ELAC Uni-fi UB5 Part2: Listening Impressions
Andrew Jones is the modern day Daedalus of the audiophile world. The ELAC UB5 is a masterpiece of price point control and smart engineering. The Labyrinthine crossover and small form factor 3 way using a coaxial driver is genius I can appreciate. This is a configuration topology I attempted to shoe horn into pair of cheap speakers with my Micca Voltron setup. My expectations were off the charts before hooking the UB5's up. I was certain that ELAC's UB5 speakers would bring budget audio to new heights.
I had some trouble with blemished UB5's that you can read about in part one of this review, which includes the parts breakdown and measurements. This will only cover the listening impressions of the UB5 speakers. ELAC America was kind enough to loan this pair of A-Stock UB5's to me for review.
My Onkyo Receiver is having problems that I have yet to diagnose, so I had to pull out the thermal efficiency nightmare Class A Kinergetics KBA-75 THX. Everything sounds better with world class amplification, and if speakers don't sound smooth with this amp then something is seriously wrong.
Desktop Listening Impressions:
The ELAC UB5 provides passable performance when played at low levels. The coaxial does a good job of making all of the sounds seem like they are coming from one driver. I don't hear any cone breakup, from the midrange or woofer, meaning the crossover is doing its job. The image is extra wide, and a little forward. This is because of the hump at 700Hz. Treble is a little crunchy, and sounds harsh with some tracks from the 80's. My wife got a headache using this setup while watching netflix at low volumes, two nights in a row. Based on measurements I was worried that the UB5's would not have enough bass kick, but it sounds flat to about 60Hz and rolls off quickly after 50Hz. Bass is pretty even and controlled from the woofer and port.
Now for the down side. As soon as you try to really play music the speaker becomes a shout box. When turning them up past 92dB(measured near field) the speaker loses control, and starts sounding more like a PA system than HiFi audio.
Here is the rub of this limitation. Normally 2-way speakers will fall apart in the lower midrange when pushed, it's one of the big reasons for moving to a 3-way speaker. With this output limitation there is honestly no good reason for this speaker to be a 3 way design.
Notes on cheap amplification with the ELAC UB5:
I tried the speakers with the SMSL SA-50, a pretty good amp that is dirt cheap. The speakers sounded worse with the Class-D SMSL - more crunch to the treble and less definition, but did power them easily to the point where the speaker starts to sound bad.
Living Room Setup:
I did test in the living room with my iNuke amp using a macbook as the source. I thought maybe the larger room a listening distance would help the speakers performance.
Living Room Listening Impressions:
The same limitation happened in the same spot. 90dB on the couch was all I could get out of them before they transform into a public address system. I would not recommend these speakers for Home theater use.
All cut based correction. Took a little bit out of the upper bass, and a bunch out of the midrange around 700Hz and 2k. This lowering of the midrange netted a slight gain in the output of the speaker. It will play to about 95dB now. The sound still is a little bit sterile and too detailed for my taste, but there is no denying this is a big improvement.
I asked ELAC why the speaker shits the bed is such a unique way at 92dB, and did not get a response. My instinct here is that this limitation is because of driver design, maybe not enough magnet or copper on the midrange. I requested rear photos of the coaxial driver, but did not get them from ELAC. I only have the limited knowledge of an obsessed hobbyist, but I don't think a crossover component would create this issue. As such, I don't think the all active DSP version of the UB5 that ELAC has planned for future release will solve this problem. If anyone out there has a better idea of what is going on with the speaker let me know.
Back to the story of Daedalus and Icarus. Icarus's wings were amazing in design, but limited. If only he would not have flown so close to the sun, the story would have a happy ending. The ELAC UB5 speakers are technical marvels, that Jones and the team at ELAC should be proud of, but will perform well as long as you don't turn them up too much.
Check out the system finder to see what I recommend.
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