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July
2007

Reviewed by
Jeff Van Dyne
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


Elemental Designs
A5-300 Subwoofer

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: A5-300

Price: $550 USD
Dimensions: 20"H x 18"W x 20"D
Weight: 100 pounds

Warranty: Five years parts and labor


Features
  • Built-in 550W amplifier
  • Auto on/off
  • Variable crossover and phase
  • LFE input and output
  • Line- and speaker-level inputs and outputs
  • Two-piece 12" poly-cone assembly
  • Integrated ventilation in cone/former to cool the voice-coil
  • Heavily braced cabinet with 1.5"-thick walls and 2.25"-thick base
  • Durable black crinkle finish

I haven’t paid much attention to car audio for several years, but if I had, I probably would have heard of Elemental Designs before I was informed that I would soon receive one of their subwoofers to review. Elemental Designs ("eD" for short) cut their teeth and earned their reputation in the ultra-competitive car-audio market, where they’ve been very successful. Their foray into subwoofing for the home is relatively recent and, based on what I’ve seen so far, they’re looking to steal the thunder of that market’s price/performance leaders.

Elemental Designs is located in Newton, Iowa, about a half hour from Des Moines -- a long way from anywhere else in the audio world. It’s also a long way from the high costs of big-city manufacturing space. Along with small-town living come small-town values: eD has got to be one of the most open and honest organizations I’ve seen in a while. Peter Parker runs a blog on their site that details what’s going on around the company, including the ups and downs of being a small audio manufacturer. If they’ve had a great success, you’ll read about it there, along with information about supply shortages and the like. Most telling was a recent discussion about a call from JL Audio questioning some supposed similarities between the two companies’ products. Parker was refreshingly open and honest about the whole thing.

Like many companies these days, eD is an Internet-direct operation with design facilities in the US. Production of the speakers’ custom cabinetwork is done in Iowa, but much of the production for stock is done offshore. Everybody expects lower prices from Internet-direct companies, but I’ve always felt the key to such operations’ success is outstanding customer service. A search of the usual Internet forums revealed nearly universal praise for eD’s price/performance ratio and service.

Description

At 20"H x 18"W x 20"D, the A5-300 ($550) is of only average size for a subwoofer, but at nearly 100 pounds it’s heavier than most subs of this size -- the driver alone weighs 25 pounds. The well-braced cabinet is 1.5" thick everywhere except the bottom, which is 2.25" thick. Moving an A5-300 around the room a few times will give you a healthy workout and maybe a backache. At our house, we called it "The Beast" before we even listened to it.

The single 12" driver is eD’s own design -- a 130v.2, high-excursion, two-piece poly cone with dual ventilated voice-coil. If you doubt the cone’s excursion capabilities, there is a video on the eD website that you really must see. The built-in amplifier is custom-made for eD by Kiega Electronics, widely known in DIY circles for good, affordable plate amps. This version is rated to pump out 550W into 4 ohms, which should be more than enough to drive just about any conventional subwoofer. The A5-300 has a variable crossover, level and phase controls, auto on, and LFE, line-level, and speaker-level inputs -- in short, nothing exotic, but more than enough to get the job done.

The single finish option is a black crinkle paint that looks as if it could withstand a nuclear war. The result is an industrial look that I suspect people will either love or hate. I don’t mind it, but the A5-300 would probably look out of place in my family room next to my wood-veneered reference speakers. However, by subwoofer standards, the A5-300 is small enough that it should tuck nicely into a corner in most rooms of medium to large size. It quickly blended into the back corner of my home theater.

Setup

I listen to most speakers I review in all three systems in my house, but the eD A5-300 was too heavy to be moved easily up and down stairs. It went straight to my home theater, and there it stayed. After lugging it around the room a few times, I finally settled on the rear corner location I use for my reference subwoofer. The A5-300 would have fit into either front corner of my relatively narrow room, but I would have had to tuck it right into the corner -- a placement I’ve found too boomy with nearly every subwoofer I’ve tried in this space, and the A5-300 was no exception. The rear-corner placement meant that the sub could be placed a few feet from the rear and sidewalls, which generally provides a smoother response, as well as a bonus: Anyone sitting in the rear riser seats near the sub gets a little extra thrill through the seat of the pants.

Once I’d decided on the location, it was a simple matter of adjusting the level and phase controls. If your subwoofer isn’t in the same plane as your main speakers, don’t ignore the phase control -- it can have a significant impact on the sound quality. If you’re unsure how to properly set up your sub, check out this article in the GoodSound! archives.

