After a reasonable few days of break-in, I began my evaluation of the Debut 2.0 F6.2 with a playthrough or three of George's Michael's Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, an album whose utility in hardware reviews comes mostly from my intimate familiarity with it. One track in particular really stood out during my listening--the soulful cover of Stevie Wonder's "They Won't Go When I Go"--for quite a few reasons. The first thing I noticed was that the accidentally rhythmic noise of the piano's dampers sounded particular lifelike through these speakers. Mind you, that's not an element of the recording that's buried or obscured through virtually any decent speaker, but it's often the case even with good speakers that those muted beats just sort of exist as a fuzzy clack. Here, they take on form in three-dimensional space, genuinely sounding as if they're coming from within a music instrument recorded in an actual room.
But that's not the most noteworthy thing about these speakers' performance with this song. Unsurprisingly, Michael's inimitable vocals take centerstage, ringing through with such authentic timbres that at one point I actually looked behind the speakers to make sure I hadn't accidentally left the cables connected to the pair of Paradigm Studio 100 towers sitting to either side of the ELACs.
This is a heavily reverberant track, and as such speakers with less-than-stellar transient response can deliver the vocals as a sort of wide blanket of wet sound. Through the ELACs, Michael's voice still undeniably emanates from a weighty center of mass between the speakers, but the waves and echoes that follow flow from wall-to-wall, like ripples ebbing outward from a pebble tossed into a pond. Even with the overdubbed backup vocals kick in--"And I'll go where I've longed/To go, so long..."--and the mix spreads to fill the stereo soundstage out past the limits of the speakers themselves, you can still undeniably close your eyes and point to Michael's lead vocals in the mix.
I've also heard many a speaker in this price range add a tinge (or more) of stridency to plosive and sibilant vowels--especially the "t" and "s" in "tears" at around the 1:05 mark. That couldn't be further from the case here. In fact, I daresay you could lock a pack of audiophiles in a darkened room, play this track, and easily convince them they were listening to a $2,000 speaker. It's just that good.
I mentioned in the intro that the rated 39Hz low frequency extension of the Debut 2.0 F6.2 is generous, to say the least. In fact, the speakers go full-blown Thelma & Louise off the edge of 50Hz or thereabouts. That doesn't keep them from delivering some truly impressive bass above that point, though. In fact, at virtually every point along the spectrum above that point, they deliver smooth, even, balanced sound--especially in the critical midrange frequencies.
Even with bass-heavy tracks like Bj�rk's "Army of Me" from the album Post, you can feel every ounce of rumble from that iconic base line, which dances around in the 55-to-65Hz range.
What this track really spotlights, though, is the F6.2's remarkable lack of cabinet resonance (remarkable both at this price and considering the cabinet's shape), as well as the delicious detail delivered by the speakers. The latter is the key differentiator between the F6.2 and its original Debut equivalent. Not that F6 was overly soft or lacking in detail, but the Debut 2.0 speaker ups the ante in a serious way here, eking every last nuance out of such busy mixes.
That enhanced detail also brings with it more soundstage depth than the F6 was capable of, especially noticeable with tracks like "Sweet Jane" from Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session. The way these speakers deliver the almost popup-book nature of the album's mix is genuinely startling. Margo's vocals, Michael's guitar, and Peter's percussion simply don't sound as if they could possibly be coming from speakers positioned equidistant from the listener. The speakers also do a delicious job of rendering the background environment. The interior surfaces of Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity themselves become a crucial component of the mix, bringing the entire recording together in a wholly satisfying way.
By the time I got around to setting up the F6.2s in a 2.1-channel home theater setup, it had been at least a good month since I'd sat down to watch last year's excellent Baby Driver, so that was first on my viewing list. The first thing I noticed is that the speakers definitely benefited more from the addition of a subwoofer than many speakers of their size. That extra bottom end kick definitely helped. But what stood out more was the exceptional dialogue clarity, even without--or perhaps because of the lack of--a dedicated center speaker. Granted, the film isn't one that hinges upon its dialogue. It's mostly an experiment in the synchronization of music, sound effects, and visuals. But Jon Bernthal's breathy, husky, whisper-growly lines can be a little hard to discern at times through even a great speaker system. Here, the dialogue cut straight through the mix with laser-edged precision, and needless to say, the film's main star--its soundtrack music--shone brightly indeed.
