Epos speakers have always managed to put a smile on our faces.
The British manufacturer's products have long excelled at giving the listener plenty of enjoyment and emitting a feel-good factor that makes them extremely easy to recommend for a wide range of systems and musical tastes.
So, it's all the more strange that the company's new ELS8s leave us feeling decidedly underwhelmed, especially as they're the replacement for the now-extinct ELS 3s, a charming little speaker design in its day.
These speakers certainly have initial promise: the new 15cm Epos mid/bass driver and 25mm metal-dome tweeter integrate nicely, and work well in the well-built rear-ported cabinet, available in a choice of light maple or black oak vinyl finishes.
Work with all genres of musicThe treble doesn't sound harsh, neither are low frequencies especially woolly, meaning the speakers maintain good timing.
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What's more, they're versatile enough to work with all genres of music and surefooted enough to keep track of a tune. There's good control, too, meaning they aren't confused by complex musical arrangements such as Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring.
But despite all those positives, it's hard to feel entirely satisfied: spin Kanye West's Street Lights and there's simply no spark. Instead of being enthused, we're left feeling somewhat anaesthetised.
They fire emotional blanksYes, there's plenty of detail and dynamics, but the ELS8s simply don't stir the listener's interest.
For example, play Adele's Chasing Pavements and the Epos speakers are firing emotional blanks: the vocals simply don't display the expression or feeling they do via the class leaders.
In fact, it's almost as if these speakers are quite happy to follow the safest possible path, unwilling to take a risk in case they end up looking foolish.
Yes, that could arguably make them easy to match and totally inoffensive – but we'd much prefer it if they went out on a limb.
Given their relative absence of weaknesses, the ELS8s may seem like a decent purchase, but any design that makes music sound bland will struggle to pick up a four-star rating, never mind five. We'd hoped for better…