AXPONA 2017: ELAC Conjures Big Sound

I have a lot of respect for Andrew Jones.  Every show he has something new and it always sounds very good. This year’s AXPONA had something I had been pressing Andrew on for a while… “when are we going to see a more expensive effort in the thousands of dollars range?”

Andrew and the ELAC team have now answered that question emphatically.  At AXPONA they introduced an almost-production ready model called the Adante AS-61.  What can Mr. Jones do with a 2.5 grand price point?  Close your eyes and listen.  There is a tower in the room producing deep volumes of bass, expansive but controlled.  The mids are as liquid as ever and there is a satisfying airiness to the highs.  Open your eyes now.  There are two small monitors in the room on dedicated stands.  Slightly bigger than a bookshelf speaker.  Where the heck did all that sound come from?  How is this possible?  Will Lee trot out an audiophile cliché at the end and say these speakers sound like 3X their price?  And why should I believe him?

Skepticism is healthy but there are many complex technical factors at play here.  Andrew has improved every area of speaker design compared to his great budget speaker, the Uni-Fi.  Let’s go through each element one by one.

  • Coincident drivers: tweeter and midrange.  Who can argue with coincident drivers?  In the new Adante, Andrew has stepped up the driver quality in accordance with the larger budget.  The midrange drive is now 5″ across versus 4″ before.  The surface area of the tweeter has expanded as well and Andrew has tweaked the surround surface to be optimal.  The tweeter now extends to lower frequencies as a result.  Adante has a larger voice coil for the midrange with a larger neodymium magnet.  Remarkably, the chassis is tooled by ELAC too out of cast aluminum.  The tweeter sounds better due to a larger diameter surround which increases the surface area leading to lower frequency extension and greater bandwidth.  The driver waveguides are also a new design from Andrew for further refinement.
  • Baffle and driver integration approach.  The front of the Adante is a beautiful brushed aluminum. Stiff and solid, the baffle also uses constrained layer damping.  A laser focus, however, is on the excitation of the midrange driver moving back and forth to produce the sound wave.  Andrew believes the key is to “float” the drivers in space with isolating devices.  This stops distortion not unlike the recoil from a rifle.  The key is to eliminate as much of this direct driver resonance as possible.
  • Cabinet and bass port design.  Now this is where things get really good but also complex, at least in terms of this reviewer’s knowledge.  You see, there are several problems with getting tower-level bass from such a small enclosure and the math is quite daunting even for a renowned designer whose mentor was the famous KEF technical director Laurie Fincham.  The issues come from placing a low-frequency driver in the speaker cabinet.  In a related manner, Andrew kept getting two big questions from customers that he really wanted to solve: 1. “Can my receiver power this?”, and 2. “How close to the wall can I place the speakers?”  The first big design issue is what does one do with a port?  You can place it on the front but noises from cabinet aim straight out to the listener’s ear. Andrew feels that this approach is ugly and I agree.  You can place it in the back but if too close to the wall it can create chuffing noises.  To solve this, Andrew has cleverly built a multi-chambered cabinet that houses an internal driver with a passive radiator on the front.  This eliminates the need for a problematic and ugly port and with his design provides handles “two orders” of acoustic filter, leaving Andrew to design a 1st order electrical filter that is much simpler.  That simple filter makes it easier for the drivers “to play nice”.  A second issue is the what to do with the standing waves created in the cabinet.  This is very tricky.  The attached “cut-away” shows the inside of the cabinet better than I can explain it, but if you magically remove the passive radiator in front, you stare at the actual driver and a vent, both facing you.  This minimizes standing waves and produces sublime bass.  Interesting enough, the cabinet now has chambers with a shallow one on top for the coincident pair, one below it for the passive radiator, and a larger one in the back for the internal driver.  The silver lining is these extra walls add more bracing creating a more inert cabinet.  All in all, a rather brilliant approach distilled from Andrew’s experimentation at KEF, TAD, and ELAC.  Essentially what Andrew has done is build a box within a box that is “electro-acoustically” optimized.  He says he’s finally been able to create a product based on some long-simmering ideas for bass and overall design.  The proof is, of course, in the sound.  It was spectacular to my ears and I almost always hear issues with monitors.  It’s a very musical speaker with lifelike bass, rich midrange, and superb resolution.

Supporting electronics in Audio Alchemy. Peter Madnick must really know what he is doing.  He can make impressive reference gear like the Constellation pieces that drove Ted Denney’s Synergistic Research room to be one of the best rooms, and he can build affordable components at or under $2k.  ELAC is now in the process of formalizing what seems to be an acquisition of Audio Alchemy.  So this is really an all-ELAC system that grew out of many successful trade shows with the two as partners.  You don’t have to go broke on electronics to get superb sound. Peter’s  electronics approach is to use a pure Class A input stage combined with a cool-running Class D output stage.  You get the best of both worlds in a superb speaker-amp pairing that further shows off Andrew’s achievement in design.

Supporting power conditioning was from a Shunyata Denali tower designed by Caelin Gabriel.  I’m reviewing the Denali tower presently and it did a remarkable job of lowering the noise floor in my own system.  Suffice to say, this is the first line conditioner that I can plug my amp into and it actually sounds better!  It improved my bass, midrange and highs at home and it is built like a tank.  The Denali no doubt also contributed the same benefits to Andrew and Peter’s gear as the background was dead quiet on the four tracks I heard.  I will have more to say on the technology in the review.

It’s no surprise that the awards closet at ELAC is starting to rival Meryl Streep’s.  This room powered by Peter Madnick’s super-high value Audio Alchemy gear with Caelin Gabriel’s innovative Shunyata power foundation really kicked butt.  It really is a super high value three-way for $2.5K.  For me, this was an easy Best of Show for affordable systems.

AXPONA coverage generously provided by NOBLE AUDIO.

The latest from Part-Time Audiophile

About Lee Scoggins (39 Articles)
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee is a serious music collector and his current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Magnepan speakers.