Never having had any of the well-respected ELAC loudspeakers in my own system, but having heard many at various shows and not least in their home territory across Germany, I was more than a little excited when a heavyweight box arrived containing their latest standmounts, all 16kg of it. Inside was a pair of well-packed Solano two-way bookshelf loudspeakers, part of the long-standing brand’s latest range which also comprises a floorstander (ref FS 287) and centre channel labelled CC281. Combined, all three look like a readymade surround-sound setup and, in hindsight, I should probably have asked for the complete line-up; but we are principally concerned with two-channel systems, so it is appropriate here to test the shoebox-sized BS 283 reflex design on its own.
The company is based in the northern German town of Kiel, not far from Hamburg, and has been in business for nearly a century. They have usually created an impressive sound at hi-fi shows, of which there were a great number across Germany before Covid struck. Many of its product lines are named after a nautical theme but here I assume Solano is a reference to the hot wind blowing in from the Mediterranean, rather than the retired Peruvian footballer of the same name.
The 33cm high rectangular cabinet, although not as rhomboidal as we’re used to from the manufacturer, is made from solid MDF with a slightly curved front baffle and noticeably chamfered radiuses. We are informed that the cabinet has been milled, sanded and then lacquered with anodizing on the metal parts. The review pair came in an attractive high-gloss black finish with a plastic base that conceals the downward-firing reflex port; this allows for greater placement flexibility over a conventional rear port. The other finish offered is white, while grilles are an optional extra; a wise move given how many of us leave such things in the box.
The main drive unit basket is aluminium which bodes well and suggests substantial investment in construction. ELAC make a point of noting how use of the material “ensures mechanical stability and sets the basis for perfect sound reproduction”. However, here we have a new 150mm mid/bass unit with a wide, rubber surround and diffuser using ‘aluminium sandwich’ technology as a departure from previous drivers found in ELAC models of this size and price. The provision of bi-wiring/bi-amping through two pairs of rear connectors increases sales opportunities and is a shrewd move even if I stayed strictly single-wired for this test.
The HF unit is of particular interest: the company’s bespoke JET5 ribbon tweeter (in latest form) is handcrafted at its own factory on the Baltic coast, and has already received much acclaim from adoption in earlier models. Here it is brought to a more affordable price-point and is mounted on a shallow aluminium waveguide and claims a response up to 50kHz, so canine listeners should appreciate its supersonic capabilities.
The quoted sensitivity is 85dB into 4 Ohms and a suggested amplifier power of between 40 and 200 watts is recommended, I soon had the Solano BS283s coupled to my trusty Hegel H190 integrated/DAC/streamer. There was more than enough headroom here to get significant grunt out of the speakers, enough even to satisfy the neighbours. Room placement proved straightforward and I used some 70cm stands which brought the tweeters to ear-level. A very slight toe-in, of just a few degrees, proved ideal in my listening room although this is always something to experiment with according to room acoustics and listening position. Even with them two-metres apart there was no hint of any ‘hole in the middle’ effect, satisfying for small speakers which can often exhibit a gap in the soundstage at such distances.
First impressions, and these always count for a lot, were of a warm and inviting presentation in a generally pleasing reproduction. The delightful HF response from that ribbon tweeter was immediately notable, as was the bass extension possible from such a small enclosure. Initially I was aware that the midrange was not as I am used to from my BBC-style monitors; not unpleasant or distracting in any way, but recessed through the midrange compared to my ‘norm’. Clearly this is why ELAC has created the matching CC281 centre channel to handle dialogue and bring it to the fore. The Jet 5 tweeter is something rather special with a deliciously wide sweet spot.
The treble extension and bass ability mean that these are small boxes which put out a big sound: plenty of width and depth to the presentation which is highly entertaining and a very musical rather than the clinical, analytical style that I am used to day-to-day. The soundstage height was slightly restricted but not more so than expected from a transducer of this size and price; that said, the imaging was notable for being in the class above.
Having had the BS283s in situ for a week, and without direct comparison to BBC-style boxes, I began to enjoy what these ELAC could do, and do well. They bring home the intimacy of smaller works, such as Tchaikovsky’s joyful, lyrical Serenade (Andrew Watkinson and the Endellion Quartet) which had me smiling. They have a good go at portraying dramatic, large-scale performances such as Maher’s Symphony of a Thousand (his Eighth) with its huge instrumental and vocal forces, courtesy of the VPO under Bernstein (on DG). That such small and relatively inexpensive transducers can handle the complexity and sheer force of such material to this degree is a testament to the designers’ competence and achievement. The panorama of the stereo soundstage was wide, dynamics handled with aplomb and the image rock solid even during the high SPLs of the final movement.
That trait of well-developed and weighty bass response also came into its own with other genres. Phil Collins (…But Seriously) revealed how expressive the BS 283s can be as we are treated to a wide range of emotions from the vocalist along with the dynamics of the tracks. And that emotion turned out to be one of the hallmarks of these speakers, along with their toe-tapping ability to entertain and bring a smile to this listener’s face, track after track.
More than satisfied with the imaging, detail was also above what can be expected from the design which is clearly very refined. That downward-firing bass port produces an LF response which is both punchy and tight, with sufficient body and speed to convey a sense of realism. In many respects this is a ‘complete’ bookshelf design and is clearly the result of a lot of thought and engineering prowess. Mention must be made of the crossover network which operates so effectively that one is presented with a total sound, unaware even that it originates from two separate drive units.
ELAC have created a well-engineered and beautifully constructed small speaker which does more than its size suggests. The sound is lively, warm and involving with a delightful richness. Soundstages are much bigger than one might expect from a small enclosure and should satisfy any music lover looking for a compact speaker. There are matching black and white stand options to further allow these units to be integrated into modern living spaces. The BS 283 proves that it is worth spending a little more on a small box to reap great results. It is hard for a music lover to want much else from a compact speaker below £1,500 than this design provides. I could happily live with them.