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Time for tunes.
Because the weather just then had turned to gray gruel with me in the doldrums of wint’ry melancholy, I reached for some proven TLC by way of Nada Surf’s Let Go to cue up the ballad "Blond on blond" for softly plucked guitar at left, mallet-tickled cymbals, standing tom with deep reverb, then Matthew Caw’s longing vocals augmented by chorus and minimalist percussion. First impressions had my thumb erect. Elac’s AM150 cast an overall very clean soundstage. Deep bass aside which such small speakers can’t do, everything else was sufficiently accounted for. The toms had mass, the guitar was tonally clean, the vocals neither muddled nor nasal, the cymbals gloomily growling or feathery sparkling depending on what they were struck with. Tonally I was very impressed particularly considering  the price where certain things are expected to fall by the wayside.

Time for those thumbscrews then and an album with the arguably ugliest cover treatment of any in recent music history. That would be Helmut Brandt’s Mainstream Orchestra Chez Pep. I’m allowed to say that. I was the sound engineer during its mix down. Whilst in this context that's liable to sound self important, such involvements are a true boon for any equipment review. Here I’ve been over every track at least 200 times to know each inside out. That's useful.


I regard Helmut Brandt (1931 – 2001) as one of Germany’s most unusual Jazz musicians. In the end as arranger, he was a member of the RIAS Big Bang for 40 long years. Nearly unto death he made at least one weekly appearance at Wilmersdorf’s smoke-doused Aue digs. His complex arrangements were filled with sly references and literal quotes. His infamous baritone sax clattered like an ancient jalopy, his bullfrog cheeks coaxed out the sweetest of sounds and solos could debauch into heavy Rock. From a mastering perspective this particular album is quite the hammer as its often six-manned wind section demands a certain degree of resolution to separate out the individual instruments.

The "Otti Olsen" 6/8 Jazz ballad features constant solo changes from its four-part chorus with Brandt on clarinet, Eddie Hayes on flügelhorn, then Brandt again on baritone sax. How did the Elac keep up? First impressions stuck. Tonally the small speaker acted very mature. Each woodwind on its own seemed properly voiced and natural without apparent gaps or seams across its range  - the blackwood meltingly gentle, the slightly echo-y flugelhorn outright fluffy and the baritone sax hoarse as the chuckle of an aged but very charming diva. Only the high end as represented by the cymbals could have stood a tad more gleam for my tastes.

Perhaps that was bias. In 1995 we mixed this recording without treble-boosting aural exciters or other devil-worshipping kit. Possibly the Elac was innocent. On tonal balance my thumb remained stiffly upward. The little boxes really sailed through this material with true maturity which ideally should be expected from any perfected match between amps and drivers in an active speaker design. On micro resolution the AM150 got a bit sloppier. Granted, cleanly separating four instruments which frolic simultaneously in mostly the same frequency bands isn’t exactly chopped liver.

Despite realistic clean coverage of each soloist and the harmonic ‘en bloc’ choral passages, it was clear that surgical separation into tonally and spatially discrete performers didn’t always come off. For a reality check in the same price class I reached for the Trends Audio TA10.2 SE integrated and Nubert’s nuBox 101, solo sans sub of course. First bass shed a few grams. The Elac was clearly the more endowed. Simultaneously the stage seemed to broaden, in general and also relative to space between performers. The Trends + Nubert combo had less low-down displacement but countered with more precise and dimensionally less compacted staging. Reverting to the Elac reintroduced more bass and greater weightiness in the lower mids.