The hype surrounding speaker designer Andrew Jones' newest creation was deafening.
The saying goes that everyone who saw the Sex Pistols' first gig started a successful band. It seemed to me that everyone who heard Jones' ELAC prototypes -- including ourselves -- wrote a tweet or post or article saying how the new speakers blew them away. The UB5s promised the sonic world that they could rock, they imaged like crazy, and they would be damned affordable.
I can now report that they do indeed live up to the buzz. For $500, here is a speaker that offers a true three-way design, a compact form factor and true high-fidelity performance. The ELACs produce a stereo image like nothing else at the price, and bass response is superlative. These speakers are both poet laureates and mustachioed headbangers.
The only minor caveat to our recommendation of the ELAC is that the cosmetics could use some work. The design is "love it or hate it", and this isn't helped by a vinyl wrap which is not as resilient as that on other speakers.
Between $500 and $1,000 you'll find a lot of performance bookshelf speakers vying for your attention, but on pure value-for-money terms, none we've heard can hold a candle to the the ELAC UB5. The company is clearly on a roll, and based on the showing of the UB5 we're looking forward to hearing the other announced models in the Uni-Fi line such as the floorstanding UF5 ($999) in the near future.
UK and Australian availability and pricing isn't yet announced but according to reports the UB5 will get a slightly modified design in those countries (including a different, more expensive finish). Current exchange rates convert to £342 or AU$689.
In the past few years, the true revolution in audio hasn't been the resurgence of vinyl -- which actually never went away -- but instead it's been that "true hi fi" has finally become something most people can afford. Andrew Jones, first at Pioneer and now at ELAC, has been at the forefront of this movement, and the Uni-Fi UB5 is the clearest statement yet of his intent.
Given that the fundamental design is eerily similar to Jones' earlier, similarly priced Pioneer SP-EBS73-LR it's no surprise that the two sound alike. And as with the less-expensive ELAC Debut, most of the money goes on performance, not on pretty doo-dads. The UB5 is an MDF box -- albeit a much better braced one than before -- which measures roughly 8 inches across, 13 inches high and 11 inches deep.
The star of the UniFi's design is the concentric driver: it consists of a 1-inch soft dome surrounded by a 4-inch aluminum cone. This driver is paired with a 5.25-inch aluminum cone, and the design is rear-ported. As a result, keeping the cabinet at least three feet away from walls will help to contain boominess -- however unlike the competitive B&W 685s, there aren't any foam bungs to contain bass response.
The Uni-Fi is covered in the currently chic "brushed vinyl," and while it looks pretty suave, this material is actually a bit of a problem. We've seen other speakers covered in it -- from both ELAC and Klipsch -- and the material in many cases has either started to warp or lift at the corners. There is one caveat though: we move speakers around a lot and so some of this is from handling in a busy testing studio. That said, even the wrap on one of the UB5 speakers we received had a small ding in the finish at the edge straight out of the box.
In response, Andrew Jones says the model we received wasn't new, but had been used for demonstration purposes previously. In addition, Digital Audio Review reports that the brushed finish will only be used in the US -- the UK (and possibly Australia) will be getting a painted finish instead for a slightly higher price. We have reached out to ELAC for confirmation and pricing.
The older, more traditional "wood vinyl" is much harder-wearing, and a speaker featuring this finish would be the preferable option if they are going to be in a high-traffic area.
Here in the CNET listening room and hooked up to our NAD C 356BEE stereo integrated amplifier, the Uni-Fi UB5 made a powerful first impression.
The bass went deeper than a speaker armed with just a single 5.25-inch aluminum-cone woofer has any right to. Using a tone generator we explored the Uni-Fi UB5's deep bass extension, first at 50 hertz, then we lowered the frequency down to 40Hz and the Uni-Fi UB5's output dropped, just a bit. We continued down to 30 Hz and the Uni-Fi UB5's output dropped a few more decibels, but those very deep bass frequencies were still very present! That's simply superb on a speaker this size. Mind you, this was in the 14-by-17-foot CNET listening room, larger rooms will soak up more bass energy.
Bass definition on kick drums on our Talking Heads albums was truly extraordinary. The bass drum sound was controlled and detailed. Moving up from there, midrange tonality was superb, voices sounded like voices.