Publisher Profile

ELAC 518 Floorstanding Speaker Review

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ELAC 518 floorstanding SpeakerBackground Information

ELAC is a German speaker company that offers eight series of speakers, ranging from the most affordable 1 Series through the more affluent 5 Series, with the 4 Series representing the company’s finest efforts, culminating in the $12,000 pair of Spirit Of Music. The company also offers the infamous NXT technology in the Imago Series, as well as a Subwoofer series. The 518 is ELAC’ s finest effort next to the 4 Series.

Seldom heard in the U.S. high-end circle, the German company ELAC has a distinguished background in the field of audio. According to ELAC’s website, in the mid-1940’s, it produced its first cartridge, the KST 1, which featured a screw-in sapphire stylus on a special magnesium alloy. By 1956, ELAC and two other German companies, Dual and Perpetuum Ebner, had dominated 90% of the world market share in turntable sales collectively.

Today’s Moving-Magnet Systems originated from a series of ELAC patents. On 30 October 1957, ELAC patented the Moving-Magnet “electro-magnetic pick-up for two-channel record modulation” technology, licenses for which were issued to companies like Shure. Van den Hul’s first stylus, the famous ESG 796 H stylus, was also introduced by ELAC in September 1981, followed by the historic patenting of the Moving-Coil cartridge and the subsequent mass production of the EMC-1 in the next few years.

ELAC also had its roots in sound technology when its co-founder, Dr. Phil Heinrich Hecht, started work in underwater sound technology on 15 April 1908. After World War I, Dr. Hecht and a few others pioneered underwater and air signal sound location technology and founded the Electroacustic GmbH on 1 September 1926. Numerous divestitures and organizational changes in the following decades continued until the fateful date of 8 July 1981, when ELAC’s distributor, John & Partner, took over sales of ELAC’s hi-fi products, and founded today’s ELAC Electroacustic on 1 January 1982.

1984 was another pivotal year, as it marked ELAC’s official entrance into the loudspeaker-manufacturing arena with its acquisition of the loudspeaker company, AXIOM Elektroakustik GmbH. Shortly afterwards, it began research in micro and macro acoustics, namely the variables that constitute the working loudspeaker and its interaction with the surroundings in which it will be used. At that time, ELAC provided complimentary optimal speaker placement calculations to its customers.

Technology

ELAC’s JET tweeter stands out among the 518’s compliment of twin 7-inch woofers and one 4.5-inch midrange. Said to be capable of a frequency extension of 35 kHz for SACD’s and DVD-A’s high bandwidth playback, the JET tweeter utilizes a 0.84 mm thick folded foil membrane, said to possess a radiating surface area much larger than a conventional tweeter of the same size.

A technique pioneered by Dr. Oskar Heil, whose research results ELAC acquired in its 1993 takeover of speaker maker A.R.E.S., the “Air Motion Transformer” technology of the JET energizes the concertina-like membrane using a patented, strong neodymium (NeFeB) rod magnet system. Claimed to be capable of above-average dynamics and high in sensitivity, the JET tweeter’s motor is said to drive the air faster than the pistonic technique of a conventional cone while occupying only 60% of the weight and volume of conventional magnetic induction ferrite iron magnets. According to ELAC, the NeFeB is also capable of superior mechanical stress endurance.

Dubbed “TT 180”, each of the 518’s twin woofers is made of composite fiber bonded to a 0.2 mm layer of aluminum foil in ELAC’s proprietary “Aluminium (aluminum) Sandwich Technology”, combining rigidity with low mass, and is then propelled by a pair of larger, very powerful double magnets. ELAC claims their TT 180 has a 14-mm excursion capacity given its double asymmetrical (DAS) wide rubber surround. Each of the high-performance woofers is mounted in a custom basket constructed in-house using fiber-reinforced polyamide, chosen for its rigidity against torsion.

The 518’s 4.5-inch midrange, also bonded to a layer of aluminum foil, is driven by a smaller neodymium magnet system that ELAC claims is capable of producing natural, undistorted midrange. Furthermore, ELAC claims the special chamber designed for housing this midrange serves the multiple purpose of stiffening and stabilizing the speaker’s upper cabinet.

Inside the heavily braced and damped cabinet, the woofers are designed to work through two rear proprietary ELAC bass ports. Employing similar fiber-reinforced polyamide, the rigid bass ports are used to augment bass volume with minimum ventilation noise and low frictional losses.

In the rear, acrylic terminals accept banana connectors, a predominant standard in Europe. At I write this, I was told all American models would be shipped with WBT 5-way posts. Lastly, mounted internally on the rear cabinet, the 3-way crossover utilizes silver wire and MKP capacitors and supports both biamping and biwiring.

Configurations & Audition

I did a good deal of experimentation with amplification, and found the Audio Note M3/DNA1 Deluxe’s spatial definition was less profound and possessed a somewhat metallic-sounding interaction with the JET. The M3 paired with the 47 Lab Gaincard yielded the most optimal balance in instrument tonalities, dynamic transients and spectral coherency. The M3/RM9 II had a softer rendition that did not serve as well as the M3/Gaincard combination.

