Event Report: Andrew Jones ELAC (Full Article)
By David Hicks
November 12th in Orinda this year was a beautiful, partly sunny, fall day. A light breeze slightly cooled the 72-degree temperature, but the day was no less a perfect day for Leslie Lundin to unveil to the world her newly expanded Audiophile Garage and Art Gallery (more on the art later). The unveiling took place with a special presentation by ELAC Audio’s VP and all around speaker design guru, Andrew Jones. ELAC Audio was founded 89 years ago, in Kiel, Germany; and though Andrew Jones has not been around for 89 years, he has designed a lot of speakers in his career.
A brief work history would begin in 1983 with Mr. Jones starting at KEF, followed by a move to Infinity, and then on to TAD/Pioneer- where he designed the highly reviewed $80,000 TAD Reference One speakers. The TAD/Pioneer relationship lasted through his transition to the Pioneer side of operations where he made his mark designing lower priced, but great sounding, speakers and sound bars. This transition from designing cost no object speakers at TAD, to hi value low cost speakers at Pioneer, was perhaps, the perfect sequence of work design and work experience for the current crop of speakers that he’s now designing at ELAC.
If you’ve never heard Andrew Jones talk on speaker design, and everything else, you’ve been missing out. If you’ve never heard his ELAC Uni-fi UB5 Slim speakers, ($749) you’re really missing out. The sound reproduction from these small bookshelf (stand mounted) speakers in Leslie’s double sized listening space was quite remarkable, not just for the volume of music they put out, but for the quality. The UB5 uses a soft dome tweeter that extends out to 25 kHz. Mr. Jones explained many soft dome tweeters designed to extend to 20 kHz are actually 3 dB down by that point. That’s why the specifications of his soft dome tweeters are designed to extend to 25 kHz, so there is no dB drop off at 20 kHz. This may explain why I’ve never preferred soft dome tweeters- though I thought Andrew’s sounded excellent. Really, I’m old and already have enough normal hearing loss that I don’t need my high frequencies rolled off by my speakers!
The bass from the ported 5-inch woofer was also particularly astounding in Leslie’s new, larger space. And, if you’ve met Leslie and listened to music at her house before, you probably couldn’t escape noticing that she’s a fiend for lots of bass. So, even though everyone seemed to remark that they thought the bass was excellent from the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 Slim speakers, after some time listening, Andrew inserted the ELAC S10 EQ, 400 watt powered subwoofer ($499), a 10” subwoofer that has a built-in EQ feature that easily and seamlessly integrates with any of the ELAC speakers. You might think this should be a no brainer concept, integrating an ELAC subwoofer with ELAC speakers, but the integration of two separate speaker components is always complicated by that most significant component in your listening environment, your room.
This is where ELAC’s audio gear shines with some of what I think of as its really cool geeky technology for even non-geeky people. There’s a free ELAC SubEQ app that you download to your iPhone/iPad, or Android device and, following directions from the on-screen diagrams you then place your devices microphone next to the woofer while the app streams a tone to the speaker via Bluetooth. Your phone records the frequency and volume levels of output from the Subwoofer. This process is then repeated with your bookshelf speakers. Once you are in your listening spot a tone is played through both the bookshelf and subwoofer speakers. The built-in software performs some calculations that take into account your room acoustic properties, and viola, the app processes and transmits the room adjusted levels to the subwoofer for a perfect integration. Of course, perfect is different for different people and different types of listening, so you can also control the sub with four preset EQ’s from your app to have the bass suit your mood once you’ve performed the room correction.
