The handover between drivers is seamlessly achieved – the crossover between JET5 tweeter and AS-XR midrange driver is imperceptible, and that between midrange and bass drivers is unobtrusive too. And down at the bottom of the frequency range the Vela FS 408 prove just as sprightly and focused as elsewhere. Wilton Fender’s peerless Aria bass guitar playing on ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ is impressively shaped, alive with the finest details of texture and string-gauge, and absolutely straight-edged when describing the attack and decay of individual notes. Despite significant extension and body, there’s nothing muscle-bound or congested about the way the ELAC bottom end sounds. Those AS-XR drivers may relish large signals and enjoy long travel, but they’re a deal more sophisticated in their attitude than those characteristics might suggest.
The commonality of purpose demonstrated by these three drivers contributes no end to a very pleasant facility with timing. The soundstage the ELACs generate is by no means the most expansive – in the context of the size of the cabinets it’s probably slightly disappointing, although their rather fussy shape eats into their internal volume somewhat – but it’s well defined and coherent. Combine this with the clarity, rapidity and square-edged attack of the sonic signature overall, and the entire frequency range hangs together like a well-made suit.
This deft ability to unify a recording into an entity with convincing singularity of purpose and execution makes the ELACs almost instantly likeable. And you know what they say about first impressions, right? So welcoming and so instinctively ‘correct’ do the Vela FS 408 sound in this respect, it’s hard to imagine ever taking issue with any other aspect of their reproduction.
But switching to the considerably more rough-around-the-edges Mark’s Keyboard Repair by Money Mark [Mo’ Wax] shifts the ELACs out of their comfort zone just a little. Thanks to those impressive detail levels, the analogue squelch and grind of massed analogue keyboards is delivered in its entirety – and they have no problem revealing the hesitancy and approximate pitching of Mark Ramos-Nishita’s voice. The treble response remains a paradigm of transparency and spaciousness, too. But where broad-strokes dynamics are concerned, there’s a rather hesitant quality to the FS 408 – they value control and expression above pretty much everything else, and consequently don’t quite give the big dynamic variances in this recording quite the emphasis they require.
That’s not to say they won’t dig deep and/or hit hard. Autechre’s Montreal [Warp] wants for nothing where low-frequency extension is concerned, and despite the tune’s best intentions the bass information never gets out of hand. It’s properly controlled and is always on the front foot – but, again, the ELACs don’t have the sort of explosive dynamic potency that the bald numbers (of driver count and size, of cabinet displacement, of retail price) suggest they might. So if it’s sonic fireworks you’re after, you’ll need to think long and hard about whether the ELAC Vela FS 408 fit your particular bill.
Oh, be in no doubt that their talents outweigh their shortcomings to an almost laughable degree – as well as the stuff around tonal consistency, adept timing and expressive midrange reproduction, they’re also very accomplished when it comes to describing a recording environment. Once through Erroll Garner’s Concert by the Sea [Columbia] makes the size and shape of the Sunset Center Assembly Hall explicit – and from there the ELACs make any number of pertinent observations about the number of attendees, the distance and reflectivity of hard surfaces and so on. It seems unlikely you’ll get a fuller or more vivid picture from any price-comparable alternative.
So as a combination of passably contemporary looks, undeniable quality of build and finish, impressive (and, in places, very individual) specification, and even-handed, effortless and prodigiously detailed sound, the ELAC Vela FS 408 are right on the money. There’s little to teach them about timing, or the minor second-stage harmonic details that can make all the difference to the sound of a solo piano. ‘Attentive’ is too mild a description for the attitude the ELACs adopt.
And anyway, should you really expect an aesthete to be able to hold their own in a brawl outside a pub? It’s possible to make demands of the Vela FS 408 that they’re uncomfortable trying to fulfil – the dynamic switch from ‘solo triangle player at the rear of the stage’ to ‘every section of the orchestra attempting to overpower every other section’ is not where the ELACs excel. But take them on their own terms and they have more than enough about them to make every listen a smooth and informative journey.
- Type: 2.5-way; bass reflex port;
- Driver complement: 1 × JET5 tweeter; 1 × 180mm AS-XR midrange driver; 1 × 180mm AS-XR bass driver
- Frequency response: 28Hz–50kHz
- Crossover frequency: 450Hz; 2550Hz
- Impedance: 4 Ohms nominal
(3.6 Ohms minimum)
- Sensitivity: 88.5dB/W/m
- Dimensions (H×W×D):
1142 × 276 × 332mm
- Weight: 27 kg/each
- Finishes: High gloss white; high gloss black
- Price: £4,500/pair
Manufacturer: ELAC Electroacustic GmbH
UK Distributor: Hi-Fi Network
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