It is no secret that I've adamantly admired Andrew Jones' ability to design loudspeakers over the years. The ELAC Debut F5 floorstanders as reviewed here gave me the chance to test them out for myself. Upon first hearing the ELAC Debut B5 small monitor at T.H.E. Show Newport 2015, i knew i wanted to review their F5 floorstander as soon as possible! But why design a low-cost speakers instead of one of those $150,000 statement pieces?
Well, Andrew could have decided to reap the rewards of yet another $150,000 'statement speaker' that will appear within the finest of luxury goods magazine and websites. Heck, anyone with some sense of ability could hire out and make a $150,000 speaker, considering that $150,000 per pair leaves an abundance of room to use the best of the best. Just slap a fancy nameplate on it and buy a few magazine covers and you're all set. But what if you, instead, were a designer who desired bringing the joys of music to as many people as possible. Well then, you need to design something that sounds great at a very reasonable cost. You also need to be very smart instead of simply buying your way into 'stardom'. Thank goodness we have guys like Andrew Jones!
I predicted about a year ago during my T.H.E. Show Newport 2015 report that the ELAC Debut speakers would receive many awards from around the world. It appears that prediction is coming true! Of course ELAC received an award from us, too, during the Newport event. Hey, it was far easier to predict the many awards they would receive just like me telling all my friends to pull out of the stock market due to the way back when Dot Com crash a week before said crash happened... or the massive fraud reaching its natural end-game in 2007/2008... and the crash of 2016. As of this writing (January 20th) have already 'saved' my friends over ~20% of the current stock market pain. That's what friends are for and all that. Some things, and cycles, are very easy to predict quite frankly. So with the new cycle of middle-ground audio getting crushed to some degree, the high-end audio industry needs products below $1000 that gives equipment 10x their price a run for their money. Not everyone can, or even wants to quite frankly, afford those $150,000 speakers. Sure i highly admire those 'statement' speakers, yet you can add me into the category of not seeking to 'invest' $150,000 into a pair of speakers. Naturally my feelings may change in about 40 years when $150,000 is equal to about $24,000 in today's currency valuation. As a point of interest, in 1970 a year of tuition at a public university cost $1207 and median price of a home within the United States of America was $23,600. So getting back to the ELAC speakers, am sure you can already guess that for a mere $558 per pair they are an extraordinary bargain!
Sure I could go on about the special custom engineered, and carefully made, ELAC drivers or how the cones are made by virgins only during nights with a full moon. But that's all folklore! Ok, the custom driver part is true yet no virgins were harmed while designing the ELAC Debut speakers. At least none that I know of. So what makes the ELAC Debut series so special? Where's that super-secret magic sauce? It all comes down to longstanding engineer Andrew Jones. I've had the pleasure of sitting down with him during dinner and just shooting the stuff about things audio. If there is a sharp tool in the shed of high-end audio, ELAC picked one of the finest-edge ones within the audiophile industry.
The basics go like this, Andrew Jones (seen left in photo above) is highly regarded as a loudspeaker designer and worked for companies all around the world over the years. After 40 years of fiddling and diddling, we get to the new ELAC Debut series. "ELAC Debut series delivers superior performance thanks to custom made key components, with no off-the-shelf parts. Unlike many more expensive speakers that mix parts-bin drivers, bare-bones crossovers and generic cabinets – every ELAC speaker is built from a clean-sheet design" says Andrew.
Parts That Make The Whole
Then Andrew decided that for the crossover network he'd use Eye of Newt, Toe of Frog, and specially-harvested Hens Teeth. Didn't I write earlier that you could skip this section of the review; yet you persisted didn't you? In reality ELAC's Andrew Jones spent what must have been a fortnight, or 100, designing a custom multi-element crossover. Instead of Eye of Newt or that Frog stuff, there are high-grade components so that his fine-tuned ears heard a very continuous transition as the frequency is split up between the drivers. Oh, before I forget, ELAC does offer an optional bottle of the Hair Of The Dog That Bit You for an additional fee.
Of course all these bits and bobs and jacks need to be attached to a cabinet. ELAC chose to use wurtzite boron nitride costing millions of dollars due to it being harder than a common diamond, which is an extremely ordinary stone on planet Earth. Oh, wait, different project. Andrew Jones chose the new ELAC Debut series cabinets to be made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Their website says they use a "luxurious textured vinyl finish", but frankly I'd call it a visually neutral and durable flat black vinyl. ELAC's F5 floorstander has internal bracing that provides additional stiffness so the cabinet does not freely resonate. No one wants a cabinet to resonate, well, except perhaps this one company that uses cabinet resonances as part of the speakers sound. Yet, general speaking, you don't want resonances. ELAC's strategically-placed internal bracing within the Debut F5 removes these unwanted resonances so you get less with more, more or less.
