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The remaining three switches
select between fixed and variable gain; infra-red remote bypass; and LED brightness for day and night mode. There are three connection options. Classic cabled setups leash up analog via RCA or XLR. Because the built-in amp’s output can be controlled by remote, single-source users need no preamp. The final option is wireless. This requires the separate optional Air-X Base, a small box with A/D converter and wireless transmitter. Analog signal gets digitized, then sent via open 2.4GHz KleerNet protocol up to 24-bit/48kHz (standard audio and video) over up to 70 meters. Inside the speaker digital reception is converted to analog before getting amplified. The included remote controls source selection plus volume and interfaces exclusively with the speakers. The Air-X Base could thus tuck behind a furniture door or disappear under a hifi rack. Digital communication between speakers and base is exclusively wireless.

The Base welcomes four sources. Input 1 is on analog RCA, input 2 is Elac’s wireless dongle (useful for Bluetooth), input 3 is either 3.5mm stereo analog or Toslink digital. Input 4 is another Toslink or USB. This supports the most common home and studio applications except for coaxial S/PDIF. You can operate up to three Air-X systems simultaneously. Switches on the rear of the Base assign specific speakers to specific sources. Here the number of possible speakers is nearly unlimited. If party hounds mean to put music in each single room of their crib, up to four different music programs can be routed to three different speaker groupings.

Sound check. My auditions used a wired analog connection (RCA) between CD player and boxes plus wireless (analog into the Air-X Base, onward wireless). In a later setup I connected the CD player to the Base digitally. To square away one thing right off the bat, wireless versus the particular cable loom I had on hand showed no qualitative differences. In a blind test I couldn’t distinguish either. Whilst certainly not a given, this was reassuring. It’d have been pretty silly to mate quality drivers to quality amps and then lose the plot in the air.

From the first piece of music played, I felt reminded of the FS-407. That was a good thing. Well-structured bass, brilliant treble resolution without sharpness, deep well-illuminated staging… everything was in place from the word go. Take Frank Zappa’s "Son of Mr. Green Genes". It’s a nine-minute instrumental extravaganza stuffed to the gills with everything that made the Zappa sound: rhythmically complex themes orchestrated outrageously, virtuoso guitar solos but also minute-long pig’s rock between two heaving chords. Brilliant stuff. Starting at 2’20" a number of strange rattles enter the mix to rhythmically accompany the lead guitar. And the Elac—okay, this gets a bit synesthetic—captured these rattles with their overall silvery color palette to glisten and sparkle where other speakers often begin to bite and hiss.

It was equally great how Elac’s compact boxes sorted out the instrumental chaos both tonally and spatially. Aside from the core team of guitar, bass and drums there’s a handful of added percussion plus various brass and woodwinds. The Air-X 403 created law and order to enable a participating stenographer to jot down the exact membership list. But still the Elac could rock. I was surprised by how much pressure this mini could generate down low.