We put German company Reproducer’s unusual debut nearfield speaker to the test.
Reproducer was a completely new name for me when a review enquiry landed in my inbox. A bit of digging, however, revealed that the company were founded in Germany in 2016, and in January 2020 launched a two‑model range of active monitors comprising the nearfield Epic 5 and the midfield Epic 55. The first of those is the subject of this review.
First impressions of the Epic 5 are positive right from the off because, rather than being simply packed in a cardboard box with polystyrene caps and plastic bags, the monitors arrive in a carbon‑fibre‑look flight case with die‑cut interior foam, spaces for accessories and drawstring bags. It’s a nice touch.
The active nearfield monitor market, especially at the relatively affordable end where the Epic 5 lives, is undoubtedly crowded. That being so, if you’re going to launch a new active monitor with aspirations to grab some sales from the sector’s existing and well‑established inhabitants, along with doing a fundamentally competent job of the electro‑acoustics, you’d best come up with something different in terms of the look and feel. I’ll begin to examine the electro‑acoustics of the Chinese‑manufactured Epic 5 a few paragraphs down the page, but I’ll start with a bit of physical description.
The Epic 5 does indeed sport decidedly atypical aesthetics and surface finishes. Coming up with a workable new look for an otherwise relatively conventional compact two‑way active monitor is no easy job, so I think it’s very much to Reproducer’s credit that they have done so. As to whether the result is appealing, or even technically appropriate in performance terms... On the first point, I for one rather like the look and admire its execution. On the second, there’s some reasonable electro‑acoustic sense behind the Epic 5’s jumble of lines and angles. To explain why that’s so, however, I’m going to have to find some words to define those lines and angles.
The Epic 5 begins with a trapezoidal front panel that narrows towards the top and also leans backwards a little. The front panel is manufactured in machined and anodised aluminium — a material and process choice that endows it with a satisfying, cold, chunky and precision‑engineered feel. The front panel is also home to a detented gain control and an LED indicator that illuminates white in normal use and red to indicate overload. The top and side panels of the Epic 5 are manufactured from MDF finished in a faux brushed‑aluminium laminate. The flat top panel is perpendicular to the front panel so is effectively angled downwards, but each side panel incorporates a diagonal crease that resolves the trapezoidal front panel with the Epic 5’s rectangular back panel. The creases in the side panels not only resolve the angles of the Epic 5, they also result in non‑parallel internal faces, which will help suppress standing waves, and increase cabinet rigidity, which is also a Good Thing. The backward slope of the front panel is present not, as might be initially assumed, to direct the monitor’s acoustic radiation slightly upwards, but to equalise the path length from each driver to the ears of listeners located horizontally forward. So the intended listening axis for the Epic 5 is effectively slightly below the front‑panel perpendicular axis.
Speaking of drivers, those of the Epic 5 are a nominal 120mm‑diameter bass/mid unit and a tweeter that, at around 30mm, is slightly larger than the more common 25mm. Both the bass/mid driver and tweeter use aluminium for their diaphragm materials. Larger tweeters seem to be somewhat in vogue in contemporary speaker design. The downside is slightly narrower dispersion above, say, 10kHz, but to my mind that’s probably more than compensated for by potentially reduced distortion towards the lower end of the tweeter band, and in reduced thermal compression resulting from a larger diameter voice‑coil. A larger tweeter that can work to a lower frequency also offers more freedom of crossover filter design, which on the Epic 5 comprises fourth‑order (24dB/octave) low‑pass and high‑pass filter slopes at a relatively low 2kHz.
Before I move away from the Epic 5 drivers, perhaps a paragraph’s diversion on the subject of using aluminium for bass/mid driver diaphragms might be interesting. The contemporary use of aluminium for bass/mid diaphragms can I think be traced back to the success of the Acoustic Energy AE1 hi‑fi speaker/pro monitor in the mid 1980s. Phil Jones’ AE1 design demonstrated very clearly that aluminium diaphragms could work, and displayed some major positives: they’re relatively light, they’re rigid, and they can work as effective voice‑coil heatsinks. The primary downside of aluminium diaphragms is that their resonant behaviour at higher frequencies tends to be very lively and difficult to control, and that demands steep crossover filter slopes, a low crossover frequency, and consequently a tweeter that’s happy to work down towards, or even sometimes below, 2kHz. So it’s not usual to see an aluminium diaphragm bass/mid driver paired with a large‑diameter tweeter.
