ELAC BS 244 Black Edi­tion Book­shelf Speak­ers

NOVO - - PRODUCTREVIEW - Phil Gold

Th­ese are small speak­ers with a big sound. Their size might lead you to think they are imaging cham­pi­ons with a lim­ited max­i­mum out­put and you’d be half right. Their imaging is near mirac­u­lous. If you close your eyes you re­ally can’t tell where they are in the room. But de­spite their small size, just 33cm high, 20cm wide and 28cms deep, they can eas­ily fill a big room. There’s ob­vi­ously some pretty im­pres­sive tech­nol­ogy at work here. Let’s take a look in­side the box.

de­sign | fea­tures

The front baf­fle gives us the first clue. The tweeter is a Jet III de­sign, com­mon to the ma­jor­ity of the ELAC range. This de­rives from Dr. Os­car Heil’s Air Mo­tion Trans­former, first in­tro­duced in 1993. It fea­tures a light­weight folded foil mem­brane driven by a mag­net sys­tem of neodymium rods which pro­vides high ef­fi­ciency and strong dy­nam­ics. The bass/midrange driver is also unique to ELAC. It’s an 18cm AS-XR cone fea­tur­ing a crys­tal mem­brane. The de­sign is a re­cent re­fine­ment of ELAC’s AS alu­minum-pa­per sand­wich cone first in­tro­duced in 1993. More pre­cisely the alu­minum foil stamp­ing is faceted like a gem­stone rather than smoothly fin­ished as in more con­ven­tional de­signs. This in­creases the stiff­ness of the cone, re­duc­ing res­o­nances which re­sults in lower coloura­tion and in­creased dy­namic range. The voice coil is at­tached to the rear pa­per cone and also to the bot­tom of the alu­minum dome, a tech­nique which ELAC says will in­crease the trans­mis­sion range by a full oc­tave. The rub­ber sur­round is wider than nor­mal, al­low­ing for a very long throw which pro­vides high max­i­mum sound pres­sure and smooth pro­duc­tion of deep bass.

A quick glance will con­firm metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail through­out the de­sign of this speaker. For ex­am­ple, the four high qual­ity bind­ing posts at the back of each speaker are re­cessed and an­gled up for ease of ac­cess, the cab­i­net is exquisitely fin­ished with rounded edges to re­duce dif­frac­tion, and the stands are slim and el­e­gant. They can sit hap­pily on a car­peted floor or on a hard sur­face, of­fer­ing both spikes and soft rub­ber feet in a fully con­fig­urable de­sign. Fab­ric grills are sup­plied but the tweet­ers are pro­tected from pry­ing fin­gers so I left them off for best sound. They are very easy to fit, brass pins slid­ing into bush­ings and held in place by mag­nets.

The reg­u­lar BS 244 runs $2,400 and comes in white or black high gloss. But the re­view pair is from the new up­scale Black Edi­tion which sells for $2,800. The Black Edi­tion cov­ers more than the cab­i­net and stand fin­ish. It ex­tends to a black fin­ish for the crys­tal driver mem­branes and for the Jet tweet­ers. At rear the name plate is alu­minum in­stead of just an ad­he­sive la­bel used on the stan­dard edi­tion. More im­por­tantly, ELAC has up­graded some parts for bet­ter sound. The wiring is now Val den Hul Sky­line Hy­brid, plus up­graded air cored foil ca­pac­i­tors and re­sis­tors in the crossover.

