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.
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.
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.
Distributed in Canada by Rutherford Audio
ELAC BS 244 Black Edition Bookshelf Speakers
Price: $2,800 CAD