When I first heard Andrew Jones was moving to ELAC from Pioneer I did not really know what to think of it. The two companies could not be any further from each other from size to structure. As soon as we reviewed the Debut series, his first design with ELAC, we knew that this new pairing was something special. at $229 the Debut B5 was a great speaker for that kind of money. The B5 offered strong deep bass output, clear midrange, smooth treble, and an overall clarity that other speakers in their price range could not touch. The UB5 had big shoes to fill priced just over double the cost of the B5.
Build and Design Quality
Starting with the design choice, the UB5’s were impressive and packed
more advanced technology than most speakers in their price range. The three-way design allows for the sound to split between the three drivers based on frequency, in lamens terms the idea is to have a lighter load on each driver which in theory will offer a clearer sound. Three way designs are far more difficult to get sounding correct compared to the most common two way design and require more crossover components and more tuning. The drivers themselves are very well built. They cannot compare to a Dynaudio Esotar in build quality but at this price seeing a co-axial arrangement mid-tweeter combo along with neodynium motor structure is very surprising. Andrew Jones first started designing co-axial drivers for Kef in 1989, the Kef 105/3 reference, which still holds its own today. The bass driver is an aluminum coned long travel woofer with a large ferrite motor structure. Honestly other than the cone the bass driver looks very similar to the B5 woofer, though I have been told the UB5 woofer was designed specifically for the three way application. The fit and finish is good and although they do not come in rosewood, they do look quite attractive and WAF is high.
I first placed the UB5’s in my living room set up which replaced a pair of Kef LS50’s. My living room is of medium size and pretty ideal for good acoustics. I hooked the UB5’s up to my McCormack DNA 1 Deluxe Power amp, Nakamichi CA-7A pre amp, Eastern Electric Mini Max DAC, with the PC providing the tunes. The first song I played was The Eagles Hotel California “Live Version”. I immediately noticed a remarkably full sound, the guitars had bite without harshness, the percussion instruments all stayed clear and precise even as the song was turned up louder and got more complex. I was very impressed with the natural tone of ” ” voice and the sound of the crowd was detailed, further emersing me in the music. The large bass drum that slams in the beginning and can make lesser woofers make awful sounds was played with control, snap, and depth. Overall, I was very impressed with what I was hearing. Next, I moved on to some Tool Lateralus. Danny carey is one of the best drummers of the 1990’s and it takes a special speaker to be able to capture his speed and visceral style without getting lost in the dark. His cymbals came through clear and with just the right amount of bite without sounding harsh or too soft. Maynards voice came through with excellent depth and dead center in the soundstage as it should. I could hear many of the small idiosyncrasies that are heard with far more expensive speakers. Color me impressed.
After listening for a while I found the sound of the UB5’s to be very neutral without any harshness. They were not as detailed as a focal Be or as lush as a sonus faber, but somewhere in the middle. I was very impressed with them. Now, the real test was to compare them to the previous and cheaper Debut series and my much more expensive speakers, the Kef LS50.
Comparing to the B5 and Kef LS50
I began to compare the Elac B5 with the new UB5 and the difference was clear on every song. The B5 is a great speaker in its price range but does have a slight depression in the upper midrange that can make certain songs sound less accurate. The UB5 with its dedicated midrange driver offered a more realistic midrange which led to a more realistic treble from the tweeter. Down in the bass department, the two were closer than in the mid range and treble, the biggest difference was during complex bass passages the UB5 kept its composure while the B5 would begin to muddy up a bit, double bass drums were clearly better reproduced through the UB5 than the B5. Soundstage and imaging belonged to the UB5. The soundstage depth was as good as some of the best speakers I have heard. When I decided to crank up the volume, the UB5’s played louder with far better clarity and less harshness. Overall the different in sound quality between the B5 and UB5 was not subtle and I would consider the UB5 to be a very worthy upgrade. If you are cheap, sell the B5’s on craigslist or EvilBay and you are almost halfway there.
The real test was to see what the UB5’s could do against a speaker with a reputation like the Kef LS50. The first thing I noticed was when comparing the two was that the Kef had a less organic tone than the UB5. Their was an upper mid range peak that could come off as harsh with the Kefs that was missing from the UB5’s. The bass department belonged to the UB5. Not only did the UB5 go lower, They could be cranked up much louder on tougher songs like Infected Mushroom’s “Never Ever Land” without bottoming out or loosing their composure. The one area where the Kefs were better was in upper treble detail. The LS 50 was more detailed on the highest highs and had a very realistic bite to brass instruments that the UB5 approached but could not match. Vocals through the UB5 were very accurate and sounded smooth on most recordings, the Kef’s however, had a tendency to sound nasally on certain recordings and harsh on some less than stellar recordings. The soundstage and imaging, a strong point of the Kef’s were surprisingly similar with a slight advantage going to the UB5. Overall, I would choose the UB5’s over the LS50 on all but small acoustic jazz recordings that are very well recorded.
After comparing the UB5’s to other speakers I wanted to see how they sounded with more modest equipment so I replaced the McCormack amplification for an old NAD 7240 Receiver which puts out about 40 watts rms. The sound was not as controlled as with the separates but was still very pleasing, and honestly seemed easier to drive than the B5’s were. The Kef’s paired with this NAD would have been a major dissapointment as the LS 50 needs high current, high quality amplification to sound as they should. Clearly Jones kept amplification in mind when designing the UB5’s because they perform well with a wide range of amplification, even an old Onkyo receiver I dragged out of the Abyss.
Overall, I was very impressed with the UB5’s and would recommend them to anyone looking for speakers in the under $1000 price range or someone with B5’s/B6’s that wants to step up to something approaching the point of diminishing returns. They are FAR better than countless speakers I have listened too, many costing much more. Andrew Jones and his team have brought good sound to the masses in this stagnant economy once again.
Speaker type: 3-way, bass reflex
Tweeter: 1 x 1-inch soft dome, concentrically mounted
Midrange: 1 x 4-inch aluminum cone
Woofer: 1 x 5.25-inch aluminum cone
Crossover frequency: 270 / 2,700 Hz
Frequency response: 46 to 25,000 Hz
Sensitivity: 85 dB at 2.83 v/1m
Recommended amplifier power: 40 to 140 wpc
Peak power handling: 140 wpc
Nominal impedance: 4 Ω; minimum 3.4 Ω
Binding posts: 5-way custom
Magnetic shielding: No
Cabinet finishes: Black brushed vinyl
Accessories included: Magnetic fabric grille
Dimensions (WxHxD): 7.87″ x 12.75″ x 10.75″