HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



March
2009

Reviewed by
Randall Smith
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


AV123
ELT525 5.0
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: ELT525T floorstanding speaker
Price: $799 USD per pair
Dimensions: 37.9"H x 6.2"W x 9.9"D
Weight: 37.5 pounds each

Model: ELT525M bookshelf speaker
Price: $299 USD per pair
Dimensions: 11.25"H x 6.12"W x 9.81"D
Weight: 13 pounds each

Model: ELT525C center-channel speaker
Price: $249 USD
Dimensions: 17.7"W x 6.2"H x 9.9"D
Weight: 20 pounds

System price: $1246 USD (currently on sale for $799)

Warranty: Three years, limited.


Features
  • Two-way designs
  • 1" fabric-dome tweeters with oversized surrounds
  • 5.25" treated-paper-cone woofers
  • Second-order acoustic crossovers
  • 8-ohm nominal impedance
  • Video shielded
  • 30-day trial period with money-back guarantee
  • MDF cabinets
  • Cherry and rosewood finishes

With TV’s analog era about to end, consumers who haven’t already purchased a new high-definition TV will soon do so. As this happens, I expect the home audio industry will enjoy a rebirth of sorts. When people spend thousands of dollars on a TV, many are more likely to splurge a bit for a modest home-theater system. I’ve seen this happen at least a dozen times in the last few years: When someone calls to ask my advice on buying a new TV, it never fails that they also ask about surround sound. Most of the time, what they want and how much they want to spend are miles apart, but sometimes they settle on a relatively inexpensive home-theater-in-a-box, and are content.

My point is that, of the thousands of new TV owners, some small percentage will become addicted to high-performance home theater. Hopefully, on the way to their first surround-sound system, these customers won’t be fooled by big-box store specials claiming "1000W of power!" Perhaps they’ll do a little research online, and find a review or two that will lead them in a better direction.

One such direction would lead them to the website of AV123, an Internet-direct company that’s been around since 2000 and has a great reputation for making speakers that not only look and sound great, but are also well built and robustly engineered. And, with their 30-day trial period and full money-back guarantee, AV123 has quickly built a solid reputation and a dedicated fan base that provide word-of-mouth advertising that’s tough to beat.

Description

AV123 shipped me the ELT525 system ($1246 USD, but currently on sale for $799) in three cartons: The pairs of ELT525T towers and ELT525M minimonitors were safely packed in one box each, and the ELT525C center-channel in its own box. The review samples were finished in a beautiful rosewood veneer (cherry is also available), and the cabinetwork was smooth and devoid of visual defects.

At just over 6" wide, the ELT525T is quite narrow at the front. The cabinet is close to 10" deep and 38" high. (Four corner spikes raise it a bit above that.) Each of the three models has the same 1" fabric-dome tweeter and 5.25" treated paper-cone woofers. The ELT525T tower and ELT525C center each have two of the latter, the ELT525M bookshelf model only one. The bookshelf and center models are 11.25" and 6.2" tall, respectively, and, like the tower, are about 10" deep.

I removed the Rockport Technologies Miras from my system, slid the much smaller ELT525Ts into their places, and connected the speakers to my Classé CA-2200 stereo amplifier. The Classé is fed by my Simaudio Moon P5.3 preamplifier, whose home-theater bypass allows me to connect my Integra DTC-9.9 A/V receiver for surround-sound volume control. I used the ELT525Ms as surround speakers. Both the surround and center-channel speakers were powered by the Integra’s amplifier section. During the review period, the AV123s were crossed over at 80Hz to two different subwoofers: a JL Audio Fathom f112 and a Paradigm Sub25.

Sound

Listening to two-channel music through the ELT525Ts, the first thing that struck me about them was their precise imaging. Also, perhaps because of their 1" fabric-dome tweeters, the tonal balance was very similar to that of my Rockport Miras, which also have 1" soft domes. Jakob Dylan’s voice on "I Told You I Couldn’t Stop," from his Seeing Things (CD, Sony 702328), was full and detailed, while the leading edges of the strings of his acoustic guitar were also detailed, as well as sharp. However, while those edges were sharp, the natural decay of each pluck wasn’t quite as clean as what I’m used to hearing from more expensive speakers. The stomping of Dylan’s foot at the beginning of the track was also reproduced with a clear, hard thud, but its weight lacked the presence I’ve grown accustomed to through the far more expensive Miras. It sounded as if the ELT525Ts alone were able to play slightly below 60Hz in my room -- not bad for an inexpensive floorstander. At the end of the day, with a good sub properly positioned and integrated with their output, the ELT525Ts made wonderful full-range sound.