I mentioned above that throbbing bass the likes of which you'll typically find in Bj�rk's music come through strongly via the Debut 2.0 F6.2. And that's true. But the bass "Army of Me" is almost sinewave-like in nature. When it comes to harder hitting bass in the same general frequency range--something like you'd hear in the opening drum riffs of Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," the speaker just can't quite keep up without the benefit of a sub, at least not when played loudly. In cuts like this, the bass just doesn't have enough punch, leading to a perceptual brightness that doesn't level out until you twist the volume knob to the left a good bit.
Speaking of which, the F6.2 isn't really a speaker you want to listen to at ear-blistering levels with pretty much any music. While most cuts sound brilliant at normal listening levels, I found myself shying away from harder rock tracks during my time with the speaker, because it just doesn't want to be cranked. Turn almost anything up to rocking levels and the woofers just can't keep up with the tweeter enough, especially in terms of dynamics, to deliver the well-balanced sound the F6.2 normally delivers.
And I know this is a tired criticism, but it has to be said: while at normal listening levels the F6.2 does sound deliciously neutral, it's also so detailed and revealing that poorly recorded or mastered music sounds all the worse for it. Tesla's Mechanical Resonance has always been one of my favorite albums, but one of my least favorite CDs due to its lean, edgy, brittle sound. All of the flaws in that recording shine all the brighter through the Debut 2.0s. The mastering deficiencies that were somewhat subdued via the original Debut line just can't be ignored under the enhanced scrutiny of the F6.2.
Lastly, while the F6.2 has wonderful off-axis performance in the horizontal plane, much like its F6 forebear its vertical dispersion is rather limited, hence the Auralex Acoustics MoPAD-XLs I mentioned in the Hookup section.
Comparison & Competition
It remains to be seen how much longer the original ELAC Debut F6 remains on the market, but last I saw, most major e-tailers still had stock, and if you're shopping in this price range, it's worth considering. That may seem an odd recommendation given that I've just spent nearly 2,000 words explaining why the F6.2 is a better speaker. But if you're value-engineering a surrounds sound or even stereo setup, $20 a speaker might be significant savings for you when multiplied by two or for or more. There's also the fact that, while less detailed, the original F6 is more forgiving.
Heck, as long as we're talking about super-affordable Andrew Jones-designed tower speakers, the Pioneer SP-FS52 also deserves a shout-out. At a mere $130 a pop, the SP-FS52 delivers a lot of what I love about the F6.2 in an even more affordable package. Granted, it's not as detailed, its midrange isn't nearly as smooth and neutral as either the F6 or F6.2, and its build-quality is a significant step down.
If you're looking to step up instead of down, one comparable speaker that comes to mind is Paradigm's Monitor 9 v7. Retail price on this one is an appreciably steeper $599 apiece, but since the advent of the new Monitor SE line, you can find the Monitor 9 v7 for about the same price as the Debut 2.0 F6.2. In terms of comparison, if memory serves me well, I'd say that the Monitor 9 v7 gives you a gentler roll-off of low frequencies, as well as more dynamic punch in the bottom end at higher listening levels. This may not be a major consideration if you're adding a sub to the mix, but for a stereo setup it's something to think about if you listen to more rocking tunes on the regular.�
In the end, say what you will about SPL limitations and Plain Jane design--the Debut 2.0 F6.2 is a phenomenal speaker. And I don't just mean a phenomenal speaker for $400. It's a phenomenal speaker that just so happens to sell for $400. If you're looking for an incredibly detailed, incredibly revealing speaker with sumptuous imaging and delicious depth that won't break the bank, I seriously recommend putting it on your list of speakers to audition.
� Visit the�ELAC website�for more product information.
��ELAC Uni-Fi UF5 Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed�at HomeTheaterReview.com.
��ELAC Announces Debut 2.0 Speaker Line�at HomeTheaterReview.com.