For a long time German loudspeakers were considered heavy in the bass and bright in the treble, but that was last century, things have changed. Maybe ELAC considered this when they opened a second research centre, this time in the USA, to finally shed that image. The designer in the USA is Andrew Jones, a Brit who has been creating well respected speakers for KEF and TAD among others. He is one of the few engineers capable of designing high-end and budget systems. The first fruit of his involvement with ELAC is the appropriately named Debut series, which comprises two standmounts, a floorstander, a centre and surround loudspeakers plus several subwoofers. The Debut B6 is the bigger standmount with a friendly £299 price tag.
ELAC didn’t take the easy route of buying drive units, making a simple crossover and putting them in a cheap box. Instead they developed drivers especially for the Debut. Take a look at the tweeter and you will find a soft dome. “The waveguide surrounding the high-frequency driver’s dome features a deep spheroid profile to improve directivity control and shield the tweeter from cabinet diffraction modes. The woofer has a cone reinforced with Aramid fibres since they offer a superior strength-to-weight ratio and improved damping characteristics over conventional paper or plastic drivers.”, says ELAC in its promo material. Of course the magnets matter too, as do the suspension and voice coils for the final result. Most manufacturers would choose a very simple crossover to save money. Not ELAC, they use seven components for a 3 kHz crossover point between tweeter and mid/bass driver. The cabinet is made of MDF, wrapped with vinyl. What’s peculiar about the cabinet is that you can feel it vibrate with the music, something I expect from BBC type designs but not North American or German ones. A grille is supplied that covers four fixing points on the baffle, on the back is a bass reflex port and single wire cable terminals. The low price tag inevitably results in compromises and ELAC chose to invest in drivers and crossovers instead of luxury wood finishes. Still the B6 looks attractive, stylish and discrete, not at all the cheap appearance that you might expect.
Moving the speakers around I found the best position for this speaker is a metre away from the back wall (measured to the centre of the baffle) and over 50cm away from the side walls. Using Custom Design FS104 stands with SuperSpikes brings the tweeter up to ear level. I started with the B6 facing the listening position, but less toe-in produced better results. Some tuning of loudspeaker cables was needed, my silver Simply Audio cables were a bit over the top, so I dug out up some Supra 4mm2 copper cables. This produced less detail but a better overall balance.
To be clear from the start I do not know a loudspeaker at £299 that produces so much detail. My Harbeths at over five times the price have a hard time staying on top. For instance the difference between an AudioQuest Vodka optical digital cable and a coaxial Carbon from the same manufacturer is made clear with ease. It’s a more technical versus a warm sound, a wider versus deeper stereo image, differences you won’t notice on many speakers in this price category. Often manufacturers choose a more technical sound for better detail or forget the detail and turn to musicality. Not ELAC, they offer detail and stay easy on the ear as long as you use the right cable and find the optimum toe-in. There are more important things than detail and I’ll use music to try and describe them. Take for instance speed, an attribute that determines rhythm and neutrality. A jazz recording by Stacey Kent like The Boy Next Door includes tracks with speedy drums, bass riffs, piano and of course the clear voice of Ms Kent. The B6 throws a real party in the listening room and my feet start moving instantly with the rhythm. Whether you like her voice or despise it, most of her albums are fine recordings. When her husband starts playing his saxophone the B6 is a very accurate performer, the sound could be a little warmer, but all you have to do is move the speaker a little closer to the back wall or make use of a heavier, solid stand to achieve this. But remember, more distance and a lightweight stand preserve speed and openness, which is often preferable over longer periods. The sound pressure level seems to have no influence at all on the final result, playing soft is as pleasant as playing loud, although the saxophone really comes alive when played louder.
