Review: AV123 ELT525 Speaker Package

image

If you're looking for a tremendous value 5.1 speaker package that plays music as well as movie soundtracks, the ELT525 has much to offer.


Dec. 30, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Ever since surround sound formats were popularized in the mid ‘80s, and even more so with the boom of Dolby Digital-encoded DVDs in the mid ‘90s, speaker manufacturers have been bundling 5.1 channel speaker packages for easy consumption. 

Just add an AV receiver, source and display and you have yourself a full-fledged home theater. These packages range from micro-satellite speakers and tiny “bass modules” to all-out reference systems certified for actual theater use … and everything in between.

What you don’t see all that often is a 5.1-channel speaker bundle that is as competent in musical reproduction as it is with the latest Michael Bay destructo-fest.  What’s unheard of is a package striking this kind of balance for under $1,000. Enter the AV123 ELT525 package, bundled with the MFW-15 subwoofer. ELT stands for Extremely Luscious Theater, and at the sale price, the name is exceedingly accurate. 

Un-boxing and Build Quality
I received the ELT525 package over the course of three days, with the Towers and Center arriving on day one. As I opened the double-boxes and slid the speakers out of their cloth bags I was pleasantly surprised by what I found, and what was lacking.  Present were a pair of slender towers and seemingly tiny center speaker, compared to others that had floated in and out of my system recently. While lacking in visual bulk, the ELT525 Towers were no lightweights—their MDF construction lent a pleasing weight and their wide plinth and floor spikes provided a stable base. 

The Center did, however, feel a bit diminutive in comparison, both in footprint and weight. Both were covered in a satin rosewood veneer finish that represents a $300 up-charge. The base satin cherry veneer is equally impressive, with less apparent grain and a brighter color. On day two the Monitors arrived. Their un-boxing felt about the same as the center; well built, but lacking a bit in heft. That said, a knock test didn’t reveal any obvious cabinet resonance. 

On day three something completely different was waiting on my doorstep. While I had no problems getting the pair of towers, boxed together in a single package, up to my third floor theater, there was no way I could manage the same with the 130-lb hulk left unceremoniously on my porch. While the rest of the ELT525 package is diminutive but solid, the MFW-15 subwoofer is just plain dense. Its 15” drive and front-firing slot-port (a space-efficient design under-utilized in mass-market subwoofers) take up the bulk of the front baffle. 

I’ve seen many a 12” subwoofer enclosure that dwarf the MFW-15 in volume but weigh half as much. While I’m surprising myself a bit by taking any issue with the MFW-15’s physical build quality, it is worth noting that the veneer color of the subwoofer was a few shades darker than the rest of the package. This was easily noticed by several others who came through my theater during the review period, with the sub sitting halfway between the front-left speaker and center speaker.  While the MFW-15 isn’t technically part of the ELT525 line, if it’s going to be sold as a package in a matching color, the shade really should be a much closer match. 

Speakers
Since the MFW-15 rolled in a couple of days after the Towers and Center, I had some time to gather some first impressions of the speakers in full-range listening.  While the Towers are a true floor-standing design, they perform much more like a large-ish bookshelf in terms of low-end performance. Some unscientific frequency sweeps showed the quoted 48Hz to be fairly close, though I picked up usable output down to around 40Hz thanks to the gain of my room. The front port design allows these to be placed fairly close to rear boundaries without causing bloated or inaccurate bass.

I started my listening with the Ken Ishiwata’s 30th Anniversary SACD Sampler, a collection of jazz standards from Gershwin, Hammerstein, and Shearing that’s rich in ambiance and smooth instrumentals. The recording’s lack of piercing detail makes it quite revealing of speakers that roll off too much of the upper-midrange.  The ELT525 Towers bring out an amazing amount of detail lost in many speakers in the price range that are considered “musical.” At the same time, that detail isn’t over-accentuated as is common in my high-efficiency home-theater designs. The smooth and controlled recording really plays to the ELT525 Towers’ strong suit. 

