If you’ve been paying attention to the successful growth of ELAC over the past few years, you know that they have made a name for themselves in producing high performance, and high-value speakers. In all of the audio media coverage of ELAC, we always hear about how their products perform well above their affordable pricing structure. I myself have listened to their demos at trade shows, and have always been impressed with what I have heard.
The focus of this review, however, is with their new line of electronics, known as the ELAC Alchemy Series. It consists of the DDP-2 Preamp / DAC / Streamer, DPA-2 Stereo / Mono amplifier, and the PPA-2 Phono Preamplifier.
ELAC Alchemy Series Electronics
- The slimline design significantly reduces space requirements.
- High-level performance for “budget pricing.”
- Just about all the connectivity, you could need.
- A tremendous amount of power in a small package.
- Phono preamplifier hits well above its weight class!
I have spent some time listening to ELAC speakers, and earlier versions of their electronics at trade shows, and always came away impressed with what they were doing. While the company has been in existence since 1926, it didn’t really start making a big name for itself (in my humble opinion) until legendary speaker designer Andrew Jones started working for them about 5 years ago. And when that happened, ELAC started to disrupt the industry with (very) high performing products at relatively low prices. Their products have been well received in the marketplace, as well as with audio reviewers across the globe.
ALCHEMY DDP-2 DAC/PREAMP/STREAMER
USB, (2) Coaxial, (2) Optical, AES/EBU, (2) I2S (Alchemy & HDMI)
2x AKM AK4493EQ
Ethernet, Bluetooth, WIFI
PCM, DSD, DoP, ROON Ready endpoint, Spotify Connect, AirPlay, MQA capable
Frequency response (digital):
10hz-20khz +/- 0.2dB
Nominal THD+N (digital)::
Signal-to-noise ratio (1kHz) (digital):
44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, 384kHz
XLR Balanced, (2) RCA Unbalanced
Frequency response (analog):
10hz-20khz +/- 0.2dB
Nominal THD+N (analog):
Signal-to-noise ratio (analog):
XLR Balanced, (1) RCA Unbalanced (fixed gain), (1) RCA Unbalanced (variable)
2” x 17.5” x 15” including jacks
ALCHEMY DPA-2 STEREO / MONO AMPLIFIER
Power output/channel (1% THD+N, 1kHz):
Stereo 325W/ch @ 4 Ohms / Mono 625W @ 8 Ohms
5hz-20kHz +/- 0.2dB
Nominal THD+N (1 watt into 8 Ohms):
Signal-to-noise ratio (1kHz):
RCA – 12K, XLR – 19K
Stereo 24dB/30dB, Mono 18dB/24dB
Unbalanced RCA, Balanced XLR
2” x 17.5” x 15” including jacks
ALCHEMY PPA-2 PHONO PREAMPLIFIER:
(2) RCA Unbalanced, or (1) RCA & (1) XLR Balanced
5-1KOhms variable or 47K
10hz – 20kHz +/- 0.2dB
Signal-to-noise ratio (1kHz):
ELAC Alchemy, ELAC, Series Electronics, Electronics Review 2020
For those who are familiar with the Alchemy name, you know it came from a company called Audio Alchemy. Lead by Chief Engineer Peter Madnick, Audio Alchemy produced audio gear that had a very high-performance level, with relatively low prices. Peter and Andrew had collaborated for years at shows, and with such great synergy their products showed between the Audio Alchemy and ELAC brands, they knew that they were onto something special. Peter and crew from Audio Alchemy agreed to combine companies, which is how the Alchemy Series is now under the ELAC brand. For this new venture and product series, Peter and his team were responsible for all of the audio-path design and linear power supplies. The ELAC team did the mechanical, front panel control, and manufacturing.
A few months ago, I received a text message from Co-Editor Carlo Lo Raso asking if I would be interested in reviewing the new ELAC Alchemy Series of Electronics because his review list was overflowing. While my plate was a bit full at the time as well, I eagerly said yes because I’ve wanted to get some of their equipment into my house for evaluation. Carlo lives only about 20 minutes from my business, so he dropped by with the gear and for a quick visit. I think he was mostly motivated by the fact that we had a brand new Ferrari 488 Pista in our shop to check out, but conversations including cars and stereos are all good in my book!
Before I get into more details about these 3 components in for review, I wanted to talk a little bit about “budget” audio gear, because this review could easily be placed in that category. Particularly with this ELAC Alchemy Series Electronics, I don’t like to pigeon-hole them in such a way. For one, the term “budget” is relative because the price that one person might consider as a budget could be considered as a high price to another. And the other, and more pertinent reason in this instance is because that in many audiophile circles, referring to products as “budget” can be a back-handed insult because, well, only ultra-high dollar equipment is good, right?!
