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ELAC EA-Series EA101EQ-G Integrated Amplifier Review

ELAC celebrates their 90th anniversary this year. Historically the German company focused on the European market, though they sold “Miracord” turntables in the US for a time. ELAC opened a North American office about two years ago.

Andrew Jones heads the engineering side at ELAC’s North American office. Jones is best known among audiophiles for jaw-droppingly excellent speakers such as the Pioneer S-2EX and TAD Labs CE1. Jones designed well-regarded entry-level speakers at Pioneer and ELAC, and the step-up Uni-Fi speaker line that Carlo Lo Raso called "killer value in terms of sound and style.". He also designed ELAC’s EA-Series EA101EQ-G integrated DAC and amplifier. The ELAC EA-Series EA101EQ-G brings a speaker designer’s sensibility to the highly competitive compact integrated DAC amplifier category.

Highlights

ELAC EA-Series EA101EQ-G Integrated Amplifier

  • Proprietary Auto Blend and Calibration (ABC) subwoofer integration and room correction
  • Powerful BASH tracking amplifier
  • More input choices than most compact integrated amps
  • Ease of use from front panel, remote, or app
  • Striking, distinctly Teutonic styling
Introduction

Compact integrated amplifiers are a hot product category today, for two good reasons: "normal" people appreciate good sound from stylish and compact plug-and-play packages, and audiophiles have high standards for their secondary systems. “Compact" and "good sounding" were mutually exclusive goals until recently. However, modern “system-on-a-chip” analog circuits and cost-effective energy-efficient amplifiers now allow companies to make genuinely great sounding compact integrated amps.

ELAC INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
DESIGN:

Integrated DAC amplifier with DSP and BASH tracking amplifier

RATED POWER OUTPUT, CONTINUOUS:

40W/channel into 8 Ohms, 80W/channel into 4 Ohms, 70W/channel into 2 Ohms, 2 channels driven @ 1kHz

POWER OUTPUT, BURST:

65W into 8 Ohms, 120W into 4 Ohms, 170W into 2 Ohms, 1 channel driven with CEA-2010 subwoofer measurement burst signal @ 1 kHz

THD+N, 1KHZ:

0.03% at 40W into 8 Ohms, 0.07% at 70W into 4 Ohms

SIGNAL-TO-NOISE RATIO:

101dB at 0dBFS

FREQUENCY RESPONSE:

20Hz to 40 kHz +/- 1.8dB

ROOM CORRECTION:

ABC (Auto Blend & Calibrate)

ANALOG INPUTS:

2 (RCA)

DIGITAL INPUTS:

4 (1 asynchronous USB, 1 coaxial, 2 optical) 192kHz 24-bit

STREAMING INPUTS:

Bluetooth (aptX on Android devices)

SURROUND DOWNMIXING:

Dolby Digital

SUBWOOFER OUTPUT:

1

HEADPHONE OUTPUT:

1/4” jack, 100mW @ 16 ohms

DISPLAY:

OEL

APP CONTROL:

iOS and Android control apps, Bluetooth 4.0 low energy

POWER CONSUMPTION:

Power Off 120Vac 0.86W, Auto Off 120Vac 5.45W

DIMENSIONS (HxWxD):

2.125 x 8.375 x 11.625

WEIGHT:

5 Lbs.

MSRP:

$699.99

Company:

ELAC

SECRETS Tags:

ELAC, EA-Series EA101EQ-G Integrated Amplifier, DAC, Compact Integrated DAC Amp, Amplifier, Bluetooth, Room Correction, Integrated Amplifier Reviews 2017, DAC Reviews 2017

SECRETS has covered many intriguing compact integrated DAC amps in the past two years: Martin Logan Forte, AURALiC POLARIS, Bluesound PowerNode 2, and Monitor Audio Airstream A100. Compact integrated performance has improved immensely in this decade. I believe compact integrates are the future of 2-channel listening for many audiophiles.

Design and Setup

ELAC embraced their German heritage in the EA101EQ-G’s industrial design. The swept brushed metal endcaps and exposed black hex bolts give the EA101EQ-G a decidedly “Silberpfeil" vibe.

The EA101EQ-G’s black metal chassis “floats” between the swept endcaps, with an air gap under the chassis for cooling. The rubber top panel is embossed with a hexagonal pattern, and conceals the Bluetooth antenna.

