ELAC UniFi UB5 Review: Why Are They Shouting At Me? And Why Are They So Thirsty?

Discussion in 'Home Audio (Stereo Systems)' started by Steve Dallas, Jan 13, 2018.


  1. Steve Dallas

    Steve Dallas Supporting Member

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    The wifey has me building a new, smaller house on our property, which means I am downsizing and combining my music room and study. That means replacing my huge Yamaha HS80M monitors with something smaller, and I think I want to go with bookshelf speakers this time, due to the difficulty and cost of wiring AC and balanced signal wires into the built-ins. Speaker wire is so much easier to explain to a builder.

    So, I am auditioning some speakers to see which ones might make the cut. Budget is $1,000, but I am planning to test cheaper speakers too. I read several reviews of the ELAC's new Uni-Fi UB5 3 way concentric bookshelf, and it appears the audiophile community has gone bonkers over them. (Either that, or the payola is working wonders.) I found a pair on Amazon Warehouse Deals for $315 delivered and could not pass them up. The street price is $500. What follows are my thoughts after auditioning them for one week.

    POWER
    These speakers demand a LOT of power from an amplifier that is stable down to 4 Ohms. 100W RMS per channel is the minimum to make them sound good, IMHO. Make sure your amplifier is stable at 4 Ohms. Most home audio speakers are rated at 8 Ohms, and many home receivers are likewise rated to 8 Ohms minimum. If you do not have good amplification or are unwilling to buy it, there are better options for you. They will play at less power, but they will not sound good doing it.

    I initially powered these speakers with a Servo 120a (60W RMS per channel @ 4 Ohms class AB) amplifier that has faithfully powered passive monitors in my home studio for years. My first impression was these speakers sounded angry and shrill. After a few hours of break-in, I noticed that amplifier was running very hot. So, I swapped it out for a Servo 300 (150W RMS per channel @ 4 Ohms class AB) amplifier. I have never heard that amp's fans kick up to high before, but these speakers had them running on high in a matter of minutes. The speakers sounded much fuller with the extra power, but were curiously not much louder. They were just drinking the extra current and filling out their sound.

    Four Ohms and a sensitivity of only 85dB adds up to a load that requires more current than most consumer grade amplifiers can provide. That makes me wonder who the target audience for the UB5 is. Who exactly buys a budget "audiophile" speaker that requires expensive amplification? I guess I do.

    SOUND
    These speakers need quite a bit of break-in time to sound their best; 80 hours is probably a good benchmark. I pretty much HATED them for the first 20 hours. There is a frequency spike at around 700Hz that makes them sound like they are shouting. That mellows out over time, but it does remain a signature part of the UB5's sound.

    After 40 hours of break-in, I sat down in the listening position of my treated room to evaluate them in a near-field context. Source material was FLAC files on my PC played through a Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 DAC.

    This is a warm speaker with some quirks, in that its frequency response is far from flat. Bass response is tight, quick, and focused, but there are some vagaries in the lows. A peak at 50Hz makes a good impression, but there is almost no information between 70 and 90Hz, which is strange, and will make them sound like they are lacking bass response in some rooms (they are). There is a spike at about 120Hz that makes them sound one-notey for bass instruments. Some people will actually like that, as kick drums normally hit around 100 to 120Hz. There is a dip in the 200Hz range, which is good, because that is the center of muddy sound. But, there is a peak at 500Hz, which is the center of boxy sound. Then there is that 700Hz peak. 700Hz is the center of shouty sound, which makes these speakers continue to sound like they are yelling. Moving up, there is a dip at 1.3KHz, which is where the whack of percussive instruments happens. Beyond that, there is a peak at 2.2KHz, which is a common place for speaker manufacturers to bump consumer grade speakers, as it creates an illusion of clarity. Treble response starts to roll off dramatically after 2.3KHz, which causes the listener to strain to hear high frequency details, and which is why I call it a warm sounding speaker.

    In summary, the UB5 is a warm speaker to my ears, with some weirdness in the bass and midrange that I find odd, rude, and fatiguing, and a smoothness in the high frequencies that I wish there was more of. Stereo imaging is excellent on axis, but moving off axis (i.e. walking around the room) reveals changes that almost sound like phase shift in the mids and highs. Detail reveal is above average for the price range, but more presence in the highs would be much appreciated.

    Moving to the home theater to see how UB5s perform as far-fields, I placed these speakers on top of my B&W CM4s (that sit low due to a stupid riser in my room, and happens to place bookshelf speakers at the proper height), and watched the good portions of several Blu-Ray discs. The speakers were powered by an old Sony 9000 ES receiver, which is a beast. My impressions were that they were very quiet compared to the B&Ws, due to their inefficiency, and they made the receiver run hotter than normal. Their sonic character did not allow them to blend into the background and make me forget about them, because they shout in the HT context, too, but not as badly. They also failed to convince me that voices were coming from the disabled center channel speaker, which the B&Ws do with astonishing realism. Meh. Not terribly impressed.

    CONCLUSION
    I will give these speakers another week of break-in to see if they come around to my liking. But, at this point, I feel there are better options in this price range. The B&W 600 series are better balanced speakers without the huge power requirements. KEF makes some great sounding speakers in this price range, such as the Q300. Dynaudio M1s and SVS Ultras are significantly more pleasing, albeit at a higher price point. For the budget minded, Polk's RTiA1 and RTiA3 also sound better to me overall than the UB5 (or at least they don't give me a headache) and represent incredible values, although Polk hypes the high frequencies above 8KHz, which might be off-putting to some listeners.

    FINAL THOUGHT
    All the reviews I have read on the UB5 are glowing, even slobbering, and I fail to see why. I really wanted to like them, based on what I read, but I doubt I will be keeping them. This is a speaker for someone with excellent amplification, who happens to like its unique, shouty nature and otherwise forward midrange, and has a thing against linear bass and high frequencies in general.

    "For the price," is a phrase I see frequently, when discussing the UB5, and there is some truth to it. However, what you save on this, as an "audiophile" speaker, will need to be spent on high end amplification (and maybe an EQ) to get the most out of it, which makes it less of a bargain in its class.

    STARS
    Three stars for what they do well.

    PHOTOS

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    Spoiler for next review:
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    Last edited: Jan 14, 2018 at 9:11 PM
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  2. EdMan57

    EdMan57 Member

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  3. Steve Dallas

    Steve Dallas Supporting Member

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    Thanks!

    I should add that I have broken them in for many more hours, and they have continued to improve in many respects. One thing that has not improved, is their extremely directional nature and very narrow sweet spot. They are very sensitive to toe angle, and even when set optimally, and only the person in the center of the sofa will hear much of the tweeters.

    Head scratchers, to be sure.
     
  4. EdMan57

    EdMan57 Member

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    Many people are really digging the entry level Debut Series from Elac. I've also read where some regard the higher end Uni-Fi Series as being a bit more polarizing...some really love them,while others seem not sure of the fuss. Btw,have you heard the Q Acoustic 3050 or 3020 speakers?

    Ed
     
  5. yeky83

    yeky83 Member

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  6. 2016aug29

    2016aug29 Supporting Member

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    Weird.

    I have a set of older Elac BS 123 speakers (2005-6, I think). I got them dirt cheap pre-owned. Sound great, but need a little juice (4 Ohm). I'd love to upgrade to the series above it, which has the ribbon tweeter ...
     

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