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ELAC Debut F5 review: Great-sounding tower speaker sets new standard for hi-fi value

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The Good The ELAC Debut F5 offers excellent floorstander performance for half the price of some competitors. The speakers sport attractive styling and decent build quality. A whole surround package will only set you back $1,500, which is less than some sound bars.

The Bad The Debut F5 is only available in a black, vinyl finish.

The Bottom Line The ELAC Debut F5 tower speaker delivers astonishing performance for the price.

8.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 9
  • Value 9

In the glory days of hi-fi, it used to be that value and performance were mutually exclusive. "If it sounds good it has to be expensive", went the unspoken maxim. Those words still hold true in some cases, but one of our favorite speaker designers has been bucking the trend since 2011.

It was then that Andrew Jones -- known for his high-end work at KEF, Infinity and TAD-- focused his talents on a set of highly affordable Pioneer speakers which garnered rave reviews from both critics and consumers. Then in early 2015 Jones moved from Pioneer over to ELAC (a major German speaker company), where he became Vice President of Engineering for ELAC America.

The ELAC Debut F5 tower speaker and the B6 bookshelf are two parts of an entirely new range which demonstrate that Jones hit the ground running. As soon as we started listening to the floor-standing F5, it became clear Jones isn't resting on his considerable laurels. The new speaker is light years ahead of his Pioneer designs.

At $560 a pair, it's also more then twice as expensive (Australian and UK pricing and availability has yet to be confirmed). Though the smaller B6 speakers offer better bang for buck, the F5s offer a much bigger sound and even greater bass response. For this level of sound quality, they're a steal.

In short, the ELAC Debut series has instantly become the new standard for hi-fi value.

Design & features

Sarah Tew/CNET

In an interview with me a few weeks ago, Jones described the close working relationship he has with the factory in China that makes the speakers. He also mentioned the factory's measurement system, which mirrors the one in his ELAC America facility in California. His ultimate aim, he said, was to create speakers that sounded significantly better than what he had achieved for Pioneer. That attention to detail was immediately evident when we examined the new Debut speakers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Debut F5 is a three-way, bass-reflex tower speaker. It features a 1-inch silk dome tweeter set into a deep-spheroid waveguide and three 5.25 inch woven Aramid fiber drivers. The top 5.25 inch midrange driver (and the tweeter) are housed in a separate chamber within the cabinet and it comes with its own bass port. The bottom two 5.25-inch woofers share a common space and two bass ports. Jones designed a special three-way crossover network for the F5 to maximize the performance of each driver.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker stands 38 inches (96.5 cm) high, 7.87 inches (20 cm) wide, and 8.75 inches (22.2 cm) deep; each Debut F5 weighs 32.8 pounds (14.9 kg). The floor-stander's handsome medium-density fiberboard cabinet is covered with an attractive "brushed" black vinyl finish, and a removable, black cloth grille protects the drivers. We liked that instead of putting the pins that secure the grille to the speaker on the grille, the sturdy-feeling pins are on the speaker's front baffle.

Rap your knuckles on the Debut F5 cabinet, and it sounds hollow. While we'd prefer a more solid feeling box, no other tower speaker in its price class feels better built, and we heard no adverse affects from the lively cabinet.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We also noted one rather unusual bit of hardware on the Debut F5's rear panel, a small, black metal clip. Turns out it's provided for folks who are concern the speakers might tip over if jostled by an earthquake (!) or more likely children or pets. To stop Debut F5s from tipping over you would have to secure the clip with a chain or wire attached to the wall behind the speaker--a low tech, but effective solution.

The rest of the Debut surround system

For the home theater portion of this review we auditioned the F5s as part of a matching Debut surround system. It consisted of the Debut C5 center channel speaker ($180), two Debut B5 bookshelf speakers ($230 per pair) for the surrounds, and the Debut S10EQ subwoofer ($500). The entire ELAC 5.1 package costs $1,470.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The two-way C5 center speaker uses the same tweeter and woofer as the F5. It's a big center speaker, measuring 18.75 inches (47.6 cm) wide, 7.87 inches (20 cm) high, and 8.75 inches (22.2 cm) deep, and it weighs 18 pounds (8.16 kg). A pair of bass ports adorn its back.

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