So what will a pair of ELAC Debut F5 floorstanding speakers set you back? About $100,000,000,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars. In Canadian dollars it is close to that, with apologies to my Northern friends as the Canadian dollar is getting to be worthless, I mean worth less. I'd give a Canadian penny for my Northern friend's thoughts right about now. Oh, wait... Ok, in United States of American current dollar exchange rate each F5 is $279, so carry the 1 and carry the 1 again and.... $558 for a pair of speakers. Wait a minute here, you mean a pair of floorstanding speakers, a total of 8 drivers and solid cabinet will set you back only $558? Surely there has got to be a mistake! Nope, no mistake at all. So you know they must surely sounds like rubbish. There is no way a pair of great-sounding floorstanding speakers can be purchased brand new with warranty for $558. No way, nuhun, and one should never expect it to be highly-regarded by snob-o-philes. Ain't gonna happen. Not on my watch, which is a mechanical fancy-schmancy Swiss hand-made type (made by a Wizard wearing a pointy hat with stars).
What Type Of Sound Can You Expect From $558 Per Pair
Enough with the jokes, because the ELAC F5 floorstanders are some serious speakers. If one didn't know the price, I'd guess they were $2000 per pair. So how do they sound? We had six guests come visit us during the holiday season; a total of two teens, three adults and a touch-everything-in-sight with dirty hands mischievous three years old. So I removed the grill and let the guests abuse these speakers for two weeks including touching them, putting glasses of ice water on them and play them loud during music and video games, etc. You know, that real-world test and not some white-glove treatment audio reviewers are supposed to do. Hey if the speakers got damaged I was out far less than half the cost of a mere oil change for my daily driver car (yeah, seriously). Guess what? I'm looking at the drivers / cabinets and months later they still look as good as new... and sound better than new because, you know, that whole break-in thing. The very durable supplied spikes I installed on the bottom of the speakers kept them in place too after being knocked round a bit.
Sound-wise (finally Steven gets to the point!) they are one of the most welcome-sounding speakers this side of the Audio Note AN-J/SPx with pure silver wire and silver voice coil/crossover parts hand wound by Vestal... that are easily 8x the price of the ELAC F5. No matter what high-end amp, or the internal amplifier within the Pioneer Elite plasma TV to which they are hooked up to now, the sound is impressive. Even the paltry 25 wpc Pioneer Elite plasma TV amp can get these speakers very loud, yet they still sound very clean too. Bass is impressively deep during EDM and pop music like the guest teens listened to. They were awestruck with how great they sounded! Midrange is smooth with a touch of sultry goodness. There was not a hint of midrange or searing-ear tweeter harshness during properly recorded music. Of course if you wanted Rammstein aggressive, then so be it. Yet if you wanted Adele finesse and sultry vocals you got it. As for the drum cymbals and techno-tweets, the cloth done tweeter was nicely revealing without any sense of breakup; even at higher-than-typical volume levels.
Imaging of instruments across the sound plane and depth was perhaps not the very last word. The Muncho-Expensivo Audio Note silver-wired speakers were far better, including when I was playing some fun 3D audio tricks on the guests. The ELAC F5 floorstanders fell a bit short in the imaging department as compared to the very best hand-matched to 0.25dB speakers that cost 8x the price. Still, there was a nice smooth sense of musicians within the room. As you have probably guessed, my listening notes used the word "smooth" quite a bit. And when one considers that those who buy $558 per pair speakers are not going to be using a $90,000 pure silver tube amplifier or a $50,000 solid-state alternative, the designer should pay a bit more attention to how lower-priced amplifiers generally handle things. This is why I used the built-in amplifier within the Pioneer Elite plasma TV, you know, just to see what would happen. Fact is, they're still hooked up to the TV so my wife's 15 y/o daughter KK can enjoy music, Netflix, Xbox games, etc. Might put the Audio Note speaker back into the system as KK is a very responsible teen, or maybe not. That, my friends, says quite a bit about how impressive the ELAC F5 floorstanders are at producing music.
My Conclusion: You Don't Want
While this review is about the F5 floorstanders ($558/pr), I can say the same about ELAC's B6 bookshelf speakers too ($279/pr). In fact you could build a really nice home theater setup with a few pairs of ELAC B5 small monitors ($229/pr) and their S10 powered subwoofer ($249 each) for a very reasonable price and bask in the glory of how great it sounds... and so will your visiting neighbors and guests! Hope my cousins do not read this as they desperately need a stereo system. I debated giving them the pair of ELAC F5 floorstanders that are here for review, but screw them as these babies are staying here. They can buy their own ELAC F5 speakers!!!
As always, in the end what really matters is that you...