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Eltax HT-2 Center and HT-2 Bipolar Rear Speakers

November, 2002

Rob Spray (UK)

 

 

 

Specifications:

 

HT-2 Center:

Power rating: 75/120W (RMS/Peak)
Response: 55 - 20,000Hz
Sensitivity: 89dB/W
Dimensions: 195x440x160
Weight: 5.5kg
Impedance: 4-8 Ohms
Drivers: 2 way shielded 1x 19mm 2x130mm
● MSRP (UK): 79.95/19.95 (List/Street)

 

HT-2 Rear:

Power rating: 60/90W (RMS/Peak)
Response: 50 - 20,000Hz
Sensitivity: 87dB/W
Dimensions: 210x190x145
Weight: 3kg each
Impedance: 4-8 Ohms
Drivers: 2 way 2x65mm 2x100mm
● MSRP (UK): 149.95/99.95 (List/Street)
 

Eltax A/S

http://www.eltax.com

Introduction

Eltax is a Danish company, and frankly I had heard next to nothing about them quietly making their speakers since 1959. The first time I noticed them was as I looked in amazement at the dirt cheap five-speaker sets which have been appearing in the AV corner of most electrical shops. These 100 packages serve to obscure the fact that they have a huge range which doesn't generally filter down to the pond life market sector, some of which have collected considerable praise.

The combination reviewed here is listed in the Eltax catalog under 'Add on', a mix and match set to make your stereo into a home theater - thus HT. The rears, or their near identical twins, appear in a variety of finishes in five other complete ranges as well. This may be because the rears are considered particularly versatile or that they are surprisingly good. They appear as options in ranges from the low budget right up to more serious selections at 1000+, so perhaps they just can't be bothered to design another bipolar! The center isn't nearly so popular, and all the other ranges have their own more conventional design.

I was migrating from a convoluted, discrete Dolby Digital setup to the 'real' (integrated) thing, and since the receiver was capable of vaporizing my motley collection of old monitors, some new speakers were definitely at the top of my shopping list. With the amp already accounting for most of this month's toy money, a quick fix was needed.

As I scanned the newspapers, it was tempting to buy a matched set, but these inexpensive ones were too good to be true, and the expensive ones were too dear to make a snap decision on. I had been looking hard at bipole or dipole speakers, and in the end it was quite a prosaic factor that made my choice. The popular Mission units were actually too wide to fit between the oak beams in my living room. So the choice narrowed to Mordant-Short or Eltax - their bipolar rears are very similar in size and shape. My local grumpy electrical barn had the M-S units in stock but were unhelpful when I tried to audition so I headed to the mean hi-fi buyers' Mecca - Richer Sounds.

Build Quality and Appearance

The three units make up a strange, physically mismatched family, as the center is as unusually large as the rears are compact. Although they are all nominally black, the center is dressed in a paler 'stained pine' black, whereas the rears are covered in a jet black wrap. Their tacky silver plastic badges rankled the discerning senses of the domestic arbiter of aesthetics, but otherwise there is little to offend, and the big center actually blends in, hiding in the dark under my TV set.

The HT-2 rears are small, neat and dense, all edges are rounded, and the MDF frame for the mesh is radiused to continue the smooth line. The end panels - top and bottom - are in fact plastic caps. These aren't especially pleasing but are very hard and very dense - which I discovered by dropping one of them and damaging some furniture. They feel and sound very solid. The overall impression is that they were milled from solid MDF because they are so small.

The cable terminals are stocky chromed brass numbers which could take banana plugs - if the there was enough space behind them when they are hung on the wall. Wall mounting is the default for these little boxes. The packing proudly proclaims that brackets are included. For brackets, read 'keyhole slots for hanging on a screw'. It works well, which is lucky as they wouldn't suit other methods.

The center is an odd unit, and its bulk is certainly at odds with the rears. Centers these days all seem to be plain boxes, but this one shares the trapezoidal section of the rears. This means that it leans back and fires up at about 30 degrees. Fine for under the TV but not a whole lot of help if you want to put it on top. In truth, the bulk of the unit is probably going to stop you balancing this on top of any telly anyway. The rear of the unit is a typical 125mm high, but the front is 200mm high. Quite a size to hide. The drivers used aren't an exceptional size, and the bulk must be down to the inch-thick walls of the cabinet. As is often in a center, there are two bass drivers and a paper tweeter. The box isn't ported and comes with some stick-on rubber pads rather than spikes in deference to the finish of your TV or its stand. Note however, that rubber can damage lacquer and varnishes too, so beware.

Round the back of the units you can enjoy an Eltax feature joke which I gather has been going so long that it must be included intentionally for comedy value. The rating stickers (photo shown above) suggest the power handling in Music Power and "Sinus" power. Sinus power? Perhaps that's the point when nose bleeds ensue? Actually, it probably is just a derivation of the foreign language translation of "Sine".

In Use

In the catalog, the differentiation is between sustained and short term power, which makes more sense. One would hope that this corresponds to RMS  and peak power ratings. Given that 100W AV receivers are the rule rather than the exception now, these ratings should make them safe for normal use, although if you watch dance music tracked movies all the time at high volume, then you'll want higher ratings, and to book ahead at the ear clinic.

