“Set sails, fasten lines!” How – the saying works differently? Today’s guests, the Elac Vela BS 404, are not only visually reminiscent of sails but are also called that way (Vela, Latin for sails) and come absolutely “wireless” as classic passive loudspeakers. The BS 404 are among the most recent additions from the traditional Kiel manufacturer, represent the large compacts of the Vela series introduced in 2018, and are currently positioned between a smaller bookshelf speaker and three floor-standing speakers. Before putting them on the speaker stands and leash them to the reinforcements already scratching their hooves, let’s look at the Elac Vela BS 404 Bookshelf Speakers (3,198 euros). Previously we have reviewed ELAC Carina BS243.4 monitor speakers as well, in case you are interested.
Because that’s quite fun – in my eyes, the (white) Elac Vela BS 404 are among the most attractive loudspeakers in their class: Instead of a box design, radii, a trapezoidal cross-section, and a distinctive “notch” in the base plate characterize the visual appearance of the high-quality painting and an aluminum plate that closes the MDF housing at the top.
Beauty follows function – the housing of the Elac Vela BS 404
Many design elements are by no means an end in themselves but follow the motto “form follows function”: The lower notch, which promotes the sail optics in the side view, enables the Elac Vela BS 404 to radiate well-defined to the south on the bass reflex side (down-firing) – and the trapezoidal shape promotes the housing rigidity (contrary to popular opinion, on the other hand, it hardly pays attention to the “avoidance of standing waves,” which can be more of an issue with floor-standing loudspeakers in the vertical).
Of course, the double-layer metal top plate also ensures increased stability. The inner aluminum plate screwed to the housing is simultaneously the crossover carrier, and the second plate resting on it comes with a coated, black outer surface. If you look closely, you will notice that, in addition to the rounded edges of the loudspeaker housing, the baffle is also slightly convex in shape: only in combination can edge reflections – which ultimately act like phantom sound sources – be prevented as effectively as one would imagine with Elac, says chief developer Rolf Janke.
Many small adjustment screws and a complete technical package
I ask him – and anticipate the sound description – how one manages to let such compactly dimensioned loudspeakers (412 x 276 x 332 mm, 12-liter volume) sound so level-stable, grossly dynamically gripping, and with a sovereign bass. Ultimately, the overall package, not individual measures, is decisive, according to Janke. Many detailed solutions that have matured at Elac over decades played a role here, such as optimized surrounds, the dimensioning and tuning of the bass reflex tubes, the motors of the drivers, or simple tricks such as their exactly opposite stranded wire outlets. And it certainly has something to do with the fact that Rolf Janke has been tinkering at Elac for over 30 years, which indicates a corresponding continuity in the development processes.
Give me five: the current JET tweeter from Elac
Speaking of the development process: the famous JET tweeter is already in its fifth generation at Elac. The last stage of evolution is characterized by merging technical advantages inherent in earlier versions rather than “insular talents.” Further minimized distortion, a lower cut-off frequency, and high efficiency (92.5 dB) now go hand in hand, among other things. Incidentally, the latter helps to avoid high currents and “blown” drivers after high loads. Correspondingly, almost no failures were reported by customers, says Rolf Janke, and if they did, then almost always some rather experimentally manufactured to handcrafted power amplifiers were involved. The membrane of the JET tweeter of the Elac Vela BS 404 is technically based. Incidentally, Air Motion Transformers (AMT) weigh only 0.27 grams, the moving mass is significantly lower (< 50%), but its area is about six times that of a standard 1-inch dome .
Sandwich with crystal coating: the mid-bass driver
As is well known, the JET tweeter is handcrafted in Kiel, while the 18 cm bass-midrange driver is produced in the Far East. Admittedly according to specific specifications: the cone with its typical, faceted (“crystal membrane” in marketing-speak) membrane surface is a proprietary design resulting from decades of research. The sandwich cone is made of aluminum with a dampening cellulose fiber carrier attached to the back. According to Elac, low ripples in the frequency response, no unpleasant peaks or dips that have to be ironed out with crossover tricks, and a gentle roll-off upwards are among the advantages of the driver, which at the same time keep the crossover effort low while protecting the signal.
