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ELAC’s Adante AF-61 loudspeakers, Discovery Q music server

For active demos of their Adante AF-61 floorstanding loudspeakers (US$5000/pair) at Munich High-End 2017, ELAC deployed the talents of designer Andrew Jones as well as Peter Madnick, the (former) head of Audio Alchemy, whom ELAC acquired at the end of 2016. Those aren’t ordinary bass drivers that sit below concentrically-aligned tweeter and midrange drivers; 6-inchers are tucked away inside the box to drive outward-facing 8″ passive radiators.

How did this set of ‘cost-no-object’ Jones-designed loudspeakers sound? I thought ‘great’ – but just how reliable are show-based calls? Answer: not very. Readers are advised to apply spoonfuls of salt, not just pinches.

Experience tells us that the majority of attendees, myself included, must listen past unfamiliar music and – more crucially – an unfamiliar room. The room influences what we hear more than any hifi component ever could. 
The Adante will sound very different in my listening room to how they sounded in Munich. However, back in Berlin, my room’s sonic personality is a known quantity. Easier for me to separate room from speaker and derive the ELAC’s personality, especially with other models used to comparative triangulation. 

Sitting between the Adante towers, a rack populated by the Madnick-designed Alchemy Series of electronics. In the room next door, where passive displays allowed for more abundant conversation, ELAC’s Christopher Walker dug deeper into what was new.

ELAC’s original Discovery music server (not pictured here) does’t run full Roon but Roon Essentials. With a 30,000 song limit and shorn of many of Roon proper’s power user features, ELAC can included a lifetime license of Roon Essentials as part of its €1100 asking. Landing in a few weeks will be Roon Essentials 1.3 which adds, among other things, support for streaming to Sonos devices.

The Discovery can also be run as a standalone, all-in-one device – server and endpoint – but if you have to ask which DAC chip sits inside, it’s probably not for you.

What is aimed at audio folk with a mind for how a circuit’s finer technical points can influence sound quality is the forthcoming Madnick-designed Discovery DS SQ-201 music server.

With single-ended and balanced outputs, linear power supplies, AKM DAC chips, a SHARC DSP for jitter reduction, support for 32bit/384kHz PCM/DSD256, I2S and an unadulterated version of Roon, ELAC and Madnick have knocked over the audiophile checklist one feature at a time.

Christopher Walker tells us more:

The Discovery Q music server begins shipping in Q3 2017 for ~US$2500 and will feature one year’s worth of Roon completely free of charge.

Further information: ELAC


Written by John H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor of DAR, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

21 Comments

  1. Roon essentials in a device like this makes no sense and thats what a lot of potential buyers will think.

    • In a device like what?

      From the above text: “The Discovery Q music server runs Roon proper”.

  2. So the Adante did not sound good then? Guess my LS50/Sumiko S9 combo will live to see another day…

    • What? No. They sounded great but my point was that it’s near impossible to separate an unfamiliar room from the speakers themselves.

  3. The Adante’s are $5000 and that is with a cost-no-object BOM and design? Wow–quite an accomplishment–no price-sensitive compromises and they are only $5k? Pretty sweet.

  4. ..are you any relation to Donnie? …seriously, well written article and agree that what one hears at the show is no guarantee of what you’ll hear at home especially regarding speakers. However, having said that ELAC has got it going on in spades..

    • And if one cannot reliably separate room from speakers at shows, there’s zero hope for hearing the effect of the upstream electronics. In other words, shows are possibly best seen as play acting. Fun but hardly informative on SQ. That’s what reviews are for.

  5. IMO, Andrew and Peter are two of the most forward thinking designers in the field. Although the show conditions you encountered were apparently far from ideal, are you prepared to say that by the time it is released in Q3, that this combination of Discovery DS SQ-201 music server and Adante AF-61 Speakers will be best of breed at their price point?

    • No. Not because they’re not. (They might well be!) But because that would be guessing. And that’d be lazy journalism.

      All show conditions, for almost every exhibitor is compromised, and yet the web is littered with comments on sound quality. I really don’t know how people can be so confident in their abilities to listen past a room they don’t know. Ditto unfamiliar demo music.

  6. I certainly respect that answer. After years in this hobby, I have learned the following – because of time constraints before the beginning of an audio show, there’s usually not much an exhibitor can do on short notice concerning poor room conditions. However, a potential consumer should at least come equipped with a CD, LP, and perhaps headphones that they intimately know in order to more properly judge the merits of a given room set up. For the record, I am taking it as a “semi-high likelihood” that your answer to my query is a tentative yes.

  7. Thank you so much Darko. By any chance do you know the DAC which is used in Dicovery Q Server. Ideally Discovery Q should sound much better than the Elac Discovery right?

    • When I get the review unit, I’ll find out. No idea how it would compare to the new ELAC unit.

  8. Hi John: You said:
    ” How did this set of ‘cost-no-object’ Jones-designed loudspeakers sound? I thought ‘great’ – but just how reliable are show-based calls? Answer: not very.”

    ( I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, particularly when listener’s responses are positive. On the other hand, if it sounded cruddy, indeed many (set-up) considerations may have been overlooked.)

    That is sounded” great” at the show tells us quite a bit: performance potential !
    If it sounded impressive there, that is what can be expected.
    Music familiarity is not important: articulate, dynamic, nuanced, tonally neutral/balanced performance –offering up entertaining “realism” (if noted/ enjoyed), is great start …

    peter jasz

    • Perhaps I shouldn’t have used ‘great’ as an example. It’s far too blunt a word for describing the finer points of SQ. Better would have been “more refined treble” or “textured bass” but how to call such things on the back of a 15min sit down in an unfamiliar room that potentially colours all – should the bass sound so prominent from these System A or is the room providing additional emphasis? We don’t know the room so we don’t know for sure. Are vocals well enunciated with System B or should we be hearing more ‘throat’? Having never heard this piece of music behind several pairs of headphones or at home in a familiar room through a range of gear, we don’t know. As for upstream electronics, without an A/B, fuhgeddaboudit!

      When the music is alien (for me at least) a mental reference point doesn’t exist. Anything more than calling “great” or “bad” loses meaning; and even then we’re on shaky ground. What if the system is actually great but the load-in time didn’t allow for proper setup? What if the room’s sonic issues could not be overcome? What if there’s someone talking in the corner? (There’s almost *always* someone talking in the corner!) What if the air-con unit is too loud? There are just too many balls in the air (room, music, audition time) for observations on sound quality’s subtleties to be reliable. With the gear at home, those balls land and almost all of these limitations evaporate. In other words, a show report and comments on SQ shouldn’t really read like those from a review because show conditions aren’t anyway near as stable/controllable as review conditions.

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