The Best Value Loudspeaker Available? Meet ELAC’s New Debut B6.2 by Andrew Jones

I spent last weekend in the chilly environs of Chicago, attending AXPONA 2018 and listening to all that is new in the world of audio. On the first morning, I was fortunate enough to stumble into ELAC’s room where the man himself, Andrew Jones was in attendance showing off their new Debut B6.2 bookshelf loudspeaker and new EA series integrated amplifier. The sound these speakers were putting out when I walked in was larger than life, and truly shocking for such a small cabinet, so I sat down for a longer listen.

After listening for a few minutes, I asked Andrew for some more details. He was happy to gobsmack everyone in the room by informing us that these speakers were retailing for a mere $299. A number that I could hardly believe, as these clearly outperformed much more expensive speakers I had heard from big names like B&W’s CM series.

The Debut bookshelf comes in two flavors, the B5.2, which features a 5-1/4″ aramid fiber driver with 1″ cloth dome tweeter, and the B6.2 I heard at AXPONA, which features a 6-1/2″ aramid fiber driver and the same 1″ cloth dome tweeter. In the new Debut 2 series, Jones moved the port from the rear of the speaker to the front, slightly increasing its profile, but also providing noticable sonic improvements in the same standard 2-way design.

There is no question that these speakers were absolutely outstanding for the money, with a deep and authoritative bottom end that can play as low as 44Hz, excellent imaging and plenty of air in the treble. It would be hard for me to level any serious critiques at them, especially given their price point. They easily outperform other bookshelves I have heard that cost 3-5X as much.

At this moment, if someone was to ask me what the best speaker value I am aware of is, it would undoubtedly be the ELAC Debut B6.2 speaker that I heard at AXPONA.

The new Debut 2.0 series is already for sale on Amazon, and will soon have a forthcoming integrated amplifier released at the $700 price point, allowing a complete two channel system for under $1000.

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Dave Upton

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21 Comments

  1. @Dave Upton this brings up something I've been considering, of changing my surround speakers from di-poles to direct radiating, specifically using the B6.2s. For decades I've liked di-pole surrounds, but lately I notice the sounds being put in the surround channels is changing. It used to be mostly atmospheric, but more and more I hear very distinct sounds, especially voices and they just don't blend well using di-pole surrounds. The characteristic of the sound is fundamentally different.

    My main speakers are Thiel CS 3.6, and after my Thiel SCS3 center took a powder, I searched around for something that could replace it and not cost a fortune. Eventually I found the Uni-Fi UC5 was an excellent match, for a very reasonable price. Plus, I have to admit, I like Andrew Jones' emphasis on phase coherence, which is what Jim Thiel lived for in speaker designs. I would try Uni-Fi UB5s for surrounds, but what I like about the Debut Gen 2 is they've moved the port to the front, so I can place them on shelves as close to the wall as I want. The Uni-Fi are rear port. Plus, I can get (4) B6.2s for just a little more than (2) UB5s. The room is about 20×25, with surrounds in pretty ideal locations, well to the sides and behind the viewing area.

    Do you have suggestions, impressions, or any input on direct radiating vs. di-pole surrounds with modern soundtracks?

  2. Sam Posten

    My only complaint with these is that they eschewed ceiling bounce Atmos speakers like the AJ Pioneers do. Wonder why?

    Probably decided to have separate Atmos models that sit on top, rather than two variations of the bookshelf models, as well as the separate Atmos version. Fewer SKUs to accomplish the same thing.

  3. JohnRice

    @Dave Upton this brings up something I've been considering, of changing my surround speakers from di-poles to direct radiating, specifically using the B6.2s. For decades I've liked di-pole surrounds, but lately I notice the sounds being put in the surround channels is changing. It used to be mostly atmospheric, but more and more I hear very distinct sounds, especially voices and they just don't blend well using di-pole surrounds. The characteristic of the sound is fundamentally different.

    My main speakers are Thiel CS 3.6, and after my Thiel SCS3 center took a powder, I searched around for something that could replace it and not cost a fortune. Eventually I found the Uni-Fi UC5 was an excellent match, for a very reasonable price. Plus, I have to admit, I like Andrew Jones' emphasis on phase coherence, which is what Jim Thiel lived for in speaker designs. I would try Uni-Fi UB5s for surrounds, but what I like about the Debut Gen 2 is they've moved the port to the front, so I can place them on shelves as close to the wall as I want. The Uni-Fi are rear port. Plus, I can get (4) B6.2s for just a little more than (2) UB5s. The room is about 20×25, with surrounds in pretty ideal locations, well to the sides and behind the viewing area.

