Are sins of omission really sins when it comes to hifi? The correct answer is “No”. I’ve been playing with the ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 speakers for months, on and off, with a variety of amplifiers and they are a delight to listen through.
Let me explain, analogously, how I operate—I love watching movies and I watch a lot of them. This has been the case for many decades and in all that time the screen I watch movies on has changed in size and quality. . .a lot. That being the case, once a movie begins and I connect to it, the screen disappears completely. That’s because the movie isn’t taking place on the screen, it’s running in my head.
The same holds for listening to music for pleasure. Which leads me to perhaps the most important question in all of hifi—What is our job as listeners? To my mind, our job as listeners is to connect to the music, the same job we have as movie watchers. Our job is certainly not to offer an ongoing critique of screen quality or sound quality. Those are part-time tasks. In the long run, we, as listeners, are tasked with the glorious job of listening to and enjoying music.
Of course, the more we do something, the more the quality of the experience matters. The trick is one of balance—the deeper we get into the quality of the experience should never impair our ability to connect to the source, regardless of quality. To fail at this is akin to falling in love with a favorite actor to the extent that we can longer love real people.
The ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 offer up a picture of music that is limited only by physics and our ability to connect with music. Having listened to the Debut’s for months using the PS Audio Sprout (see review), Quad VA-One (see review), NAD D 3020 V2 (see review), and my Leben CS600, I can tell you that the ELACs adapt to their mate extremely well. Each amp/speaker pairing offered different interpretations of music but they were all enjoyable and in no way hindered my ability to connect. To my mind this is the most important trait of any speaker.
It also makes a review easier to write since consistency allows me to be more emphatic about performance in general. Some speakers are much pickier about their mates, the most extreme examples being the original Quad 57 and any Lowther-based speaker. Choose the wrong amp here and you’ll get mush or a snake bite. Don’t get me wrong, the Quad 57s are among my favorite speakers but they need care and feeding to get them to sing.
The little ELACs are a two-way front-ported bass reflex design using a 1″ cloth dome tweeter and 5-1/4″ Aramid fiber woofer in your basic black MDF cabinet wrapped in black ash vinyl. Nothing fancy on face value. ELAC rates their FR at 46Hz – 35000Hz. Again, nothing fancy. What is fancy is their ability to play music without any bumps, bruises, or bite. I’m temped to say they are easy to listen to but that may be misleading since some people equate easy to listen to with being bad. Funny. no? The ELACs are easy to listen to because they are well balanced—bass doesn’t boom, treble doesn’t squeak or squeal or bite (it’s no Lowther!), and the two drivers act as one.
One thing about nearly every small stand mount speaker, like the ELACs, is they can disappear like nobody’s business. Get them properly setup in your room, or Barn, and music appears to flow from. . .everywhere but the speakers. The ELACs did this trick really well and whats more they presented a very nicely balanced musical picture with every amp combo.
Of course, each amp / speaker pairing had its own voice but as I said up front, they were all musical voices. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Quad VA-One but I still find the PS Audio Sprout / ELAC combo to offer a huge amount of musical bang for the buck. The Quad adds more body, more meat than potatoes, which suits my listening preferences to a T-bone.
If your budget is tighter than a Sprout, the NAD D 3020 is also a winning system and the total cost, amp and speakers, clocks in at $600 smackers. Nice! Of course the Leben CS600 rocked the socks off the ELACs but I’m afraid this combo left a lot of the Leben’s strengths off the table, so to speak. Let me explain—You can hook me up with the best running shoes but they’ll only take me so far. Hint: Price disparity in HiFi can be a hint when system building.
Since I’ve been listening to the ELACs for months, they’ve been showered with a boat-ton of music of all shapes, sizes, and forms. By my quick calculation, we’re talking over 100 albums and I’d list them all but I think I forget the 45th one. Of late, I’ve been digging into Heather Leigh’s Throne, Beck’s One Foot In The Grave, Set of Five by Abel Steinberg Winant Trio featuring music by John Cage, Henry Cowell, Alan Hovhaness, Lou Harrison, and Somei Satoh (it’s a lovely collection), Eric Burdon and War, Archie Shepp (Blasé and others), and so on.
What do the ELAC Debut don’t do? They can only play so loud and so low (physics) and they are not as colorful, vivid, and nuanced as some more expensive speakers. I’m certain you can find more of these things within the ELAC lineup as well as elsewhere. The thing of it is, the Debut 2.0 B5.2 disappear not only in terms of pin the tail on the speaker but also in terms of offering a clear sonic window to your amplifier of choice and your music of choice. Nice.
What more can I say? If you’re shopping for small stand mount speakers and $250/pair sounds about right, I can say the ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 sound about right as well.
Price: $249.98 /pair
ELAC Americas Main Office: 714-252-8843