The speak­ers are pretty fussy about room place­ment, at least in my room. It took quite some ef­fort to get them to show their full po­ten­tial. I asked Bruno de Lorim­ier from Uni­son Sales Re­sources for help in stet­ting them up and he quickly found out why I was not hear­ing them at their best. Not only did I have them too far from the rear wall, but my demo pair was miss­ing some ac­ces­sories which would nor­mally be in the box. Most im­por­tantly, there were no spikes, so I couldn’t get a strong cou­pling to the floor in my car­peted room. He also added a fab­ric dis­per­sion con­trol ring to the tweet­ers, which were oth­er­wise a bit too lively in my set­ting, and he ex­per­i­mented with dif­fer­ent port con­trol in­serts to op­ti­mize the bass re­sponse. Some speak­ers are a lot less fussy about setup, but the good thing is that ELAC sup­plies th­ese mul­ti­ple phys­i­cal ad­just­ment op­tions in the box so you can get the best out of them in any room. Your dealer should be able to help you with this process or per­haps do the setup for you.

The BS 244 BE is a fairly sen­si­tive speaker at 88 dB but it has a low im­ped­ance of 4 ohms which may be a prob­lem for some am­pli­fiers op­ti­mized for an 8 ohm load. ELAC claims a fre­quency range of 38 to 50,000 Hz, which com­pares

favourably with other small speak­ers. The sim­i­larly sized Totem Em­ber ($4,200) which I en­joyed so much re­cently claims a band­width of 43 Hz to 25 kHz. Of course the ear can­not hear above 20 kHz so I wouldn’t start wor­ry­ing just yet.

In case the name ELAC is not fa­mil­iar to you, I should add that the com­pany is based in Kiel, Ger­many where all their speak­ers and driv­ers are made. The com­pany can trace its his­tory back to 1926 when it be­gan re­search into sonar tech­nol­ogy and the pas­sage of sig­nals and sound through air and wa­ter. Loud­speak­ers be­came their fo­cus in 1985 and their ex­clu­sive do­main in 1997. Their six strong de­vel­op­ment team is led by Rolf Janke.

per­for­mance

Once prop­erly set up, I could now fo­cus on the lis­ten­ing. I paired the speak­ers with a Merid­ian G08 CD Player, an EMM Labs Pre 2 pream­pli­fier and the pow­er­ful KWA 200SE Power Amp from ModWright, link­ing them all with Nor­dost Val­halla ca­bles. Bruno po­si­tioned the speak­ers about 8 feet apart and just un­der a foot from the rear wall, well away from cor­ners. He in­serted a hol­low foam ring into the rear port as well as the tweeter dis­per­sion ring for best sound. Sev­eral char­ac­ter­is­tics were im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous. First the tweeter is in­deed ex­cep­tion­ally smooth and ex­tended, with an enor­mous ca­pac­ity for peak loads. Your am­pli­fier will give up be­fore the speak­ers will. Sec­ond the speaker has been de­signed to be as un­coloured and neu­tral as pos­si­ble. Thirdly it throws a re­ally big im­age, which to­gether with its con­sid­er­able bass ex­ten­sion makes you think you are lis­ten­ing to a much big­ger speaker. The tough­est chal­lenge for small speak­ers is usu­ally with large scale mu­sic, and so it proved here. I threw at it the full weight of a large orches­tra in the form of Shostakovich Sym­phony No. 10 [Naxos 8.572461] from the mar­vel­lous new record­ing from Vasily Pe­trenko and the Royal Liver­pool Phil­har­monic. The speak­ers had no prob­lem keep­ing up with the very rapid pace of the fa­mous sec­ond move­ment (a mu­si­cal por­trait of Joseph Stalin) and of­fered spec­tac­u­lar imaging. How­ever there was a lack of body in the strings, the brass was a lit­tle tamer than ideal and the dy­nam­ics did not have as much range as I would like, lead­ing to a gen­eral diminu­tion of the ex­cite­ment level. Mozart’s won­der­ful Diver­ti­mento [Philips 5144852], a much smaller scale piece but with wide ranges of ex­pres­sive­ness, brings a sim­i­lar story. Won­der­ful imaging, slightly thin string tone, ex­cel­lent tim­ing but less than ide­ally dy­namic.

