Talking Heads, Islands, JAMC, The Rolling Stones – just four of the artists used by CNET’s Ty Pendlebury and Steve Guttenberg in their review of ELAC’s Uni-Fi UB5 standmount – quite possibly the most talked about loudspeaker of 2016.
“The ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 loudspeakers offer the best performance of any speaker we’ve seen for the money,” enthused the CNET duo.
No doubt the speaker’s relative affordability helps with the media buzz (cynics read: hype) – US$499 – but the man behind the UB5’s genesis probably helps more.
The designer Andrew Jones, formerly of Pioneer, is every manufacturer’s dream ticket. He’s the kind of engineer you want fronting your brand, not the type seen elsewhere whom you’d wish would just stay in their R&D basement.
Andrew Jones is affable, enthusiastic and charismatic in equal measure. If ever there were a school that taught loudspeaker design, you’d want Jones as the teacher.
Back to the Uni-Fi UB5. We caught our first demo at its CES 2016 debut; here was what Jones could do with a slight loosening of the purse strings. Remember: the forerunning Debut B5, Jones’ first standmount for ELAC, kicked the door down at Newport Beach in 2015 and sells for a double-taking US$229.
For slightly more than twice the dollars we get: concentric 1″ silk dome tweeter and 4″ aluminium cone augmented by a 5″ aluminium cone; braced MDF cabinet; vinyl wrap finish.
Despite their overwhelming praise for these standmounts, Pendlebury and Guttenberg had two nits to pick, the vinyl wrap being the first – it had begun to peel away from one of the speaker’s corners. This could easily be the result of a well-travelled review pair but still.
Europeans reading this shouldn’t be concerned at all. Apparently, vinyl wrap doesn’t play so well in the home audio market across the Atlantic. Instead, the Eurozone will see the UB5 in a painted finish at a slightly higher price (€TBC) to cover the uptick in production costs.
And neither (apparently) do Europeans like a short and stout looking speaker: 8″ x 11″ x 13″. According to Jones, whom I spoke to at Munich High-End 2016 at length, they prefer a taller, more slender model. “Thin is in, in Europe,” says Jones. Consequently, the European version of the UB5 will be narrower and taller than its Stateside counterpart.
Jones explains all in this video:
Note: according to Jones, any changes to the MDF used by ELAC Germany is highly unlikely to cause the new version to sound even slightly different to the original.
What you will need – as per Pendlebury and Guttenberg’s second quibble – is an amplifier with high-current delivery, preferably one with plenty of watts on tap, lest you hit a wall with dynamics.
Why? The UB5’s crossover network is so complex that it occupies the entire internal surface area of the speaker’s base. In chasing the desired frequency response, the midrange and tweeter have been shelved down to meet with the bass driver’s greater inefficiency – that’s just the way of passive loudspeaker design. The result is any amplifier connected to the UB5 will interact with the crossover network and not the driver/s; efficiency is rated by ELAC at 85dB.
Perhaps why, at CES 2016, Jones used $4000-worth of Audio Alchemy electronics to ensure righteous impact with that deadmau5 cut. You know the one – it brings out the “Where’s the subwoofer?” Dad jokers.
Similarly, Pendlebury and Guttenberg only found dynamic satisfaction during their listening sessions after moving from the 80wpc NAD C 356BEE to a 200wpc Rotel RA-1592.
The message coming from the CNET review correlates with the designer’s own thoughts: that you might have to spend disproportionately more on any amplifier powering the UB5 should you opt for a pair.
However, the possibility of having your cake AND eating it loomed larger than ever in Munich. You could take a passive pair of UB5 and choose to BYO electronics – such is the deeply entrenched audiophile way – or you could opt for the same speaker but in a powered version. ELAC will soon be introducing a fully active version complete with DAC and Roon-based Discovery server Endpoint capabilities.
ELAC’s ‘target price’ for the active UB5 is reportedly US$750. That’s a whole lot less moulah than demanded by the Rotel or the Audio Alchemy. In other words, the incremental cost of going active won’t be anywhere like that seen by old school audiophiles who wanna fight for their right to party with whatever amplifier and DAC takes their fancy. The cost of choice they”ll likely never figure.
As Jones explains in more detail in the video below, a Class D amplifier has been applied to the UB5’s 5″ bass driver whilst a less powerful Class A/B amplifier unit drives the 1″ tweeter and 4″ mid cone.
The video is ten minutes long and yes, it’s an edited version. What started as a simple exposition on how Jones had activated his UB5 standmount soon morphed into a more philosophical discussion on the pros and cons of going active with your loudspeaker choice. Worth keeping in mind is that the active version, here at least, is closer to the sound which “the designer intended”.
Make a cuppa, sit down and watch – I promise you it’s worth your time:
“I just want to go to my computer or server and play music – I don’t care about anything else”. That’s who the active Uni-Fi UB5 is aimed at. For the guy/gal who hasn’t been swallowed by their own gear lust. The guy/gal who is more into music that geeking out on spec sheets. Music like Talking Heads, Islands, JAMC and The Rolling Stones.
Mark my words: the passive loudspeaker / amplifier box separation of the last four decades will eventually fall out of fashion (and for eminently good reasons). Active loudspeakers are the future of home audio, especially for those with a keen ear for pragmatism.
One final thought: ELAC’s UniFi range will also come in floorstanding and centre channel versions. No word yet on their possible activation.
Further information: ELAC