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AXPONA 2016: Fires burn and cauldrons bubble at ELAC and Audio Alchemy

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axponaPeter Madnick has a bit of the mad scientist about him. The white hair. The glasses. The devilish grin, delivered with a wink, a nod, a flourish of his hand. And yes, all of that delectable audio gear. Ahhh. Madnick may be best known for his work with Constellation Audio, work of which he is justly proud, but his new venture, Audio Alchemy, is all his own.

The look and feel of his new lineup is rather slick. Big knobs, curved sides, bright displays — the whole line has the look of someone caring, of actually thinking about the way it sits in your life. I like that. Especially since most of this stuff, this small-batch electronics world that is high-end audio, has a tendency to look cobbled together in someone’s basement. This? This does not. LIKE.

Anyway, about the gear — the DDP-1 ($1,995) is the “preamplifier”, and includes 3 analog inputs, as well as a full DAC (based on dual AKM chips) with multi-stage jitter reduction, 7 digital inputs (including direct I²S), and support for up to 32bit files/216kHz sampling (effectively, 192k). An optional external power supply, the PS-5 ($595), provides differentiated power to the analog circuits and the digital ones. The DPA-1 ($1,995) is a stereo “Hybrid Class A/Class D” power amplifier delivering 125 watts into 8Ω and 200 into 4Ω.

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AXPONA coverage brought to you by Underwood HiFi, Exogal and Emerald Physics

I wanted to call out this sexy-looking gear as I’ve run across it a couple of times now, but there’s the risk that it might get lost behind the other major brand showing in this room, AudioQuest.

Stephen Mejias pointed out that there were “Rocket 88 speaker cables, Water analog interconnects, Carbon digital cables, and NRG-4 power cables. There was also a Niagara 1000 ($995) in the system, hiding behind the pull-up banner.” The lattermost, the Niagara, is something we plan on exploring a bit more in depth here at PTA — stay tuned — but the short of it is, this is AudioQuest’s latest venture into the world of power conditioning. 

But that’s not all. There was also a new speaker here. From ELAC.

I had a chance to immerse myself in the ELAC B5 back at RMAF last year, and I’ll admit, a fine time was had by all. Then, I went ahead and picked some up — you can find more about that experience here, where I compared the B6 (slightly larger than the B5) bookshelves with the floorstanding F5. The TL:DR is this — these are fantastic values!

That’s the surprise here — the B5 loudspeakers are only $229/pair. The much better (in my opinion) B6 loudspeakers are only $279/pair. The best of the bunch, and not by a little, is the floorstanding F5 — and yes, they’re $279 each.

What is the deal with these prices? Egads! Gadzooks! Cowabunga!

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Okay, okay. Yes, they’re some of the most affordable “high-end” gear to come down my particular part of the pike in I don’t know how long. Enthusiasm for them is, I think, justifiably high. But — and it almost feels like sacrilege to say it — they’re not perfect. In fact, they’re quite a bit shy of that. Hold the tomatoes — even designer Andrew Jones has admitted that there’s “only so much you can do” at this price point. The cabinet, as Stereophile found out, is quite lively. Those “quality parts” that you might find in more bespoke pricing levels are here noticeably absent. HOWEVER (and it’s worth the all-caps), even with such “limitations”, these speakers are still absolutely fabulous. I cannot think of a better value in all of today’s high-end, and I can and do cheerfully and full-throatedly recommended these speakers to anyone and everyone. Get them. Stick ’em everywhere. You’ll love them.

Again, look at that price tag. Egads! Gadzooks! Cowabunga!

award-sighting-smSo, I was very much looking forward to the Uni-Fi line, taking it’s post-CES bow here at AXPONA.

This new line, a clear and distinct step up from the Debut line that showcased the killer B6, is a bit of a return for Jones. Fans will no doubt recall Jones’ long stint at KEF and then at TAD, where the speakers he brought forward were all known for featuring a concentric driver, that is, a tweeter nestled into the center of the mid/bass driver. The reasons for the move, aside from being almost iconic for Jones, is  better alignment and an improved response. It also frees up space — the B6-sized Uni-Fi UB5 ($499/pair) is a three-way. While I’m certain to draw fire for this, I would offer that a 3-way simply can do a whole lot more than a two-way when it comes to top-to-bottom performance. I prefer them, ceteris parabis, almost always to their two-way “versions” (assuming such things exist).

The UB5 blew my doors off.

For the price, the UB5 just became my new value reference. Holy sh**balls! Here, the bass was percussive, the tone and delicacy all delivered with a deftness that complete gave the lie to the price.

I’m getting a pair.

Aluminum replaces the aramid of the B6, and the internals of the casework gets a bit more work (more stiffness, bracing and isolation). New binding posts are a welcome add, too. But the same nifty brushed-nylon finish, and the same driver-surrounds, remain, lending both Jones-designed lines a welcome and common feel.

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I will offer that the most interesting speaker in the room was one not actually played — I’m really excited for the UF5 (the floorstanding model — priced at $499 each). Yes, it’s bigger — but for a grand, this sucker looks just as sexy and I’m expecting it to crush models way more expensive. Droooool. Add the center channel UC5 ($349), and you’ve got the basics of an a-max-ing home theater system.

Note — general availability is scheduled for May, though it appears that Amazon will not be shipping till the end of that month.

Okay, there’s more — ELAC has a new box, a music server that also happens to be a fully-licensed Roon server and endpoint, called Discovery (DAR has some additional details, here).

Okay, there’s more — ELAC has another new box, the DA-101EQ Debut Integrated, an all-in-one $600 DAC/Pre + Amp (aka, full integrated). The DA-101EQ will be a Class A/B/Class D hybrid 100 watt per channel amplifier, with subwoofer outputs and DSP (speaker correction + subwoofer) to help “blending” via a handy app. Measure at the speaker, at the listening position, and BAM! Blended.

What subs, you ask? ELAC has you covered there, too — though the Debut Series S10EQ ($499 each) will not see an analogue in the Uni-Fi line.

I’m loving what these audio magicians are brewing up. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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About Scot Hull (976 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and "The Occasional Magazine"

3 Comments on AXPONA 2016: Fires burn and cauldrons bubble at ELAC and Audio Alchemy

  1. Adam Davids // April 28, 2016 at 5:48 PM //

    I’m really looking forward to the Uni-Fi UB5. I’ve always loved the KEF R series and had B6’s. Shortly after getting them I saw the UB5 debut at CES and returned them and decided to wait for the UB5. HAve you listened to KEF R300’s? If so, how would you compare these? They seem like “poor man” KEF R’s to me. Also, do you know what kind of speaker stands they used at AXPONA? I’m looking to upgrade there as well and I like the ones they used. Thanks!

  2. Please put me on your email list Thank you

  3. The Uni-Fi UB5 looks amazing; however, by the time you add a pair of quality stands and longer speaker cables (assuming you don’t already have these), the cost really starts to close-in on the UF5 towers. James at http://theintegratedlifestyle.com/ in Los Gatos, CA (USA) should have the entire line in later this week. Looking forward to stopping by for a listen. This is the first that I’ve heard of the “Discovery” component. Looking forward to learning more about that also. Looks like it could be a fantastic way to introduce folks to great two-channel listening. Cheers.

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