ELAC equipped the EA101EQ-G with more inputs than the typical compact integrated: four wired digital inputs that can accept 192kHz/24-bit signals from compatible sources (asynchronous USB, coax, two optical), two analog (RCA) inputs, and one lossy streaming input (Bluetooth, with aptX on devices that support it). The EA101EQ-G even decodes Dolby Digital, for use with TVs or set top boxes. The only notable omissions are a 12V trigger output (rare in the category) and AirPlay lossless streaming. The speaker terminals are binding posts, and ELAC helpfully includes banana plugs. The power cord socket is “Mickey Mouse” style, as found on older iMacs.

ELAC offers three ways to control the EA101EQ-G: front panel with two capacitive buttons and a dark mirrored volume knob, IR remote control, and iOS/Android app. The app connects to the EA101EQ-G over Bluetooth Low Energy. ELAC put considerable thought into their remote app. It has two rare but useful features: input/output level meters and a volume offset control.

If you hear something amiss, the level meters will show if the input signal is too hot or if the EA101EQ-G’s outputs are clipping. The volume offset is used to attenuate hot inputs and balance volume differences between sources. When I first explored the app’s setup options, I thought of a speaker designer frustrated by inflexible electronics unduly limiting his speakers in real rooms. I especially appreciated the balance control, an unfortunate rarity in compact integrateds. The app also provides easy access to tone controls, subwoofer level, and the Auto Blend & Calibration system. My only real quibble with the app is its name: iOS won’t find it if you type “ELAC” into the search bar or tell Siri to "launch ELAC."

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All the control in the world is unhelpful without power behind it. ELAC equipped the EA101EQ-G with a “BASH" amplifier. A BASH amplifier employs a sophisticated switching power supply that tracks the incoming signal to drive a Class AB output stage. The BASH tracking trickery also endows the compact amp with the current capability to drive modern lower impedance speakers, such as ELAC’s own Uni-Fi lines.

ELAC claims the EA101EQ-G delivers 40W into 8 Ohms and 80W into 4 Ohms, with both channels driven, albeit measured only at 1kHz rather than from 20-20k Hz. Such power ratings are a common plague in the compact integrated class, unfortunately. ELAC also specifies burst output of 170W into 2 Ohms, albeit using the burst signal from the CEA-2010 subwoofer measurement standard. Still, most compact integrateds will shut down into a 2 Ohm load! The EA101EQ-G also includes a headphone amp with a full-sized (1/4”) jack.

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ELAC also equipped the EA101EQ-G with an important feature inexplicably absent from most integrated DAC-amps: a useful subwoofer output. Most compact integrated DAC-amps are functionally 2.0 channel. If they provide a subwoofer output, it is an afterthought with no filtering for speakers or sub. By contrast, ELAC’s proprietary and ingenious Auto Blend and Calibrate (ABC) shows they thought deeply about how to address bass issues in home audio systems.

ABC combines bass management, speaker-subwoofer blending, and room correction in an intuitive applet within the control app. ABC leverages the microphone in your iOS or Android device, and takes 3-4 minutes start to finish. Andrew Jones demonstrates Auto Blend & Calibrate in this video:

One distinction without a difference between ABC as demonstrated and the current iPhone version: ABC no longer asks you to name your speakers. ABC only corrects up to about 200Hz. That is a feature, not a bug: the limited bandwidth makes ABC true room correction, rather than speaker tampering.

The core assumption behind ABC is, you should hear your speakers and subs as their designers intended them to sound. ABC first asks you to select a crossover frequency, with 60-80-100 Hz “small-medium-large” suggestions and an “Advanced” panel that offers 1Hz steps. Then, ABC “self-calibrates” by measuring one of your speakers in the nearfield, followed by the subwoofer. ABC thus works with what your device’s microphone "hears" the speakers outputting in the nearfield, not their "true" response. ABC can even calibrate multiple subwoofers, as long as they are the same model and their controls are set identically. It is a really thoughtful approach to subwoofer integration.

