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Speakers

ELAC aims higher with its new Adante AS-61 speaker

Superstar designer Andrew Jones pulls out all the stops for his new ELAC Adante speakers.

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The ELAC Adante AS-61 speaker, shown without its grille.

Sarah Tew/CNET

ELAC's Debut line of speakers was a sensational hit with budget-mined audiophiles in 2015, and a year later ELAC's Uni-Fi series impact was no less extraordinary. Now ELAC is upping the ante again with their Adante AF-61 towers ($5,000, £5,200, approximately AU$10,000 per pair), AC-61 center channel speaker ($2,000, £1,750, approximately AU$4,000 each), and the AS-61 stand mount monitor ($2,500, £2,600, approximately AU$5,000 per pair) speaker which is the subject of this review. ELAC America speakers are all designed by Andrew Jones, would he best himself yet again?

The AS-61 is a three-way design with a 6.5-inch (165mm) aluminum woofer, 5.25-inch (133mm) aluminum midrange, with a concentrically mounted 1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter. Ah, but the speaker's woofer isn't visible, it's mounted internally, and drives the front baffle's 8-inch (203mm) passive driver. ELAC dubbed this bass loading technology Interport-Coupled Cavity, which promises to enhance the speaker's low bass extension and definition. The AS-61's aluminum front baffle features contoured waveguides to improve dispersion from each driver.

A cutaway view of the AS-61's Interport-Coupled Cavity with the internally mounted woofer.

ELAC

The AS-61's Impedance is rated at 4 ohms. The rear panel hosts rugged looking bi-wire speaker cable binding posts, and there's no rear or front bass port. The speaker measures 19 by 9.6 by 15.8 inches (484 by 244 by 402mm), and it weighs 35 pounds (16kg). 

My samples were resplendent in a brilliant gloss white finish, but they are also available in gloss black or satin walnut veneer. The cabinets' clean lines and gently tapered side panels contribute to the AS-61's easy on the eye design. Build quality and finish are vastly better than what we've seen on the lower cost ELAC speakers. For this review I used ELAC's dedicated floor stands for the AS-61s.

I started listening with the speakers set up on the short wall of the 11 by 20 foot (3.3 by 6 meters) CNET listening room, and the sound wasn't jelling there, the bass was thick and bloated. Moving the speakers over to the long wall made a huge difference and tamed the bass problems. I next tried matching the AS-61 with a Naim Uniti Atom stereo integrated amp, but the sound was sterile and cold, switching over to a Rotel RA-1592 amplifier was a good move, and I used an Oppo UDP 205 Blu-ray player for all of the AS-61 sessions.

With a great audiophile recording like Martin Simpson's "Kambara Music in Native Tongues" the vocals and acoustic guitars sounded full-bodied, and stereo imaging was beautifully focused, the AS-61 let me hear deep into the recording.

The speakers melted away as I watched Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky" making-of DVD, the sound was so intimate and vivid I felt like I was there hanging out with the band running down the tunes. At that point I changed over to a set of Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 stand mount speakers ($2,500, £1,800 or AU$3,500 a pair), and they presented a very different, softer focus, lower resolution, but still very agreeable sound. The AS-61s are bigger, more dynamically alive sounding speakers. The 705 can't touch the AS-61's bass power and punch, it makes the 705 sound puny by comparison.

The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 (left) and ELAC Adante AS-61 (right)

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

With Okkervil River's "Away" album Will Sheff's plaintive vocals materialized between the two AS-61s, but there was a brightness in the lower treble I didn't hear from the 705s. It's a decent enough recording, but there was a hint of edge/glare to the sound with the AS-61s.  

As I continued with decidedly non-audiophile rock and jazz recordings the AS-61's subtle glaze was a distraction, and the 705s, while less "exciting" their sound was easier to listen to. Vocal sibilants and hashy cymbals that distracted over the AS-61s were tamed by the 705s.

Audiophile recordings with less aggressive mixes sounded wonderful over the AS-61, but the Replacements, REM, and the Rolling Stones albums' sound was grating over these speakers. They draw attention to the recordings rougher edges, stuff I'd rather not hear.

The ELAC Adante AS-61's beautifully focused imaging, robust dynamics, and healthy low bass response impressed, but their overly revealing nature is a concern. Then again, I'm not so sure the Rotel RA-1592 is an ideal amp for these speakers, but it was the best one I had on hand for this review. Who knows, maybe down the road I'll take another listen to Adante with other amps. We'll see.