Gentle course setting
Last but not least, the high-quality film capacitors (MKP) or air-core coils on the crossover should ensure that the music signal is protected, which, around 2400 Hertz, in conjunction with the electromechanical properties of the drivers, ensures second-order acoustic separation. The efficiency is 87 dB at 2.83 V/m, and the minimum impedance of 3.2 ohms at 240 Hertz characterizes the Elac Vela BS 404 as a 4-ohm speaker. So the efficiency is not great, but of course, these values do not pose any problems for any serious transistor amplifier.
Elac Vela BS 404: Sound Test & Comparisons
Let’s let the tonal cat out of the bag right at the start: Anyone who still assumes that AMTs in general and Elac’s JET tweeters in particular lead to a strikingly fresh or even silvery sound can refrain from the Vela BS 404 (again once) be taught otherwise. About the 404, I would even speak of a slightly earthy sound that many listeners will immediately perceive as “pleasantly drinkable.” Cheers?
Yes, definitely for all those listeners who, after testing the PMC twenty5.21i, Rogers LS3/5a Classic, Neat Acoustics Petite Classic, or Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3, may have feared that a certain high-pitched quality and sound freshness went beyond strictly linear neutrality now added to high-quality compact loudspeakers. Of course, that has its appeal. For example, the crisp, sporty, and yet (assuming high-quality players) stress-free character of the Petite Classic made me sit so spellbound in front of the system that I still cherish having it sent to me again or buying it.
But in the end, tonal properties are among the aspects that can best be filed under the heading “a matter of taste.” In my experience, most listeners prefer warmer sound patterns – which, if possible, still offer sufficient precision and transparency. This brings us to the Elac Vela BS 404 … but first things first, to something completely different:
Small and yet mature: Bass & coarse dynamics
It is absolutely impressive how “mature” our northern lights sound. Regarding bass authority and depth, the 404 beats all the loudspeakers mentioned above and even the aforementioned PMC. And that, although I was already surprised and full of praise for the English monitors in this matter.
Heaving the deep bass impulses that herald every second four-quarter bar in “Am I” by Kode 9 (album: Black Sun) as comprehensively and forcefully as my extremely deep-reaching floorstanding loudspeakers, the Sehring 903 logically cannot do that either. Nevertheless, they work out the impulses in a way I would not expect from compact loudspeakers of this size.
The Elac Vela BS 404 is also in the lead regarding coarse dynamics. The high-precision, true-to-track PMC may also appear a bit jagged – which from a listening psychological point of view, is certainly due to their more researched high-frequency and, therefore, overtone characteristics: The Elac use because they can squander more “mass” with their more voluminous and deeper bass, with correspondingly abrupt ones The bottom line is that more energy is transferred when the load changes. And in terms of sound, they come even closer to floor-standing loudspeakers. Incidentally, this also applies to the level of stability; one could attest the Vela’s suitability for parties – but in the end, I don’t know how wildly you usually celebrate; the ultimate party-level check is left to you when you visit your tolerant specialist dealer.
The Elac developers have given their Vela BS 404 a minimal level boost on the bass side. And on the high-frequency side, a minimal level reduction. Overall, it feels like the frequency response is evenly sloping, a tuning that doesn’t quite follow the strict teachings but still promotes homogeneity and long-term suitability.
Transparency without a silver platter: highs and mids
And the transparency – thanks to which AMT – does not detract: subtleties such as that in the bridge before the first chorus of “White Bird” (Woven Hand – Blush Music) shimmer on the right channel rather than being beaten by the cymbals whispering to themselves perceptible by how I know it from my very ring 903. The latter, however, make such tones appear even more airy and finely polished thanks to their more linear and very far-reaching (super) high-frequency reproduction.
The Elac Vela BS 404 captures all facets of the multi-layered and high-quality electronic sounds recorded by X10 (album: Semblance) that other high-resolution loudspeakers also reproduce. The same applies to the fine dynamics, which is a close relative of the resolution anyway: great, how well perceptible and jagged the sixteenths of the synthetic hi-hat in Clock DVA’s “Final Program” (maxi-single), which are hardly audible on some speakers, are accentuated on the tape to be brought. Or how striking – and not rounded off the bean – the rolls of the drum brush in “White Bird” are on the right channel.