Next, the ABC applet directs you to place the phone at the listening position. The first time I hit “Go,” I chuckled. What was funny? Auto Blend was doing exactly what a thorough manual calibrator would do, except much faster. Anyone who’s used Velodyne’s SMS-1 or otherwise manually altered subwoofer phase or delay while running sweeps has done the manual equivalent. I consider ELAC’s Auto Blend approach a step up from calibration systems that measure speakers and subs separately

After ABC optimizes the speakers-subwoofer blend, it circles back to match the combined measured nearfield responses of your speakers and subwoofers at the listening position. ABC runs this final sweep through both speakers and sub, as speaker and subwoofer designers probably wish all room correction systems did. I would like to see a “back” button added to ABC in a future app update, so you can redo a step without having to abort the whole process and restart. For example, if you sneeze during a measurement and jerk your phone…

Note that room correction for a single subwoofer only optimizes bass at one listening location. It can make other locations sound worse. That is not a limitation of ABC, but a fact of small room acoustics. Good bass in a larger area requires multiple subwoofers. If you don’t like the room correction, you can turn Auto EQ off and keep Auto Blend on.

In Use

I used the ELAC EA-Series EA101EQ-G in two 2.1-channel setups: a casual listening office desktop system with Mirage OMD-5 speakers and a Tannoy TS10 subwoofer, and a small room installation with DIY speakers and two Velodyne SC-10 subwoofers powered by a Dayton amp in the front corners. All observations below come from the second system. Source material was either losslessly stored on our media server or streamed over Tidal HiFi. I also tried the EA101EQ-G’s headphone output with three headphones: HiFiMAN HE400S, Audeze iSine 10, and Sennheiser HD580. The headphone jack provided sufficient oomph for the HE400S and iSine 10, but the high impedance Sennheisers needed more voltage swing to sound their best.

Driving two speakers with Auto Blend & Calibrate (ABC) off, ELAC’s EA-Series EA-101EQ simply sounded transparent to me. I heard a slight audible hiss when I put an ear against the tweeter of a ~90dB/W/m speaker. It vanished when I moved my head about a foot away. The EA101EQ-G’s BASH tracking amplifier let the character of each speaker shine through. It delivered enough power to cleanly reach any SPL I asked of it, even though my DIY speakers dip below 4 Ohms at about 150Hz. The EQ101EQ-G enters standby with an audible pop. Interestingly, I found that an “0” on the volume control is not mute. There was still audible sound. I checked with ELAC’s Chris Walker, and he told me this was a design choice; you can mute the EA101EQ-G completely by pressing the Play/Pause button on the remote.

Radiohead “In Rainbows”

“In Rainbows” is one of my all-occasion go-to albums. It has great bass, and is just plain fun to listen to. Every track also has so many layers of detail to peel back in analytical listening. “In Rainbows” is also taxing for amplifiers because of its heavy, albeit tasteful, compression.

"Videotape" is built around a keyboard riff of four clandestinely syncopated quarter notes. ELAC’s ABC system helped the small room system keep the left hand bass line even and impactful. The EA101EQ-G’s taut, focused bass also made the song sound huge, and increased the impact of the drums. Likewise, “Up on the Ladder” and “Down is the New Up” were propelled forward by the EA101EQ-G’s tight, controlled bass. “Reckoner” emerged from the speakers with excellent articulation from top to bottom, and the volume knob was not close to maxed out when my ears told me to save them for future listening sessions.

The Knights feat. Yo-Yo Ma “Azul”

The Knights are a chamber orchestra based in Brooklyn. This album combines Osvaldo Golijov’s “Azul” cello concerto with arrangements of works by Dvorak, Sufjan Stevens, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Colin Jacobsen. “Azul” was written for Yo-Yo Ma. This album, the only recording of "Azul" known to me, is available on Tidal.

The ELAC EA101EQ-G’s ABC technology helped this concerto sound even and balanced, starting with the waves of low strings that open both the first movement, “Paz Sulfurica,” and the fourth movement, “Yrushalem.” They just wash over you. The decay in the tails of the notes in bass heartbeat that closes out “Azul’s” second movement, “Silencio,” enhanced the dark, foreboding mood of the section. During Yo-Yo Ma’s cello solo in the middle of third movement, “Transit,” the EA101EQ-G’s tight speaker-sub integration made the room sound larger than it is. Played through the EA101EQ-G, the bass never stuck out. It was coherent and whole.

The Hot 8 Brass Band “On The Spot”

The Hot 8 Brass Band is a funky New Orleans ensemble led by sousaphone player Bennie Pete. The title track is driven by a great low brass riff, and with the EA101EQ-G the sousaphone bloomed from the speakers and filled the room.

