Elac Fs 189 (£2000)

An aesthetically attractive and somically capable loudspeaker

Surely the most impressive-looking speaker of this group, the Elac FS 189 is a five-driver three-and-a-half-way sporting three 175mm bass drivers, a 140mm midrange unit and Elac’s vaunted JET tweeter, whose pleated diaphragm identifies it as a development of Oskar Heil’s famous Air Motion Transformer.
   The lower two bass drivers are rolled off at 180Hz, leaving the upper bass unit to crossover to the midrange driver at 500Hz and it to the tweeter at 2.8kHz.
   Like the FS 247 Sapphire [HFN July ’11], reflex bass loading is accomplished via two ports, one located near the top of the back panel and the other in the cabinet base, where it vents to the outside via the gap between the cabinet and integral plinth. The upper port is supplied with a hard rubber bung that can be used to close it off if in-room bass output proves excessive.
   Technically the Elac has a lot going for it. Sensitivity is high, which is never a bad thing provided that tonal balance and coloration levels don’t suffer – which they don’t in the FS 189. It has one of the more neutral tonal balances of the group aside from a slight upper midrange emphasis that can sometimes manifest itself as a touch of hardness, and a rising final octave that can be tamed simply by toeing the speakers out slightly so that their axes cross a little behind the listening seat rather than pointing straight at it.

   It’s in subtler aspects of its sound quality, though, that this speaker’s real character lies – and where it fails, though not by much, to match the cheaper Platinum M4. It doesn’t deliver the expansive stereo soundstage – in depth or width – of the Dali, and it lacks the nth degree of resolution that characterises the Quadral and really puts you in touch with the performers and the music they’re making. Indeed, both these effects are probably manifestations of the same slightly reticent aspect of the Elac’s makeup. The result is that the FS 189, while unquestionably a good listen, is not quite a great one for the price. It didn’t convey the full extent of the cavernous acoustic of the Geneva hall in Scheherazade, nor did it quite deliver the little ‘scintillations’ – I don’t know how else to describe them – that make the Ravel truly live and breathe.
   ‘Poetspeak’ only reinforced these impressions: the FS 189 didn’t match the imaging specificity of the Quadral, nor did it do the important little things quite as convincingly, like clarify the sounds of the piano pedal mechanism – small details that have a disproportionate effect on the music’s verisimilitude.
   Things were closer between the two German rivals on ‘Honky Tonk Women’ but the Quadral just shaded the comparison because of its more adroit rhythmical ability, and on ‘Well Well Well’ it was a similar story: the Elac’s rhythm stick tapped away a little less metronomically.

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Originally published in the December 2011 issue