Last year, I reviewed a part of the ELAC Debut B5 Speaker System and left in figurative awe. The kicker was that we did not even review the highest-end choices available at the time, our original intention to prove that gateway audiophile speakers do exist in the out there.
We wanted to take it further and it ate at me a little bit afterward, since each component comes independent of one another. With this as my motivator, I finally test the littlest ELAC Debut B4 Bookshelf Speakers to complete our impressions and potential of the lauded budget-oriented lineup.
Editors’ Note: This will be our culmination and should give some insight how low (or high) you can go in terms of price and build experimentation. Along with what we already had before, beyond the B4 Bookshelf Speakers ($179.99/pair), we added two F6 Floorstanding Tower Speakers ($379.99/each), B6 Bookshelf Speakers ($279.99/pair), and finally an S10EQ Powered Subwoofer ($499.99). Each of these aforementioned units come separately.
Like before, the look is functional with MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and black vinyl skin, an uncomplicated appearance. The speakers themselves have cloth grilles that are removable within seconds to reveal the driver, and the pegs that hold the respective grilles in place affixed on the front rather than detached. Things continue to be practical on the rear with a single bass port and metal gold-plated binding posts in the rear, working with whatever wiring method you choose, whether it be stripping the wires or using banana plugs. On an opinionated note: ELAC actually recommends that you take off the front grille for clearer sound, and surprisingly enough, the speakers are much nicer to look at.
The B4 themselves utilize a two-way bass reflex driver with for power. On top sits a 1-inch cloth dome tweeter and a 4-inch aramid-fiber woofer cone. Crossover frequency is 2,500 Hz and response is rated between 48 to 20,000 Hz. Sensitivity is at 84.6dB at 2.83 v/1m with Impedance rated at 6 to 5.4 Ohms (nominal/minimum Ω).
Dimensions of 11.5 in / 7 in / 8.5 in (height/width/depth) make them the smallest speakers in lineup weighing in at 9.3lbs. The hollow feel typical of the bookshelf speakers is not as pronounced, although the characteristics still exist on the F6. I wouldn’t call it cheap but the actual frame remains solidly built and the electronics underneath are expertly concealed.
Better Late Than Never
In an effort by engineer Andrew Jones to broaden the range of the Debut lineup, The B4 is a late arrival priced below $180. We hooked everything up to a Denon AVR-X6300H AV Receiver that can power up to 11.1 built-in channels of audio before external amplification, and do both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X at a maximum 9.1.2. To test the performance, we mixed and matched whatever ELAC speaker we already had for a flexible arrangement.
It essentially completes the lineup to give consumers an reasonable alternative if cost is pivotal for decent entry-level satellites. However, we still expected good audio for people just getting into the surround sound experience and we weren’t not disappointed on that front. Like the medium ELAC B5s we reviewed previously; they manage to hold their own against equally priced models from like the Energy RC-10 (Klipsch) or Polk Audio T15. Another way to look at the B4s are quick compliments to growing systems.
Unlike the rest though, we noticed that the B4 are noticeably brighter for music. From DSD/FLAC versions of John Coltrane’s SoulTrane, Café Bleu: The Style Council, to Norah Jones the interpretation was less intimate and concentrated in bass extension, preferring a wider and open profile. The vocal quality on the other hand remained accurate and on the forefront for Devon Allman and John Lennon tracks, the dynamic details leaning on vibrancy rather than technical precision.
We initially had B4 set as main fronts with the C5 working as the center speaker, four A4 height add-ons, and a S10EQ subwoofer. I’ll cut the suspense and say the B4s are definitely better as background players rather than lead-ins, unless your 5.1/7.1 setup incorporates all B4s as the L/R fronts and surrounds from the beginning. A setup like that has a lot potential in small-room home theaters or living rooms, since active channels won’t theoretically be burdened with distortion up to mid-upper volume levels.
Fortunately, we did a setup that included two ELAC F6 for the fronts, ELAC B5 speakers acting as the surrounds, and moving the B4 bookshelves to the back (F6/B5/B4). Conjecturally, it really came together considering the smallish dimensions of rear satellites and did an excellent job capturing the background ambiance. The action fed through the added channels is further spread and dimensionally even. As a result, the F6/B5 combination effortlessly captured the action without distortion, while the B4 can avoid being overworked.
Using the tower/bookshelves ensemble, Star Wars: The Force Awakens exuded richness in projection and scale, while the tenseness of Gravity gripped ears until the finale. We remained impressed as each piece pulled their own weight to rival that of Bowers & Wilkins CM Series and most of the Reference lineup from Klipsch. This setup in particular was excellent when the action was at its most cinematic, and shocked listeners who expected a system like this to cost at least twice as much for the performance.
The ELAC B4 Bookshelf Speakers are good whether you’re looking at the now-venerable Debut lineup or other existing systems. Obviously, the attraction is price and the fact that Andrew Jones conceived them, but have limitations when regulated to primary audio. Frankly, the B4 is similar to what is already available, ideally as secondary or tertiary satellites on the cheap.