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This is the thing that blew me away at CES 2016: ELAC's Uni-Fi UB5

ELAC America has announced its latest affordable speaker, the $500 Uni-Fi UB5, and it could become the new reference at the price.

Ty Pendlebury
Ty Pendlebury Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

3 min read

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The ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 alongside the bass and concentric drivers.

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Back in 2012, I saw a product at CES that affected me in a way that products very rarely do. At a time when plasma was about to go into its final death throes, LG's first OLED, the LG 55EM9800 , was so far ahead of anything I'd seen at the time it felt like "the future." It was stunning.

At CES 2016, I saw the second product that exhilarated me in the same way that television had. At a small suite on the 30th floor of the in the Venetian Towers, speaker designer Andrew Jones was demoing the speaker he had just created for ELAC America. The results left me positively beaming.

The ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 is Jones' latest audio product and distills all of the things he has been working on for both ELAC and Pioneer, at yet another crazy price.

For $500 the UB5 is a true three-way speaker which has a concentric mid and tweeter -- as seen on the Pioneer Elite SP-EBS73-LR -- and a separate 5.25-inch bass woofer. The concentric driver and bass woofer are sealed in their own respective enclosures, and Jones says this helps prevent the bass from muddying the mids and highs, making it perform much better than the two-way Debut. Incidentally, the ELAC Debut B6 was CNET's Editor's Choice and our favorite product of 2016.

The UB5 is backed by two more speakers, the Uni-Fi UF5 floor-stander ($1,000) and the Uni-Fi UC5 (pricing to be confirmed).

Looks? It has none. The silver-finished woofer and surround speakers are a little "funny looking" against the brushed black vinyl cabinet -- a similar texture to that which he used on the cheaper Debut line.


ELAC America's Andrew Jones demos his latest speaker.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Is it better than the Debut? Based on our demonstration which included jazz, nu-metal and Latin music, this is probably the speaker with the best bang-for-buck of anything he's ever done. The Uni-Fi UB5 had the type of full tuneful bass that you would normally associate with a tower speaker, and yet it didn't compromise the rest of the speaker's response. The speaker had ultrasharp imaging and a very wide soundstage, but it could also rock. Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name" had a greater sense of space than I'd ever heard heard before, and while it was a little brighter than you'd hope for with music of its kind, the results left the headbangers in the room with huge grins on their faces.

At the demonstration, he compared the UB5 to his own TAD-CE1 Compact Evolution One and said the ultra-high-end speaker was "50 times more expensive" but had hit "the law of diminishing returns".

Sure, it wasn't the best thing I heard on the show floor -- that went to the Meridian DSP8000, but that product costs $65,000.

The ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 will be available in the US on April 4 April 30 for $500 (converted, that's £344 or AU$710), and I have my calendar and red marker pen ready to mark off the days till I can test the speaker for myself.

It's only a week into 2016 but if this speaker is the improvement on the Debut that I think it is, this is an early contender for the best of 2016. Deeply impressive, Mr. Jones. Deeply. Impressive.

Check out the rest of CNET's CES 2016 coverage here.

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