Moderate room treatment included 8 ASC flat traps positioned along both sides of the room, with two bass tube traps at the corners behind the speakers. The Genesis VI’s were used and were 6 feet apart and 3 feet away from the side wall. Placed 4 feet into the listening room, the 518’s were toed-in slightly. Distance between the speakers and the listening position was about 13 feet.

Although speakers are inevitably the most visually imposing member of the audio system, the 518’s, when installed on their included plinth in my carpeted listening room, were complimentary of interior decor with their slender cherry veneer. They were a few inches taller than my Genesis VIs but shorter than my Klipschorns. Firing straight ahead, the 518’s tweeters were far above ear level, lending the sound a rich midrange but with a slightly detached top-end. To attain a more optimal integration, I tilted the speakers downward slightly by lowering the front and raising the rear spikes. Realigning the tweeter and midrange vastly improved the tonal clarity and drivers integration.

The 1998 DMP Further Adventures of Film & the BB’s [DMP CD-462] is a rhythmic, relaxing compilation carrying impressively proportioned images and timbral clarity even by today’s recording standards and techniques. There is the inevitable audiophile background instrumentation that calls too much attention to itself at times. The Audio Note/47 Lab-driven ELAC iterated wholesome dynamic immediacy, full of the splendor of the tenor sax, the surrealism of the synthesizer and the sweetness and swiftness of the piano with “Five On The Floor.”

JVC’s 1989 K2-processed release of trumpeter Tiger Okoshi’s Face to Face [JVC VDJ-1198] sounded the best with the ELAC JET, as the bite and sheen of the trumpet was infused with a realism atypical of speakers of horn (Klipschorn), circular ribbon (Genesis VI) and aluminum dome (Celestion SL700) designs. In place of the common, intermittent trumpet jaggedness and excessiveness, the JET took the same sound and played it with a superior linearity, unleashing unprecedented definition of the trumpet sound and its unrestrained airiness and realism.

With track 5 of the Ring-Orchestral Hit [London 410 137-2], titled “Orchestral Excerpts from Siegfried’s Funeral March (Gotterdammerung),” the 518s portrayed the contrasting dynamics competently, as the weeping strings and the mighty brass of the Vienna Philharmonic alternated the center stage role in outstanding sonority. The ELAC JET also excelled at the differentiation of substantial instrument overtones amidst the overwhelming orchestration. At the same time it was exhibiting the CD’s dimensionality with a convincing fore and aft soundstaging, within the confinement of the speaker’s soundstaging width, a superb delineation of spatial specificity and onstage imaging emerged from the wealth of microdynamics. A reenactment of the daunting hammering of a rail bar on Track 2 of the same CD, titled “Orchestral Excerpts from Entry of The Gods Into Valhalla (Das Rheingold),” reproduced the metallic clash in definitive tonality and full-blown dynamics. The ELAC JET also conveyed a wealth of airy extension and reverberation, satisfying an audiophile’s craving for effects and realism. This CD breathed fire through the ELAC.

Seemingly an impossible prospect, the ELAC 518 outperformed its previous best when the Sony SCD-777ES got into the action, playing of Sony Classical’s DSD remastered Great Orchestral Highlights from the Ring of the Nibelungs SACD [SS 89035]. While the remastered sound reflected its vintage with its mild coarseness, I was surprised by the ELAC’s capacity to churn out the SACD’s full-blown dynamics, highly resolute mid to top-end information, a fittingly forceful rollout of bottom-end contents and a harmonious, seamless integration of drive units. Though the soundstage width was less spectacular than that from my Genesis VIs, such performance will easily mute any contest to ELAC’s asking price for the 518s.

Playing another SACD, Mahler Symphony No. 6 [San Francisco Symphony 821936-0001-2], was also exceedingly satisfying. Recorded live in September 2001 at the SFS’ headquarters, Davies Symphony Hall, this DSD recording is a jewel both in the freshness of the performance and in the captured sonics. For instance, the JET tweeter consistently yielded subtle, extended top-end response with no distortions, achieving clarity and scale befitting the SACD. Although I did not attend this noted concert, through the ELACs I was witness to some of the most beautiful, heartfelt music making I’ve heard. The twin 7-inch woofers developed impacting, riveting bass drum hammer-blows without the faintest break-up distortions. Such exemplary bottom-end performance hardly needs subwoofer supplement.

The CD reading by Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra of Les Troyens [LSO 0010 CD], captured in DSD, came satisfyingly close to the sound of SACD in its resolution and tonality. Subdued moments carried clarity that was as involving and riveting as the orchestration soared in climatic passages. Take the beginning of the Fourth Act (first track, disc 4), titled “Vallon Sonore.” Here the M3/Gaincard-driven ELAC transcribed the tenor’s meticulous, inspiring articulation while responding to the orchestra’s imposing demands undauntedly.