    Do you have suggestions, impressions, or any input on direct radiating vs. di-pole surrounds with modern soundtracks?

    John,

    I think they would do a fantastic job as a surround. The issue with surround di/bi-poles as you mentioned is that thent tend to be phasey, and lose performance delivering direct sound. I personally use Legacy Phantom HD's, which are not a dipole, but use the side drivers to fill in the SBIR dip that being mounted on the wall causes.

    In your case, it's hard to imagine a better budget option than the Debut B6.2's. I always prefer to timbre match my surrounds and mains if I can, but it's not nearly as critical as some people think. I'd say go for it.

  4. JohnRice

    @Dave Upton this brings up something I've been considering, of changing my surround speakers from di-poles to direct radiating, specifically using the B6.2s. For decades I've liked di-pole surrounds, but lately I notice the sounds being put in the surround channels is changing. It used to be mostly atmospheric, but more and more I hear very distinct sounds, especially voices and they just don't blend well using di-pole surrounds. The characteristic of the sound is fundamentally different.

    My main speakers are Thiel CS 3.6, and after my Thiel SCS3 center took a powder, I searched around for something that could replace it and not cost a fortune. Eventually I found the Uni-Fi UC5 was an excellent match, for a very reasonable price. Plus, I have to admit, I like Andrew Jones' emphasis on phase coherence, which is what Jim Thiel lived for in speaker designs. I would try Uni-Fi UB5s for surrounds, but what I like about the Debut Gen 2 is they've moved the port to the front, so I can place them on shelves as close to the wall as I want. The Uni-Fi are rear port. Plus, I can get (4) B6.2s for just a little more than (2) UB5s. The room is about 20×25, with surrounds in pretty ideal locations, well to the sides and behind the viewing area.

    Do you have suggestions, impressions, or any input on direct radiating vs. di-pole surrounds with modern soundtracks?

    John,

    I think they would do a fantastic job as a surround. The issue with surround di/bi-poles as you mentioned is that thent tend to be phasey, and lose performance delivering direct sound. I personally use Legacy Phantom HD's, which are not a dipole, but use the side drivers to fill in the SBIR dip that being mounted on the wall causes.

    In your case, it's hard to imagine a better budget option than the Debut B6.2's. I always prefer to timbre match my surrounds and mains if I can, but it's not nearly as critical as some people think. I'd say go for it.

  5. Dave Upton

    I always prefer to timbre match my surrounds and mains if I can, but it's not nearly as critical as some people think. I'd say go for it.

    Thanks, Dave.

    Truly timbre matching surrounds to the front, in my case, would require risking my $ on the used market, and would probably still cost in the multi-K$. That's just not going to happen. Even though I spend more time watching movies, music is still my #1 priority with the system, so replacing the Thiels is not feasible, due to what it would cost to get something I'm as happy with for music.

  6. JohnRice

    Thanks, Dave.

    Truly timbre matching surrounds to the front, in my case, would require risking my $ on the used market, and would probably still cost in the multi-K$. That's just not going to happen. Even though I spend more time watching movies, music is still my #1 priority with the system, so replacing the Thiels is not feasible, due to what it would cost to get something I'm as happy with for music.

    I hear you. I love Thiel's sound as well, though I've sort of fallen in love with Legacy and tend to find it hard to look elsewhere. I understand how it goes!

  7. Yeah, they weren't cheap, the wife was horrified when I bought two pairs, but they're gorgeous to look at, and sound fantastic. My problem right now is that the room is actually a bit small – moving will do more for my sound system than any gear upgrades.

  8. Sam Posten

    My only complaint with these is that they eschewed ceiling bounce Atmos speakers like the AJ Pioneers do. Wonder why?

    Sam, do you mean having the ceiling bounce part built in to these? Because they do make ceiling bounce Debut 2.0 A4.2 speakers separately (I own those). Maybe as a cost-savings measure? If you want both you can buy both, but if you have no need for Atmos then you're not paying extra for something you won't be using?

    For towers costing more than the B6.2 I can understand maybe building them in as they don't add too much to the overall cost, but for what the B6.2 are selling for, and what the A4.2 are selling for, perhaps they would have had to add a considerable amount to the cost to combine the two.

  9. I don't have a good answer for that, Sam. Maybe the numbers crunchers over there are trying to streamline their offerings? Kind of like how Apple tightly controls how many iterations of products they'll offer?

