Elac Debut B6 loudspeaker
Elac? I thought. I have an Elac Miracord 40A turntable. Hmmmm...
So I walked to Elac's room and listened to the Debut B5 bookshelf speakers ($229.99/pair). I was impressedbut maybe not as impressed as everyone else in the room seemed to be. In the halls, people were raving: "Did you hear Andrew Jones's new speaker?" Show bloggers went crazy. People kept asking me, "Herbwhat'd you think of the Elacs?" My polite response was always, "I'm glad I'm not in the business of making $1000/pair speakers." I'd heard for myself how the Debut B5s did all the audiophile-checklist stuff: Bass, midrange, trebleall seemed pretty balanced. Nothing annoying jumped out to bite my ears. Imaging seemed competent. But I didn't feel that amazingness that everyone else seemed to feel.
I found this intriguing. I also had an intuition that the diamond of the Debut series might be the slightly larger B6 ($279.99/pair), and I asked designer Andrew Jones if I could review it. Usually, Jones smiles and jokes a lot. Now he paused, a serious quizzical expression on his face, and studied me closely. After a long silence, his smile reappeared. "What magazine do you write for?" I told him I was a cub reporter at Stereophile and handed him my card...
By the time I received my review pair, I'd read everything I could find on the Web about the Elac Debut series. I learned that these speakers were conceived at Elac's new design center in southern California. (I got the feeling that this is a reboot for the German company's operation in the US.) And I learned that, before going to work for Elac, Jones designed speakers for KEF, Infinity, and Pioneer/TAD. In fact, Jones may be the only person to see two of his speakerstwo really different speakersreviewed in the same issue of Stereophile: the TAD Evolution One ($29,800/pair) and the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR ($129.99/pair). How often does that happen?
While I was researching the B6, I also saw other people's comments. Everybody raved, sort of, but always qualified their compliments by saying something along the lines of "It's a great, amazing speakerfor $280." This was consistently followed by something like "It won't replace your audiophile speakers," but you should "give it to your kids for their college dorm" or "put them in your basement workshop or summer beach house" or "give them to someone starting out"and "be sure to recommend them to your non-audiophile friends." What the hay? So the Elac Debut B6es are amazing, but not amazing enough for a place of honor in a genuine certified he-man audiophile system?
As I opened the Debut B6's boxes, I wondered: Should I be reviewing these? Won't I be wasting my readers' time? Then I remembered: I hadn't yet experienced this "amazingness for the price" that everyone else hadincluding those 12-year-olds, whose ears I respected. I trudged on, and tried not to be distracted by praise that sounds sweet on the outside but kind of sour on the inside.
The B6 isn't flashy: just a two-way speaker in an MDF box that's a little under 14" high. The drivers, also designed by Andrew Jones, are a 1" fabric-dome tweeter and a 6.5" woofer with a woven aramid-fiber cone, crossed over at 3kHz. The tweeter fires through a screen-like "deep-spheroid" waveguide, which is said to shape its dispersion pattern and, in the process, minimize cabinet diffraction. The woofer is reflex-loaded with a port that's flared at both ends. The specs for sensitivity and impedance are 87dB and 6 ohms, respectively.
Jones recommends stands 2224"-tall stands for the Debut B6. I placed them on my 24" Sound Anchor stands ($700/pair) in the exact positions28" from the front walljust vacated by Technics' Premium Class SB-C700 speakers ($1700), which I'd reviewed for the January 2016 issue. All of my listening to the Elacs was done with their tweeters at or below the height of my ears in the listening position. I used a few different amps, including a 36Wpc EL34-powered PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Stereo amplifier ($2195, under review) with AudioQuest GO-4 speaker cables ($528.75/6' pair).
I listened to the Elac Debut B6es for days and weeks. I listened to my favorite instruments: pianos, pipe organs, and le piano à bretelles. The bass quality was surprising. The tonal character seemed right on. I listened to a lot of blues and zydeco. The B6es could boogie and strut. I played records I hadn't played in years, and really dug them all.
No matter what music I tried, I heard nothing obvious to complain about. Yes, these vinyl-finished black boxes vibrated more than any other speaker cabinets I could recall, especially at high SPLs. I listened, mostly unsuccessfully, for the audible effects of those vibrations, but overall, I really enjoyed myself. My critical faculties were ambushed by the Debut B6's good tone and easy-flowing musicality.
One day, when the Elacs were sounding particularly good, I asked myself: Why are these speakers being marginalized by their price, while my KEF LS50swhich cost five times as much, but are still considered "entry-level"are held up constantly, by me and my estimable colleagues, as being of Class A reference quality? Are the two models really that different in quality? I reminded myself of everything that had gone into making the B6, and wonderedHow are they $900 to $1900 different from the KEFs, the Technics, the Dynaudio Excite X14s, the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a's?