Should you be on a bit of a budget where subwoofers are concerned, and you happen to have one of the ELAC Element Series Integrated Amplifiers($699) on hand, you’ll be able to use the less expensive ELAC S 10 Debut Series 200 watt Powered Subs ($240 or $179 on sale as I look). It does not have the built-in EQ, but the Element Series Integrated Amplifier does. This means you could use any subwoofer speaker combo with this amp and get the free app to sort out the integration. The Element Series Integrated amp by itself is a nice place to start, but I can’t imagine any speakers giving you any better bang for your buck than the Uni-Fi Slims (in satin white or satin black). Unless, you were going to buy the Uni-Fi UB5 speakers for $499, or on sale at Amazon for $399 (Black Friday Weekend only). When Andrew was speaking, he said these are the same speakers with a less dolled up cabinet, or words to that effect. I asked him specifically about the difference in the shape and size of the cabinet on the Slim version vs the standard less expensive UB5 base model (black only), and he said the interior dimensions of the cabinet are the same in volume, so there’s no change in the sound quality coming out of either speaker as they both contain the same drivers and crossover. It is the proliferation of glowing reviews for the original standard, lower priced UB5 that put a very bright spotlight on ELAC last year, and I agree with the reviews and think they have got to be one of the best buys in all of audio. Many may prefer to spend a bit more for the Slim version of the UB5, and I guess that includes me too, as I wanted to buy the pair Andrew brought, but he said they were not for sale as they were just a demo pair with no serial number. I’ve had to put them on my Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa list from Santa, or…
On the music source side of the equation ELAC’s Discovery Series Music Server Series DS-S101-G, ($1099) that Mr. Jones also brought along and demoed with the rest of his gear comes with some particularly enticing features. Along with the requisite built in DAC that decodes WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, OGG, MP3, AAC up to 192kHz 24 bit (no DSD), and the usual assortment of inputs, the DS-S101-G comes with a year’s subscription to Tidal, so even if you had no music to begin with, when you inserted this device in your system you’d start off with over 40 million licensed tracks of music you could play to your hearts content after making the appropriate Wi-Fi connections. Tidal also has over and 130,000 high quality music videos you could stream to your paired device which you would also use as a remote. Should you actually already have a digital music library you’d like to connect to the DS-S101-G you should be aware that it has a 15,000 track library limit. That limit is for Tidal tracks and your personal library tracks combined, but you do not need to add any of the Tidal tracks to your “library” in order to play them on your device, though if you do so they will then be counted towards your maximum 15,000 track total. Loading them increases the speed at which they will play when you’ve selected a track, though I’ve personally not noticed any appreciable delay time on my systems at home when using Tidal, either alone or through Roon, but I’ll admit I’ve never bothered to time the difference in playing tracks. I also didn’t get a chance to ask Andrew if the 1 year free Tidal subscription is like a regular Tidal subscription that lets you stream on up to three of your devices at once- meaning you should be able to load the Tidal app on your phone/tablet using your Tidal login information, and take it with you. If you have the app on your phone, Tidal lets you pick out songs to play in “offline mode” so that you can then play those songs later when you have no wi-fi, or when you don’t want to use connected minutes on your phone connection. See the Tidal website for details and ask your ELAC dealer for more info.
For those of you in attendance and listening on November 12th you will, most likely, already have noted the following items inserted in Andrews system: all Audioquest IC’s; Aspen Speaker Cables; Carbon Digital Cable; and NRG 1.5 power cords.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Leslie’s Audiophile Garage featured, not only glorious views of the great outdoors through her new panoramic windows in the back, but also a display of colorful and artistic paintings by Grant Stoner, a longtime SFAS member. I thought the paintings all quite reasonable in price, and all are for sale by contacting Grant directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have to say, though I really liked all of the paintings, one of my favorites is not in this picture, but was a painting in black and white on the lower right hand side of this wall that is cropped out of the frame. So, email Grant for a full review of his current inventory.
Lastly, for those of you (myself included) who enjoyed hearing Andrew Jones talk, but enjoyed listening to his speakers even more, you will be pleased to know that the directors of the SFAS have decided that for all events in the future we will implement (with Andrew Jones blessing) what shall henceforth be known as the “Andrew Jones Rule.” This rule shall require any presenter at an SFAS event to play some music within the first 15-20 minutes of their giving a talk. Further, they shall be required to play at least one track every half an hour as they continue to speak. That’s how much we loved your speakers Andrew- we wanted to hear them more!