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ELAC Uni-Fi UF5 review: Best speakers under $1,000

The Elac UF5s are our favorite speakers under $1,000, combining unheard-of transparency with enough kick to tempt rock and dance fans.

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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.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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5 min read

Speaker designer Andrew Jones is on such a winning streak right now that, if he was a professional poker player, he should be hurtling out a side door as two burly men with goatees and cummerbunds dust their hands and warn him never to come back.

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8.8

ELAC Uni-Fi UF5

The Good

The Elac Uni-Fi UF5 sounds twice as good as speakers that cost twice as much. It's crazy value for money.

The Bad

Build quality could be better, bass definition suffers with complex material compared to some other speakers, and they may need an expensive amp to perform their best.

The Bottom Line

The Elac UF5 are our favorite speakers under $1,000 combining unheard-of transparency with enough kick to tempt rock and dance fans.

Following up his uniformly excellent Elac and Pioneer speakers was never going to be easy, but the new Uni-Fi UF5 floorstanders are superb. This speaker effortlessly combines the glorious midrange of the UB5 bookshelf speakers with the "rock" tendencies of the Elac Debut. If you're hemming and hawing about which of the Elac models to buy let there be no doubt: It should be this one.

It's not perfect -- the build quality is behind Elac's competitors, for example -- but as before it's the sound quality that you're paying for here. We haven't yet found a model under two thousand bucks that can hold a candle to these.

While the Elac UB5 was almost a carbon copy of Jones' earlier Pioneer EBS73, the UF5 is its own animal. It's better (and cheaper!) than the EFS73 floorstander. So the Elac UF5 snatches the crown from the Pioneers to become our new king of affordable tower speakers.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Have a decent size living area? Floorstanding speakers are what we recommend. The UF5 adds three 5.25-inch aluminum woofers to the same concentric 1-inch soft dome tweeter and 4-inch aluminum midrange driver used on the UB5.

The speakers are big at 38 inches high by 10 inches deep by 8 inches wide. To help with stabilization, they come with a set of screw-on feet and are fitted with carpet-piercing spikes. There are rubber caps in the box for use with hard floors. Elac's UF5, UC5 center channel, and UB5 bookshelf speakers have extra-beefy binding posts that work with thick audiophile cables fitted with spades or banana connectors.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The veneer is the same vinyl the company used with previous Elac models, and it's also the one chosen by Klipsch. It's fine, if prone to damage, but in general the speakers' build quality isn't quite up to the standard of the work Jones did with Pioneer, or even Elac competitors like Bowers and Wilkins or Klipsch.

The driver surrounds are probably the weakest part of this design. While they look OK with their silver finish, they don't quite sit flush with the front of the speaker if you run your fingers around them -- they may even feel "spongy". We noticed early on in our testing that one had even come unseated and was audibly vibrating with bassy material. Pushing the surround in with a finger stopped the noise but we don't remember this happening with any other speakers.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

If you prefer something a little sleeker, the company will also make a Slim version of this speaker and others in the UF range. It'll come with the choice of a satin black or white painted finish. The slim version of the UF5 is also little thinner and a touch deeper and will cost an extra $400. Despite the change of dimensions, the company says the internal volume is the same and it will sound identical.

Setup

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The UF5 has a lower than average nominal impedance of 4 ohms, and it dips down to as low as 3.4 ohms. Not only that, the specifications claim lower than average sensitivity of 85dB.

Translation? These speakers will sound their best with high quality, powerful amplifiers and receivers.

There are two ports on its rear panel, so try to avoid placing the UF5 less than a foot from a wall or corner, this tower needs room to "breathe".

Sounds like... music

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The UF5 sells for $1,000 a pair, but it has the poise and refinement of speakers that go for two or even three times the price. Our Rotel RA 1592 stereo integrated amp and Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player were used for all of our stereo listening tests.

The first thing we noticed was the UF5's smooth tonal balance. The bass, midrange, and treble were extremely well matched, so no range dominated the sound on Okkervil River's terrific "Away" album. The tinkling bells, birds, and distant thunder that open "Comes Indiana Through the Snow" sounded like they were coming from behind the speakers. Soundstage depth and center image focus were truly impressive, and the lush arrangements sounded natural.

That album led to Wilco's new "Schmilco," and the easy rhythms rolling through the tunes set our toes a-tappin'. With harsh recordings such as Led Zeppelin's newly remastered "The Complete BBC Sessions" the UF5 revealed all of the live recordings' distortion (intentional and otherwise), but the music's power reigned supreme. Next up, Jazz bassist Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus' "The Distance" album fully exercised the UF5's woofers. The stand up bass's physically powerful low-end definition and body were given their full due.

Switching over to our Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73 towers the sound was similar overall, but with a more relaxed treble, and warmer, rounder mid bass, although though the Elac's deep bass capabilities exceeded the Pioneer's. Despite initial concerns that the UF5 was "swallowing" bass on complex music such as Battles' "Atlas," it actually does a much better job than the Pioneer. Both are excellent overall, but the Elac sounds a little clearer, and its more potent bass clinched the deal.

When we compared the tower with the PSB X2T, it brought out the bass in rock music especially, but the midrange seemed shuttered compared to the two other Jones-designed speakers. For home theater we added the UC5 center channel speaker and UB5 bookshelfs as surround speakers, all hooked up to a Sony DN1070 AV receiver. "In the Flesh" from Roger Waters' "The Wall" Blu-ray had dynamics a plenty, and the UF5's power and fury knocked us out.Continuing with "Jurassic Park," the five Elac speakers immersive, room-filling capabilities were up to snuff. The sounds of dinosaur footsteps had the requisite power we could feel, even without a subwoofer in the system. Of course, a well chosen sub will go deeper and supply more oomph, but the UF5 tower speakers alone might be plenty for buyers with small to mid-size rooms.

Conclusion

The Elac Uni-Fi UF5 is hands down the best, clearest sounding tower speaker we've heard for the money. Actually, it's better than that. It's the sort of speaker that an aspiring audiophile could assemble a very respectable system around, and happily live with for decades to come.

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8.8

ELAC Uni-Fi UF5

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Sound 9Value 10
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