ELAC, an abbreviation of ELectroACoustic, is a German company, founded in 1926. However, it wasn’t until the 80s that they turned their attention to developing speakers. Their designs are innovative, bordering on esoteric, which I would normally shy away from on the grounds that if they are so good, more companies would be designing something similar. However, I decided that the design of the 247s is within the bounds of what I would consider ‘esoterically acceptable’.
A search on the Internet in 2012 produced very little information on these speakers, other than that given by the manufacturer, and most of the information and reviews I did find related to the FS 247 SE – the made-to-order Sapphire Edition costing half as much again as the ‘basic’ FS 247s. For this reason I decided to post a review on the 247s.
The FS 247s retail at £1999.99 per pair in the UK (April 2012 Internet price), and are available in a limited number of finishes, perhaps the most popular being a very elegant black gloss. The build quality is second to none, and at 16kg each must have a significant amount of internal bracing to prevent the cabinet from vibrating.
The rear of the cabinet has six small holes, which were a mystery at first. Then I realised they correspond to the six holes on the front for holding the speaker grill in place. And that’s their purpose at the back too! If you choose to have your speakers without the front grill, the grill can be stored neatly, and safely, at the back of the speaker. A very thoughtful piece of design by ELAC.
With the front grill removed it’s plain to see that these speakers are different from the rest. The tweeter has horizontal slits and the two 150mm drivers have a silver, crystal-patterned, cone. And the difference doesn’t end there. The speakers have two ports, one of which fires downward onto a base plate.
The tweeter in the FS 247s is ELAC’s JET III ribbon tweeter. Ribbon technology has been around for many years, but manufacturing costs and power handling constrains have limited their use to higher end speakers.
One of the drawbacks of using ribbon tweeters is that the speaker can end up sounding too bright, and this was one of my first concerns, but having listened to the speakers at length at no point have I felt this to be the case with the 247s. What I have found is the treble to be remarkably clear. Acoustic guitars in particular seem to come alive, as the ribbon tweeter responds faster to transients, and reveals harmonics beautifully.
ELAC supply a special foam ring that can be attached to the front end of the tweeter to limit the sound dispersion, useful in acoustically bright rooms (typically rooms without carpets and curtains to absorb the sound). However, I didn't feel the need to reduce the dispersion, so the foam rings remained in their boxes.
The most important things for a bass/mid driver’s cone is that it must be light and ridged. This enables it to respond quickly to audio signals without deforming. Arguably the best material for speaker cones is paper, but this hasn’t stopped manufacturers experimenting with other materials such as Kevlar, wood, plastic, aluminium, and paper doped with various substances.
The cones on the FS 247’s two 150mm drivers are described, by the manufacturer, as a paper and aluminium sandwich, with the aluminium being stamped with a crystal-like pattern to give extra strength, which reduces the membrane’s internal resonance resulting in less sound colouration. Another unique feature is that the driver’s voice coil is formed not only around the neck of the paper cone, which is usually the case, but also around the aluminium membrane. This, along with the especially wide rubber surround, gives the speaker a particularly long throw of ±15mm. In plain English: it can move a lot of air for its size.
As previously mentioned, the FS 247s have two ports. The important thing concerning ports is their size and depth, as opposed to their number or position. However, this doesn’t mean that position isn’t important. As a general rule, speakers with front ports can be placed closer to walls without adversely affecting the sound than speakers with rear ports.
The advantage of downward firing ports is less obvious, and information on the Internet is scant. However, someone on a discussion forum pointed out that with a downward firing port the designer knows the distance from the port to the nearest surface, i.e. the floor, or in this case the speaker’s base plate, and can therefore use this information to fine tune the port. In the case of a rear firing port the designer has no control over the distance from the port to the nearest surface, i.e. a wall.
The port at the bottom of the 247s is permanently open. However, the port at the rear is sealed with a bung, which ELAC refer to as a ‘bass control plug’. Removing this bung increases the bass response. However, this is not necessarily a good thing. If the speakers are placed near a wall, for example, removing the bass control plug may create a muddy bass. In fact this is exactly what I found when I removed the plugs on the 247s under review, which were positioned quite near a wall. (The photos below show the bass control plug, and the port that it goes into if required.)
The FS 247s are firmly attached to the base plate, and underneath the bass plate attaches either spikes, for use on a carpet, or rubber feet, for use on a hard floor. Both spikes and rubber feet come as part of a number of accessories which, as well as the aforementioned foam ring for the tweeter, also include a cleaning cloth for the cabinet, a pair of cotton gloves, to avoid getting finger marks on the high gloss finish, and a cotton cover for the speakers.
Each speaker has two sets of terminal posts connected with a metal strip. Removing the metal strip allows the speakers to be bi-wired or bi-amped. However, much to my surprise, the terminal posts don’t accept standard 4mm banana plugs. They are designed to accept thick cables or spades.
So what do these speakers actually sound like? I don’t want to say a lot about the sound as at this price you really need to trust your own ears more than those of anyone writing a review. However, from the very first time I heard these speakers I was impressed. I felt they projected the sound into the room much more so than other speakers I have auditioned. I later found out that this is actually one of their design features, as expressed on ELAC’s website:
“Special attention has been given to three-dimensional sound radiation patterns with the aim of acoustically energizing the room in a consistent and harmonised way.”
These are the first speakers I have heard where a rain effect on a recording really does sound like it’s raining outside, no doubt due to the high quality ribbon tweeter. The bass is all there, but not hyped in any way. Anyone who likes a thunderous bass is going to be disappointed. But anyone whose tastes appreciate clarity and detail, with depth, will find the sound of the 247s very satisfying.
For a multitude or reasons even expensive speakers generally sound weak at low volumes, and the FS 247s are no exception. However, I found the 247s still managed to turn in a better performance than other speakers I have heard when the volume control on the amplifier has barely left the '0' mark.
At £1000 each are they really worth the asking price? This is tricky. Are any stereo hi-fi speakers worth £1000 each? It all depends on how much you like listening to high quality sound reproduction. Personally, I like to be able to hear every element, and every nuance that has gone into making the music I love, regardless of genre. In order to do this high quality sound reproduction equipment is needed.
It’s important to remember that speakers at this price need to be driven from equally high quality signal sources. The final quality of audio is only as strong as the weakest link in your audio chain.
Positioning and room furnishings can also make a big difference to the sound. Don’t expect the speakers to sound exactly the same as they did in the shop, even if they were demonstrated using the same CD player and amplifier as you have.
Without doubt, a lot of work has gone into the design and construction of these speakers, and they exude quality down to the very last nut and bolt. My only words of caution would be: after hearing these speakers you’ll probably want to buy them!
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(I would like to affirm to the reader that I have no connection with ELAC, and have received no payment or benefits from any source for writing this review. It is a true customer/user review.)