Moving toward something with a lot more edge as well as some low-end oomph, Linkin Park’s Road to Revolution Blu-ray concert shows that the Towers maintain their composure with less-refined source material, not lacking detail in the raspy vocals but also masking some of the live recording’s deficiencies with a slight roll-off at the very top of the frequency spectrum. The low-end in a concert like this is, however, somewhat lost. The Towers don’t lose composure or become bloated, they just smoothly fade away. If bass-heavy music isn’t your forte, you could easily let the Towers do the job without any assistance. If you like your music with a full low-end, the ELT525s should blend easily with a subwoofer crossed over around 60Hz. 

Subwoofer
That ease of subwoofer integration may be what makes this package so well balanced. The Towers know their limitations and don’t try to exceed them, instead letting the more-than-capable MFW-15 pick up where they leave off. And boy does it ever pick up the LFE slack. Whether in explosion-heavy sequences from Iron Man on Blu-ray, or the Piano Smasher segment of Blue Man Group’s How to be a Megastar Live!, the MFW-15 digs deep while responding with speed and accuracy. 

The published specs list 18Hz anechoic F3 and 15-17hz typical in-room response, and my quick sweeps confirm the latter prediction within the realm of likelihood, with my own response (1/3 front wall placement) reaching ~16Hz. That extension also maintains impact into the 110dB range. What’s most impressive is the composure with which it does so. Up to ~80hz, the large 15” driver maintains its poise and integrates well with even the smaller Monitors in a THX crossover configuration.

Anyone who decides to pick up the ELT525 speaker package would be crazy to not add the MFW-15 for only $300. 

Surrounds & Center
While the small footprint of the ELT525 Towers is appreciated, especially given its balanced musical capabilities, the scaled-down-size theme may be carried a bit far with the Center and Monitors. The center maintains a drive set identical to the towers, but the vast difference in volume makes for an uneven match near the likely 80Hz crossover embodied by the rear snap of low midbass in center. A 100Hz crossover for the center can take this strain away, but detrimentally impacts horizontal pans in the same frequency range (think rumble of a muscle car or low hum of a space ship). If your AVR has fine enough crossover control to facilitate a 90Hz setting, that may be a good compromise, but pans still suffer. 

The other complaint I have surrounding the center is the rear-port configuration, which limits placement possibilities. In a compact system, a cabinet or shelf position is fairly likely but can wreak havoc when the speaker can’t breathe in the back. This is a disturbing trend I’m seeing in center speakers, especially compact models that could benefit greatly from a front port or sealed arrangement due to more-than-likely compromises in placement. 

The Monitors’ small size can also be a detriment, but in practice only if you try to use them as main speakers. Their lack of enclosure volume really limits their efficiency and a lot of power would be required to drive these near-reference levels up front. As surrounds, however, this qualm is mostly negated. Front-rear pans are mostly seamless with an 80hz crossover and the Monitors, oddly, don’t exhibit the same loss of control as the center speaker. They do, however, share the same rear-ported design that all but eliminates wall-mounting without compromising the control exhibited around the likely 80hz crossover point. While the Towers can do well very close to a rear-boundary, the Center and Monitors really do need some space to breath. 

Conclusion
While the Towers lack in low-end oomph, they maintain smooth mid and high frequency reproduction and exceptional detail with just a hint of roll-off in the highest audible frequencies. The Center may be the system’s weak link, never really blending convincingly with the Towers in panning scenes, while not drawing too much attention to itself in center-screen dialog. The Monitors serve sufficiently well in surround duty, but their limited range and notable inefficiency would make them a poor choice as main speakers in most systems. 

The MFW-15 is surprisingly confident in both musical and theater reproduction, maintaining accuracy and control even when digging into the subsonic region. If I were reviewing the MFW-15 by itself I would be impressed, though not shocked, with what it can do for the $699 MSRP. What is shocking is how they can shoe-horn it into a $999 5.1 package with so few compromises. 