I also auditioned the ELT525Ms as two-channel speakers. While the pair sent for review were intended to be used as surround speakers in a home-theater system, I thought it would be instructive to also give them a chance to dazzle me with their reproduction of music. One quality they shared with their floorstanding brothers was an ability to reproduce a nice, tight image that provided considerable depth from tracks such as "Lua," from Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (CD, Saddle Creek 72). However, their lack of a second woofer for the lower midrange made their sound much smaller and much thinner than the ELT525Ts’.

The ELT525C center speaker didn’t suffer from this lack. As in the ELT525T tower, the ELT525C’s two woofers made it capable of greater dynamics, and helped it deliver voices with properly natural timbres. In the several months leading up to this review, I’d gone without a center-channel speaker. While I’d missed the extra dynamic contribution of a center speaker, I’d enjoyed how free from a point source the dialogue had become. With the addition of the ELT525C, I was again able to appreciate how much more dynamically capable my system was with a center speaker. However, the ELT525C’s size meant that its sound was smaller than that of the two towers. I was able to create a more seamless front soundstage by moving the ELT525Ts a bit closer together.

I then watched the Blu-ray edition of The Strangers, a horrific thriller starring Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler. One of the great things about this film is sound editor Cliff Latimer and director Bryan Bertino’s use of sound to heighten the tension. Throughout the entire surround stage, noises small and large (a shotgun, shattering glass) draw the viewer deep into each moment, and as I watched with the volume set to just below reference level, the AV123 system really involved me in each scene. On more than one occasion my girlfriend turned to stare at the ELT525Ms just behind her, to ensure that she was safe. Being able to provide that kind of movie experience is what having a home theater is all about. Despite their modest sizes, the AV123s played big, and gave us hours’ worth of fun.

I’ve reviewed two 5.1-channel surround-sound speaker arrays in the price range of the 5.0-channel AV123 ELT525 system: the SVS SBS-01 ($999 as of April 2006) and the Cerwin-Vega! CVHD 5.1 ($999.95 as of November 2007). Each costs $1000 and includes a killer sub, while the ELT525 system lacks a sub and costs a few hundred bucks more. Without a doubt, the rosewood finish of the ELT525 system was head and shoulders above the appearance of the other two systems, but the design and color of the Cerwin-Vega! system make them a better choice for mounting on a wall next to a flat-panel TV. The SVS speakers are nicely built, but their matte-black finish is quite plain.

The SVS speakers were able to "disappear" a bit more completely than the AV123s -- with my eyes closed, I wasn’t able to locate them as the sources of the sounds I was hearing, no matter what sort of program I played. However, the ELT525 system played a bit louder and a little lower in the bass, and was able to render soundtracks with much more authority, sounding bigger and more spacious. In the end, both the AV123 and SVS systems provided lots of bang for the buck, with the AV123 taking a slight edge for their nicer finish and smoother, more dynamically capable sound.

The AV123 ELT525 completely outclassed the Cerwin-Vega! system in every category. However, the real star of the C-V system was its CVHD-12S subwoofer ($439.95 as of November 2007); add a comparable sub to the AV123 ELT525 and you’re suddenly looking at a far more expensive system. In my view, however, the extra cost would be worth it, and AV123 makes several subwoofers that would make good partners for the ELT525 system.

Conclusion

Every once in a while, it’s nice to be brought back down to earth. After years of listening to pairs of loudspeakers that retail for far more than the cost of the entire AV123 system, I need to be reminded that more money doesn’t always buy better performance. Paying careful attention to build and finish quality, AV123 has delivered a properly engineered speaker system that is also a great value well within the budgets of many. For only $1246, the ELT525 system can bring into your home the excitement of movie-theater sound. In short, this system could be the one and only speaker purchase the shopper on a budget ever makes. In the value-oriented speaker market, AV123 has proven its mettle over and over. And now they’ve done it again.

Review System
Speakers - Rockport Technologies Mira (mains); Paradigm Studio 100 v.4 (mains), Paradigm Studio CC-690 v.4 (center), Paradigm Studio ADP-590 v.4 (surrounds), Paradigm Sub25 and JL Audio Fathom f112 (subwoofers)
A/V processor - Integra DTC-9.9, Anthem Statement D2, Blue Circle Audio Thingee
Amplifiers - Classé CA-2200, Anthem MCA 50
Preamplifier - Simaudio Moon P5.3
Sources - Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player, Slim Devices Squeezebox, Apple MacBook, Sony PlayStation 3
Display device - Mitsubishi WD-Y57
Cables - Nordost, Monster, DH Labs, Transparent
Remote - Universal Remote Control MX-850 Aeros
Power conditioners - Shunyata Research Hydra Model-6 with Copperhead power cord, Blue Circle BC6000
 

Manufacturer contact information:

AV123
Longmont, CO 80501
Phone: (877) 543-7500
Fax: (720) 494-1751

E-mail: sales@av123.com
Website: www.av123.com


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