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Last but not least I cued up a bit of Soul/Electric Jazz with Idris Muhammad’s Loran’s Dance. It sports a 10-minute long very cool mid-tempo number based on a simple Fender Rhodes groove. It presents drummer Idris Muhammad with all the space to shine without succumbing to any one-upmanship pressures. Wow, this really had the Elac at hello! The Rhodes was at once silken and bell-like, the trombone taking over the theme was flufficacious at its very best and the drums kicked hard despite the overall chilled vibe. This somewhat paradoxical total impact took getting used to. Though seemingly primed for small pro or home recording studios, these small boxes seemed to hit their stride with relaxed groovy fare.

While the properly crisp brass solos of this 70s production were mastered defensively—and likely bedeviled by good ol’ albeit not deliberate tape compression—the AM150 handled them with aplomb for true enthusiasm without qualification. So far I’d only gone in analog though. How ‘bout digital?

This begged for an A/B because I could leash up another coax to the digital out of my Marantz SA7001 SACD deck and simply switch between analog and digital on the Elacs’ backs. The difference wasn’t dramatic but audible. The digital input seemed more pressurized, edgier and more dynamic. This was apparent on the Helmut Brandt CD as well as the effects-imbued Soap & Skin – nothing earth-shaking but definitely beyond mere nuances. On balance however I’d personally favor the Marantz over its analog outputs. The overall character was harmonically softer and thus more becoming over the long term – though that’s also a question of music. Whoever fronts the Elac AM150 with a CD player ought to permanently connect both scenarios to be able to flip at whim.

Conclusion: How’s it all add up? A happy encounter with a lot of value for the money. Developing a speaker with such universality of application and such a friendly budget makes it impossible to be all things to all people. One has to define a niche, focus down on specific talents and fix up a particular profile. That’s been successful. Today’s tester has clear character. For the money it’s prematurely mature – neutral and sufficiently loud and bass stable without cheap tricks. I put Elac’s AM150 through its paces over two months and enjoyed my time. Obviously you can get more if you spend more. What distinguished this box from my bigger rig were concept-typical subtractions in the low bass, lesser scale and precision of the soundstage and stepped back microdynamics. Bigger budgets will thus track the finest breathers on Soap & Skin better. Ditto for the dying embers of electronic decays and damped piano strings. Costlier kit won’t strut wobbly switches and instead seduce us with classier cosmetics. But - those of leaner wallets who want a good near-field monitor for Jazz, Pop or Rock mastering or an uncomplicated unusually mature-for-the-money living room speaker that merely requires a source ought to be more than satisfied.

The Elac AM150 was characterized by:

  • Astonishingly clean sonics for the sticker. From the upper bass through to the treble this speaker seemed very even-handed.
  • In the neutral EQ setting, the treble veered towards the soft rather than crisp.
  • Low-bass compromises are intrinsic to the concept but bass output and extension were surprising given the size.
  • Being dynamically lively, macro and micro limits were still just typical for this breed rather than special virtues.
  • Realistic soundstage size with decent ambient recovery. As long as the music avoided undue complexity, localization remained strong and nicely separated.
  • Various filters allow adaptation to room and listener.
  • For quiet levels (or music with broad dynamic range) self noise was somewhat high in the near field.
Concept: Compact active 2-way with rear-firing slot-loaded port
Dimensions and weight: 290 x 195 x 250mm HxWxD, 7.6kg
Other: Digital inputs, selectable filters

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