ELAC B6 Speaker Review
|Pros||Fantastic sound for the price, good bass and soundstage, full range available for home theater use|
|Cons||Design is pedestrian, basic box in a basic vinyl wrap|
|Summary||They aren't the prettiest speakers on the market, but they might just be the best value. The ELAC B6 bookshelf sounds better than any speakers I've heard under $400 and sets a new benchmark for value.|
Andrew Jones is quite the name in speaker circles. Some know him from his work at TAD, producing some of the best speakers on the market regardless of price. Many more know him from his affordable line of speakers for Pioneer. I got to know him with his line of Dolby Atmos speakers for Pioneer that feature concentric drivers. Now, he is working with ELAC and has produced a brand new line of speakers for them.
The Debut line from ELAC is very affordable, and with the $280 a pair B6 bookshelf it does better than any speaker I’ve heard for the price. The exterior might be a bit plain, but the sound out-performs any bookshelf speaker I’ve heard from the $400 price range and below. Unless you’re willing to spend twice as much money per speaker, you aren’t going to do better than the ELAC B6 today.
Five speakers and three subwoofers comprise the Debut line from ELAC. There are two bookshelves, with either a 5.25” mid/woofer or a 6.5” mid/woofer, a tower with 3×5.25” mid/woofers, a center with dual 5.25” mid/woofers, and an Atmos module with a 4” mid/woofer. There is an entry-level $250 10” subwoofer, the S10, and then the S10 EQ and S12 EQ that include a built-in equalizer to correct for room issues. Even if you put together a full 7.1.4 channel Dolby Atmos and DTS:X system with the Debut speakers, you’d be paying under $2,500 for all of them.
Listening and Comparisons
For my review I just stuck with a single pair of the B6 bookshelves. With a 6.5” woofer and a 1” tweeter they are rated for frequency response down to 44Hz. Having spent weeks this year comparing almost two-dozen bookshelf speakers for The Wirecutter, I had a lot of experience with speakers in this price range. I also had my two favorites from that testing on hand: The $130 Andrew Jones designed Pioneer bookshelf, and the winning $400 Dali Zensor 1. With the B6 falling right between these two in price, it was certainly going to be interesting to see how well they stacked up.
When it comes to the physical appearance, the Dali clearly shows a level of design above the Pioneer and ELAC models. It is a bit more compact, and looks like a more expensive speaker. The ELAC B6 finish is as plain and functional as you can get. The vinyl wrap is less pleasing to the eye and the touch, and the cabinet sounds a bit less solid when you knock on it. The Pioneer has a very nice appearance for the price, with a curve that tapers towards the rear of the speaker. So the ELAC B6 isn’t really a winner in the looks department, but most of us care more about how a speaker sounds than how it looks.
Once I hooked all the speakers up and listened to them all, the ELAC B6 showed the work put into it by Andrew Jones. The older Pioneer was instantly outclassed by the much larger and more expensive B6. Better bass, better detail, and a larger soundstage helped place it on a level far above what the Pioneer can offer. The Pioneer is a great little speaker for $130, but the B6 sounds much better than it does in every way.
With the Dali, the comparison is much closer. Surprisingly the Dali kept up in the bass department despite the smaller woofer. Listening to “Angel” from Massive Attack over and over, it was very hard to distinguish the bass response of the two models. When it comes to clarity and detail with vocals it also came up a tie. I didn’t have a speaker switch with adjustable levels to compare them instantly, but could swap between models in around 15 seconds. Relying on my audio memory for that short of a period, I struggled to choose one over the other.
Just to verify this I added in my personal KEF R300 bookshelf speakers. Once I had those, it was easy to tell the benefits of them in comparison to the ELAC or Dali. My ears weren’t failing me, the Dali and the ELAC are just very close in performance. Of course, with the ELAC selling for $120 less a pair, they certainly aren’t close in price. Even if the ELAC was only delivering 90-95% of the performance of the Dali, it was doing so at 70% of the price.
I’ve been recommending the Pioneer speakers by Andrew Jones since they were released. For the price, nothing sounded better and it was a great place to start. With his new speaker lineup from ELAC, I now will be recommending them instead if you can afford it. For $280 you aren’t going to find a better sounding bookshelf speaker today. If you want to start with a bookshelf and expand out to a Dolby Atmos theater, the lineup has you covered there as well.
The only reason I’d pick the Dali Zensor over the ELAC today is if I needed a more compact model, or wanted it in a different finish. The Dali comes in black, white, and light walnut finishes while the ELAC is limited to black. However you can’t get a Atmos module for the Dali, and you’re paying a big price premium. For almost everyone, the ELAC is the better choice and I look forward to seeing what else Andrew Jones and ELAC can create in the future. Highly recommended.