Sonically, the mid and top are extremely attractive to sit in front of. The soft dome is effortless, and there is no sense of hardness or brashness, just musical honesty and refinement. A good tweeter doesn’t shine, it seduces over time, and a really good one allows you to play any kind of music without exaggerating brightness or blandness. That’s one of the things the ELAC Adante does so well: mix it up with Mahler, Mozart, and Metallica in one session, and the loudspeaker will bring out the best in each. It will not hide why a bad recording is bad, but neither will it expose such recordings to bright light, rendering one-third of most collections unlistenable. The great one-album arbiter here is Strippedby The Rolling Stones [Virgin]. Some of the live from the studio takes (in particular ‘Love in Vain’) are some of the best recordings made of the band, whereas some of the live tour cuts (for example, ‘Street Fighting Man’) are some of the worst. ELAC portrays them with egalitarian equanimity. This is helped by a clean, detailed, and fast midrange that blends almost seamlessly with top and bottom.
But it’s the bass that really shows why this is so important a loudspeaker design. Until the Adante, bass was always going to be a trade-off between cabinet size, cabinet material, and whether or not the loudspeaker is a bass reflex model. The net results of these trade-offs was a loudspeaker that either went for accuracy at the expense of bass depth, or bass at the expense of accuracy. The more you went for accuracy (a sealed cabinet made of the stuff of tanks or kitchen worktops) generally the leaner the bottom end, but the more you went for bass depth, the greater the influence of the cabinet and the port. What happens with the Adante is the best of both worlds; the smaller, ported 165mm driver effectively ‘informs’ the performance of the outer 200mm bass driver, which acts like a much larger drive unit in a sealed-box. That means you get to hear those difficult, fast-paced yet deep bass notes on ‘Chameleon’ [Trentemøller, The Last Resort, Poker Flat] as distinct, non-blurred, almost percussive bass tones with the sort of depth you might attribute to bigger designs and none of the port-chuffing and choking up that normally occurs when a smaller box tries to overstretch itself. The cabinet is nearly dialled out here, and it’s only when comparing it to a few speakers that are significantly larger, heavier, and pricier that you begin to hear where the cabinet coloration kicks in.
OK, so ELAC is not breaking the laws of physics here, and the amount of volume headroom low-end you can extract from a big cabinet or bass drivers with the surface area of Wales is not on the table here. It goes plenty loud for most and the bass is extremely deep for a cabinet of this size, aided by that functionally inaudible cabinet, but if you seek bottom octave organ pedal notes, gut-churning synth sounds and want to play The Who – Live At Leeds[MCA] at something approaching gig-like volume levels, sooner or later the AS-61 is going to run out of steam. But these are not limitations of the AS-61, just fundamental limits placed on performance by building a cabinet that doesn’t need to be built in a shipyard.
It’s here where ELAC and Andrew Jones show their mettle. This speaker design is so good, it could be easy for the company to fall into something of a showboating trap – making a loudspeaker that is engineered to sound impressive, but ultimately unrewarding. Add a bit more bloom to the bass here, trade that accuracy for a bit of sparkle in the upper mids, and you’d get a loudspeaker that grabs headlines, but ultimately leaves people cold. This, on the other hand, is a crowd pleaser that also delivers the sonic goods for the long game.