Notes by Colin Miller: Power ratings for speakers are very difficult to standardize. The power limitation for the lowest-frequency driver is usually the excursion limits. Any RMS value will most likely be the continuous power that the voice coil of the driver can absorb before actually melting. Not only is it not realistic to operate a loudspeaker continuously at this level, as the performance would be lacking, due to excessive compression if not horribly distorting, but that would very much depend on exactly what driver we're talking about. Woofers can often handle 100 watts or even 500 watts on a continual basis, while tweeters that can handle 100 watts continually are exceptional, and the more typical truth is 30-70 watts.  This doesn't necessarily mean that tweeters are usually the weakest link from a practical perspective, because the signal distribution spectrum is usually weighted to content below 500 Hz anyway.  Higher power handling, coupled with good efficiency, is always nice for the sake of less dynamic compression. The problem with peak power handling, in addition to the problems inherent with continuous power handling, is that it's transient by definition.  Exactly how long is the duration? 1 ms? Good for a single cycle @ 1 kHz, or in other words, good for nothing. 10 ms? Good for a single cycle at 100 Hz (which will never happen with music) or 10 cycles at 1 kHz. Slightly more than good for nothing. Sadly, aside from suggesting that we pretty much ignore manufacturer's power handling specs for any comparison, and keep that info simply as a suggestion, I can't offer anything more useful as an alternative other than the long way, hooking it up, cranking it to a known SPL with known listening material, and evaluate the sonic detriment, or lack thereof, of higher playback levels.

Having set up my amp with a slight bass boost with a selection of Dolby Digital material, I was surprised by the change in the balance of the mix when I switched to the DTS version of "Shrek". The extra bass in the DTS mix seemed to muddy the vocals somewhat, and so for these tracks, I went back to a flat setting.

Performance

To make absolute decisions about the accuracy of any decent speaker is tricky. It becomes a very subjective process of judging whether you enjoy the development of the soundstage that different speakers offer. How well they suit the acoustics of the listening environment has a huge effect on their audible character. These are not opinionated speakers.

In this case, the center is in most instances a seamless extension broadening a vocal stage across the front of the room.  Joss Ackland's voice is full and distinctive in a Zed and two noughts, Shrek is clearly a Candadian Scotsman, and Annie Lennox is a powerful yet cold diva in her Sweet Dreams guise. The center tends to be the movie work horse, and as such, perhaps a little more bass would be nice. Otherwise, it puts in a strong vocal performance. It carries the dialog in most scenes well and actually copes very well with confused content like the collapsed stereo of live motor racing pit stop action, revving engines, and over excited commentators.

The rears do well with direction, and although their diet back there is rarely tested, they are excellent at ambient detail and make the production flaws in much of the Dolby material on DVD a little too apparent. As bipolar units they are designed to spread the rear soundfield with a diffuse output, radiating fairly evenly from their center. Dipole speakers also spread the sound but aim to do it along walls with a dead spot perpendicular. This would make them ideal for side wall mounting anywhere around the line of the audience. My layout dictates mounting on the rear wall, and so the benefit of the spread is lost to some extent, but they certainly don't appear as narrow point source, and their angled sides are perfectly set to cross my sofa. Where I gain is when I am forced to give up the best seats by visitors - there's no precise rear sweet spot anymore, so moving around isn't quite so detrimental to the surrounds. They seem to defy their low rating for sensitivity. This must be an interesting measurement quandry - where is the output measured on a bipole? If it's on its center axis, then it may well be deceptively low in real terms as both sides are pumping air.

Bass phasing doesn't appear to be critical in the more diffuse soundfield perpendicular to the wall, but between them these little boxes need to be in phase.

I tried them as a main stereo pair, and was quite pleasantly surprised. They sound like bookshelf speakers but make a solid impact for such small units. At high volume levels they held together very tightly and soaked up a good deal more than I was expecting. The rendition was tight, punchy, and despite needing power to produce bass, they maintained composure and balance. Their 'fresh from the box' sound very much suited material such the Talking Heads 'Stop Making Sense' concert movie but wasn't full enough for lush orchestration of The Beatles 'Sergeant Pepper'. They were still tight from the shop and will almost certainly bed-in with use. This caveat aside I think they would make a good choice for filling rooms where you unavoidably move around with a crisp, detailed sound.

Conclusions

Eltax has a good name at both ends of the market, and this add-on set does nothing wrong in furthering that reputation. That said, this selection is something of a mixed bag. The center is a disappointment in comparison with the surprise strong performance of the cute rear units. The character of the trio is neutral, complementing a similarly transparent setup. Given a more opinionated front pair, they would perhaps struggle to fit in. A little extra bass for both channels wouldn't go amiss, but there's no need for the level boost that center and rears often cry out for (perhaps the sat and sub setup I have is insensitive as they are!) An audition with your current setup would seal whether they should suit you.

At their list price, I wouldn't be moved to unconditionally recommend these speakers as a set. They are good in most regards but nothing special. The rears are a better proposition and perform admirably. At the street prices on offer they can't help but be considered surprisingly good. 20 for a center speaker for heavens sake! The finish betrays this low cost, but the build is solid. You generally get what you pay for, but in this case there is a great lump of value thrown in.


Review System
Sources
Philips 956 DVD player
Panasonic TU31 Digital Satellite Receiver

Digital Processor/Amplifier/Receiver
Sony STR DB830
Speakers

Front - JPW Mini Monitor

Centre - Eltax HT-2
Rear - Eltax HT-2 Bipolar
Subwoofer

JPW Passive


- Rob Spray -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

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