Elac Navis ARB-51 Bookshelf Speakers Gloss White
Sublime sound served up with serious power.
ELAC’s new Navis Series answers every minimalist audiophile’s dream of a no-compromise powered speaker driven by best-inclass amplifiers that are truly deserving of the name “high end.” While most powered speakers rely on Class D digital designs, ELAC engineers build in 300 watts of pure analog amplification— for maximum power and exceptional sound. Add the Discovery Connect wireless transmitter to your system, and Navis becomes a wireless speaker that lets you enjoy streaming content without a cable in sight.
The German hi-fi brand Elac dates back to the 1920s, but has lately undergone a renaissance. Following a business reorganization in 2014, Elac established an American subsidiary charged with developing affordable, high-performance loudspeakers. That task was assigned to Andrew Jones, who in 2015 joined Elac as vice-president of engineering, following highly accoladed engineering feats at KEF, Infinity, TAD, and Pioneer.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that Elac has been on quite a roll lately. From its entry-level Debut series to the Uni-Fi series and more recently the Adante, the Elac team has been firing on all “cylinders” at embarrassingly affordable prices. So just when you’d expect the team to go on a well-deserved holiday and recharge its batteries, here comes a new active series called Navis.
The Elac Navis ARB-51s come equipped with Elac’s amplification package—a tri-amped system that supplies 160W of BASH amplification to the woofers, 100W to the 4" midrange, and 40W of Class AB to the 1" tweeter.Thus, according to Elac’s designer Andrew Jones, the Active Navis speaker represents a pure analogue signal path with electronic crossover on surface-mount boards—no DSP needed or wanted.There is a lot to be said for well designed speakers with inbuilt amplification as there are benefits inmatching the required amplification to the speakers needs to maximise the end result. Going “active” means that losses and distortions associated with passive crossover components are virtually eliminated.
Conratulations to Elac, who didn’t want to bring to market a product chock-full of digital tech that might ultimately be frozen in time as innovations come to the fore. Rather, let the owner take charge of these decisions if he so desires. Elac does offer “options” in the form of an outboard streaming module, which activates the built-in proprietary AirX2 protocol to stream 16-bit/44.1kHz signals. It also supports AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon, and Bluetooth.In setup, the active component of the ARB-51 allows owners to consider a simpler, more economical path to system building. For example, network/server-based enthusiasts can bypass a traditional linestage preamp in favor of a volume-controlled DAC, and drive the Navis directly.
The Elac conveys a weighty dynamic bottom-up sound that suggested a speaker that not only doesn’t need coddling but actually dares you to crank it up.More than any other speaker of its dimensions, the Elac balances these forces with a musicality that is rarely heard in this range.Ultimate bass extension confidently plummeted into the forty-cycle range or so. But the ARB-51 is no midbass slouch. Its response is quick and tight and tuneful with little evidence of port overhang. A hallmark of active bass is the way it grabs onto rhythm tracks, orchestral percussion (like kettle drums), or organ pedal points with the steely grip of a raptor. But pivotal was the equilibrium of extension, pitch, and control that the speaker displayed in the lower mids and below.
In fairness Elac is asking a lot of a five-inch woofer, and it can’t be expected to deliver the textural and timbral variation and subtlety of a larger driver that can push more air into the room. Nonetheless, its performance in the bass is quite remarkable and exceptionally appropriate for todays music lovers living space requirements.
Turning to overall tonal character, the ARB-51 had a rich, full-bodied midrange that projected a warm, cozy aura that proved ideal for vocals.Imaging and soundstaging are very good, as would be expected from a tight cluster of drivers on a small baffle. The placement of musicians was specific yet naturalistic with smooth edge detail. Importantly, the concentric driver avoided any beamy behavior and was well integrated into the overall voice of the speaker. The concentric transducer is a specialty of Andrew Jones and the Elac team, and it shows. Vocal image scale was a particular standout and with my eyes closed suggested a loudspeaker that was considerably larger than the Elac’s thirteen inches.
As you’d expect from three-way active speakers with 300Wpc of onboard amplification, the ARB-51s could play loud and change level on a dime. Even more striking was how natural dynamic shifts sounded, with a seemingly infinite range of gradations from loud to soft. Because volume ramped up and down so quickly and so naturally, the ARB-51s were able to communicate expressive nuances very effectively, enhancing the emotional content of whatever you are playing.
With its flush-mounted drivers and softly rounded edging, these are designs of striking simplicity and taste. Fit and finish are outstanding and produce an aesthetically pleasing piece that will grace your living space. It’s awfully impressive that Elac’s Navis ARB-51s compare so favorably with an active speaker costing three times as much.There’s so much to admire about Elac’s Navis ARB-51 -- their neutrality, their warmth, their expressiveness, and, of course, their incredible value for money. The ARB-51 rockets straight to the top of the charts.
Speaker type: 3-Way Powered
Tweeter: 1″ Soft Dome Concentrically Mounted
Midrange: 4″ Aluminum
Woofer: 5-1/4″ Aluminum
Frequency Response: 44Hz – 28kHz
Crossover Frequency: 2.2kHz / 260Hz
Total Amplifier Power: 300 Watts Total
Bass Amplifier: 160 Watt Bash Amplifier
Midrange Amplifier: 100 Watt Bash Amplifier
Tweeter Amplifier: 40 Watt Class AB Amplifier
Inputs: RCA / XLR / AirX² Wireless
Cabinet finishes: Gloss Black, Gloss White, Gloss Ebony Emara
Net weight (each): 17.85lbs