Price: $550 USD
Dimensions: 20"H x 18"W x 20"D
Weight: 100 pounds
Warranty: Five years parts and labor
- 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
- Durable black crinkle finish
I havent 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 theyve been very successful. Their
foray into subwoofing for the home is relatively recent and, based on what Ive seen
so far, theyre looking to steal the thunder of that markets price/performance
Elemental Designs is located in Newton, Iowa, about a half
hour from Des Moines -- a long way from anywhere else in the audio world. Its 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
Ive seen in a while. Peter Parker runs a blog on their site that details whats
going on around the company, including the ups and downs of being a small audio
manufacturer. If theyve had a great success, youll 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 Ive always felt
the key to such operations success is outstanding customer service. A search of the
usual Internet forums revealed nearly universal praise for eDs price/performance
ratio and service.
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 its 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 eDs own design -- a
130v.2, high-excursion, two-piece poly cone with dual ventilated voice-coil. If you doubt
the cones 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 dont 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.
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 Ive found too boomy with
nearly every subwoofer Ive 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 Id decided on the location, it was a simple
matter of adjusting the level and phase controls. If your subwoofer isnt in the same
plane as your main speakers, dont ignore the phase control -- it can have a
significant impact on the sound quality. If youre unsure how to properly set up your
sub, check out this
article in the GoodSound! archives.
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. Ive always used the bass line in "Water of Love" to
test with -- its 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 thats 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 Id 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 Id built the theater, Id put foam
pads between the glass and frame of each sconce, and it had proved completely adequate --
until the eD A5-300.
I hadnt expected much from Peter Jacksons King
Kong when it was released, but I now think that, overall, its one of the few
worthy remakes of the last decade. Yes, its 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 subs 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, theyre 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 thats 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 shouldnt 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.
The Elemental Designs A5-300 is one of the highest-value
home-theater subwoofers Ive reviewed in my system. Its also, by far, the most
powerful subwoofer Ive 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.
|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)
Processors - Anthem AVM 20, NuForce AVP 16, Onkyo TX-DS696
|Amplifiers - Anthem
PVA 7, NuForce Reference 8.5
- 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
- Analysis Plus, Audio Magic, Monster Cable, Straight Wire