information makes these big, but versatile enclosures perform as well as small enclosures Except for their size, dictating a sizable listening room for set?up, the Osborns imaging capabilities almost refute the belief that only small speakers can image appropriately. The system's tonal balance is very good, though sometimes leaning toward more energy in the bottom midrange when large orchestral information is played back. Switching the bass units in and out of the circuitry didn't change the tonal equilibrium of the Epitomes, but subtly enhanced bass performance. Thus, the single stereo set?up played in a small listening room offers very sophisticated midrange and enough bass to please the beast. The added subs may diminish midrange refinement just slightly, but will sound richer in overall texture - a choice left to the overall user, as it should be.

             (The Bass units operate under 55Hz and therefore are true subs)

Synopsis & Commentary:

These loudspeakers look impressive, sound impressive and perform better than most large enclosures we have had a chance to audition. Funny, are all Australian loudspeakers large? In their function as "instruments of music re -production", they fulfil all essentials of good audio. They also offer the sort of compatibility which allows listeners to choose their back?up components according to taste. Unfortunately, we didn't have our Wyetech Topaz amplifier on hand for this evaluation, so we likely missed a match made in heaven. Nevertheless, we maintain that a small single - ended tube amplifier will elicit the best overall musical data from the Epitomes. Though they can handle oodles of power, these speakers should be connected to small, but sophisticated, amplifiers and a good preamplifier. Speaker cables should be chosen to add resolution, which practically eliminates all low - priced cables. However, when the system configuration is chosen for harmonious interaction, the Epitomes will sound great and will easily fill a room the size of the average firehall with sound - and very good sound at that.

          
Manufacturers Comment

Ernie Fisher, the Editor of Inner Ear has accurately and conscientiously auditioned the Epitomes. The only problem that we can see with the review was caused by the Editor's listening area being too narrow to accommodate the four Epitome units in the recommended placement. Because of this he was forced to place the optional bass units on the inside and 16" to the rear. This was entirely due to the space restrictions and not to his preferences. Because of this, he noted that the soundstage does not change with the bass units on or off. If mounted on the inside, this is accurate, but if mounted on the outside the soundstage is improved by a huge amount. He also noted that there was a slight degradation caused in the midrange area. This is also accurate if the bass units are placed away from the plane of the main speaker. This is because the lower midrange image is smeared between the two driver units and there is also a small phase shift. If the bass units and the main speakers are placed together, the increase in midrange purity is truly startling.
These small comments reinforce the manufacturer's belief that the listening room and speaker placement can have a major effect on the resulting sound. Other than these small notations we thank Ernie Fisher on his comprehensive review, and we are confident the extra half note in the given rating would have been forthcoming if the available listening room had been more suitable for a speaker system of this size and authority. Greg Osborn.