I’ve not so far visited the Epic 5’s underside panel, yet it’s actually an unusually significant part of the design, being home to a 180mm auxiliary bass radiator, otherwise known as an ABR. An ABR is a form of reflex loading and it operates in a similar manner to a reflex port: it works with the compliance of the air in the enclosure to create a tuned resonance that extends the low‑frequency bandwidth of the overall system. While the fundamental downsides of ABR systems are not dissimilar to those of a ported system, in that they both introduce extra low‑frequency latency and overhang, ABR systems can avoid the audible turbulence and compression of ports. An earlier review I found of the Epic 5 makes the valid point that a port of large enough diameter to be both tuned appropriately and avoid turbulence possibly wouldn’t fit inside the enclosure. To lower the tuning frequency of a port it must be made longer and/or smaller in diameter (both of which reduce the volume level at which airflow will become non‑linear). However, to lower the tuning frequency of an ABR, you simply need to add mass to the diaphragm. And while I’m on the subject of the ABR diaphragm, in the case of the Epic 5, it’s again made of aluminium.
Locating the ABR in the underside panel clearly results in constraints on how the Epic 5 can be mounted, so the monitors are supplied with height‑adjustable, blunt‑tipped, conical feet that raise the ABR panel a suitable height above the mounting surface. Also supplied are some cupped neoprene pads into which the foot tips can optionally be seated. The neoprene pads offer both some slip resistance and a degree of mounting compliance, if that’s desired. While four feet are supplied for each monitor, the Epic 5 underside panel actually offers five tapped mounting positions, the extra one being located on the centre line towards the rear to enable a tripod arrangement. The tripod arrangement worked well for my usual nearfield monitor installation as it enabled some toe‑in angle even on my relatively narrow monitor shelves. Lastly, on the subject of feet, there’s no getting away from the fact that monitors can be sensitive to the structure on which they’re placed, and sometimes either introducing or removing a bit of compliance can work wonders. So along with the practical benefits of the Epic 5 foot and pad options, I like the fact that it enables some experimentation and fine tuning of mounting arrangements.
As usual on active monitors, the rear panel plays dual roles as both amplifier heatsink and connection panel. Said connections comprise analogue balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA phono options (+4dBV and ‑10dBV nominal sensitivity, respectively), selected via a switch. There’s no digital audio, network or USB connectivity available and the Epic 5 is fully analogue in terms of signal flow. Downstream of the inputs, the Epic 5 amplification comprises two channels of Class‑D power, each one rated at 75 Watts RMS. Also present on the rear panel are a couple of detented knobs that offer tonal balance adjustment.
The LF and HF EQ provide ±5dB below 250Hz and above 2.5kHz, respectively. That’s a pretty generous degree of adjustment. Lastly on the rear panel is a switch that selects between auto‑standby, where the monitors default to a sleep mode after a period of silence and wake up on signal input, and normal continuous operation. The auto‑standby mode, as is typical of such features, was sometimes a little slow to wake up.
As usual, I fired up FuzzMeasure to investigate a few aspects of the Epic 5’s electro‑acoustic characteristics, and some of the results are presented here. Diagram 1 illustrates the Epic 5’s axial frequency response, from 300Hz to 20kHz, of both monitors of the review pair. The response is generally flat (well, in speaker terms) and the pair matching pretty good: ±0.5dB would generally cover it. As I mentioned earlier, the intended listening axis for the Epic 5 is effectively slightly below the perpendicular axis of the drivers, and that’s perhaps indicated at high frequencies by the tweeter roll‑off above about 15kHz. It’s not particularly significant, however.
Diagram 2 illustrates the design axis response in green, and the response as measured 20 degrees horizontally off axis in purple. As would be expected, and is completely typical, the high‑frequency output of the tweeter begins to fade above about 6kHz and there’s also some evidence of the bass/mid driver becoming more directional above 1kHz. The horizontal off‑axis response, however, is perfectly typical of the breed and suitably well managed.
Diagram 3 illustrates the design axis response, again in green, along with the response 20 degrees vertically upward and downward, in red and orange, respectively. One interesting characteristic is that the very high frequencies (above 15kHz) in the 20‑degrees‑above response don’t show the roll‑off of the design axis response. This is because the backwards slope of the front panel brings the perpendicular tweeter axis into focus. A more significant feature of the graph is that neither the upward nor downward curves display any significant suck‑out around the crossover region where the driver outputs overlap. This suggests skillful management of the crossover function and is an impressive result.
