The Elac Debut B6.2 offers first-rate build quality and sonic clarity at an affordable price.
The original Elac Debut B6 came out of nowhere in late 2015. Designer Andrew Jones had only recently left Pioneer, yet here he was with a fully formed speaker design -- one that immediately became our favorite bookshelf speaker for the money. Over the next three years he followed up with the equally impressive Uni-Fis, Adantes and then an unexpected update to the speaker that started it all.
The Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 makes some improvements on the original speaker, namely in terms of build quality and overall clarity. The design sounds like a cross between the old Debut and the original Uni-Fi, with a clearer, more open performance than before. I miss the laid-back qualities of the original B6, but nonetheless the B6.2 is a fine speaker for less than the price of an AV receiver.
Since the B6.2 first came out in 2018, other companies have caught on to what Jones is doing. Q Acoustics, Emotiva and Polk also offer compelling speakers for similar prices to the B6.2, and the Q Acoustics 3030i in particular manages to challenge the Elac with superior bass power and versatility.
The original B6 earned our Editors' Choice award as the slam-dunk best speaker in its class, and the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 continues the tradition. If you want a pair of affordable speakers with a more expansive, enveloping sound than the Q Acoustics 3030i, the Elac B6.2 is a great choice.
Update, June 23, 2021: The Q Acoustics 3030i was the previous Editors' Choice winner for best speaker for the money, but its price went up $70 recently, so that honor now belongs to the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2. While both speakers are excellent values, the Elac is now the best speaker in its class by a nose. The remainder of the review, originally published March 6, 2018, remains largely unchanged.
The B6.2 has a cheerfully retro appearance that recalls older British designs from Bowers and Wilkins or Wharfedale. When placed alongside the original Debut B6 it looks like a completely different speaker -- where the B6 was short and squat, the update is taller and slimmer with the noticeable addition of a front bass port.
Like the original the B6.2 boasts a 6.5-inch aramid fiber (similar to Kevlar) woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter, but their implementation is different. For example, the tweeter on the 2015 model was recessed which made the speaker more directional, but this time around the mesh-covered tweeter is almost flush with the front panel. In addition the driver now boasts an extruded dust cap, which is designed to make the driver more responsive.
The dimensions are familiar for a pair of stand-mount speakers at 7.69 inches wide by 14.76 inches high and a relatively thin 10.55 inches deep. While the original Debut was resonant -- rap a knuckle on the side and it rang -- the B6.2 has had additional bracing installed to reduce potential sonic coloration. Knocking on it gives a faintly metallic plop.
Extra bracing isn't the only change. Upon closer inspection you'll notice the use of an old-school black ash wrap instead of the brushed vinyl of the original Debut. Finally, around the back you'll find a pair of metal binding posts.
Elac recommends partnering the B6.2 with any receiver up to 120 watts per channel. The speaker has a reasonable 87dB sensitivity and a 44Hz-35kHz frequency response, which means it will fill small to medium-size rooms. Thanks to that front-mounted port you can even put them relatively close to the wall, though we still recommend leaving an inch or so of space to avoid boomy bass.
We were mightily impressed by the original Elac Debut B6 when we reviewed it in October 2015, and it was our go-to budget bookshelf speaker for several years. We know its sound well, and a lot has changed with the new Debut 6.2: the cabinet, bass port, crossover, woofer and tweeter for starters!
And yes, the sound is different, too. The original B6's sound feels comfortable and easy to listen to, and right away we noted the B6.2 has a livelier, clearer sound. Obviously designer Andrew Jones wasn't content to rest on his laurels.
To get started with this review, we set up the B6 and B6.2 on tall metal floor stands in the CNET listening room, hooked them up to a Sony STR-DN1080 AV receiver and an Oppo UDP-205 Blu-ray player, and listened to Jesus and Mary Chain's Stoned & Dethroned album -- turned up loud. Stoned has a more melodic Ramones-ish or Pixies-like vibe, and the original B6 sounded big and bold. Whether quiet or loud, the B6 felt right, especially for a speaker at its price level.
Switching over to the new B6.2, the soundstage grew bigger and more three-dimensional. The heavily layered mix of acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums and vocals were more clearly revealed. The mix's massive reverberation positively bloomed over the B6.2; upon returning to the B6 the sound flattened out.
The two speakers' differing character also held when we compared acoustic music. The B6.2s midrange sounded more present and immediate, while the B6's sound was a little more laid back. The high frequencies are brighter and better resolved on the B6.2, and it provides a more transparent window on the music.
The B6 is softer and blurrier, with a warmer tonal balance with more weight. The B6.2 is leaner in the mid-bass but is also better defined. Bass did go satisfyingly deep for a speaker of the B6.2's size however. When we played test tones it reached the high 40-Hertz range.
Next we moved the older Elacs out of the way and brought out the terrific Q Acoustics 3020 speakers. It's a smaller speaker than the B6.2, and it sounds smaller, too. With Wilco's Schmilco album, the B6.2 had a more intimate, you-are-there sound than the 3020, which put more space between us and the music. With Miles Davis' Nefertiti, the band's propulsive drive, Davis' horn, and the transients of Tony Williams' drums sounded more realistic over the B6.2. The 3020 couldn't keep up; we felt like we were missing out on some of the band's grooves.
Even after our listening tests with the new version, we still very much enjoy the original B6. If you own a pair of these older speakers and still love the sound, we can't make a blanket recommendation to upgrade to the B6.2. On the other hand, if you crave more clarity, the B6.2 would be well worth considering. The Q Acoustics 3030i is still our slight favorite overall however, with better versatility and more bass than the B6.2.