At around 60% off the Internet MSRP, which IS the actual price these sell for about 75% of the time, the $999 cherry package may be as good as it gets for anyone as interested in 2-channel music listening as high-action home theater. If you butter your bread with Miles Davis as often as Jerry Bruckheimer, the AV123 ELT525 package should be high on your list, so long as the $999 - $1,299 package price holds. 


Specifications
Speaker Package Sale Price - $699 in Cherry, $899 in Rosewood
Speaker + Subwoofer Sale Price - $999 in Cherry, $1299 in Rosewood

ELT525 Towers
System Description: 2 Way
Woofer: 2x 5.25” treated paper cone
Tweeter: 1” fabric dome with oversized surround
Enclosure Type: Vented, Front Firing
Frequency Response: (+/-3dB): 48Hz- 20KHz
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB @ 1w/1m
Crossover: 2000Hz, 2nd Order Acoustic
Shipping Weight: 75lbs pair / 34kg pair
Dimensions: 6.2” W x 37.9” H x 9.9” D / 156mm W x 962mm H x 250mm D
Video Shielded: Yes

ELT525 Center
System Description: 2 Way
Woofer: 2x 5.25” treated paper cone
Tweeter: 1” fabric dome with oversized surround
Enclosure Type: Vented, Rear Firing
Frequency Response: (+/-3dB): 74Hz- 20KHz
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 86dB @ 1w/1m
Crossover: 2400Hz, 2nd Order Acoustic
Shipping Weight: 20lbs each / 9.1kg each
Dimensions: 17.7” W x 6.2” H x 9.9” D / 449.5mm W x 156mm H x 250mm D
Mounting: 1/4”-20 threaded insert built into the back and bottom. For wall mounting, we recommend Peerless item# PM732.
Video Shielded: Yes

ELT525 Monitors
System: 2-way, 2-driver direct radiating vented enclosure with rear-firing flared ports.
Drivers: One (1) custom 5.25” woofer and one (1) 1” tweeter
Frequency Response: ± 3dB to 20KHz with -3dB at 60Hz
Crossover Point: 2200Hz
Slope: 2nd order acoustic
Impedance: 8 ohms
Efficiency: 83dB @ 1w/1m
Video Shielding: Yes
Wall Mounting: Yes, via two threaded inserts.  One on the back and one on the bottom.  Size: 1/4-20. 
Dimensions: 6.12” W x 11.25” H x 9.81” D / 15.5cm W x 28.7cm H x 25cm D
Weight: 26lbs per pair shipped

MFW-15 Subwoofer
Type: Slot ported w/ internal fold; single-driver system
Driver: 15” custom designed woofer
Amplifier: Custom 350 watt
Voltage: 110/220V
Frequency Response:  Ground Plane frequency response is 18-200Hz +/-4dB.  Typical in-room response extends to 15-17Hz.
Inputs: Stereo high level input and output.  Stereo low level and LFE input.
Phase Control: Variable 0-180
Size: (H x D x W):  23.94” x 22.44” x 18.125”
Weight: 125lbs shipped
Other Features: Gain, crossover adjustments (40Hz - 150Hz), auto / on / standby mode.
Warranty: 3 Year Warranty

Pros
Smooth highs, detailed with slight roll off at the very top end
Furniture-grade finish
Sub goes low and loud while maintaining control
Balances music and home theater well
Extreme value at package sale prices

Cons
Lacking in impact, no midrange punch
Tower low-end limited by form-factor, Monitors limited by efficiency
Center doesn’t blend convincingly with the Towers,
Rear-port hinders placement of Monitors & Center
Low system efficiency; requires adequate power for best performance



Return to full story:
http://www.electronichouse.com/article/review_av123_elt525_speaker_package/P7