Update Sept. 8, 2017, 6 p.m. PT: After missing an expected midyear release, Elac says its highly-anticipated Adante range is now due to go to manufacturing in mid-September. Designer Andrew Jones says the design has had several tweaks since CES in January 2017 including a change to a soft-dome tweeter from a titanium/aluminum one.
At CES 2016, out of the dozens of products I saw at the show, the one thing that blew me away was the Elac Uni-Fi UF5. It's a crazy-good $500 (roughly £380, AU$620) bookshelf speaker that easily worries models three times its price. It was my favorite speaker of 2016.
When I heard that Elac of America's Andrew Jones had designed a new set of "cost no object" speakers as a follow-up, I was intrigued. Given his alliance with Elac in Germany, would he be incorporating some of its designs? A super tweeter? Or a concentric driver with a ribbon tweeter?
The resulting Adante, which the inventor demonstrated at, wasn't some sort of compromise between the two divisions; this was steadfastly an Andrew Jones speaker. And of course it borrowed from Jones' extensive history in the audio trade.
The Adante range has three speakers: the $2,500 AS-61 stand mount (£2,600, approx. AU$5,000), the $2,000 AC-61 center speaker (£1,750, approx. AU$4,000) and a $5,000 AF-61 floorstander (£5,200, approx. AU$10,000).
Firstly, the finish of the speakers is like nothing we've seen from Elac America before. Aesthetically it brings to mind the work Jones did with Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, specifically the Compact Evolution One. The unit Jones demonstrated here in Vegas had a brushed aluminum faceplate with aluminum drivers, and while the cabinet was finished in gloss black, the final version will also be available in gloss white or walnut.
One thing you notice when you look at the cabinet is there aren't any ports, just a pair of binding posts on the back. In addition to the concentric/midrange tweeter setup, the bass woofer is actually a pretty ingenious system of drivers (which Jones says he borrowed from Kef). He's put a traditional 6-inch driver inside a ported box, and then tucked that inside the closed speaker cabinet. This system then drives an 8-inch passive driver on the outside. Translation? Smoother, more extended bass and better efficiency.
Also... rodents don't get in there. (It's a thing, really! It happened to me.)
The demonstration units we saw at CES differ from the final design, as he said he had been tossing up between using titanium and aluminum for the tweeters. Instead the final design will be a soft dome. Jones says the speaker he demonstrated was about 70 to 80 percent of where it should be in terms of performance.
Listening to the Adante speakers reminded me of the Uni-Fis that had made me grin so uncontrollably the year before. The Adante has the same effortless imaging, voices are incredibly present, and yet it has an even broader soundstage than before. And, the one thing Uni-Fi was missing: that bass!
I was a big fan of the Bowers and Wilkins 805 D3, and CNET's Audiophiliac even more so. It is a crazily transparent speaker, and it breathes life into quality recordings. What it can't do is bass. While the Adante didn't seem as transparent -- though I am dying to hear them against each other -- it could do deep bass. The gentle synth "bom" in the middle of "Yulunga" by Dead Can Dance shook the Elac listening room. I haven't heard another stand-mount speaker that sounds like this.
Of the many tracks we listened to the one that impressed me most, however, was a cover of Tom Waits' "Way Down In the Hole" by John Campbell. The track had an amazing sense of space as the vocal track commandeered the room while the percussion percolated like sheets of shimmering water behind him. The underpinning bass track made my thighs vibrate, and I'll admit that was a little bit of an odd sensation.
As with last year's demonstration of the Uni-Fi UF5, the amplification Jones used this time costs many times the price of the speakers, plus he'd included a custom-built industrial power conditioner for good measure.
Will you need to go this crazy if you're looking to buy a set of these? Jones said a good receiver from the major companies -- think Yamaha Aventage, Sony ES or Integra -- should be enough to power these speakers. But as with the Uni-Fi, the better the amp, the better your results will be. My rule of thumb is usually to spend as much on the amp as you would on the two front speakers, but we'll see how this holds when we test a pair for ourselves. The Adante is more efficient than the Uni-Fi due to its closed design and so should be a little easier to drive.
As Jones said, the speaker we heard at CES still needed some work -- vocals could be a little too overbearing, for example -- but after nine months of tweaks the speaker is likely to be a worthy follow-up to the Uni-Fi UB5. If you're looking to buy a high-end speaker in the next year or two, the Elac Adante is exactly the first place I would look. I'm so excited to test these!
First published Jan. 7, 2017;10:11 a.m. PT.