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Since leaving Pioneer in 2015, speaker designer Andrew Jones has continued to produce some of the best speakers for the money in his new home at Elac America. His newest speaker, the Debut Reference, shares DNA with the original dam-busting Debut B6, which produced a warm sound and a lot of bass for a compact speaker. The Reference is the real sonic successor to the first Debut, with its own warm yet vocally expressive sound.
As much as I enjoyed listening to the Elac Debut Reference DBR62, it's arguable if it's worth the extra cost compared to Elac's Debut 2.0. The 2.0 is superior in many ways at half the price, while the Uni-Fi offers an even more detailed performance for the same money as than the Reference. Neither of those look or feel as premium as the Reference, though.
If you don't crave out-and-out excitement in your music, and instead want a laid-back performance for jazz or vocal-intensive music the Debut Reference looks and sounds the part. The Elac Debut Reference Bookshelf Speakers DBR62 are available for $600, £600 or AU$1,000.
The Debut Reference is one of the most the most attractive Elac speakers yet. They look fine with the magnetic woolen grill in place, which shows off the vinyl walnut wrap of the back and sides. But I preferred them without the grill. The visual star is the metallic mesh over the dome tweeter, which adds a futuristic look to the big speaker design.
Below the tweeter is a 6.5-inch aramid fiber woofer and flared bass port. On the rear you'll find gold-plated binding posts. The speaker comes in two finishes: a white baffle with an oak cabinet, or the version I reviewed, a black baffle with a walnut cabinet. It's 8.18 inches wide by 14.13 inches high and 10.82 inches deep, and at 18 pounds per speaker, it feels hefty as you remove it from the box.
The DBR62's frequency response is rated at 44Hz to 35,000Hz with a maximum recommended power input of 120 watts.
Even if it's not the most thrilling listen, the new Debut proves you don't have to sound crazy-bright to be truly hi-fi. The Debut is especially sensitive to midrange instruments like voices and acoustic guitars, and gives folk and jazz a genuine sparkle. While it's not the first speaker I'd choose for couch-jumping to hair metal, it doesn't make hard rock sound bad by any means, either.
I compared the Elac against two very British designs, the Q Acoustics 3030i and the Bowers and Wilkins 685 with a selection of music and movies. I used the DBR62 with an Onkyo TX-RZ830, a capable midrange AV receiver, with pleasing results.
During coronavirus lockdown I'm reviewing speakers from home so I didn't have a pair of the Debut 2.0s to compare directly. But I know their sound well enough to realize immediately they are different speakers altogether than the Reference series. The Debut 2.0s have a very forward character compared to the laid-back nature of the Reference, and they demand a lot more care in system matching.
I started my testing with the bombast of Dead Can Dance's epic Yulunga (Spirit Dance) and while the Debut Reference Treble wasn't as cavernous-sounding as the other two, it had its own charms. Of the three it was the only one to make the shaker eggs sound realistic, for example. The bass drum was taut and the vocals had better detail on the edges of notes. There was an ease to the Reference that I heard again and again, although it did translate to a slight loss in dynamics.
The Q Acoustics 3030i offered the greatest sense of space in this expansive recording and an excellent sound stage, even if the bottom end was a little flabby sounding. The B&W was the brightest -- particularly with the shakers -- and its sound quality was somewhere between the Debut and the 3030i, but without the detail retrieval of the former.
The Elac Reference came out ahead again with the simple guitar and voice of Ben Harper's Widow of a Living Man. With the Q Acoustics on my speaker stands the 3030i made the leading edges of his voice seem processed in a way I hadn't heard before. But it was the Debut Reference stopped me in my tracks: that over-etched sound was gone, and just the haunting performance remained.
Turning to arena rock, I put on Foals' Mountain at my Gates, and the Debuts finally betrayed their acoustic leanings. With this and other rambunctious tracks the Debut's kept me at a distance. It wasn't boring but the song didn't leap at me the way the B&Ws did. It was the Q that sounded poorest with this track -- it's not the most audiophile mix but once the chorus kicked in the sound was actively unpleasant
Finally, I turned to home cinema where the Elac slipped comfortably into my Frankenstein home system consisting of a Canton sub, Klipsch Atmos speakers, and SVS rears. In Spider-man 3, as Peter Parker bursts through an office building window, there was a tremendous synergy with the Elac -- as the whole room seemed to twinkle with shattered glass. Though I manually calibrated the speakers each time, the results weren't quite as magical with the Q Acoustics. The 3030i didn't blend as well with the rears and there seemed to be a disconnect between the front of the room and the back. More importantly, the dialogue and effects were a little harsher sounding. Q Acoustics is a home theater speaker, however, and Spiderman 3 imbues it with plenty of excitement.
The Elac Debut Reference DBR62 is a refined speaker with elegant cosmetics and a winning sound. While it's not the best with slamming rock or dance, it offers folk and jazz fans a sweet-natured performance. It's also surprisingly good with movies.
Speaker buyers looking for maximum value should to consider the cheaper Elac models first, particularly the Debut 2.0, the Elac Debut Reference is a charming speaker which will slot in readily into most stereo or AV systems.