I don’t know about you but Elipson’s spherical Planet loudspeakers are among the most attractive in the business, the timeless geometric design has been in production for decades and deservedly so. I guess it was inevitable that one day they would come to the conclusion that some matching electronics might not be such a bad idea. Quite possibly this is not the first time, surely there was a spherical music centre back in the day, with a turntable?
The Elipson Music Centre is at least round, it doesn’t come in a lacquered paint finish like the speakers but looks pretty cool in its stainless steel case nonetheless. This 43cm diameter piece of kit is a CD player, FM/DAB tuner, wi-fi receiver and amplifier in one. It is clearly aimed at the mainstream music lover rather than hardcore audiophiles, the shape gives this away as much as the absence of high resolution streaming facilities. It concentrates on the music formats that most people use and that makes a refreshing change in an era of audio technologies that are brought to market before they are fully finished.
The MC also has a USB socket which can be used to playback MP3 and WMA files from a memory stick or receive signals with a supplied dongle using Well wireless technology. Senders exist for 21 pin Apple iOS devices as well as in USB form for a desktop. Well is a version of the Kleer wi-fi system which sounded pretty good on the occasion that I got to try it, however not having a sender I used the Bluetooth aptX approach instead. Well is provided as an alternative to Airplay because Apple devices don’t do aptX which is notably superior sounding to standard Bluetooth, if no better at providing a consistent music stream.
It’s a pity that the MC only works with MP3 and WMA, they are the big formats of course and this product is not for the audiophile, but the ability to play ALAC and/or FLAC would have been useful for those of us of a more sensitive nature.
The amplification is provided by a Bang & Olufsen ICE power module, a class D technology with a long track record and the ability to double its output into a halving of impedance. On this occasion it’s specced to provide 60 Watts into eight Ohms and 120 into four, you won’t find that sort of spec on a class AB amp below a couple of grand, if then. However, this is not the reason why the bass is so fulsome on this player, that is probably a bit of tailoring by the engineers, but it provides the oomph for it to do so. It makes the bass both deep and slow, but this does not get in the way of an open midrange and an overall sound that is pretty polished. That’s via an analogue input, using the USB input with a stick and being limited to MP3 tends to undermine things somewhat, Alfred Brendel’s piano sounds glassy because of the edginess of the format, this however does not undermine the music’s appeal too greatly. Using Bluetooth the bass is super phat, almost in the style of Beats headphones, but the track Touch of Trash (Patricia Barber, Modern Cool) is quite fulsome under most circumstances. The voice is open enough and there’s good scale even if the result is less appealing than MP3 on a stick.
CD is therefore this machine’s strongest suit, the only one that accepts an uncompressed signal and as a result sounds very slick, the bass is juicy and voices sound superb. The presentation is on the polite side, it’s not going to have you on the edge of the seat, but a smooth veneer is usually better than warts and all when some of the sources are wireless and limited to the compressed formats. And I do like the way that the Elipson needs no coercion to play the last used source, turn it on and it’s away, not something you often find in serious audio.
I rediscovered the enthusiasm in the bass with Bugge Wesseltoft’s Trouble (New Concept of Jazz), but quite possibly a speaker with a leaner bottom end than the Focal Aria 905 in use would offset this. I also tried Elipson Planet Ls, but they aren’t bass shy either and didn’t stem the excess in this region. Possibly the sort of cable that regular folk use would help, you don’t get much low end out of bell wire after all. I don’t have any of that so tried DNM Stereo Solid Core cable which is pretty much the opposite of my preferred Townshend Isolda DCT in electrical terms. This helped quite significantly, instruments got easier to identify and coherence increased, most important of all the bass became tight and tuneful. Perhaps ICE power is not well suited to low impedance/high capacitance speaker cables. The trade off is a loss of fine detail, DNM is not as tonally rich as Isolda but the improvement in balance and timing make it the better choice.
The Elipson MC is an attractive and capable system that is aimed squarely at the real world music lover who is looking for a better built and more powerful sound system than mainstream manufacturers provide. It ignores the better sounding file formats in favour of the popular ones and while the absence of Airplay will be an issue for iPhone users the option of the Well dongle does offer a solution. If you like the distinctive styling and are after something a bit different it should be on your shortlist.