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No one thinks I have a good memory, but I can easily remember a few sentences from my March 2016 review of Elac’s Debut B6 loudspeaker. The sentence I remember best: “I might be able to forgive you for liking Paul more than John, George, or Ringo, but if you don’t grasp the genius of Mel Tormé, only God can save you.” I felt guilty for bringing God into the story, but I sincerely wanted everyone to experience the wonder of the Velvet Fog (Tormé) and to realize how good Mel could sound on a pair of $279.99/pair upstart speakers with audiophile pretensions.
And I can’t forget this one: “Impulsively, I jumped up and put my hands on their cabinets. . . . They were vibrating like sex toys!” I was not exaggerating.
When Elac’s new $1200/pair Carina BS243.4 loudspeakers arrived, I noticed how completely different they looked from the Debut B6s. No vibrating, cheap-vinyl-covered booxes here. The BS243.4s looked sleek, solid, curvy, and moderne, with chamfered front-side corners and a trapezoidal footprint.
The BS243.4’s expensive-looking matte-black finish looked like steel. Curious, I tapped the cabinet sides and top with a small flashlight. It sounded like MDF, but each side surface sounded different. I used the flashlight to peer inside and measure the plastic bottom- firing port (6″ × 1.75″). This bottom port is able to work because the front of the BS243.4’s cabinet is attached to a strong hard-plastic base, making it look like a normal rectangular speaker from the front. However, in the side elevation, the cabinet rises upward front to back about 1.68″leaving space for the wind from the port to exit gracefully from three sides. I wondered if the cabinet had been designed specifically for desktop positioning, and if my 24″ Sound Anchors Reference stands, which are partially open at the top, would properly load the port. Then I remembered . . .
At audio shows, when I enter the Elac room, I always feel this sort of bouncy energy that makes me smile and perks me up. Then, of course, I see Andrew Jones’s electric grin jutting above the swarming heads. Then, of course, I see the newest Elac speakers. (There are always new Elac speakers.) On one such occasion, I waited for Andrew to finish his spiel and the crowd to disperse, then found a seat next to America’s most popular speaker designer. He laughed as I sat down: “Vibrated like sex toys, huh?”
Moments later, while listening to a song with copious bass, I noticed the curtains behind the left speaker blowing wildly in the wind from the speaker’s rear port. I smiled and tapped Andrew on the shoulder and pointed. We both laughed.
Elac Americas’ Carina series consists of three models: the BS243.4 bookshelf speaker, the FS247.4 floorstander, and the CC241.4 center-channel speaker.
“We are on a nautical theme at Elac, since the Germany office is in Kiel, Germany, an important sailing town,” Andrew told me. “Kiel is German for keel, the stabilizer for a boat. So, Carina comes from the Latin for the keel of a ship.”
For the Carina series, Jones combines an updated (made in China) version of Elac Germany’s famous JET tweeter with a 5.25″ aluminum-cone midbass driver with a com- pound curvature that extends frequency response and allows for the BS243.4’s relatively high (2.7kHz) crossover point.
My personal experience suggests that the overall sound of any loudspeaker is greatly determined by the designer’s choice of tweeter. For that reason, most speaker manufacturers build their entire line around a particular type of tweeter. Lately, Dr. Oskar Heil’s air motion transformer (AMT) has been the tweeter of choice in several prominent manufacturers’ lineups. GoldenEar calls their version of the AMT a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR). Adam Audio calls heirs a Unique Accelerated Ribbon Tweeter (U-ART). MartinLogan calls theirs a Folded Motion (FM) tweeter. And Elac calls their version a Jet Emission Tweeter (JET).
No matter what highfalutin name they give it, the AMT is a simple dipole transducer that squeezes air from the curtain-like folds of a sheet of polyimide film suspended in a strong magnetic field. You can’t usually see it, but these membranes have a thin, continuous conductor deposited on their surface.
My friend, audio-design wizard Jeffrey Jackson of EMIA, believes Heil was a god and described to me how the AMT works: “The voice wire goes up and down and back up again . . . it is the direction of current flow being in opposition to its neighbor (like Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up”) that makes it squeeze or push.”
We call them “air motion transformers” because they move air at a velocity several times higher than that of the diaphragm moving it. As a result, the AMT tweeter’s sensitivity and transient response are improved.
The sonic effect of all this high-speed, high-volume air movement is, to my ears, one of quiet, fatigue-free detail and apparently low distortion.
Unlike dome tweeters, folded ribbons allow designers to control both horizontal and vertical dispersion. Therefore, AMTs usually provide wider horizontal dispersion than domes. Andrew Jones told me in an email, “The Carina BS243.4 has virtually no change in response at 15-degrees horizontally right out to nearly 15kHz and still not much change at 30 degrees. Therefore, you cannot easily change the speaker’s tonality by how much you toe it in.
“Facing straight forward will give a broad but not super-focused image; a little toe-in will give you a little more focus. What really matters is how close your side walls are. Toe them in further if you are too close to your side walls.”
When I asked about how far they should be placed from the wall behind them, he replied, “Twelve inches from the [front] wall is about right in general, but this can be very room dependent. As usual, move them around until they sound good to you.”
The BS243.4 is biwireable via rugged-looking binding posts but does not include grilles.
Back in the fog
The first record I listened to critically through the Elacs was by that most artful of singers, Mel Tormé: Live at the Crescendo (LP, Affinity AFFD 100). I wanted to see how the BS243.4 compared to my memory of the Elac B6.
The first songs I played were “Autumn Leaves” and “It’s Alright With Me,” and the first sonic thing I noticed was a distinct lack of saturated Mel-tone. Standup bass was finger- snappy and flesh-on-strings detailed. Assorted room sounds and applause were well-described. Rhythm-keeping was better than first-rate. But overall, the sound was slightly dry, and some measure of Mel-harmonics were missing.