reviews

    DYNAUDIO AUDIENCE 82 Vs ELAC FS 208.2

MY BOX IS BIGGER THAN YOURS. Large floor standing speakers have been experiencing a Renaissance in the last few years after losing favor to bookshelf speakers for a couple of decades. Remember the big, boomy, speakers of the seventies? No wonder small monitors or electrostatics graced most audiophiles lounge rooms through the eighties & into the nineties. Lately though, large floor standers have been making a comeback. The pack leaders have changed the way they build speakers to fix the problems of the past, like poor imaging due to large frontal area. Gone are the very wide front baffles & 12, even 15 inch drivers of the sixties & seventies, (with the exception of those who insist on paying good money for ancient Tannoys) in favor of a new breed of tall slim speakers mostly using 5 to 8 inch bass drivers. High end speaker manufacturers now keep front baffles as narrow as possible to improve imaging & make placement easier, aside from the aesthetic benefits. Better bass driver design allows them to be smaller yet move more air. There is still a place for small speakers- the Elac 330JET is my favorite& images like nothing else with ridiculously good dynamics & bass extension for its size, but it only works properly with its dedicated stand. A good stand is mandatory for a small speaker, and should be viewed as part of the cost of the speaker, which can add up to the cost of a bigger sibling. Not that a floor stander is automatically better, or worse, than a small speaker & stand of similar cost, but it may be better to be spending what the stand costs on the speaker itself in the form of a bigger box & an extra driver- or, not.

THE ODD COUPLE. The mid priced floor standers that draw the most attention at Merlin are the Dynaudio Audience 82 & the Elac FS208.2. Dynaudio & Elac are unusual in that they make all their own drivers, so have complete control over a design from start to finish, not depending on someone else to come up with the basic ingredients for their speakers. I know just about everyone says they make their own drivers, but very few do. They are also unusual in the very high tech nature of their drivers. Look at the size of the voice coil on that Dynaudio, or its alloy frame. The Elac drivers are a work of art. In fact the first time I saw an Elac speaker I thought it looked too good to be serious, but those alloy drivers & ribbon tweeters do more than look perty. The Dynaudio retails around $4500AU and the Elac is $4000AU. The Dynaudio is also available in a vinyl finish (yuk!) for less money and the Elac can be had in "Silver Shadow" for $200 more. I suspect Ken will offer the above at a lesser price if you ask him nicely and do even better if you poke him with a sharp stick, after he finishes squealing.

RUBBERY FIGURES. I always take speaker manufacturers figures with a grain of salt. Actually that would be a waste of a grain of salt. It appears that most manufacturers simply make up the specifications that you want to hear or that roughly fit the speakers place in their range, but such figures bear little resemblance to the actual performance of the speaker. But they know when you read their glossy brochure that says their sub goes to 14 hertz you will sort of believe it & then despite your suspicions compare that figure to the equally dodgy ones given by the others. One thing that sets Elac & Magneplanar above this muck is the honesty of their specifications. Take the excellent little JET330 . They claim it only goes to 40Hz, which is hard to believe when you listen to it because it goes lower than a Victorian Premier. So when they say the 208 goes to 32Hz & my ears concur I have no reason to doubt that claim. In fact I have yet to catch Elac out claiming frequency extension a product doesn't have, so until I do please believe me when I say their specifications are on the money, & here they are for the 208. Dynaudio are a little less forthcoming, but here are the 82 specs. The ones you need to look at (because everything else needs to be verified by listening) are impedance, sensitivity & power handling. Impedance is only an issue if you have a lame or ancient amplifier that cant handle the 4 ohm load that most modern speakers will present. It also tells you how much power you have to play with ( along with the 4 ohm power figure found in your amps manual). Both of these speakers are nominally 4 ohms. Good. The Dynaudio is a mere 3dB less sensitive than the Elac, meaning in will be 3 dB less loud for the same input, but in practice that 3dB means the Dynaudio requires DOUBLE the power of the Elac for the same volume. Power handling is higher than you need for both speakers, 300W claimed (hmmmm you reckon?) for the Dynaudio & a more realistic 160 for the Elac. Which is good since that Dynaudio will need to handle twice as much power for any given aural abuse level. Look, they both go bloody loud & if you blow these up you have only yourself & whatever you were drinking to blame. The Elac also has a protection device for that tasty ribbon tweeter, but I would remove it if I owned a pair & blame the kids if I ever blew a tweeter. A good 80W plus amp will work with the 208, with the 200W Plinius 9200 being a magic combination. The 82 needs more power, more to control its slightly loose bottom than because of its sensitivity deficit, and a lean & powerful creature like a used Perreaux 2150, 3150, 6000, etc, etc would work well to spark it up a bit, which brings us to....