“The Sweetest Taboo” is nominally a Sade cover, but so thoroughly dispenses with Sade’s low-key groove that it took me a while to make the connection. The Hot 8 Brass Band punch it up for almost seven minutes. They transform the bassline from chill to bouncy, and substitute intense trombones and trumpets for her subdued contralto vocals. The EA101EQ-G’s BASH amplifier provided enough reserve power to convey every nuance of brassy splat and blatt. ABC worked subtly to keep the bassline and toms sounding fleet and agile, rather than bloated and boomy. “Working Together” is also a good test for modal decay. In a small room, the sousaphone notes can blur together. Through the EA101EQ-G, each note had a distinct beginning, middle, and end.

On the Bench

I measured the results of ELAC’s Auto Blend & Calibration bass management and room correction software in both of the systems described above with FuzzMeasure v. 4.1.1 running in macOS. I used a miniDSP UMIK-1 USB microphone calibrated by Cross Spectrum Labs for acoustic measurements, and an ART USB Dual Pre for electrical measurements.

The first set of measurements, from my office system, tell a cautionary tale. Here’s what ELAC’s ABC software showed after calibration. The “Reference” curve (sum of nearfield measurements) is yellow, the pre-correction curve is magenta, and the corrected response is green.

Did you catch the problem? The crossover frequency is a little too high for the down-firing subwoofer. But any higher would be an issue for 5" midwoofers in small closed boxes! That leads to a response hole. This is a speaker setup issue. While the ELAC EA101EQ-G does what it can, it can only work with the speakers and sub provided. This is a strictly background music (and podcasts, NPR shows, etc.) system. Even in a flawed system, ELAC’s ABC report correlates well with my confirmatory measurement, in green to match ELAC’s corrected response curve.

Note that my measurement is 1/24th octave smoothed. ELAC’s graph are high resolution: 1/24th octave smoothing matches their display better than the 1/12th octave smoothing I typically use.

In the small room, ABC took out quite a bit of bass bloat. The main divergence between ABC’s graphs and my calibrated measurements is that ABC shows some roll-off from 30-40Hz while my measurements show a plateau.

The next graph shows the frequency response of the ELAC EA-Series EA101EQ-G’s subwoofer output after correction, taken directly from the sub out with no smoothing. This is the EQ curve ELAC’s ABC technology applied to these subwoofers in this room.

Let’s start with the easy bits before moving on to the really interesting stuff. This measurement shows ELAC’s low-frequency correction seems to stop at 25Hz, a sensible frequency given the subwoofers typically used with compact integrated amps. Still, deep bass fanatics will be happy to see that the electrical response only falls about 1dB from 20Hz to 10Hz. Assuming the flat line below roughly 25Hz is the baseline sub level, it appears the ABC system is limited to 6dB boosts and 12dB cuts. That is typical and responsible for an automated room correction system.

Now for the really interesting part: the crossover targets. As SECRETS Technical Editor Dr. David Rich notes, "The standard bass management system provides only a second-order filter for the main speaker which [with a fourth-order subwoofer filter] will not even sum to flat even in an anechoic chamber." Here, the measured lowpass was 5th order (30dB/oct.). At first, I assumed this steep rolloff was a quirk of my system. However, ELAC’s Chris Walker told me that ELAC in fact targets 5th-order slopes for both speaker and subwoofer.

Why 5th order? ELAC argues that the premise of 4th-order (24dB/oct.) Linkwitz-Riley ("LR4") crossovers between speakers and subwoofers is basically flawed. LR4 crossovers were developed to give provide symmetrical vertical radiation when the sound waves are very small compared to room dimensions. At 2kHz, a typical midrange/tweeter crossover point, the sound wave is under 7 inches long. However, an 80Hz sound wave is more than 14 feet long! Sound waves behave differently when they approach room dimensions, than when they are tiny compared to room dimensions. See Chapter 6.1 of Dr. Floyd Toole’s "Sound Reproduction," 3rd ed., for a fuller explanation.
While LR4 crossovers sum flat on axis, they do not provide constant power response. ELAC argues it is important to have a constant amplitude and power response when blending a speaker to a subwoofer at 50-100Hz, because of how these long sound waves propagate in rooms. That implies the speakers and subwoofers should be in phase quadrature rather than in phase. This phase quadrature relationship requires an odd-order crossover. ELAC arrived at their 5th order target experimentally, by calculating the effects on phase response at the crossover point of the inherent rolloffs in typical subwoofers and speakers. They found that 5th order was the least sensitive to the inherent rolloffs in subs and speakers. While I’ve never before seen speaker-subwoofer integration handled this way, in listening the ELAC EA101EQ-G consistently impressed me with how seamlessly it integrated subwoofers. It impressed me enough that I plan to experiment with steep odd-order crossovers between the speakers and the multiple subwoofer system in my reference system when I find the time.

