When we expanded into home theater, we had a initiative of proving how much absolute bang one could get for the more prudent budget. An underlying theme from humble beginnings with the Monoprice 10565 5.1 Channel System, all the way up to experiencing Dolby Atmos in the home firsthand with the Pioneer SP-E73 Elite System. Indeed, the times have changed radically to bring amazing audio to everybody.
These were some thoughts running through my mind when hooking up the ELAC Debut Speaker System. An inaugural hi-fi ensemble that handily defies convention, on a level that could be the new leader in enthusiast-grade value.
The Engineer Behind It All
It comes off as overly poetic for speakers but there’s a good reason behind it, and his name is Andrew Jones — who gained critical acclaim throughout the years as a engineer for KEF, Infinity, and Pioneer’s premium TAD brand. His focus then shifted to attainable quality starting with the signature SP-PK22FS by Pioneer, and has since designed most of their premiere offerings up until his amicable leave last year.
He has a storied past and I was fortunate enough to finally meet the man in January, shooting the breeze on his philosophy regarding sound and his current tenure as a VP of Engineering for ELAC. During our chat, he was explicit on making the most of his newfound freedom, and loved challenging the laurels he built upon in the previous decades. It was a good talk, but the scale of his passion wasn’t readily apparent until I actually heard his latest creations in the flesh.
Editors’ Note: Our supplied 5.1.2 system is one of many possible configurations from ELAC. Included in this tester are four Debut B5 bookshelf speakers ($229.99/pair), a Debut C5 center-channel speaker ($179.99), a Debut S10 200-watt powered subwoofer ($249.99), and two Debut A4 Dolby Atmos modules ($229.99/pair). All units are sold separately.
Each unit is purposeful — with build quality kept tastefully basic without bothering on enticing curves — instead relying on medium-density fiberboard cabinets covered in a black vinyl finish. The protective grilles on the Debut speakers are expectedly done in black cloth and can be easily removed within seconds, however in a small twist, the pegs that hold the respective grilles in place are affixed on the front rather than detach. Things remain straightforward around back with a single bass port and metal gold-plated binding posts in the rear, capable of working with whatever wiring method you desire.
The B5 bookshelves and C5 center both utilize a common two-way bass reflex driver, with a cloth dome tweeter placed within a deep-spheriod waveguide and woven aramid fiber midrange-oriented woofer measured at 6.5-inches. The A4s are sealed with a 5-inch tweeter and a 4-inch aramid-fiber cone with oversized magnet to balance out their smaller size, and meant to be placed right on top of the B5s. Impedance is rated at 6 Ohms (nominal Ω) and crossover frequency for each satellite is 3000Hz and 5000Hz for the add-on modules, respectively
Except for the obvious bass port up front and control panels of master volume dial, low pass (Hz) dial, and switches for phase and main power; the Debut S10 subwoofer has the same vinyl looks. Internals feature a 10-inch doped paper cone, BASH-type amplifier, and frequency range of 50-150Hz – general specifications among other subwoofers in its class.
One thing that may throw people off is how hollow everything feels to the touch, as each of the main cabinets weigh around 11-19lbs.; they don’t feel cheap but they do deceive the presence of hardware under the frame. It’s more of an observation since it never diminished the listening quality.
However, none of that mattered when we quickly realized how the ELAC speakers performed. It’s loud, balanced, and full depth despite their size, with suprising amounts of warmth unlike the usual cheap offerings that need a paired amplifier/receiver to pick up the slack; and even then are still greatly limited by their own design. The setup is pleasantly rich for multichannel audio, even if you initially decide to save a few hundred bucks with the B5 bookshelf arrangement like we did.
We had a Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A850 AV receiver and Blu-ray movies of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Avatar on hand. The best way to describe the effect is bold and deep, delivering deep lows and ambiance in the surrounds. With vocals exuding a cleanliness that doesn’t get drowned out by other elements, rivaling the non-height portions of the Pioneer SP-EBS73 speakers — and one hell of a leap above the lauded SP-PK22BSs from long ago. Distortion was well-controlled for our material, never being noticeable of distracting until cranked up to volume levels that would be considered annoying to next-door neighbors.
By themselves, The B5 bookshelves are fine for music as we enjoyed Hi-Resolution audio (96KHz/24-bit) for instrumentals and vocals. From the guitar tempo in Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” to John Lennon’s piano melody in “Imagine” were clean. Bass definition in Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home” captured those soothing synthesized jazz riffs nicely, if just a hair lean by default. The overall impression is generally amazing if your living space or monetary situation requires some workaround when matched against the bigger B6 modules, although, we feel that the B5s are definitely in their element as left/right surrounds for discerning listeners.
The C5 center-channel speaker had a noticeable difference in tonal output, with a stronger preference towards male octaves during dialogue. Switch things over to a mono setup and the drivers tend to fall back on the dual woofers to compensate, sounding a bit cupped without a subwoofer to aid it, but nothing too glaring.
On the other hand, the upward firing A4 Dolby Atmos add-ons are complementary but do have the added presence comparable to integrated units like Andrew Jones’s recent Pioneer SP-EBS73s. Those were excellent but these concentric units gave us an intensified effect that sounded a couple notches more powerful, specifically during the first canyon escape from Immortan Joe’s forces in Mad Max: Fury Road and the intentional deadness heard in the Diamond Luxe edition of Gravity. The effects are effectively heightened for natural atmosphere and dramatic effect, when committed as separate channels.
What Could’ve Been…
But there are plenty of alternate configurations to broaden your potential setup. If you’re adamant about music, then going a little bit bigger on bookshelf speakers with a pair of the ELAC Debut B6 is a ideal choice. Admittedly, both the B5 and B6 are wonderful but we reckon the latter will have a warmer feel to them; while the full-size Debut F5 floorstanding speakers are a far more appropriate match in larger environments, if not then the Debut F6 for even more assurance.
Personally, I would incorporate another pair of A4 add-on modules, since a complete group of four (5.1.4) dimensional speakers is easily more convincing in scope. Another objective would be to replace the S10 subwoofer with something functionally robust. Our immediate LFE pick in the range would be the Debut S10EQ which is double the price ($499.99), but incorporates Bluetooth and advanced room equalizer capabilities through the ELAC SubEQ app (Android/iOS). In fact, I’m very intrigued and eagerly hope to review this subwoofer down the road.
The ELAC Debut Speaker System is a remarkable choice, delivering a level of performance not normally intended for the majority. Somehow through expertise or augury, Andrew Jones has once again upped the stereo game. Of course, this doesn’t diminish the appeal of other brands like Bowers & Wilkins, SVS, and Pioneer — where perceived refinement, reference, and al-natural sound can often be had for more money. Based on those perquisites though, ELAC can be considered real audiophile quality without pretension; a literal class all its own.