Tucked away in the back streets of Tokyo’s district of Ebisu is Bar Martha – an audiophile’s drinking hole. The front door buries a murky picture of Tom Waits behind its only glass pane. Step inside and the request for ‘no photography’ is as polite as it is unobtrusive; blink and you’d miss it.
One possible reason why lines the rear wall behind the bar: a row of McIntosh amplifiers, tubes-a-glowing, powering a large pair of Tannoy loudspeakers. At the far end, an entire corner is stacked floor to ceiling with vinyl – an L-shaped wall o’ wax. Next to that, a pair of re-plinthed Garrard turntables between which our middle-aged, male DJ host alternates as he takes the Guinness sippers and whiskey connoisseurs on journey through 80s chart hits and modern jazz.
The result is sufficiently satisfying even at the system’s SPLs which range from quite to-moderate. Even at low volumes, the Tannoys sound full, revealing nuances perhaps hitherto unheard by patrons engaged in quiet conversation whose voices float under the music. Only the occasional burst of laughter punctuates the mostly reverential vibe. A rowdy drinking spot this is not.
Public, audiophile-grade listening experiences like this seem to be gaining traction. In his recent piece for The Guardian (“Sonic boom: why clubs are cranking up the quality instead of the volume”) Joe Muggs discusses similar happenings in London, one of which sounds like it might have in fact been inspired by Bar Martha. Encouraging, right? Kinda.
It’s in the final paragraph that the let down arrives: “The ownership of high-end audio is likely to remain the pursuit of the few. Either those who have £500,000 to put together a system, then the spare cash to build a special room for it. Or those for whom devoting all their spare time and spare cash to continual upgrades is their hobby, their lifestyle – the people who listen not to music they like, but to music that showcases their system. It’s prohibitively expensive and complicated for most. But, finally, you don’t have to be a millionaire to hear music in the highest fidelity.”
The takeaway is that one needs a mortgage to realise good sound at home. And that’s patently not true. One man proving as much is Andrew Jones, formerly of TAD and Pioneer but now ripping the entry-level a fresh mouthpiece with his super-affordable range of loudspeakers for ELAC Americas, a (mostly) autonomous offshoot of the German manufacturer who’ve been in the audio game since 1926.
Jones’ wow-d us with his Debut B5 standmount at the T.H.E. Show Newport Beach last May and again with his F5 floorstander a few months later at RMAF. Bang meet buck: the B5 and F5 sell for US$229 and US$279 respectively and sound downright terrific – way better than any soundbar or portable speaker. These are the loudspeakers that you recommend to friends and family when they come a-knockin’ for suggestions.
And so it would have been perfectly understandable if Andrew Jones had chosen to sit on his laurels for a little while. But no…
At CES 2016, Jones again had something new and amazing to show off. ELAC’s new UB5 (US$500/pair) standmount loudspeaker is a three-way with concentrically-configured 1″ tweeter / 4″ aluminium midrange driver and 5.25″aluminium bass driver, each sealed off in their own internal enclosure. The internal crossover network Jones describes as “more expensive, more advanced” and moves from bass to mid driver at 300Hz with the tweeter, a development of the B5’s soft dome, going out to 30kHz.
Jones walks us through the specifics in ELAC’s dimly-lit Venetian Hotel suite right about here:
What you’ll notice from the video is that this Lanca…Yorkshireman’s music choices aren’t always audiophile-centric but instead reflect the probable tastes of your average Joe – the target market for this speaker (but for whom audiophile approval remains crucial). Regular readers will know by now that Deadmau5 and Rage Against The Machine are closer to my own tastes than Melody Gardot or whoever sings that “Thanks to you” thing.
The usual Dad-jokes fired in all directions – “Where’s the subwoofer?”, “HOW much?” – but they unwittingly drive home the point that you might not need bass augmentation here, leaving the buyer to drop the cost savings into a better amplifier, DAC or turntable.
What the ever-so-likeable Jones serves up for US$500 is, quite frankly, jaw dropping. I hope that he sends a pair to Joe Muggs if only to better communicate the idea that whilst these ELACs won’t reach Klipschorn levels of impact and clarity, they’ll deliver a life-changing experience to anyone looking to put together their first proper hifi system. Consider Bar Martha’s audiophile edge seriously blunted.
Further information: ELAC Americas