This is an exciting time to be an audio enthusiast. Thanks to computer-aided design and modern materials, it’s possible to design and build affordable speakers that perform at a very high level. This review is about a pair of speakers that are on the cutting edge of the price/performance curve.
ELAC’s Debut B6 2-way bookshelf speakers ($280/pair) come from the mind of Andrew Jones, the world-famous speaker designer who left his mark at KEF, Infinity, TAD, and Pioneer. Now, he’s with ELAC, a German company that’s been around for 80 years with a reputation for building fine turntables. Now, ELAC is entering the North American speaker market with its Debut line of speakers and subs.
I’m a bass lover, so bookshelf speakers make me nervous. When I contacted Andrew Jones to secure a pair of Debut B6 speakers for review, I requested a ELAC S12EQ subwoofer ($700) as well. I figured it would be a necessity, and I had planned on reviewing the speakers and sub together as a sub/sat system.
Once I had the Debut B6s in my possession, I realized that they were unusually competent at bass reproduction. Therefore, for this review, I stuck with a pure 2-channel system. I’ll follow it up shortly with the review of the intriguing and capable S12EQ subwoofer, which will feature the B6s in a supporting role.
Now, let’s see what ELAC’s budget-friendly Debut B6 bookshelf speakers have to offer.
The Debut B6 is a 2-way bass-reflex (ported) bookshelf speaker featuring a 6.5″ woofer and a 1″ cloth-dome tweeter. The tweeter is mounted in a “deep-spheroid” waveguide that controls directivity and reduces cabinet diffraction, while the aramid-fiber woofer features an oversized magnet. A 7-element crossover handles the transition between the two drivers, with a 3000 Hz crossover point.
Power handling for the B6 is rated at 120 watts with 6-ohm impedance. The frequency response is specified from 44 Hz to 20 kHz, and sensitivity is listed as 87 dB/W/m.
The B6 is fairly substantial for a budget bookshelf speaker. Its MDF cabinet weighs 14.3 pounds and measures 14″ (H) x 8.5″ (W) x 10″ (D). A black brushed-vinyl finish gives it a contemporary look, and the tweeter is permanently protected from prying fingers by a metal grill. The speaker also comes with a detachable cloth grill, which I chose not to use. Also, the rear-mounted binding posts are large, easy to access, and made entirely of gold-plated metal, and they accept banana plugs.
I powered the Debut B6s with a Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR, which outputs 135 watts/channel into 8 ohms and is 4-ohm compatible. The B6s are rated at 6 ohms, which means the SC-85 should have enough power on tap to drive them to their limit.
For the duration of this review, the speakers sat on top of 24-inch stands that were positioned several feet out from the front wall and six feet apart from each other, with a slight toe-in. I used 10-foot lengths of Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cable to connect the speakers to the AVR.
My downstairs listening room—which I use for all my 2-channel reviews—is an 11-foot-wide, 16-foot-deep space with an 8.5-foot ceiling. It’s part of the open-plan first floor of a Philly row house, so the room itself is actually 35 feet deep, and there’s no wall behind my head.
I sat between the two speakers, forming an audiophile-style equilateral triangle. The primary source for music playback was an HDMI-connected Windows 10 laptop running Spotify Premium, iTunes, Google Play, and Tidal. I also used a Chromecast Audio to stream music through a digital optical connection, and a Sony PlayStation 4 to play video games and Blu-rays.
As part of the setup, I ran Pioneer’s MCACC room-correction function on of the SC-85 using the “symmetry” mode, which applies the same EQ curve to both speakers. Since this is a 2-channel rig, and I always sat in the sweet spot, I only EQ’d the main listening position.
MCACC improved the measured response at the main listening position.
For the price, the Debut B6s’ performance counts as spectacular. Even if you take cost out of the equation, they are still great. However, it’s a rare speaker that costs under $300/pair while offering listeners a very satisfying aural experience.
Performance was good across the entire frequency spectrum, with clear treble that did not fatigue the ears, a solid midrange that conveyed plenty of nuance, and bass extension that occasionally had me wondering whether I had accidentally left a subwoofer connected to the system.
The B6s’ measured frequency response in my listening room was even better than what the specs promised. Treble extended past 20 kHz, and bass response stayed strong all the way down to 34 Hz.
I tortured the two speakers with a barrage of sine waves, pink noise, and too-loud music in a search for their limits. When I found those limits, it invariably involved maxing out the excursion of the woofer with deep bass. The Debut B6 is engineered to take full advantage of the 2-channel power output offered by a competent AVR, and it should thrive in any system that meets its power handling and impedance specs.
Pioneer’s MCACC room correction did quite a good job of flattening out the in-room frequency response at my seat. I measured sine-wave sweeps with MCACC engaged as well as in Pure Direct mode—which bypasses all DSP processing—and saw a significant improvement in the corrected response.
A great speaker is one that you forget about as quickly as possible. Ultimately, it’s music, a movie, a video game, or a concert video that’s going to take you on an aural journey. I was nervous that $280/pair speakers couldn’t offer the escapist experience known as suspension of disbelief, but it turns out I had nothing to fear—the Debut B6 performed like a champ.
I auditioned my recently published playlist of ten test tracks to judge the speakers’ fidelity—both with and without MCACC enabled. Overall, I preferred the room-corrected renditions, mainly because the bass sounded better with EQ.