Listening

When testing a subwoofer, I generally start with music -- far too many makers of subs sacrifice musicality and integration in an effort to impress with loud booms from film soundtracks. Dire Straits always did an above-average job of recording, all the way back to their original, eponymously titled album of 1978 [CD, Warner Bros. 47769]. That gave the engineers of the Warner Remasters series a lot to work with in wringing every last bit of detail from the original master tapes for their stellar remastering. I’ve always used the bass line in "Water of Love" to test with -- it’s very tight, which is where many subs fail. The A5-300 did a terrific job of providing tight, accurate, tuneful bass whenever called on, proving that it was much more than just a home-theater sub.

A perennial favorite of mine is Cassandra Wilson, and Thunderbird [CD, Blue Note 63398] is one of her better recent efforts. "Strike a Match" produces low-bass power that shakes the room and that I can feel in my chest, with a bass line that’s deeper but not as tight or as well defined as on Dire Straits’ "Water of Love." The A5-300 did a fine job here too, creating a little fuller bass line than my own sealed sub, which seemed to go well with this track.

Besides being a thoroughly enjoyable movie, Apollo 13 has a handful of decent deep-bass passages. The liftoff sequence has some incredibly powerful low bass, and the A5-300 shook the couch and caused the wall sconces to rattle with vigor. During this scene I quickly became aware of another rattling sound, this one from the area of the subwoofer itself. At first I feared I’d damaged a piece of review equipment, but further investigation revealed that the glass in a nearby sconce was being rattled against its metal frame. When I’d built the theater, I’d put foam pads between the glass and frame of each sconce, and it had proved completely adequate -- until the eD A5-300.

I hadn’t expected much from Peter Jackson’s King Kong when it was released, but I now think that, overall, it’s one of the few worthy remakes of the last decade. Yes, it’s long, and there are a number of individual points that can be taken issue with, but it adds up to one of the better action-adventure movies of recent years. And as a surround demo, you could hardly ask for more, with jungle and ship scenes that fill every speaker in the room fairly constantly. From a bass standpoint, the footsteps of the apatosauruses as they stampede literally shake the earth -- the A5-300 handled them with ease, providing nice thumps that I could feel in my chest.

One of my longtime film references for subwoofer performance is U-571 -- its "Depth Charged" scene is about as severe a test as any of a sub’s ability to produce raw power. To handle this scene properly, a sub needs to be able to play deep, tight, and loud -- all at once. If everything is right, the impacts of the depth charges are startling in their power; if not, they’re just loud booms. The eD A5-300 fell into the former camp.

During this review I had on hand an Aperion Audio Intimus S-10 subwoofer, which costs only $50 less than the Elemental Designs A5-300. The Intimus S-10 has a smaller enclosure that’s veneered in wood, making it more décor friendly and easier to place than the eD A5-300. The Aperion provides clean music reproduction without ever getting overbearing or boomy. However, when it came to raw power and low-frequency extension, it was no match for the larger, more powerful A5-300. Playing high-powered movie LFE effects in a room of medium to large size, the eD sub fairly crushed the Aperion in terms of low-frequency response and total output.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. The two subwoofers have obviously been designed to appeal to different buyers: the Aperion Intimus S-10 for the reproduction of music in rooms of small to medium size, and the eD A5-300 for the hard-hitting power of home theater. Both are excellent subwoofers.

Conclusion

The Elemental Designs A5-300 is one of the highest-value home-theater subwoofers I’ve reviewed in my system. It’s also, by far, the most powerful subwoofer I’ve had in-house since completing my home theater last year. While subwoofers are always an exercise in compromise, the A5-300 makes as few compromises as possible; eD has come up with a winning combination.

For someone who requires top-shelf performance at a bargain-basement price, the Elemental Designs A5-300 demands a very close hearing.

Review System
Speakers - Silverline Sonatina, Paradigm Studio 100 v.3 (mains); PSB Stratus C5 (center); PSB Alpha AV Mite, Infinity Primus 150 (surrounds); Aperion Audio Intimus S-10 (subwoofer)
AV Processors - Anthem AVM 20, NuForce AVP 16, Onkyo TX-DS696
Amplifiers - Anthem PVA 7, NuForce Reference 8.5
Sources - Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player, Oppo OPDV971H DVD player, Sony SAT-HD200 DirecTV receiver, Adcom GCD-600 CD player
Display Device - Panasonic PT-AE900 LCD projector
Cables - Analysis Plus, Audio Magic, Monster Cable, Straight Wire
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Elemental Designs
1618 N. 15th Ave. East
Newton, IA 50208
Phone: (641) 792-2501
Fax: (641) 792-2657

Website: www.edesignaudio.com


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