Yes, the reproduction of details and fine dynamics of the Elac Vela BS 404 are the finest, but they do not automatically come to the fore when listening. Here the Kielers are practicing understatement, which has advantages depending on the upstream electronics, room acoustics, recording quality, and taste. Nevertheless, Niki Mono’s singing in “Godless Race” seems even more charismatic and absorbing with my Sehring or Neat or PMC since her voice develops more conciseness and profile upwards and ultimately exudes a bit more charisma – the Vela seems a bit taming here if you like. In return, they form voices, and the mids are generally pleasantly lined and with more full-bodied timbres than the Neat and PMC, illuminating a little brighter in this case. Of course, without the Elac Vela BS 404 being left behind regarding precision/resolution. Unpleasantly pronounced sibilants, which you can catch with the PMC, shine with the Vela on top of that by their absence.
Beautifully manifest: the space
What I like about the Elac Vela BS 404 spatially is the accuracy with which they manifest voices right in the middle of the stage. And how flawless the sound generally detaches itself from the speakers, even if it doesn’t stretch too aggressively toward the listener or vertically. When I press the mono button on the remote control of my Funk MTX, the sound is centered in an exemplary manner, which speaks for a high parity of the speakers.
When it comes to positioning accuracy and plasticity, the BS 404 deliver at such a high level, as one would expect given the two-way compact speaker concept and the price range, without being surprising: They define individual musicians a bit less focused and selective than, for example, the in The masterful PMC or the Sehring 903 (more current version) are capable of this – nevertheless, they give the listener the illusion of credibly coherent-looking actors on a coherently staged and realistically dimensioned stage.
Warms the heart of the listener and doesn’t offend the sound engineer – this is how the qualities of the Elac Vela BS 404 can be summed up in one sentence. Resolution and fine dynamics are very high but do not appear to be superficial when listening due to the generally warmer or milder tonal basic tuning. There are loudspeakers with a more analytical look, which do not reveal more details, but present them even more airily or illuminate them more intensely on the high-frequency side.
The Vela BS 404 deliver a real asset and highlight in terms of coarse dynamics and bass authority – also, about level stability, the Elac is closer to the floorstanding loudspeaker class than typical compact loudspeakers for small rooms. In any case, the Kiel power bolts had my almost 30 square meter listening room with a ceiling height of 3.30 meters under control and 90 centimeters from the rear wall. For rooms under 20, if not better under 25 square meters, you can certainly try the smaller BS 403.
In short: The Elac Vela BS 404 is an absolute test listening recommendation for all those listeners who prefer a smooth, uncomplicated, yet precise sound and, despite a larger listening room, are looking for rather small – and very smartly designed – speakers.
The Elac Vela BS 404 is characterized by…
- A long-term, tonally slightly mild high tone with very good resolution and fine dynamics.
- Pleasant, neutral to minimally restrained, highly transparent mids.
- Given the speaker size and surprisingly mature coarse dynamic and low-frequency capabilities, the Vela BS 404 sound much bigger than they are.
- High-level stability.
- A tonally slightly raised bass contributes to the basic character, which tends to be rather earthy, but the Vela BS 404 does not sound “warm” on the surface, either.
- An unobtrusively precise and contoured bass reproduction, although not noticeably crisp and sporty.
- A great spatial manifestation of voices in the middle of the stage. Flawless detachment of the image from the loudspeakers with good, but not best-in-class localization sharpness or focusing of the stage actors.
- A great design and great workmanship – undoubtedly setting the standard for the price range.
- Model: Elac Vela BS 404
- Concept: 2-way compact box with bass reflex system and Air Motion Transformer (AMT)
- Price: 3,198 euros
- Dimensions & Weight: 412 x 276 x 332 mm (HxWxD), 9.7 kg/each
- Finishes: high-gloss white, black, and walnut
- Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms (minimum: 3.2 ohms at 240 Hz)
- Efficiency: 87 dB at 2.83 V/m
- Other: Bi-wiring terminal
- Guarantee: 2 years