Elemental Designs A6-6T6
For those of you who recall my recent review of the Elemental Designs A2-300 subwoofer,
youll remember that Elemental is a small, seven-year-old firm in Newton, Iowa, that
makes a range of car- and home-audio products. I thought the A2-300 a fine product -- and
a heck of a value.
Elemental sells its products via the Internet and phone
consultation. Marketing director Brett Bell told me that the firm strongly believes in a
one-on-one approach to ensure that any ED system sold is the best match for that
customers room and associated equipment.
The Elemental Designs A6-6T6 ($500 USD per pair) is rather
small as tower speakers go, at 40"H x 11"W x 12"D -- at least, my
48"-tall NEAR 50Me Mk.IIs made them look short. The A6-6T6 is shipped with an
integral steel base plate that accepts its included floor spikes. The cabinet, shielded
for use in home theaters, is finished in the same matte-black paint found on the A2-300
subwoofer; the finish looks as if it will stand up to some abuse, whereas the vinyl finish
of my NEARs, after 12 years and five moves, looks in places a bit worse for the wear. The
convex sides of the A6-6T6s cabinet reportedly help reduce internal standing waves.
The speakers sturdy grilles didnt seem to affect their sound; I left them on
for most of my listening.
The A6-6T6 is a three-way speaker with a proprietary
1.3" (33mm) silk-dome tweeter, a 6.3" (162mm) midrange driver, and two 6.3"
woofers. The interior of the cabinet is in two sections, the larger to tune the
front-ported woofers, the smaller for the rear-ported midrange. On the rear panel is a
single pair of five-way binding posts -- no fancy biwiring for these pups.
I connected the EDs to my main system: Dual CS5000
turntable with Grado Gold cartridge, Sony X303-ES CD player, Magnum Dynalab Etude FM
tuner, and Akai GX-620 reel-to-reel tape deck, all feeding a Linn Majik-IP integrated
amplifier; interconnects were a combination of Linn, Straight Wire, and Dayton Audio, and
the speaker cables were 14-gauge AR.
According to Elementals website, the A6-6T6 is quite
sensitive, at 90.3dB (they dont specify at what input and distance). They seemed
significantly more sensitive than my NEARs, which are rated at 88dB/2.83V/m. I had to
crank up the level control of the A2-300 subwoofer nearly all the way to mate it properly
with the A6-6T6s.
I placed the A6-6T6s about 5.5 apart, and the A2-300
sub between them; the towers were toed-in about 20 degrees toward my listening position,
which was about 6 away. I left them about 20" out from the front wall, but
their distance from that wall didnt seem to make much difference. In this way, they
were less fussy about setup than nearly any other speaker Ive had in my listening
I did mention the price, didnt I? Five hundred bucks.
For the pair.
When I sat down to start taking notes, I was in a rowdy
mood. I played "Frankenstein," by the Edgar Winter Group, from the compilation
disc Electric 70s (CD, JCI JCD-3302). What amazed me about the EDs from the
start, and which this tune brought out to great effect, was the amazingly wide soundstage
they created: It seemed to wrap around me by nearly 160 degrees. At the same time, the
soundstage wasnt especially deep, but that seems a characteristic of the recording
itself. Overall, the EDs sounded a bit mellower than the NEARs.
"Then Came You," by the Spinners and Dionne
Warwick, from Pure Disco 3 (CD, Polydor 31456 5357-2), also offers a mighty
wide soundstage. But when played at very high levels (over 100dB), the songs
plentiful highs, mostly from the hi-hats, caused the sound to glaze over and become
blurred and indistinct. This didnt happen all the time and ceased as soon as I
turned the amp down a few clicks, but these may not be the best speakers for those who
prefer stadium sound levels.
"You Can Call Me Al," from Paul Simons Graceland
(CD, Warner Bros. Archive R2 78904), was reproduced in a manner similar to the other
tunes: good, solid bass (from the A6-6T6s on their own, and with the help of the
A2-300 subwoofer); slightly mellow, recessed midrange; and smooth highs (so long as I
didnt crank the volume too high). The percussive effects in this song sounded crisp
Ive recently been reading Fever: The Life and
Music of Miss Peggy Lee, by Peter Richmond, which led me to pull out my copy of The
Best of Peggy Lee (CD, Capitol CDP 8 21204 2) to hear her definitive version of
"Fever." If youve never heard this track, youve missed
a jazz tour de force. