Surround Sound Speaker Systems

AV123 ELT 525 Surround Sound Speaker System

ARTICLE INDEX

AV123 ELT 525 Surround Sound Speaker System

Introduction

To say I was excited about the prospect of reviewing AV123’s new entry-level surround sound system is an understatement. For those that don’t know, AV123 is one of many companies that sell loudspeakers from their website only. The drawback is that one cannot audition the speakers before you purchase them. However, these companies usually offer an “audition period” where you can listen to them in the comfort of your own home without any pressure to buy as the company will refund 100% of your payment (these particular speakers carry a 3 year warranty with a 30 day trial period, see website for details). In addition, AV123 offers financing options based off of purchase price, which is nice. The main reason that I was so excited about reviewing these speakers is that I have an unusually large room that is also unusually difficult to place speakers in, as it has built in shelves and cabinets along the front wall.

Specifications

  • ELT-525T Tower Speakers
  • Design: Two-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Cloth-dome Tweeter, Two 5.25" Paper Mid/Bass
  • MFR: 48 Hz - 20 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 87dB @ 1w/1m
  • Crossover: 2 kHz, 2nd Order Acoustic
  • Dimensions: 37.9" H x 6.2" W x 9.9" D
  • Weight: 30 Pounds/Each
  • ELT-525C Center Channel Speaker
  • Design: Two-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Cloth Dome, Two 5.25" Paper Mid/Bass
  • MFR: 74 Hz - 20 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 86dB @ 1w/1m
  • Crossover: 2.4 kHz, 2nd Order Acoustic
  • Dimensions: 6.2" H x 17.7” W x 9.9” D
  • Weight: 15 Pounds/Each
  • Mounting: 1/4”-20 Threaded Insert
  • ELT-525M Surround Speakers
  • Design: Two-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One (1) custom 5.25" woofer and one (1) 1" tweeter
  • MFR: 60 Hz - 20 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 83dB @ 1w/1m
  • Crossover Point: 2.2 kHz, 2nd Order Acoustic
  • Mounting: 1/4-20 Threaded Inserts
  • Dimensions: 11.25" H x 6.12" W x 9.81" D
  • Weight: 10 Pounds/Each
  • Current Pricing for ELT-525 System (not including subwoofer) $799 USA
  • MFW-15 Subwoofer
  • Design: Slot Ported
  • Driver: 15"
  • Amplifier: 350 Watts RMS
  • MFR: 18 Hz - 200 Hz ± 4 dB; Bass Extension In-room: 15 Hz
  • Inputs: Line-Level and Speaker-Level
  • Crossover: Adjustable 40 Hz - 150 Hz
  • Phase Control: Variable 00-1800
  • Dimensions: 23.9" H x 18.1" W x 22.4" D
  • Weight: 110 Pounds
  • MSRP: $499 USA
  • AV123

Design and Setup

I configured the system in two-channel with towers, two-channel with monitors, and surround sound with dual subs, only the MFW-15, and full range with no subs. When switching back and forth between my Paradigm Studio 20V.3’s I noticed that I was constantly turning my receiver up after reconnecting the AV123 system. The average efficiency of the system is ~85 dB which means that it will take a substantial amount of amplifier power to fill a large home theater room with these speakers. I would not try to run them with an amplifier that puts out much less than 100 wpc with all channels driven.

av123-525-elt-surround-speaker

 


In Use

AV123 ELT 525 Surround Sound Speaker System

I listened to mixed blues, jazz and classical music through the system. The towers turned in an impressive performance on the Diana Krall SACD – The Look of Love. I noted very good detail with crisp, clean highs. The peripheral snare drum vibrations came through very clearly though I would characterize the sound as leaning toward the dry, papery-sounding side but not so far as to be brittle. Where the AV123 system really shone was with single brass instruments, acoustic guitar and piano. The Curious George soundtrack sounded fantastic as almost all of the songs are acoustic numbers of only Jack Johnson and his guitar.

Most of my movie watching was done on a PS3 with Blu-ray and its high definition audio formats. I noticed an obvious increase in the three dimensionality of songs performed in DTS-MA vs. their CD counterparts. The ability of the AV123 to extract large amounts of detail from these higher definition audio formats will make them an attractive option for those recently purchasing a Blu-ray player.

Watching brief clips of an array of movies including; The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Harry Potter and the Star Wars saga revealed that while the surround system was excellent at conveying a very dynamic, coherent soundfield, it did have trouble separating voices and ambient effects from the musical score in especially complex passages in some of the movies.

Compared to my own speakers the AV123’s are more rigid and forward sounding, slightly crisper with better bass definition though less bass depth and volume. Complex orchestral pieces sometimes gave the system problems, though I don’t think it would be noticed in anything but a side by side comparison with a speaker that excelled in these areas. These speakers are very good at reproducing the human voice, both male and female, and this makes them a strong choice for movies and music.