  10. Sam Posten

    I mean why not offer both? With and without built in bouncers, same as Pioneer AJs? The pioneers are among the best value speakers out there because of the bounce!

    I'm speculating, but ELAC and Pioneer are vastly different companies. I did work for a major manufacturer (photo, not audio) at one time, and number of SKUs can be a major consideration. It's not like it's just one more product, it doubles their Debut non-center speaker line. Instead of the B5.2, B6.2, F5.2 & F6.2, now they have all of them with and without reflecting, and they still need to make a stand alone Atmos ready model. Pioneer is more of a mass market minded company than ELAC. It makes sense to me.

  11. Dave Upton

    I hear you. I love Thiel's sound as well, though I've sort of fallen in love with Legacy and tend to find it hard to look elsewhere. I understand how it goes!

    The Calibre looks like a sweet "bookshelf" model, for those who want performance more like a floorstander. If I was in the market, and price range, I'd sure like to give them a spin.

  12. Isn't it a bit more flexible to have the Atmos speaker separate from the bookshelf/tower, anyway? Depending on the specific room and distance to seating position, one could raise the rear of the Atmos module a tad if necessary to get just the right angle of bounce.

  13. Just bought a pair of these since they're half off pretty much everywhere. I will be picking them up from Best Buy later this evening. I had opted for some RSL CG3s for my bedroom rear surround back in April. I've been extremely happy with the sound quality of those after having a subpar audition of the Elac B6.2s at Magnolia. I went with the RSLs because of a great email exchange with Joe Rodgers (the R in RSL) convinced me that the sound sig he was going for was similar to what I want in speakers. I decided to give them a try based on their generous return policy (and being located just north of the 405 from me, I wanted to support local industry).

    I loved the CG3s and they're my bedroom surrounds to this day. I just upgraded my bedroom HT to an Atmos receiver and was about to buy 2 more CG3s to be front height speakers. However, I couldn't shake my earlier thought that perhaps the subpar experience I had at Magnolia had more to do with their layout (even by big box store standards this Magnolia listening area was very suboptimal) than perhaps with the Elacs. At $150 for the pair, and with BB's return policy, I figured I would take advantage of this sale to do the in-home A/B I was itching to do back in April. I will spend some time with both the Elacs and RSLs hooked up as mains, paired with my PSA 15S sub, just to hear how they perform in that capacity. After all, if you can sound fantastic as mains, you're going to do a great job as surrounds and/or height speakers.

    If I like the Elacs and decide to keep them, I'll probably use them as my rear surrounds and move my RSLs to the front height speakers. At just 6 lbs it would make more sense to mount those to the wall vs. the much bulkier Elacs. If I end up preferring the RSLs, I'll return the Elacs and buy two more CG3s in the new year.

    Looking forward to a holiday of critical listening! 🙂

  14. TL;DR – For the current sale price of $150/pr pretty much anywhere they're sold, I'm not sure these can be beat…or even matched.

    Took a half day off, after having let the speakers burn in for approximately 10 hours with some pretty broad-ranging music that contained everything from heavy bass, to female vocals, to orchestral scores and most everything in between. Auditioned about a half dozen songs that I use to judge speakers and here are some preliminary thoughts and observations.

    • I am now a believer in break-in. I'd never really given it much thought when I bought my main speakers back in the late 90s and early 00s, but I can say that both these and the RS3s changed their sound from the first listen to after a few hours of break-in. It's most obvious in the bass range. At the time of first plug-in for both speakers, I felt the bass was anemic. I knew as bookshelves they'd need to be paired with subs, but I wanted to judge both without a sub and found both to be very light on the standard bass tests I have (Sarah MacLachlan's I Love You, and Daft Punk's Doing It Right). After a few hours, listening to the exact same song yielded more prominent bass playback (but both still need to be paired with a sub).
    • The B6.2 definitely has better bass reproduction than the RS3. But the enclosure is probably 2 1/2 times as large, and the bass driver is a full 2" diameter bigger, so that's to be expected. As I said, even with better bass response after ~10 hours of break-in, the B6.2 still benefits greatly from a sub. But if money is an issue, I could imagine being relatively happy with these in a 2.0 system, in a way that I couldn't be with the RSL CG3s, whose bass falloff probably starts a full 20hz higher than the B6.2. I don't have an analyzer but I'd estimate the B6.2 rolloff to be in the 60hz range, with decent representation down to 50hz, and the RSLs at +20hz to each figure.
    • The mids and highs on the B6.2 are very clear and distinct. To my ears, it's the area of strength of the B6.2s. And off-axis listening. As I moved around my room, away from the sweet spot, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the music retain much of its clarity even though I was no longer where the two speakers were aimed. At no point did the mids break up, or the highs get shrill, but I also never pushed the system to its limit. I listened to it at a volume that I would never consider listening above (I do value my hearing) and found that it effortlessly played back at that level.
    • The bass did get better after break-in. But they also get better the harder you drive the speakers. At low, and moderate-low volumes, the bass seems a bit weak. But as you turn up the volume, the bass starts to really be noticeable. Again, it won't dig down to the sub 45hz range in any meaningful way, but for the bass it is designed to represent, those really started to come through once I put my Denon 4500h at about 50.0 on the digital dial setting (being fed from my AAC Gain volume matched 320kbps AAC iTunes catalog). I also ran a couple of tracks off of an SACD so I didn't only listen to lossy music.