Getting into specific tracks, Sly & Robbie’s “Safe Space” from Free Dub lacked nothing in terms of presentation. The bass and drums were rendered with appropriate depth and intensity, prompting me to feel the cone on the S12EQ subwoofer to make sure it was disabled. All the panning and reverb and echo effects were rendered with verisimilitude that lent it a live-music feel.
Daft Punk’s “Disc Wars” from the Tron: Legacy soundtrack album did lose some measure of its deep-bass impact when compared to subwoofer-equipped systems, but I have to give credit to the B6s, they managed to get the room shaking. Notes that are totally absent on some speakers—even some costlier floorstanders—came through as guttural growls, with nary a hint of distortion. It was a heroic effort that reaffirms my conviction that these speakers don’t need a sub to satisfy bass-loving listeners.
Tones on Tail’s “Real Life,” from the compilation Everything!, lacked nothing. I heard the whole recording that I am deeply familiar with—every guitar lick and kick-drum hit sounded exactly as I expected. I’ve gotta hand it to Andrew Jones, the B6s offer precise imaging that invokes a sense of depth to the soundstage as well as width.
If there’s a track in my list that could have tripped up the B6s, it’s “Requiem: Pie Jesu” from Rutter: Requiem, Five Anthems (Turtle Creek Chorale). Real pipe organs—the sort you find in churches—are a tough nut for any speaker system to crack. As expected, the very lowest notes (16 Hz and 20 Hz) were missing. However, organ notes within the speaker’s range resonated to the bone. Meanwhile, the singing came through with heavenly clarity. If you get a chance, give this track a listen through the B6s—you’ll be left speechless.
Snoop Dogg’s “California Roll” from the album Bush sounded fantastic, again highlighting the B6’s surprisingly prodigious bass output as well as overall clarity. To my ear, the rich and thick bass line was in perfect proportion to the rest of the track, and I felt every single note. Additionally, all the layers of the mix were presented distinctly, with no hint of congestion.
Impressively, the B6s managed to tease out the deep, ethereal bass line in the latter half of Thievery Corporation’s “Samba Tranquille” from The Mirror Conspiracy. However, it was a faint pulse, nothing compared to how subwoofer-equipped systems render the same bass line. Nevertheless, the fact you can hear it at all represents a notable accomplishment.
“Chimie Du Son” from Meat Beat Manifesto’s Answers Come in Dreams was a genuine surprise to listen to. It turns out that most of the bass in the track is well within the B6’s performance envelope, and it had my room throbbing. I guarantee that anyone hearing it play on a pair of B6s will not believe there isn’t a subwoofer hidden somewhere. The speakers’ dubstep bass-reproducing prowess was the biggest surprise of the listening session.
Speakers adept at imaging are a must to enjoy Air’s “Run” from the album Talkie Walkie. The B6s conjured a lush, expansive soundscape that reminded me (once again) that a great recording is a crucial ingredient to enjoying the peak performance of a stereo system.
“You Could Feel The Sky” from Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi eliminated any doubt that the Debut B6s image beautifully. The soundfield reached well beyond the boundaries of the speakers and wrapped around my head. Furthermore, the bass was quite visceral without becoming a distraction. Overall, the speakers offered a top-notch rendition of a difficult track.
Wrapping up the playlist, Bassnectar’s “Science Fiction” from Into the Sun offered confirmation that the B6s love to reproduce dubstep-style bass. I could scarcely believe an AVR powering a pair of affordable bookshelf speakers makes for a system that performs at such a high level. “Science Fiction” triggered a dropped jaw, so I say, “Bravo ELAC!”
I listened to a lot of music through the B6s, not just the 10 tracks mentioned above. They sounded so good, I was in no rush to pack them up after I finished my review, despite having some considerably more expensive towers lined up. You give up very little in terms of performance with these speakers.
Turning to movies, I watched clips from Everest, Jurassic World, The Martian, and Terminator: Genysis on Blu-ray, and all of them exhibited extremely intelligible dialog, impactful effects, and music that sounded great while setting the mood for the scene.
The Debut B6s also excelled at reproducing video-game audio from my PS4. When I played Need for Speed, the bass response possessed a tangible physicality that communicated impacts on a visceral level. The precise imaging offered by the speakers created a detailed acoustical panorama in which every audio object was distinct and easily tracked.
The ELAC Debut B6s are so good relative to what they cost, they raise the bar for what people should expect for their money. At $500/pair, they would be competitive with some of the best $500 bookshelf speakers I’ve heard. At $280/pair, the only way to describe the Debut B6 is “shockingly great.”
It’s a rare sub-$500 bookshelf that is fully satisfying in the bass department while offering refined midrange and treble response—even at higher volumes. ELAC’s Debut B6s do it effortlessly. Anyone who cares about audio fidelity and is thinking of investing $500-600 on a soundbar should seriously consider investing in an affordable AVR and a pair of ELAC B6s instead and building a system from there. Trust me on this; I guarantee you’ll be amazed at how Andrew Jones was able to coax such great performance out of a speaker that sells for so little.
Sony VAIO laptop
Google Chromecast Audio
Sony PlayStation 4
Amplification and Processing
Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR
Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cables
Mediabridge Ultra Series HDMI cable
Monoprice optical-to-minijack TosLink
Mount-It! MI-58B 23″ speaker stands