The first audio gear that I was able to buy decades ago that fell into the “high-performance” category was from NAD. It had an understated design, lacked the bells and whistles, but it sounded fantastic. When I first unpacked the ELAC Alchemy Series Electronics, I had those same reactions as I did all those years ago with NAD. The industrial design is clean, simple, and nothing about it really screams “look at me”. That’s not to say it’s unattractive gear by any means. But when you start to look closer at the details of what each component offers, you quickly realize that these components pack a tremendous amount of features and connectivity into their diminutive packages.
The three components we have here for review are the DDP-2 DAC/Preamp/Streamer, the DPA-2 Stereo / Mono amplifier, and the PPA-2 Phono Preamplifier. Each of them can be purchased and used individually, but for this article, we decided to combine them all in one package.
The DDP-2 is packed with features, and could easily serve as the heart of a great system. What’s really outstanding with this piece is that it combines 3 separate components into one chassis that is only 2” tall! The ELAC Alchemy DDP-2 offers dual AKM 4493EQ 32 bit/384kHz DACs operating in digitally balance mode, is ROON-ready, MQA capable, has a home-theater bypass loop, custom-selectable DSP filter profiles, and a small OLED display (just to name a few!). It has 8 digital inputs, 2 analog inputs, and provides fully balanced XLR inputs and outputs. And when connecting through the Ethernet port, you can connect to your favorite 3rd-party streaming service. The DDP-2 also has an internal WiFi, but the initial connection and configuration must be made wired.
In all of my listening and testing, I mostly use ROON, which is why I was excited to see that the DDP-2 was a ROON endpoint. With ROON, you get full access to TIDAL, Qobuz, and music stored on a NAS. If you’re not using ROON, you should definitely look into it! It is a powerful way to streamline, manage and serve all your digital audio content with the highest possible quality.
Another big feature of the DDP-2 for me was the home theater bypass that it provided. My system combines a full Dolby Atmos theater with a 2-channel system. I need to have a home theater bypass in my preamplifier so that I can have separate processors/preamplifiers for multi-channel, and 2-channel music, and so that I can share front channel speakers and amplification.
The ELAC Alchemy DPA-2 Stereo/Mono amplifier is just as it sounds! It can be used standalone as a 2-channel amplifier providing 325W/ch into 4 Ohms, or if you purchased a second DPA-2, you can configure them as monoblocks producing a whopping 625W into 8 Ohms. It has both fully balanced and unbalanced RCA inputs, 12v trigger in and out, and it’s all in the same 2” tall chassis as the DDP-2 and the PPA-2. On the front panel, ELAC provides some clever options. If you have 2 units set up in mono, it’s a simple touch of a button for configuration. Another rather unique feature is that you have a button for your input selection. So if you have your DDP-2 connected via XLR for your streaming/preamplification, then you depress the input button on the front panel (or use the remote) until the XLR input indicator light illuminates. If you wish to operate the DDP-2 in home theater bypass mode and are using the RCA outputs to your DPA-2, then simply depress the input button until the RCA input indicator light illuminates. Very simple indeed.
And the final component is the ELAC Alchemy PPA-2 Phono Preamplifier. Even without looking at the price tag on this, the list of features and connections is quite impressive. For one, it has balanced inputs and outputs (as well as unbalanced RCA). Secondly, it has both a GND Terminal (used to ground the turntable to signal ground), and it has a separate Chassis Ground (used to ground the turntable to chassis/ac mains ground). The front panel includes buttons for mute, input switching between input 1 and input 2, an HP (high pass filter/rumble filter) button, and finally a MC/MM button to select between MM (moving magnet) or MC (moving coil) style cartridges. The back panel also includes their (very sensitive, yet very easy to use) variable loading adjustments for both inputs 1 and 2.
When doing a direct comparison of equipment, my current system consists of McIntosh MC611 monoblock amplifiers ($15,000/pair), PS Audio BHK Preamplifier ($6,000), PS Audio DirectStream DAC ($6,900). So if we’re only comparing the ELAC Alchemy DDP-2 and the DPA-2 to my current system, we have 4 large pieces of equipment (especially the McIntosh amps!) worth almost $28,000 to only 2 components measuring 4” tall worth just $5,000. Not only is it a huge difference in the amount of space requirement, but also $23K. While I’m not going to make this a head-to-head comparison between the two groups of gear, I thought that I should at least shed some light on it for perspective.
Both of these setups are driving a pair of Goldenear Technology Triton Reference speakers and at times a pair of SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofers. Connections were made using Audioquest Niagara 1000 Power Conditioners, and Tributaries Series 8 cables.
First up, let’s talk about the DDP-2 DAC/Preamplifier/Streamer and the DPA-2 Amplifier combination. After verifying with both ELAC and Carlo Lo Raso that these units had a bit of time on them, I didn’t bother with extended break-in periods and jumped right into listening.
