This system is an ambitious bridge between today’s systems and tomorrow’s. The BASE unit can be a full system replacement hub in some settings, but in many settings, the BASE will sit in a modified version of an existing system, possibly hanging off the end of a preamp, the BASE acting in essence like some wireless speaker cables. In fairness, both modes work well. This does require a little more thought in installation than some systems, but fortunately, when set up, it stays set-up. Be aware that the channel selection switch is extremely useful in maintaining a signal; I found that as the evenings wore on and a street full of Wi-Fi routers (17 fighting over the same airwaves at the last count), sometimes you’d just have to change channels. Bluetooth dropouts were infrequent, although regularly finding and befriending the dongle was another matter. Bluetooth worked smoothly 90% of the time, and otherwise needed a couple of tries before success, but from experience Bluetooth users demand instantaneous connectivity over and over again.
I tended to use AIR-X BASE in ‘replacing a preamp’ mode, using it to connect to the amps in the loudspeakers in the same way I might use a preamp and long runs of interconnect cable. And in this setting, it worked extremely well and made a very fine sound indeed. The loudspeaker retains its signature transient speed, dynamic range, surprising depth for a loudspeaker so small, and outstanding stereo performance. It also has a lot of grunt behind the drive units, so it has the potential to go extremely loud or extremely dynamic without the least fuss. You’ll be running to the doctor with damaged ear drums long before you push these speakers past their limits. Maybe a very careful amplifier selection in passive guise could find a partner even closer to ELAC’s goals, possibly one that could bring its somewhat forward presentation back a notch. Certainly, experience with Norma electronics (also distributed by Hi-Fi Network in the UK) and a good guesstimate of its use with Primare (distributed by ELAC in Germany) would suggest there’s a slightly less up-front balance to be extracted from ELAC designs.
In a way, though, this is sidestepping the point. The AIR-X system works as a complete package, its whole greater than the sum of its parts. What this does superbly is send signals from sources to the amplifiers, wirelessly and not only losslessly but in an uncompressed format that will support 48kHz, 24-bit data streams. They don’t drop out and they don’t sound materially different from running the same tracks through a wirleless pathway. There wasn’t much you could throw at this system that would faze it; I tried everything from jazz chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux to dense modern classical orchestral hitting-things-until-they-hurt John Pickard, from the ticks and clicks of Trentemøller to the just plain weirdness of Dent May and his ukulele. It all worked without a hiccup.