They did very well with jazz. “You’d be so Good to Come Home to” on Art Pep­per meets the Rhythm Sec­tion [Con­tem­po­rary OJCCD-338] high­lights the fine tweeter per­for­mance with ex­quis­ite re­sults on the strong per­cus­sive leads, and a de­li­cious sound­ing alto-sax from the tem­per­a­men­tal Art Pep­per. This is an ex­cep­tional sound­ing disk from the early days of stereo (1957), and the Rhythm Sec­tion in ques­tion is Miles Davis’ own, the best in the busi­ness. The bass is fast and tune­ful al­though shaded down some­what com­pared to larger speak­ers. There is a su­perb bal­ance and no sense of strain what­ever the vol­ume level. An ex­cel­lent achieve­ment all round. Diana Krall’s “Boule­vard of Bro­ken Dreams” from her early al­bum All for you [Justin Time JTR 84582] usu­ally brings out the best in speak­ers and in this case the pre­sen­ta­tion is gen­tle with an ex­cel­lent vo­cal track show­ing a lot of sub­tle de­tail. The im­age is very in­ti­mate and the gui­tar sings like another hu­man voice. The pi­ano has sparkle and at­tack while lack­ing a lit­tle in body.

I was present at Ali Farka Toure’s last con­cert tour be­fore his re­tire­ment and have al­ways held him in high re­gard. From his crossover al­bum Talk­ing Tim­buktu with Ry Cooder [World Cir­cuit HNCD 1381] I se­lected the open­ing track “Bonde”. The re­sponse speed of this speaker is truly re­mark­able here, and it’s not just the tweeter but the main driver too that shines. Imaging re­mains top notch and the strong heart­beat pro­pels the mu­sic along. The pre­sen­ta­tion, as in the clas­si­cal record­ings, is on the cool side, no su­gar added.

You can’t help but be moved by Eric Clap­ton’s “Tears in heaven” from his Un­plugged al­bum [Reprise CDW 45024]. The low level tri­an­gle notes are clearer and cleaner here than al­most any other speaker can man­age. Deep bass is strong but a lit­tle loose, while tran­sient re­sponse is clean and quick. You hear that fa­mil­iar soul­ful voice but com­ing through a lit­tle lighter than usual. A strong show­ing over­all. Switch­ing to Paul Si­mon’s 2011 al­bum So Beau­ti­ful or So What [Hear Mu­sic HRM 32814-02] I picked two tracks, “Get­ting Ready for Christ­mas Day” and “Daz­zling Blue”. The ELAC could not match the punch of the floor­stand­ing Mon­i­tor Au­dio Sil­ver 8 which I will be re­view­ing next, but the vo­cals were stronger and the all im­por­tant midrange more prom­i­nent. The level of de­tail is good, the ex­otic rhythms very ef­fec­tively re­pro­duced (there’s that tweeter again) while the deep bass is at a re­duced level and lacks the pre­ci­sion of the Mon­i­tor Au­dio.

The ELAC BS 244 BE is the larger of two book­shelf speak­ers in the range, the smaller be­ing the BS 243 BE ($2,200), and the range also in­cludes 3 floor­stand­ing mod­els, the BS 247 BE ($4,200), BS 248 BE ($6,400) and the top model BS 249 BE ($8,000). You can get a match­ing cen­tre chan­nel model, the CC 241 BE for $1,550. All mod­els share sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy and can be used to­gether to build a for­mi­da­ble A/V setup.

This is a speaker I have grown to re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate over its ex­tended stay in my sys­tem. Once di­aled in, it proved to of­fer good value for money, ex­cel­lent per­for­mance for its size and to have stand­out abil­i­ties in terms of the re­fined na­ture of its top end, its pin point imaging and its abil­ity to pro­duce a big sound with­out dis­tor­tion. As al­ways, try to hear it in your own home and see how well it does there rather than in the store. There are a num­ber of ex­cel­lent speak­ers at this price point each with its own strengths and weak­nesses. One may be warmer, another may dig deeper, some may of­fer greater dy­nam­ics, but this model with its su­perb imaging and high build qual­ity may be just what you are look­ing for.

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