ELAC Debut 2.0

Last week we had one of our headphone distributers walk into our speaker demo room. His response? ‘Wow! That’s a lot of speakers!’. And we do. It’s something we’ve been working on. When we upgraded our demo room, we wanted to offer our customers the opportunity to really check out options. 

 

Especially the budget bookshelf market lately has really stepped it up, with several options from different brands that all receive 5 star reviews as well as the ‘speaker of the year’ badge. So how do you make sense out of all that raving pick-me information? 

 

Let’s get this out of the way first: just like with art, food, or wine, sound quality is a very personal judgment. Everyone has different tastes, so what sounds fantastic to one may only be so-so to someone else. Despite some of the claims, there is no "best-ever" speaker out there, and more than one kind can have equal appeal to individual ears. 

But there some qualities that you undeniably attribute to a good speaker. So, after you have decided that it’s a pair of bookshelf speakers you want and you’ve combed your way through the active, wireless, bi-wiring info, you’ve decided to keep it simple and will have none of that. Just a passive good quality bookshelf speaker-set, thank you very much. Then what? 

 

Here’s how you go about putting it all together.

 

Set a budget

The next logical step is deciding on the amount of money you are willing to part with. It’s good to do this before you even start looking around, as it narrows your search and keeps it realistic. Considering we are looking at the offerings available in the budget speaker market, we’re going to assume you decided on $600-$700 for a pair. 

 

After this, it time to start the research. 

Read specs, read reviews. 

When reading up on speakers, there are a few specs you want to look out for. Specs are not the beginning and end-all by any means, but they are a consideration in the process. 

 

  • In theory, specs can tell you how faithfully a speaker reproduces sound. Frequency response charts the range of frequencies a speaker is capable of producing.  Ideally, you want a speaker that can produce as much of the full range of frequencies that human ears can hear as possible (approximately 20 to 20,000 Hertz). You’re never going to achieve that full range in a bookshelf speaker, but the closer you get to that, the better. 
  • At some point in your research and shopping endeavours, you are likely to hear that it is important to match your speakers with your receiver or amplifier. There are two facets to this concept. First, you want to make sure that, from a technical standpoint, your amplifier is capable of driving your speakers effectively and safely, which specs should be able to tell you. The other side of this consideration is how your receiver or amplifier sound together with your speakers, which is something your ears will tell you. Both have sound characteristics (like ‘bright’, ‘punchy’, ‘laid-back’) and the question is how they will work together. 

 

The same goes for reviews. 

You could ask whether there is any merit in reading reviews. The answer to that is, ‘yes, there is, but again, it is only a step in the process of making up your mind’. Once you pay attention to it, you’ll realise how What Hi-fi consistently awards the UK brands and Audioholics hands out the laurels to American products. It’s something you need to be aware of, but at the same time, these reviewer magazines do have a reputation to uphold. As we said, it’s just a piece in the puzzle. Use it for what it is. 

 

And then it’s time to organise your demo. 

So after you have combed through the reviews and the specs, you probably have a few products on your radar. The next step is to organise a demo and we highly recommend you don’t skip this step. Time to pick up the phone to the Rapallo guys or simply rock up at the showroom. 

Why? Because chances are pretty good that if the budget you allocated matches that $600 to $700 dollars for a pair of bookshelves, you will have shortlisted below Rapallo products on demo. There is something very consistent about the way these speakers receive rave feedback, whether it is from reviews or on forums. What’s more, there’s nothing as good as being able to check out these highly recommended speakers for yourself in just ONE place. I mean, how do you otherwise compare? 

On top of that, the Rapallo guys know these speakers inside out. Chances are they will ask you about the size and lay-out of your room, for instance. That’s because different speakers are more suited for different situations. Open plan room? Or space is at a premium and speakers will need to be close to the wall? It probably means that one speaker might be the better option than the other. After all, no two speakers are the same and they all have their own characteristics. 

 

And then there is amplifier matching we mentioned earlier.

Again, the Rapallo guys will be able to recommend what amp to pair with your speakers, or if you already have an amplifier, which speakers are most suited. 

 

So, what are the pics of the pack in our humble opinion? 

Meet our line-up: 

 

You’ll have read that ELAC just updated their home-run speakers, the original ELAC Debut series. As matter of fact, the new Debuts received a complete overhaul: new braced cabinet for reduced cabinet vibration and unwanted resonance, bass port at the front for closer to the wall placement, new crossover, different implementation of the woofer and  the tweeters. Surprised they sound different? 

