Offering eye-catching styling, Paul Rigby investigates the Elipson Music Centre HD Black all-in-one hi-fi system
French outfit, Elipson is better know as a producer of speakers. It’s actually a global brand – literally, because many of the speaker designs that it produces tend to be sphere-shaped. This liking for curves can be seen in its Music Centre all-in-one unit. Designed by Jean-Yves Le Porcher, this new version of the Music Centre retains the rather UFO-like, tablet-esque shape that does catch the eye.
Set in a black satin finish, it includes a touch sensitive user interface under the front-mounted CD slot.
Inside are two 120W class-D amplifier modules using ICE Power technology. Around the back are RCA inputs, an optical input, a USB port, a pre-out RCA, 3.5mm mini jack, headphone jack and a SUB output featuring an adjustable filter to cover frequencies between 50 and 200 Hz. The CD player is joined by a RDS DAB+ FM tuner.
I did have a problem with the headphone socket being at the back of the chassis. This has been done to retain the smooth lines of the chassis at the front but this is not a work of art to be admired, it’s a practical tool. Searching around the back on the Elipson, in the dark on occasion, without knowing where the headphone socket is because the unit is sitting on a concealed shelf, will not be a fun experience. This needs to be changed. The same can be said of the MP3 socket and USB port.
Spanning 430 x 170 x 410mm, the unit weighs 5.4kg but picking it up, the Music Centre feels light. That, in itself is not a problem. What does disappoint is the plastic feel to the chassis. It feels a little cheap. Looks great. Feels tacky.
The Music Centre uses the familiar aptX Bluetooth HD protocol, supporting 24bit/48 KHz. An external Chromecast Audio dongle is included to connect to Wi-Fi from a smartphone, tablet or computer.
Getting the HD Black up and running is a breeze. Plug and go, in fact.
I began with the complicated bit, though – setting up Chromecast. To do this, I connected the Chromecast unit to a power source and the other end to the MP3 socket on the HD Black.
To be honest, I dislike the entire installation routine of the Chromecast. It’s very PC computer-like in how it works. Before I turned to the Mac I used PCs for 25 years and edited two national UK PC magazines to boot, so I know how they work – and don’t. Google’s Chromecast brought back many bad memories.
That is, it never works first time, there’s always some issue or glitch or some wrinkle. Yes, I know, many of you will be frowning and wondering what on earth I’m on about and I’m sure, for some, it works without issues but that’s what this sort of kit is all about. Working for some people. Sometimes. I have as many issues setting up Chromecast as I have setting up Yamaha’s MusicCast. They seem born from the same egg. And it’s not just one thing I can point a finger at. The whole install routine is clunky and moany-groany. I did get it to work eventually. Much longer than it should have taken, mind you. By then, I was Mr Grumpyhead so I left the room to calm down with a coffee and a sticky bun.
None of this is the fault of Elipson, as such, but as soon as they can integrate this Google feature into a future Music Center, the better for my sanity.
In the meantime, I downloaded the Chromecast app on my iPhone 8, ‘paired’ the phone with the HD Black and ‘casted’ BBC’s iPlayer. Rather than music, I decided to test the spoken word, always a good test for any hi-fi system. And what can be more vocal than…The Archers!
I was pleasantly surprised just how neutral the sound was. There was no harsh emphasis in any area of the frequency spectrum but with an additional element of space that provided a wide and even spread of sonic organisation. Despite lacking a bit in lower frequency resonance, what appealed was the well shaped vocal registers, giving the sound a useful texture. The bass was not overly emphasised but there was enough tonal balance to help create an overall emotional picture.
I then moved to Spotify and played Can’s Thief. The streaming was a little light in terms of lower bass strength but the overall presentation remained admirably neutral in tone with that familiar upper midrange providing a heap of air for the extended upper frequency output. Percussion was crisp and precise without ever being bright while the vocals were both expressive and consistent over the wide angled soundstage.
On a similar theme, I then connected the unit, via Bluetooth, to my MacBook and fired over the 24bit/96kHz song, Big Bad Girl from the blues shouter, Harry ‘Big Daddy’ Hypolite, playing through Audirvana Plus and, I have to say, I was very impressed. The Bluetooth module provided a spacious, wide soundstage with admirable detail across the frequency array. Hypolite’s acoustic guitar offered a sense of precision and emphasis during strumming while the vocal, occupying the central stereo image, was pushed back to add a 3D effect.
I then moved to CD and found that I needed to lower the gain a tad before proceeding. Once done, I played a slice of Bing Crosby from the album, Sings the Sinatra Songbook and the classic, The Lady is a Tramp. Here, the signature vibrancy of the Crosby baritone was immediately detailed with a expressive and sensitive presentation. The HD Black was able to track the varied nuances of the Crosby performance, giving the sound a host of shadings and allowing the vocal varied degrees of emphasis. Even breath taking throughout the song was noted by the HD Black which added a sense of immediacy.
Blake Baxter’s thundering techno-fest, Where is the Love did threaten to swamp the soundstage with the dominant bass beat but the bass itself was focused enough to easily reveal a delicate triangle ‘ting’ effect behind the beat and the the rear of a soundstage that offered a sense of depth. The effective instrumental separation never allowed the music to sound crowded.
I tried the built-in headphone stage at this point as was pleasantly surprised at the quality. That trademark air and space was present here, expanding the soundstage to the limits and allowing both percussion and voices a broad choice of placement across it, giving the music a relaxed and unhurried feel but with lots of bass power and impact to drive the track along at pace.
Next up was my Astel&Kern AK120, connected via the optical port and Bob Marley’s Jamming at 24bit/96kHz. Again, I had to lower the gain a tad from the CD’s level, this time. Once more, I was impressed by the separation of each instrument from the next and from the instruments and the vocals. The air and space around the soundstage gave the entire presentation a larger and epic perception that filled the room with music. You never really felt that the music was coming from a point source, there was an element of the theatrical about this performance with detailed persuasive detail blending with precise but not overly emphasised bass guitar and easily found delicate secondary percussion. The female harmony vocal backing was impressive by its detached position, giving it slightly more significance that is often the case by competing equipment.
The HD Black looks different. Always a good start because that encourages the double-take syndrome. But it also sounds different to many other all-in-one systems. That open and spacious sound expands the impressive soundstage constructing the illusion that you’re getting more: more music, more detail, more value in fact. An impressive option for those looking for a relatively small footprint all-in-one system offering a host of bells and whistles.
ELIPSON MUSIC CENTRE HD BLACK
Tel: 01628 857958
FOR: neutral presentation, styling, value for money, soundstage organisation, spacious mids
BAD: headphone socket position, plastic feel
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