The fourth and final diagrams illustrate a little investigation of the Epic 5’s low‑frequency characteristics. The blue curve of Diagram 4 shows a 20Hz‑1kHz frequency response curve from a microphone placed very close to the bass/mid driver diaphragm. The roll‑off from just below 100Hz is as expected, however the more interesting feature is the sharp suck‑out at 60Hz. This corresponds to the ABR resonance and demonstrates how reflex loading, be it port or ABR, results in a significant localised reduction in driver output (and therefore driver load). It also brings me on to the red curve of Diagram 4, which shows the frequency response curve from the microphone placed very close to the ABR. As expected, the curve peaks at the 60Hz resonance and falls away either side. The 60Hz tuning frequency, it has to be said, is relatively high and it will put the peak of the Epic 5’s low‑frequency latency and resonant overhang right in the busy part of the bass guitar range: for example, Bb is 58.27Hz at concert pitch.
Finally, Diagram 5 illustrates something of the time‑domain characteristic of the Epic 5, a characteristic that’s actually typical of many reflex‑loaded monitors. The blue and red curves were captured in the same way as those of Diagram 4, but rather than illustrating frequency responses, they show the driver and ABR in the time domain responding to a step stimulus. There are a few things to notice. Firstly, the system isn’t great at stopping once it’s started — it rings for around 80ms (this is typical of numerous similarly dimensioned reflex‑loaded monitors). Secondly, the peak of the ABR output occurs something like 20ms later than that of the driver. This figure provides a rough indication of the monitor’s low‑frequency electro‑acoustic latency (known more correctly as group delay). Lastly and not unexpectedly, the time period of the ringing (about 16.5ms) calculates out to 60Hz, which we’ve already established is the ABR tuning frequency.
Well‑recorded voices and acoustic instruments sound properly convincing and naturally detailed, with all the harmonic and temporal elements properly balanced.
So in objective, electro‑acoustic terms, the Epic 5 looks to be a very well‑sorted and competent monitor. It’s also well put together mechanically and sports a unique and interesting aesthetic. But what does it sound like?
First of all, and in contrast to a few recent review monitors, the Epic 5 is effectively silent when idling. Amplifier hiss from 1m away is inaudible. Once I’d celebrated the slience, I experimented with my usual range of old CD favourites and Pro Tools mix projects and was immediately impressed. The Epic 5 sounds just as well sorted and competent subjectively as it looks to be objectively. Its most striking characteristic I think is a really well‑judged and neutral tonal balance combined with an authentically uncoloured presentation of midrange elements — well‑recorded voices and acoustic instruments sound properly convincing, and naturally detailed with all the harmonic and temporal elements properly balanced. Midrange stereo image focus and depth portrayal is also a strong point of the Epic 5 and in my experience that kind of characteristic says a lot about both good driver integration and well‑controlled cabinet panel resonance behaviour. And while the Epic 5 perhaps doesn’t quite achieve the levels of mix clarity and detail presentation of some of the best monitors out there, it’s also much more realistically priced.
Up at the high‑frequency end of the spectrum, the Epic 5 tweeter, while perhaps not offering the ultimate in explicit detail, nonetheless does its job fundamentally very well. It’s smooth, subtle, and well able to reveal those small mix details we all get so focused on.
At the low end of the spectrum, the Epic 5’s bass fundamentally worked well in my studio room. As with the rest of the audio band, it’s well judged in terms of level and isn’t too ambitious in terms of bandwidth extension. The Epic 5s did, to my ears, display the slight softness of punch often associated with reflex loading but, having said that, the effect is mild and, thanks to the design using an ABR rather than a port, there’s none of the compression or chuffing often associated with ports as the volume level rises. The lack of such artefacts was actually clearly noticeable while I was taking the FuzzMeasure data. The swept sine‑wave stimulus signal used by FuzzMeasure often reveals ported speakers to generate unhappy airflow noises at low frequencies, but the Epic 5 reproduced it perfectly cleanly. So while Epic 5 bass may be dynamically slightly soft, it’s clean, fundamentally trustworthy, and probably more useful in a mix context than that of many compact port‑loaded monitors.
When I unpacked and connected the Epic 5 I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I finished this review full of admiration, not only for its performance, both objectively and subjectively, but also its industrial design and construction. The Epic 5 is an unusual and very capable monitor and it represents a new and genuinely competitive compact nearfield option. It’s an impressive first effort and I’ll be genuinely sorry to see the review pair leave.
The Epic 5 occupies an extremely busy market and is surrounded by many excellent alternatives that would also be worth considering. For example, the Neumann KH120A, the Dynaudio Lyd 8, the Genelec 8330A and the Focal Shape 65 can all be purchased for a similar price.
- Uncoloured and natural midrange.
- Neutral and dependable tonal balance.
- Attractive aesthetic and great build quality.
- Lacks a little bass punch.
The Epic 5 is a classy little speaker that handles extremely well the design compromises inherent to small speakers, while at the same time offering a new option in the compact nearfield category.
€1649 per pair including VAT.
$1649 per pair.