Using Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos to examine the neutrality and naturalness of this system produces another surprise at how well the Debut B6 behaves in comparison to its price. The instruments have a neutral balance that’s neither harsh nor too soft sound, organ, violins and brass instruments all seem to be a piece of cake. It reaches deep enough into the low frequencies to reproduce basses and cellos in a natural way, and delivers a violin that sparkles in front of me with a sharply defined stereo image. This image is not exceptionally deep or wide, but it is just fine. The placement of instruments in height deserves praise, as does the way the speakers seem to disappear from the stage. But it is the speed and the amount of detail that pulls the listener in deep. Doing this without an overly bright treble means that all the attention goes to the musicians and the composition. After Bach comes Robert Schumann’s sonatas for violin and piano played by Martha Argerich and friends. The physical size of the loudspeaker is a limitation for the power and lower registers of the grand piano, but the results are realistic to say the least. Just as with all bookshelves/standmounts it is absurd to expect that the sound of a grand piano can be reproduced fully by a six inch woofer. The trick is to fool our brain so that it fills in the missing parts. Some loudspeaker designers know this and Andrew Jones is clearly one of them.
Moving back to pop music means old, sometimes even bad recordings. I pick Sade at random from the artist list on my tablet and play her Best Of. On ‘No Ordinary Love’ the driving rhythm section comes forward but the voice remains on top, slightly hoarse, sexy and intelligible. Some tracks later a male voice is heard in the background, it’s soft and subtle and often hidden in the music on other loudspeakers. Agnes Obel’s debut album Aventine plays easily and sounds fascinating. A bass heavy album, Hotels & Dreamers by Alan Taylor is controlled in the lower notes, which is striking because in this room not all bass reflex systems behave themselves. This CD shows the limits of the Debut B6 in comparison with my Harbeths, it’s the first time that it’s clear to me that I am listening to a far cheaper system. It’s not unpleasant but even a Debut can’t do everything you want from your music if you are used to better things. So more expensive systems still have their place. This has everything to do with the way lower registers are mixed into the sound of Stockfish recordings, they often become messy on budget systems and Taylor’s voice lacks persuasiveness. The opposite happens with an old Sarah Conners hit From Sarah With Love, which often sounds harsh and distorted, even on costly systems but I use it to find the limitations of equipment. But the Debut B6 likes her a lot, a little more warmth in the sound might be welcome but as I mentioned earlier there are more consequences to changing position or stands than balance. Positioning loudspeakers is often a matter of finding the best compromise, the best balance for a wide range of music. French singer Nolwenn Leroy with music from Brittany rounds off the enjoyment I have had with these ELACs. Tracks with names I cannot pronounce make it clear how similar Breton and Celtic music is as cheerful percussion instruments explode from the Debut B6 drivers.
I do not know what magical ingredients ELAC used for the Debut loudspeakers, but the fact is that the B6 is an amazing budget speaker that performs way above its weight in so many respects. It reminds me of the KEF LS50, a better looking speaker with the same sort of high sound quality, albeit at a higher price. The resolution of detail is exceptional and a lesson to others, but it never loses sight of musicality. The tight bass notes, reach deeper than you might expect from the size of the box and demand attention, the open midrange and clean treble makes listening a real pleasure.
In this price range many loudspeakers beg for attention in one respect or another, the B6 seem to deliver all the magic ingredients. It naturally has the limitations of a budget loudspeaker but for £299 a pair it is a masterpiece that should be high on the shopping list of anyone in the market for an affordable speaker. I do not know of another speaker at the price that gives so much insight into the music. In many respects it is a waste to combine the Debut B6 with partnering equipment in the same price category, the B6 gives so much more when used with better sources and amplifiers. Pay attention to placement, stands and cables and the B6 will reward you with real pleasure when listening to music over extended periods. This ELAC is one of the affordable highlights that make our hobby so much fun.
Speaker type: 2-way, bass reflex
Frequency response: 44 to 20,000 Hz
Nominal impedance: 6 Ω
Sensitivity: 87 dB at 2.83 v/1m
Crossover frequency: 3,000 Hz
Maximum power input: 120 Watts
Tweeter: 1-inch cloth dome with custom deep-spheroid waveguide
Woofer: 6.5-inch woven aramid-fibre cone with oversized magnet and vented pole piece
Cabinet: CARB2 rated MDF
Cabinet finish: Black brushed vinyl
Port: Dual flared
Binding posts: 5-way metal
Dimensions HxWxD: 356 x 216 x 254 mm
Net weight (each): 14.3 lb / 6.5 kg
ELAC Electroacustic GmbH
T +44 (0)1285 643088