- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 12 May 2008
I tested the EPS2's with a McIntosh MCD-201 SACD player, McIntosh MT10 turntable with Clearaudio MC cartridge, Manley Labs Steelhead phono stage, Musical Surroundings Phonomena phono stage, Bryston BP-1.5 phono stage, BAT VK-5i preamplifier, and McIntosh MC-1201 power amplifiers. Cables were Legenburg and Nordost.
I placed the speakers several feet out from the rear and side walls, toed in slightly.
As many of you know, I am writing a running commentary on Vinyl vs. CD. While working on that article, I have been testing a variety of equipment coming through the lab, including the phono stages mentioned above, but also some amplifiers and speakers. The Montana EPS2's fall into that category.
The Montana's are truly spectacular speakers, as evidenced by the sound I was experiencing during all the testing of various phono stages. In particular, I just could not stop playing the following two albums over and over (I listened to about 20 albums using the Montana EPS2's).
The first one is an album that my girlfriend at the time (1964) purchased for me as a Christmas present. It must have impressed me, as I married her upon graduation in 1968 ;=>. Anyway, the album is a 1961 recording of Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet, with Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At that time, of course, we had LPs. Digital was not even a word in anyone's vocabulary yet. We had heard this album in a music class at the University of Washington. I just loved it, so Susan got one for me. It was my first classical music album, and I was hooked from that point on.
This particular recording is a masterpiece, and has been re-issued several times. One was on CD, which I purchased a few years ago (JVC JMCXR-0022), but the other is a recent re-issue on 200 gram vinyl, a.k.a., an LP.
When CDs first came out, I gave away nearly all my LPs. Of course, I have since regretted doing that, so it is difficult to put into words how excited I was to hear this album on vinyl again after all these years. This was especially so, as in those days, I did not have anything like I do now in terms of audio equipment, including the advanced turntable and cartridge technology that is now available.
I had not been all that happy with the CD version, because there seemed to be something missing. And I am not talking about distortion. It just did not have the intimate liveliness that I had remembered from the LP version.
So, when I put the Tchaikovsky LP on the McIntosh MT10 a few weeks ago, I was mesmerized. All the subtle detail and nuance that I had experienced more than four decades ago returned . . . and then some. I sat transfixed.
No, the orchestra did not sound like it was in my room. I have discussed this before, and it really is not possible to make a symphony orchestra sound that way with any audio system I can think of. But, the goose bumps were there, as before. The violins had the intimate quality that I had missed so much. But, unlike listening to the small system I had back then, the Montana EPS2's added dynamics that I had never experienced in the old days. Every instrument was full of detail, including the rosin, as well as the performers' breathing. Finally, I was able to crank things up to a level that caused me to perspire heavily, as if I were one of the performers belting out this astonishing music. One of the advantages of a large speaker with so many drivers is that it will play loud, with less distortion. That is what I wanted from the EPS2's, and that is what I got. No harshness, no mush, no boominess. Just music.
I did notice that the Montana's are rather directional, at least vertically. That is something which occurs when there are multiple drivers delivering the same signal, i.e., two midrange cones one hear the other. If you stand up, the signal from the lower driver is a bit farther away from your ears than the upper driver, so there is some cancellation. But, the tweeter and mids are mounted at just about ear height when one is sitting down, so it's not a problem when listening in a chair.
The second album I want to talk about here is a re-issue of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. This is a recording that is even older than the Romeo & Juliet album, but it is apparently the best selling jazz album ever released. So, I ordered it in LP, SACD, and CD versions to work with in the Vinyl vs. CD article.
Besides Miles Davis, the group on this album included Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans.
The soundstage on this music with the Montana speakers was just unbelievable. Again, it's difficult to describe. Being a percussionist myself, I am very sensitive to overly sibilant cymbals, which can be caused not just by tweeters, but by the CD player, preamp, and the power amplifier. But, the EPS2's blended beautifully with all the other outstanding components in the system, and what I heard was about as close to a real cymbal as could be imagined. If you are a drummer, you know exactly what I mean, but for all the rest, this is a very, very difficult instrument to reproduce without too much sibilance because it has lots of intense high frequencies.
For both these albums, I preferred the sound of the LP over the digital recordings, and I will discuss this in the Vinyl vs. CD article at some point.