Along with companies like Audiovector, ELAC has looked to the future of audio and concluded it lies in active loudspeakers driven by small digital hubs. This is known as AIR-X in ELAC parlance. However, although the basic concept in the two products is broadly the same, the two couldn’t be more different in reality.
AIR-X is initially built into variations on two existing ELAC designs, the BS-403 standmount and BS-407 floorstander. Both of these designs sport the excellent JET 5 folded ribbon tweeter and the 150mm AS XR cone woofer. We tested the AIR-X 403 model. The loudspeaker loses its passive crossover and this is replaced with an active module pack, called the AIR-X AMP. Both loudspeakers need to be powered from the mains as a result. Although a true state-of-the-art design, the amp module itself used 225W Class AB amplifiers, and that requires both power, and a rear mounted heat-sink. A series of DIP switches on the back panel of the loudspeaker offer a great deal of flexibility in terms of installation, because although the amp modules are conventional analogue amps, the crossover driving those amps is pure digital signal processing. This means it’s extremely easy to change the speaker position from free-space to boundary or even on-console operation, there are also treble and bass boosts, a loudness boost, and other functions driven from this red eight-way DIP box.
The loudspeaker is intended as a true active design, fed from a balanced or single-ended preamp, or maybe a DAC/pre combo. But below these two inputs are three small switches that form and connect to the heart of the AIR-X system. There is a three-position room switch (for multiroom use), a left, right, and mixed L+R mode switch, and the all-important wireless control. The loudspeakers then receive information from the AIR-X BASE unit.
The BASE station connects to your system. BASE has a single-ended line-level input, a combination coax and optical digital connection, and a combination optical and USB input. These signals are selected (and level controlled) from a small remote handset, and are then sent in uncompressed digital audio up to 24-bit, 48kHz precision (using the KleerNet protocols) to the AIR-X loudspeakers. To ensure a robust signal set against a tide of Wi-Fi noise, the BASE has a three-position switch on the rear panel to find the ideal transmission channel to the loudspeakers. You pair the system by pressing the requisite button on the remote for four seconds. There are also two additional USB connections, but they aren’t for USB audio use. One powers the BASE, via a plug-top USB charging device and a cable. The USB charger is a multinational device with interchangeable plugs, but the 13A one at least has a nasty habit of turning back into its constituent parts if you try to remove it from its socket too quickly. I’d prefer something that locks shut where AC power is involved. The final USB-like connector helps the AIR-X connect to Bluetooth sources with a receiver dongle.