The loudspeaker market has been dominated by narrow baffle loudspeakers for so long that the appearance of wide/shallow retro style models is a welcome change. JBL was the first big brand to get this trend on its way with their reworkings of the L100, a 1970’s classic with a distinctive waffle style grille and aesthetics that might well have inspired Elipson’s latest addition to its Heritage range. This French brand has a long and rich history yet there do not appear to have been any models that look like the Heritage XLS models in it, their speciality was in far more curvy, even egg like designs that were clearly ahead of their time. Rectangular cabinets are a rarity in the Elipson back catalogue.
The XLS 11 is the latest addition to the Heritage line and a very attractive proposition it is too. I particularly like its bolt on legs which raise the cabinet nine inches off the floor and tilt it back slightly in order to allow better projection of sound. These stands are an optional extra but bring a stronger retro feel to the speaker and therefore should be considered essential to all style conscious music lovers.
This speaker’s name does not indicate the size of its bass driver which is an eight inch example with a cellulose pulp cone in old skool white-wall style. It doesn’t have the corrugated fabric surround of genuine vintage designs but sticks with a rubber roll surround as found elsewhere in the Elipson range. The midrange is a coated fabric dome in a shallow horn faceplate chosen to improve efficiency while the tweeter is a 22mm silk dome. You’ll note that the drivers are all mounted on top of the baffle, they are not recessed in as is common practice. This could be because it enhances the vintage styling or because it makes the XLS 11 less expensive to make. Unlike virtually all other speakers of this size and price it is made in France, at Elipson’s Burgundy facility, where manufacturing efficiency and numbers produced must be unusually high.
This is a good size box that stands nearly two feet tall without its stand and weighs 17 kilos (over 37 lbs) and not only does it have three drivers there are also controls on the front to help tune it to room, system and tonal tastes. These offer plus or minus one decibel for both midrange and treble, if you want more bass put the speaker closer to the wall and vice versa. Sensitivity is higher than average at 90dB/6 Ohms, a benefit of the larger ported box and driver choice which means you don’t need a particularly powerful amplifier to drive them.
The low positioning of the tweeter and midrange drivers when the bolt on stands are used means that this speaker doesn’t take as much visual space in the room as it would on a regular stand. It’s possible to put the XLS 11 on a shelf or straight on the floor but this would increase the bass output quite noticeably in most rooms. That said it was pretty normal to put speakers on the floor in the ‘70s and today’s enthusiasm for hard flooring will do something to reflect mids and highs and partially offset the reinforcement in the bass. On the dedicated stands in a carpeted room the balance is more relaxed than average, the mid and tweeter are a fair bit lower than a regular stand mount, that said the much bigger Elipson Legacy 3230 floorstanders have a similar balance and their mid/treble drivers are easily at ear height.
This balance makes the Elipsons more forgiving than average, you don’t need a particularly refined source and amp and they will play a wide variety of recordings without emphasising their shortcomings. So the Grateful Dead in their prime from 1972 have plenty of drive and energy but the brashness of the recording does not get in the way, the fact that the bass is well extended and tuneful also helps a lot. You can also turn them up without fear of the sound getting shouty or forward, partly because of the relaxed presentation and partly thanks to the decent sensitivity. The right recording will also let them energise the room rather well, it’s not a particularly wide dispersion design but easily reflects the quality of the production, this was as clear with Deadmau5 as it was with Lester Young.
I tried adding a bit of leading edge definition with the controls on the front, adding a decibel of extra treble opens up the sound nicely and adds definition to high frequencies which tightens up the sound quite effectively. A better solution turned out to be changing the preamplifier from the ultra clean and relaxed Townshend Allegri Reference to the M2Tech Young MkIV DAC/preamplifier. This has a brighter balance and is a much better match all round, it is also at a more sensible price point for this speaker. Now the imaging had greater solidity, scale and openness and there was lovely snap to percussion. There was now no need to have the treble increased so this was returned to its flat setting. I really enjoyed Laurie Anderson’s Gravity’s Angel which was dynamic, powerful, punchy and pacy. The air moving capabilities of the bass system coming into effect by bringing a muscularity to this end of the spectrum. The mid proved transparent too with lyrics being easy to follow even while the bottom end was digging deep.
In an attempt to find a more appropriate amplifier to partner the Elipsons I disconnected the Moor Amps Angel 6 power amplifier and hooked up a Rega Elex-R integrated. This proved to be a very good idea, the Rega’s lean balance and fabulous timing skills worked a treat with the XLS 11s, extracting maximum boogie factor from Canned Heat’s Catfish Blues and a strong sense of presence too. One the new Charles Lloyd albums, Trios: Ocean, revealed just how far recording quality has come in the intervening 50 plus years by opening up an image that is positively holographic with extremely an quiet background and acres of space, it’s on Blue Note but could be an ECM. Suffice to say that the Rega/Elipson proved particularly effective at delivering both the musical and technical aspects of whatever was played on them, the sound isn’t as tight as smaller boxes on higher stands but I like the way that musicality and resolution are balanced to give an engaging result with a wide range of material. This included an actual ECM in Keith Jarrett’s live solo album Testament, the piano being as solid as you like thanks to the bass on offer and the music being as enthralling as ever thanks to fine timing and control.
Timing also proved to be a strongpoint with a Class D AMG pre/power amp combo from Nuprime. This is more powerful than the Rega and feels like it could push the Elipsons to higher levels with ease, it injected some tight, powerful bass into tracks from Me’Shell Ndegeocello and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The latter’s Funky Monks proved very entertaining indeed with superb bass guitar sound and the recording’s forwardness and compression not as obvious as it can be. You have to wonder whether Rage Against the Machine would have been half as good if this hadn’t come before, Suck My Kiss being a clear inspiration for Bullet in the Head and the like. By the time I got to Give It Away however the nastiness of the production was more apparent, unfortunately Blood Sugar Sex Magik made record companies think that loudness was the secret of commercial success and it plagued the band’s subsequent albums as well as those by other popular acts. With a recording from the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, the Locrian Ensemble playing Mendelssohn Octets, the result was much more relaxed albeit not quite as open as it can be. It still proved an inspiring listen however, and that’s what matters in the long run.
Elipson have done a fine job in voicing the XLS 11 and an even better one it bringing it to market at such a reasonable price. Not only is this a very cool looking speaker on its dedicated stands but it’s musically coherent and highly engaging with all manner of material. If you think that a good sized speaker is too much for your space this could be the answer to your prayers.