After getting everything in place and configured, which was aided considerably by well-written manuals, I settled in for some initial thoughts on it all. All of my music sources, at least to start, were from TIDAL and Qobuz through ROON.
Based on the performance of ELAC’s line of speakers I had heard at shows, I was expecting to hear similar results with the new line of Alchemy Electronics. But what I wasn’t expecting, however, was them sounding even better than expectations. These visually unassuming components in small packages were reproducing my favorite recordings with a playback quality similar to what I consider to be (extremely) good in my current system.
Brian Bromberg’s bass guitar playing on Come Together is one of my favorites, as it strikes hard and deep. And when played on a great system, the notes float in the air in front of you. I was not expecting to hear the presentation with similar weight and detail as I get on my PS/McIntosh setup, but there it was in all its glory.
Since I was in a guitar mood, I switched it up a bit by playing a live recording of Trouble’s What You’re In by Fink. This is a stellar performance and recording that renders each pluck of the guitar string with stunning clarity and is presented in a massive soundstage. Once again, the ELAC Alchemy gear did not disappoint.
When I have guests over to my house to demo the stereo, I always put in 24K Magic by Bruno Mars as it provides the type of dynamics that always bring the wow-factor. Yes, you can easily run the risk of splitting your eardrums with that level of volume and clarity, but it sure is fun. I thought that this track would be good to evaluate the dynamic swings that the Alchemy gear was capable of, as well as the outright power.
I can easily say that it passed the test on both, and it’s amazing that this 2” tall amplifier can produce such serious volume. If you put the DPA-2 amplifier next to my behemoth MC611 monos, you would think that in terms of output, you’d be comparing apples to oranges. But don’t let the looks fool you…this ELAC amplifier does not play around!
Since I was so impressed with the performance of this gear, I decided to take turns swapping out gear to see if I could find a weak link. I played the DPA-2 with my PS Audio BHK preamplifier, the DDP-2 with my MC611 monos, and every other configuration I could think of. In the end, I was happy with them all and didn’t feel that the ELAC components brought down the performance of any of the much more expensive gear. I’m not going to go as far as to say that they sounded just as good, but as a reviewer, I found very minor differences.
Next up for listening was the PPA-2 phono preamplifier. Since this is a $1,250 phono preamp, I thought that I would team it up a turntable/cartridge combination that would be good enough to show off any weaknesses in the preamp, but not be so expensive that it wouldn’t be a natural fit with it either. I used an E.A.T. C-Major turntable with an Ortofon MC Quintet Blue cartridge. At around $2,500, I thought it would be a good union.
When I got the turntable home and setup, I figured I would play some of my favorite albums that I have listened to many times before because I am very familiar with how they sound on good turntable/phono preamp combos.
Even after a few songs, I found myself sending text messages to Carlo Lo Raso telling him how great this combo was. A phono preamp for just over $1,200, and a turntable for $2,500 and they sound this GOOD? Whether I was listening for soundstage, imaging, dynamics, or inner details, I was hearing pretty much everything that I wanted to. And with the ease of setup I had with the PPA-2, it made the experience that much more enjoyable. While most of the time I would constantly tweak the settings on the phono preamplifier to find the sweet spot, for the PPA-2 I simply set it to the recommendations offered up by Ortofon and left it there. I was so impressed with the sound that I set it once, and then simply enjoyed the music. That doesn’t happen very often.
As with the other gear, I mixed things up between the ELAC preamplifier and amplifier with my PS Audio and McIntosh gear when the turntable and phono preamplifier were in the mix, and I achieved very similar results. Yes, I could gain some slight improvements when I brought the (far more) expensive gear into the mix, but the differences were subtle at best.
If anybody would come to me for a recommendation on a turntable and phono preamplifier combination, I would definitely tell them to check out the ELAC PPA-2 with the E.A.T. C-Major. There’s a lot of synergy with those two!
ELAC’S ALCHEMY SERIES ELECTRONICS individually and collectively punch well above their weight. They are not simply great-sounding budget gear…they are great sounding gear, period!
- Small size, fewer space requirements.
- As much connectivity as you could want.
- Innovative front panel features for ease of use.
- A matching CD player for those of us who still like to play silver discs!
ELAC has stayed true to its design philosophies over the past 5 years or so with their new Alchemy Series Electronics in that they want to produce better than average performing products for less than average pricing. Each of the individual components in for review performed extremely well, and at a higher level than I expected.
Typically with “budget” components, we as reviewers have to step back a bit and keep the performance relative to the price. So in many cases, we are talking about how high performing they are, but that is limited to a low price range.
But with ELAC’s Alchemy Series Electronics, I don’t look at them as budget components that perform well. I see them strictly as high-performance audio gear that I would be perfectly happy owning!