    The only less-than-flattering observation, though not necessarily a criticism given the price point (not at the original $299 MSRP and certainly not at the current $150 sale price for the pair) is that it does have a relatively cheap looking exterior. Clearly they spent all their money on the components inside, and in the R&D. And I'm fine with that. Heck, if one were talented with woodworking, and if it wouldn't alter the sound signature, one could create their own external veneer and apply it to these speakers and still come in well under what you'd pay for a nice pair of "premium brand" bookshelf speakers.

    It's safe to say these are not going back to Best Buy, and I've now purchased the Def Tech Pro Mounts to move my CG3s to the front-height location in my new Atmos setup. These Elacs will be my rear surrounds.

    At $299/pr I would have said that these were great speakers for the price. At $150 for the pair on sale this holiday…I challenge someone to bring up another speaker at that price point that could come close to the Elacs. These are an absolute steal. If I lived in a larger house, I'd buy another pair or two just to put them in rooms with no music, and hook them up via HEOS or some other music-sharing/streaming service.

  15. Thanks for the kind words, Mike!

    An update: since my flat white speaker wire won't arrive until tomorrow (hence I can't mount my front heights just yet) I kept the Elacs in their testing place, sitting atop my Energy Connoisseur C6 floorstanding speakers (with a matching Energy AC300 center channel) and my RSLs are still my surrounds. I re-enabled my 5.1 system (including the PSA 15S sub) and watched Mission Impossible Rogue Nation.

    The Elacs performed admirably as HT L/R mains. They tonally matched the AC300 (in that it still sounded like a seamless front-stage versus three speakers, two of which were manufactured 20 years after the other and by a different company).

    I will say that I am not surprised by this. I find music reproduction to be a great test of speakers, and if something performs well on music, I can't recall a speaker that then ended up sounding poorly while on movie duty.

    I would not hesitate to recommend the B6.2 in a 5.1 setup as well. Ideally if I were starting from scratch and going for biggest bang for least buck, I'd buy 5 B6.2s but I think they're only sold in pairs. I have not heard Elac's center channel C6.2, but given how great the B6.2s sound I would be surprised if they didn't prove to be a very capable performer. Right now you can get 2 pairs of B6.2 for $300 total, and a C6.2 also on sale for $139 (I just checked Amazon).

    For $450 you would be hard-pressed to find a better 5.0 setup capable of filling up a medium-sized room (mine is 15' x 14' x 8') with high quality sound at reference levels without breaking a sweat.

    Add an SVS SB1000 or PB1000 and you're still under $1000. Or if you can up your budget by $300, to a total of $1300, you can upgrade to a HSU Research VTF3-MK5 HP ($799 direct) and have a 15" dual port sub that can almost peel paint from the walls. I'm a big fan of HSU subs (and PSA) owning one of each.

    Full disclosure: if you do go this route it won't just be $1000 or $1300. These are bookshelf speakers, so if you don't already have them, you'll have to buy stands to make sure they're at an appropriate listening level height.

    Oh, and for $135 each, I can wholeheartedly recommend RSL CG3 for height speakers if you can't go in-ceiling (i.e. if you're like me and live in an apartment).

  16. The single most impressive aspect of the Debut B6.2 is their imaging. I realize imaging isn’t something a lot of people even listen for, but its probably my #1 priority. Their imaging is astounding for a speaker in the price range, but you have to set them up to take maximum advantage of it.

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