Stratton Acoustics Elypsis 1512 loudspeakers
The Elypsis 1512 is the result of an industrial designer’s dreams and a loudspeaker designer’s expertise. David Fowler is a designer who’s worked on a wide range of products, from scuba gear to solar charging systems but he has long been a hi-fi enthusiast. A few years ago Dave heard a pair of beaten up JBL 4350s in a charity shop of all places, he couldn’t afford them but was inspired by the sound they produced. More recently he proposed a loudspeaker design to a third party with the help of legendary speaker designer Phil Ward (Mordaunt-Short, Canon, Naim). The company didn’t take up the idea so it lay fallow for a few years before Dave got together with two partners decided to start similar project, combining Dave’s design skills with Phil’s expertise and creating what might be the widest high end loudspeaker in the hi-fi universe today.
Wide baffles used to be popular because big drivers were likewise popular, in the fifties and sixties people were prepared to accommodate Tannoy corner horns with 15 inch drivers and large but less cumbersome Leaks and Wharfedale speakers among many others. Between then and now however larger loudspeakers have become almost extinct in all but the most avid of music enthusiast’s homes, even in the high end you rarely see a speaker that’s wide enough to accommodate a 15 inch woofer let alone two of them. But such drivers have been quietly enjoying a revolution in the pro world where moving air is still an important quality, Phil believes that they have been transformed in the last decade or so which might explain why live sound itself is often of a much higher quality than it was not so long ago.
The main benefit of large drivers is that they don’t need very much excursion or movement, to do their job. The woofers in the Elypsis 1512 have a potential maximum excursion of +/– 14mm but as Phil puts it “they’ll never get anywhere near that – you’ll be deaf long before. Typically in use at sensible listening levels the bass drivers won’t move more than around +/- 1.5mm, but of course that very much depends on the LF bandwidth/level of the material. Similarly the mid driver will typically only need to move by around +/- 1mm or so.
Big drivers have their compromises of course, they lack the stiffness and and low mass small ones and the fact that higher frequencies are produced by a smaller area of the cone (beaming) means that dispersion varies with frequency to a greater extent. But there are pros and cons with all driver types, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The four drivers on the Elypsis 1512 are electrically separated by a semi-impedance compensated crossover that incorporates the ‘highest quality components’ with metalized polymer capacitors and air-cored inductors in all but two places.
The cabinet is made of “substantially” braced birch ply with a separate midrange enclosure behind that driver. On top of the 38mm front baffle woodwork is a 10mm acrylic facia for increased stiffness and a smart finish, this material is also used for the sub baffle that the tweeter inhabits. This is isolated from any vibration in the cabinet by an elastic suspension system that you can see as a thick grey line around its periphery. The tweeter itself is a larger than usual 29mm dome in a large roll surround that brings overall diameter up to 34mm, all of which is aided in terms of dispersion and sensitivity by an aluminium wave guide. The ports and EQ board are likewise built and finished to a high standard, apparently the anodising was done by the people who supply Bentley, which might explain why it looks too smooth to be anodising at all but more like high quality paintwork.
The two control knobs can be used to adjust the output of tweeter and midrange, each has three settings and offers a range of plus/minus 2dB. These adjustments are provided to make placement easier, this is not an easy loudspeaker to shift and only capacious spaces will allow optimal placement so having option to increase or decrease treble and mid is useful. In my room the listening seat is no more than 3m away from the speakers and I found that the best balance was achieved with both controls set to minimum.
David Fowler feels that the Elypsis 1512s should be considered like pieces of furniture, looked at in this way their metre width and 1.2m height on their stands is no bigger than a (decent) chest of draws, put them on the floor or just off it and you have something akin to a sideboard. This was the way in which large speakers were accommodated in the early days, my dad used Leak Sandwich speakers to support a desk for instance. Not the best approach for maximum high fidelity perhaps but a way to get reasonably big speakers into the home without intrusion.
The optional steel stands for these speakers are laser cut with a Voronoi pattern, this is a biomimetic design where no two shapes are the same, the aim being to make the stand acoustically silent and physically minimal; in a darkened room the speaker almost appears to float. The stands have conical spikes that fit into receptors on the base of the speaker and are bolted to a plinth which has cork on its underside. Getting them into position is something of a challenge as you might imagine and requires the use of three scissor jacks and a pair of steel bars plus the rolling trolley that forms part of the wooden packaging. This impressive thing is that with a suitable ramp for steps etc getting the Elypsis 1512 into my room and onto its stands could largely be done by one person.