The 518’s transient response was excellent, capable of portraying the delicate subtleties of a piano’s transient attacks while preserving the gentleness. For example, in Murray Perahia’s recent Sony Classical SACD release of Bach’s Goldenberg Variations [SS 89243], the 518s reproduced the abrupt release and hammering of keys convincingly, endowing the performance with an increased sense of realism. The supple tonalities accorded by the Direct Stream Digital process came through the ELAC’s in their awe-inspiring entirety, a sparkling testimony to the finesse of the crossover and the resultant seamless integration of the 518’s individual drivers.

Summary

The ELAC’s folded-foil-membrane JET tweeter was capable of ribbon-like clarity and transparency, while outflanking ribbons with its dynamic supremacy. Its ability for high frequency reproduction and sustenance was reminiscent of the very best Ferro fluid cooled dome tweeters. Finally, its ability to output breathtakingly complex signals was unprecedented for its size.

The double-flared, low-mass, high-rigidity twin woofers, with their massive magnets and reinforcing ribbed baskets, produced a bottom end that was capable of amazing demand and are a powerful testimonial for small-diameter, high-rigidity, lightweight, high-excursion, multiple-woofer designs. As for the single 4.5-inch large-magnet midrange, its rendition of signals blended harmoniously with the tweeter’s output, striking a most exquisite balance between acoustical and instrumental truthfulness.

Wholly, the 3-way speaker exhibited seamless driver-integration and spectacular spectral coherency, creating the illusion that it was an unimaginably light and rigid singular cone unit radiating all frequencies without a crossover. The soundness of the 518’s highly refined design and execution makes a strong statement even in the presence of more complex and much costlier implementation, such as my Genesis VI.

In the rendition of different soundstaging characteristics, the 518 consistently proved to be less vulnerable to discrepancies among varying recordings than the Genesis VI, which was far more sensitive to such changes. Far from being a detriment to music making, the ELAC 518s were also less dynamic than the Genesis VI in the conveyance of contrast in transients, as the 518 had everything in control in a convincing, systematic manner while the Genesis simply let loose with dynamic swings and changes.

In amplification, although the 50 Wpc 47 Lab Gaincard was able to extol the same degree of dynamics from the ELAC as the 350 Wpc McCormack DNA1 Deluxe, the JET tweeter was more sensitive to characteristics of incoming signals than the polished midrange. In my case, the incidentally more powerful DNA1 Deluxe induced an excessive metallic touch for my taste, while the Gaincard’s finer rendition stroke a satisfying balance between sheen and warmth, and mated with the JET most spectacularly. Therefore, I must caution readers that mating the ELACs to lesser amplifiers will likely be very unrewarding. However, I am can also state that if you posses an amplifier of superior caliber that the ELACs are for you.

My Music Reference RM9 II tube amplifier created a subdued potency in high frequency realism and bottom-end definition. With that said, it was able to induce complex tonalities and superb imaging. That should convince many readers that the ELAC JET’s is ideal for coupling with high-powered SET amplifiers.

Conclusion

The $4,118 ELAC 518’s possess two traits usually found only in much more expensive speakers, extended upward frequency response and a rare refinement in top-to-bottom spectral coherency. These traits reinforce their impression of seamless driver integration. Adding to the list the 518’s dynamic, soundstaging and tonal shading competencies, investment-wise, I doubt that there are other speakers that can compete in the same areas for the same price. The fact that progressive amplifier changes elevated the 518’s sound quality indicated that I have yet to experience the best from these contemporarily decorative speakers.

ELAC poured a tremendously disproportionate amount of engineering into the 518’s. Its asking price and the 10-year warranty commitment reflect the confidence and pride of the company. The 518’s are a well-researched, professionally finished product from a technically advanced company with a proven industrial background that will withstand the test of time.

Associated Equipment:

Digital Front End
47 Laboratory 4713 Flatfish CD Transport/4705 Progression DAC
Audio Note DAC One 1.1x Signature
CEC TL1 CD transport
Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player
Wadia 27 Decoding Computer

Amplification
47 Laboratory 4706 Gaincard with 2 Power Humpties “S”
Audio Note M3 preamplifier
Decware SE84C
McCormack DNA-1 Deluxe
Music Reference RM9 II

Loudspeakers
Apogee Duetta Signature
Celestion SL700
Genesis VI
Klipschorn

Cabling
Audio Note AN-La (8 feet, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-V silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Aural Symphonics AS-One (RCA 1m pair, 0.5m pair)
Canare L-5CFB 75-ohm digital cable (RCA, 1.5m)
Canare D206 110 ohm digital cable (AES/EBU, 1.5m)
Cardas Quadlink 5C (8feet)
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Granite Audio #560 AC Mains
Illuminations Orchid (1.5m, AES/EBU XLR)
Illuminations D-60 75 Ohm digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Van den Hul MCD-352 (8feet)
Virtual Dynamics Nite Series complete cable system

Accessories
Salamander Synergy 20 (2)
ASC Tube Traps
Flat Traps

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