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.
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.
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Stephen Hopkins is chief technology editor for EH Publishing. He writes product reviews, features, and focuses heavily on 3D TV, iPhone and iPad apps, and digital content.