THE ONLY BIT YOU NEED TO READ. The Dynaudio sounds nice. Its inoffensive top end, rounded midrange and a bottom end more Isabella Rosellini than Kylie Minogue works well for home theatre & is fine in stereo with good amp matching. But to quote the loverly Wendy Hogg "if someone was to describe me simply as nice, I would be insulted". Sit down & listen to the 82 & it immediately sounds fine, if a little laid back. Too laid back. The top end is clearly rolled off, but it also lacks speed through the mid range and down into the bass. The resulting sound never really engages the listener as much as the best this class has to offer (and keep in mind we are at Magneplanar 1.6 price here). The other area that concerns me is the bottom end. Its not boomy, but it is loose, and that's just not good enough at this price. Curiously, I found the bottom end better controlled than its smaller stable mate the 72SE, but it still overwhelms the lower mid range. If you can ignore or even enjoy its weaknesses the 82 is a big well made speaker with the kudos of that Dynaudio badge on the front, which alone will be enough to get a lot of people to buy them. I've miked up enough kick drums to know when one sounds a bit bloated but the truth is most people like more bass than any given instrument actually produces, and if this sounds like you then the Dynaudio's may be right up your alley. Those of you who have amps on the brighter side (Krell & Perreaux come to mind) may well find the 82 compliments that brightness and as previously mentioned big, lean power like that of a Perreaux 3150 should tame that bottom end looseness & shock the top end into life. Bi wiring may help but is not an option as there is only one set of terminals. By contrast the Elac not only is bi-wirable but has two completely separate crossover boards inside. I would have liked to remove the Dynaudio crossover (see pictures of the Elac) but its was bolted in so tightly I would have broken something, possibly me, and given the nice man from Dynaudio had given me a picture of it anyway, a possible cause of the top end problems came to light. Component quality on the crossover is very good, but I've always found the Solen capacitors Dynaudio (and lots of others) use sound a bit dull. I suspect Dynaudio is simply a fashion victim here as Solen is an "Audiophile" brand, but better, cheaper polypropylene capacitors would no doubt restore some missing detail & speed. The Elac 208 is the exact opposite of the Audience 82. The top end is as extended as I've heard (or as extended as I can hear) with a claimed 50kHz from the JET III ribbon tweeter. Listen to the 208 in isolation with a good amp like the Plinius 9100 (a relatively cheap & gorgeous combination) & its difficult to find anything to criticize. Next to its much more expensive brother, the 209 the gloss comes off a little, the 209 being more refined throughout its even more extended range, but then at almost twice the price of the 208, it should be. One word describes the208 better than any other I can think of. I said the Dynaudio was nice. The Elac is engaging. Try as I did to give the Dynaudio equal listening time, it came down to the fact that music just sounds better on the Elac and I couldn't stop listening to it. How does it sound better? The bottom end of the 208 is tight, detailed & extended. The critical mid range presents sweet, tactile vocals & strings that WILL make you cry one day if you even pretend to have a soul. There is a slight grain in the upper mids compared to..um..real life. Then the top end soars out to where I couldn't even hear in another life as a cat. Where the 208 loses out to the 209 is in the transition from mid to highs, the 209 being seamless, the 208 being merely very good. But I'm not meant to be comparing the 208 to the $7000AU 209, and when you look at the offerings around the $4000 price of the 208 its pretty hard to equal. The closest competitor it has is not a Dynaudio, or a PMC, or a Vandersteen 2, but the Magneplanar 1.6, which should be seen as the high praise it is. The 208 is the first speaker I have heard that exceeds the speed of a full range ribbon like the Magneplanar 3.6. The 208's dynamics, with a good amp, are explosive. Coupled with high sensitivity & high power handling the high speed of the 208's drivers will make the most of your amps power, but the speakers are worthy of a meaty amp like the afore mentioned Plinius 9100 (125W) or 9200 (200W). The general character is more light than dark, so bright amps like the Arcam A90 should be avoided, but the high sensitivity means that small but good amps like the Creek 5350SE(which has good 4 ohm power) will work well. Elac don't tell you but the top end is adjustable- there is a set of three terminals on the top end crossover board to adjust the tweeter level, but if your amp is reasonably neutral I suggest you leave it alone.

FOR SALE, ONE GRANDMOTHER, HARDLY USED, NEW HIP. Are they worth $4K? The finish of the Dynaudio is very good, they have cunningly put a set of grille clips on the back of the speaker to hold it so it doesn't get lost or broken, it sits on a nice spiked plinth and its full of those oh so expensive Dynaudio drivers. It sounds good in stereo & better for home theatre and should sound nice or take a beating as you desire. Yes its a bargain. Until you put an Elac 208.2 next to it. The Elac finish is superb. No sharp edges, gorgeous wood or slick matt or lacquer finishes & everything fits just like it was made in Germany, because it was. Its technology is possibly years ahead of everyone else. Its easy to drive, it looks great & it sounds better. If the costs of these two were reversed, Id say an extra $500 for the Elac was money well spent. As it is at $500 less than the Dynaudio, with what looks like higher component cost (see driver & crossover photos) its a steal. Its probably also the best value in the Elac range. Much better than the $3000 207.2, nearly as good as the $7000 209.2.

14/3/05- UPGRADE UPDATE. We now have upgrade packages available for both the Elac (all the 200 series) and Dynaudio (all audience series). The Dynaudio top end issue raised above can be fixed (yes, it was the capacitors) & the bottom end control improved. The already good Elac can be improved with a cable change on the top & bottom end & a little crossover work, and if you promise to remember it when you're showing them off next new years eve, removal of the ribbon protector. If I bought a pair of 208's (and I would) those are the first things I'd do when I unpacked them.

THE NOT SO FINE PRINT.

Listen: You shouldn't believe a word I say. Like everyone reviewing anything I probably have some nefarious ulterior motive that involves that most filthy, dirty, base thing; (not Andre Haermeyer) money. Don't believe some self-fellating magazine reviewer, don't believe the ads on the pages between the reviews that are also ads and certainly don't believe anything you read on the net 'cause lets face it if anyone who actually knows what they're doing is out doing it, not talking themselves up on a newsgroup all day. DON'T READ ABOUT IT, LISTEN YOURSELF. And I'd be happy to answer any questions about anything if you can set me up a dinner with Nigella Lawson or Lucy Lawless. Most importantly, sell the HIFI & buy a really fast bike, because you will die, soon & you probably haven't lived yet. And since its such a lovely night, I'm off for a ride on mine.

Bill Crampton
02-Aug-2005