The new ELACs were designed with a clear vision as to its likely audience: it’s a speaker that is more likely to be on a shelve or a tv cabinet than a speaker stand and probably has little or no toe-in. It’s likely to be used for both music as well watching movies, so it’s a real multi-tasker. But not at the sacrifice of good sound.   

While the original Debuts were comfortable and easy going, the new Debut 2.0 series are livelier and clearer sounding; more present especially in the midranges. The highs are brighter and better resolved, and a little leaner but better defined in the lows.

The design has been freshened up, too, with a better quality cabinet, which we think was needed. Although quite neutral looking, fancy design is not one of the features. Not offensive by any means, a bit safe maybe? 

That said, there’s a ton of power and punch with pretty good sensitivity. This was always a speaker line that could stand against its competitors, and this definitely remains one of our favourites.

 

Another recent upgrade of a really well reviewed bookshelf speaker is the Q Acoustics 3020i.  The revamp is much subtler than the ELACs, but that’s a bit the difference between careful Q Acoustics (designed in the UK) and full steam ahead Andrew Jones ELAC line (designed in the US; some of the higher-end ELAC products are designed and manufactured in Germany). Both are manufactured in China. 

The biggest change for the new Q Acoustics is in the cabinets, now 25% larger for extended low frequency response and with additional bracing. Despite the fact that the size of these speakers has significantly increased, they are still quite a bit smaller than the ELACs.

Unlike the ELACs the Q acoustics have speaker stand and a wall bracket that is especially designed for the 3000i series. 

They’re better looking in our opinion than the ELACs and the cabinet build is outstanding for a speaker of that price range. In NZ they even come in two colour options: white and black, which is a 100% improvement on the ‘black or black’ of the other budget speakers. 

The new Q Acoustics also have a new crossover. 

The sound of the new 3020i’s remains warm, rich and insightful but with a bit more refinement and precision. This makes the Q Acoustics 3020i a very versatile speakers, probably more suitable for music than movie watching, but capable of tackling whatever genre you throw at them.

One of the (minor) grumbles we picked up quite consistently was the fact that the deeper cabinet makes these units a little harder to accommodate (they’re 28cm deep) when placed on a shelve. That said, they’re pretty flexible when it comes to placement in general, but with a bass port at the back, they are designed to work best with some space behind them i.e. 20cm or so away from a wall. 

The Q Acoustics brand is a new addition to the Rapallo range. And a flippin’ good one too. 

Both the ELAC Debut bookshelves and the Q Acoustics 3020i speakers are 6Ohm speakers. This is not an issue. As a matter of fact, 6Ohm speakers as opposed to 8Ohm speakers tend to offer increased speaker sensitivity, but they do require adequate amplification. 

 

The Q Acoustics and the ELACs have received a massive amount of media attention; not so much these Emotiva’s…yet.

Compared to the ELAC Debut bookshelves and the Q Acoustics 3020i, the Emotiva Airmotiv B1’s have a very different visual vibe. They have quite an industrial look. Elegant design is not the word that comes to mind. 

But looks can be deceptive as these are very fine speakers. When it comes to performance, the Airmotiv B1 are acing it for clarity and precision. They’re definitely not the clumsy-sounding bass-monsters you might take them for at first sight. In fact, they have a very open and balanced sound and whoever seems to open themselves to giving them a shot comes back wide-eyed and shaking their heads in disbelieve -in a good way. 

Compared to the Q acoustics with the same size, the Emotiva is a very different speaker. The Airmotiv B1 is a bit softer and sweeter as opposed to the Q Acoustics more lively performance. Who would have thought? 

The Emotiva Airmotiv B1’s are very suitable as in-room speakers, desktop speakers or as a part of a home theatre set-up.

Also, unlike the Q Acoustics and ELACs, these are 8Ohm speakers, which makes them a little less demanding in the amplification department. 

 

Other options to consider: 

Finally, we also want to mention the KEF Q150’s as an option. They offer warm body, rich detail, and nimble clarity. They are an easy to drive 8Ohm speaker, but need to be placed well away from the wall. 

If your room is on the smaller side, the Q Acoustics 3010i and SVS Prime Satellite speakers are excellent options that more than deserve to be checked out. Both punch well above their weight.  

 

All these speakers are on demo at Rapallo, so pop in to make up your own mind and have a chat to the Rapallo guys about which option is better suited to your specific set-up and situation.