Lastly, I found some variation in ABC calibration runs, likely based on microphone placement, noise or external factors. Here are three calibration runs I did on the small room system. The lesson here is, it’s OK to play with your technique and try again if you want. ELAC’s ABC applet accurately represents the listening position response.

The bottom line here is that, if the frequency response of your speakers and subwoofers overlap enough, ELAC’s ABC technology as deployed in the EA101EQ-G can achieve an excellent speaker-subwoofer blend in minutes.

Conclusions

THE ELAC EA-SERIES EA101EQ-G COMPACT INTEGRATED DAC-AMPLIFIER is the complete package: great-sounding, stylish, powerful, flexible, intuitive to use, and reasonably priced.

Likes
  • Efficacy of Auto Blend & Calibration (ABC) setup
  • Stylish appearance
  • Build quality
  • Ease of use
  • Plethora of input options
Would Like To See
  • "Back" button in ABC calibration applet
  • Full mute at “0” volume
  • 20Hz – 20kHz power ratings
  • No pop when going into standby mode
  • AirPlay streaming built in
  • “ELAC” in the iOS app’s name!

ELAC just seems to get the audio zeitgeist. Every single one of their American-market products I have heard has been right on target, with great sound at reasonable prices. The EA-Series EA101EQ-G is no exception. This stylish compact integrated amp has enough inputs to support a fairly complicated audio system, one of the most intuitive and useful control apps I’ve used – except for its name! – and a powerful amplifier. ELAC also priced it very well for such a versatile and stylish compact integrated DAC amp.

Those virtues alone would make the ELAC EA101EQ-G a solid competitor in the compact integrated DAC amp market. But ELAC’s Auto Blend & Calibrate applet steals the show. ABC is subwoofer-speaker blending and room correction from a speaker designer’s perspective. ABC automates and speeds up the normally tedious speaker-subwoofer blending process. It accepts your speaker designers’ voicing rather than imposing its own will. Its room correction subtly addresses modal issues so you can hear your speakers and subs as their designers intended them to sound.

ELAC’s EA-Series EA101EQ-G is a fantastic nerve center for any 2.0 or 2.1 channel system, thanks to ABC, plenty of power and current drive to stay relevant through speaker upgrades, an excellent control app, and enough inputs for a fairly complex A/V system. The EA101EQ-G looks elegant but not too flashy, allowing it to fit into any number of home or office systems. I can think of a good use case for every single EA101EQ-G ELAC will make. ELAC’s first compact integrated DAC amp is a winner.

Categories: Integrated Amplifiers
Tags: AmplifierBluetoothCompact Integrated DAC AmpDACDAC Reviews 2017EA-Series EA101EQ-G Integrated AmplifierELACFeaturedIntegrated Amplifier Reviews 2017room correction
Jay Haider: Jay is an attorney by day, and a musical omnivore by night. Jay seeks out multichannel recordings, with or without video accompaniment. He also enjoys 2-channel music on digital and vinyl, as well as TV and the odd flick. Jay picked up his love of music from his mother, who was cool enough to go to Woodstock…but square enough to actually buy a ticket for it. Jay approaches audio and home theater from a music-first perspective. His main interest audio-wise is gear that pushes the boundaries of realism in the home, especially speakers and room correction systems. However, he is also very interested in products that expand the possibilities for music lovers on modest budgets, and gear designed to provide a well-balanced sound in spaces where a full-bore audio system is impracticable. Jay has a special interest in correlating subjective impressions of speakers and room correction systems with acoustic measurements. A Washington DC native and die-hard Washington football fan, Jay lives in Atlanta (ITP) with his wife, daughter, and their two ferocious mini-lions.