This loudspeaker is available in three finish variants, the model reviewed had an olive wood veneer and white acrylic facia and is an example of Stratton’s Bespoke series. The least expensive option is defined as Pure which come in black or white while those looking for something more special should look at the unlimited range of options in the Absolute series, where your imagination appears to be the only limiting factor.
The Elypsis 1512 sound
I was reading a feature about the pros and cons of large speaker cabinets and large drive units of the sort that were popular in the mono era, and one point it made was that this combination provides dynamics that designers of the smaller speakers required in the stereo era were not able to match. This was certainly my experience with the Elypsis 1512s, not only are they capable of delivering speed and power but they track the variations in level of notes both large and small with remarkable precision and ease.
They deliver a superb balance of high resolution and musicality. It feels like you can hear everything yet they don’t seem to have to try, there is almost no sense of an electro mechanical process. This is only something you notice by contrast with other dynamic loudspeakers of course, electrostatics have a similar quality but don’t have the sensitivity offered here so amplification has to work that much harder. When the Elypsis 1512s arrived Stratton brought along a prototype Rogers push-pull valve amp with 18 watts output which drove them with ease and even produced serious bass. However I got preferable results with my Moor Amps Angel 6 which has considerably more power but is also very quiet both mechanically and in noise floor terms. With the degree of resolution and low noise provided by the Strattons this is critical.
They have amazing transparency across the board, there is so much musical detail that it begs the question, how much more can there be in the recording? That’s a hard one to answer of course and lies at the heart of the audio enthusiast’s pursuit, but it’s a goal that the Elypsis 1512s get closer to than most. Their balance with the mid and treble controls set flat has something of the studio monitor about it, they reveal both the good and bad about everything you play and the hardware being used to provide signal and amplification, which with some recordings can be hard to take. Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm has very bright treble, and there is no thickening here to smother the excesses of this typical Trevor Horn production. The flip side of course is that decent recordings are absolutely sublime and fortunately there are an awful lot of those around including John Martyn’s Glory Box, Joni Mitchell’s The Wolf that lives in Lindsay, Van Morrison’s Linden Arden, the list goes on but that last one, what a voice and what a song.
Turning both HF and MF down to minimum is less exposing of lesser productions and makes more music sound great but it’s worth remembering that this is a taste, a system and a room thing. I suspect that if the distance to the listening seat were doubled and the room a bit softer then there wouldn’t be many recordings that sound too bright. The Elypsis 1512s don’t sound the way they look. You see bass drivers like this in a huge cabinet and you think, this should shake the foundations. But unless you put on heavy music the sound is not heavy, it’s as neutral and even handed and precise as any high end loudspeaker, perhaps more so. The 1512 may be based on a vintage JBL pro monitor but it sure as heck doesn’t sound like one. The bass stops and starts as if this were a 6.5inch two-way but it goes way further down and digs up textures and tones that are blurred by most loudspeakers.
These speakers give you so much time and space to appreciate what is going on in everything you play, it’s a real treat that results from the extremely quiet nature of the design, despite its size the Elypsis 1512 doesn’t add cabinet or driver colourations in the way that smaller speakers do. The drawback with such large baffles is that imaging doesn’t extend behind the speaker in the way that it does with slimmer designs, you get plenty of height and width but not so much depth.
The Elypsis 1512 is still a monitor, it has been voiced for detail and clarity and this means that you hear everything that’s going on in the signal chain. I was shocked at how much difference was made by putting three Ansuz Darkz T2 feet under the DAC, it was almost transformed. I’ve heard what these titanium feet can do in the past but it was never as big a change as this. But they are also hugely entertaining, I had intended to keep the Strattons for a maximum of two weeks because a speaker of this size that you can’t move more than a few inches is not convenient for a busy reviewer. At the end of three weeks I am not looking forward to living without them, re-adjusting to real world speakers is going to be a major challenge.
One of the most appealing qualities of the Elypsis 1512s is that they sound so good at lower levels, you get dynamics and timing and all the things that make music interesting without having to jack up the volume. they also seem to make the most of everything you play regardless of its nature, it’s a surprisingly forgiving loudspeaker given how incredibly transparent it is. Funkadelic’s Everybody’s Going To Make It This Time involves a lot of musicians and voices and too much compression yet is a fabulous piece of music in the hands of this speaker.
Elypsis 1512 verdict
I take my hat off to Dave Fowler and Phil Ward, the Elypsis 1512 is a truly exceptional loudspeaker, one that manages to resolve massive amounts of detail whilst remaining musically fabulous, I just don’t want to turn them off and everyone who has come to listen experienced the same thing. And, almost as important, you can put your records on them!