Sometimes it feels as though there are as many loudspeakers and loudspeaker manufacturers as there are stars in the sky, with brands old and new, big and small from all across the globe filling shelves and showroom floors with models that can range in price from tens, to tens of THOUSANDS of pounds. Whilst this pool of speaker producers continues to grow on a yearly basis, a select few of these brands are getting on for almost a full century in the business, with two in particular, Scottish brand, Tannoy and today’s review subject, ELAC hitting their 90th anniversaries in 2016.
But whilst Tannoy are arguably the most famous speaker manufacturer in the world, ELAC are seemingly much less well known, with more than a few of us in the Liverpool branch assuming the German company to be another relatively new kid on a very busy block. Whilst they are indeed new to us here at Richer Sounds, their huge range of products and lengthy history definitely earns them a spot amongst the big players. First up from their stable for a listen are the Debut F5 floorstanders. How will they fare? Read on for more…
Straight out of their packaging the F5 is a fairly imposing proposition. Standing just under a metre in height and with an MDF-built cabinet that’s just about as deep as it is wide, the F5 is, from the outside at least, very much a traditional floorstander. Internally the cabinet has been braced to help reduce standing waves, and has been stiffened to help eliminate unwanted vibrations.
The drivers and tweeter are where things start to get interesting, with ELAC opting for a custom-built option for each of the F5’s twin woofers, mid-range driver and tweeter. The woofers and mid-range drive units are all made from the same woven aramid-fiber material, with ELAC praising these in-house components for their improved stiffness-to-weight ratio over more traditional paper cones. For the high frequencies ELAC’s tweeter uses a waveguide with a ‘deep spheroid profile’, which ELAC claim helps directionality for improved treble performance. A rear-ported design, the F5 also has three bass reflex ports, one for each of the three drive units, and so requires a reasonable amount of space from a back wall to work at its best.
Worth noting is that the F5 isn’t the most sensitive speaker in the world, performing at its best when it’s got a bit of power behind it. With a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, as well as a sensitivity of 85dB, the ELAC lacks the ease of drive of, say, the Monitor Bronze 5. Whilst this won’t present a big problem to most, we did find that amplifiers capable of kicking out more than 60 watts per channel gave much greater control over the F5, and therefore offered better performance. Our listening test was performed with Cambridge’s CXA80 amplifier, which offered a hearty 80 wpc and proved to be a solid partner for the F5.
Before listening began the speakers were run in for about 24 hours, ensuring that the drivers had sufficiently loosened up. Music playback was via the Cambridge CXN network streamer, with files played back in FLAC from a NAS drive.
Kicking things off was the timeless Music for 18 Musicians by American composer, Steve Reich. Reich’s most accessible, and easily his most famous work, Music for 18 Musicians runs for 14 tracks and shows Reich’s use of repetition and his signature minimalist style. First track, Pulse sets the tone for the rest of the album, utilising piano, female vocals, cello and xylophone to progress the first chord cycle. There’s plenty going on for the ear to pick up, and the F5 did a fantastic job of allowing all of the nuance to be heard. Timing is very important for in this particular piece and here the ELAC performed admirably, keeping up with the fairly relentless pace with ease, never sounding congested.
Switching to more vocal-driven tracks in the form of the late Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker, showed the ELAC to excel at tone and timbre, too. The album’s opener and title track showcases Cohen’s late career growl wonderfully, sounding rich and grizzled in equal measure. The track’s sympathetic musical accompaniment makes for a fantastic listen; the chords of the lone organ, the backing vocals, moody bassline and the simple drum beat all allow Cohen’s vocal and lyrics to take centre stage. The ELAC was proving to be a very well rounded speaker, with a clean and clear top-end that stayed away from brightness, and a bass performance that was room filling yet never overstayed its welcome. It was difficult to pinpoint something that it truly excelled at, but as is so often the case with a good pair of speakers, the performance as a whole was more important than standing out for one particular trait, and taken as such, the F5 was a fantastic speaker. Changes to genre (we moved to Jazz and lots of Electronic music) never fazed it, that deep bass, lush midrange and well-balanced top-end always making for a very enjoyable listen.
The ELAC Debut F5 certainly has all of the traits of a product made by a company that is confident in its own abilities and assured enough to know what is needed for true musical enjoyment: an even-handed approach to design that just lets the music do the talking. An easy recommend for music lovers with eclectic taste and a reasonably powerful amp to truly do the F5 justice.
Author – Chris, Liverpool store