AV123 ELT 525 Surround Sound Speaker System

The only significant drawback I found was in the center channel. As I moved around the room I noticed fairly significant lobing which reduced movie dialogue intelligibility to the sides of my viewing space. In addition, I noticed a slight chestiness or nasal quality to male dialogue in movies, the deeper the voice the more pronounced the problem, especially when the characters were not speaking with significant volume (turning the volume up usually compensated for this problem).

I also noticed that the center channel was not a perfect timberal match during movie scenes in which sounds pan from left to center to right. I also had the center placed on top of my TV about 2 feet above my head while seated and I feel this contributed to the audibility problems I had with movie dialogue. On the “knocking” test it becomes immediately apparent that the center channel has a good deal more cabinet resonance than either the towers or the monitors. This single factor could be responsible for almost all of the inconsistencies I found between the center and the rest of the system (and might be an easy fix for version II). In their defense, all surround setups will exhibit some degree of inconsistency between the L/C/R unless they are identical. One bit of advice I have for users is to play with the center channel placement. If you can put it directly on ear level or slightly above that would be ideal but definitely try to keep it within 12 inches above or below your seated position (and at least 2 feet off the floor).


The Subwoofer

I was really not prepared for the sheer size of this sub. I have a fairly large room and this sub still looked huge.

av123-525-elt-subwoofer

It weighs 125 pounds and is approximately a 2 ft cube (although it appears to be bigger), mine was finished in black and looked like a to scale model of the Borg star destroyer from Star Trek First Contact. I cannot imagine this sub integrating successfully into any interior except that of a large, dark, dedicated home theater (possibly behind a curtain or false wall). I used it in several configurations, both by itself and as part of a stereo pair of subs with my own JBL sub. My wife was so unimpressed with it that I ended up moving it back and forth from the living room to the garage when it wasn’t in use (each time requiring the help of a buddy-thanks Travis). It provided prodigious amounts of deep, clean bass with no port noise and I never found the ceiling (or basement) of its performance. Having said that, it remained in storage for much of my review period due to its inability to remain in my living room without people asking “what IS that?” I felt it was overkill even for my large home theater room, although I am not a bass addict as some are. If, during the course of listening to music or watching a movie you think “ahhh, there’s the sub”, then its too loud and isn’t integrating well into the system. This can be moderated by correct room placement but the sheer size of this sub will limit its placement in almost any room.

I had another hang up with the pairing of this sub to this system. As this is a compact floorstanding system why pair it with one of the largest subs available? Why not develop a small, high-impact cube shaped sub like the ones that have gotten so popular with other manufacturers? It just seems to be more consistent with the spirit of the small cabinet-big home theater sound that this system delivers.


Conclusions

I think truly great speakers should be measured by the amount of times that you run to the door when a doorbell rings in a movie, try to answer your phone when it isn’t ringing or look outside when a dog barks in a movie as this means that the speaker is doing what it is supposed to (the crazier it makes you look, the better they are), disappearing and faithfully reproducing the recorded material. I did not have those moments all that often with these speakers. What I did have was many hours of enjoyable music listening and movie watching.

Value: This is probably my most important aspect when shopping for home theater equipment, “Am I getting the most for my hard earned dollar?” When I started this review the value proposition of this system was good. About halfway through the review period the price dropped significantly which made it even more attractive and as of Thanksgiving it has dropped another $200 (or 20%). You can now own the entire surround setup (minus sub) for $799 (+shipping) which is basically paying for the towers and getting the center and surround monitors for free.

This is less than the cost of a good pair of reference bookshelf speakers (mine included), with which this system can compete for general home theater use. At this latest price point most minor drawbacks must be overlooked and the system does not have any issues that I would consider a dealbreaker. In fact, the only issues I had at all were with dialogue intelligibility through the center and the sheer size of the sub. If you are short on cash or short on space (or both) and have a lot of space to fill with surround sound, the ELT 525 by AV123 deserves your serious consideration, though I would recommend people with a medium sized room or smaller, along with those who listen to music more than movies and those who are not bass addicts to try this surround system without the sub first, as the sub almost doubles the cost of the system and may not be necessary for all setups or listeners.

When asked by a fellow reviewer how the AV123s stacked up against my personal system, I had the following response which sums up pretty well what I think of the AV123 system.“(They are) Different . . . my three fronts retail for more than the entire 5.1 system but they are all quality products. Would I trade? No. Would I consider the AV123 system if I didn't have my current system? Absolutely. The towers are really shallow in (in physical depth) which makes placement easier and you don't give up that big-scale, dynamic sound of towers. The AV123 is really impressive for the money, and that's all that matters in my book.”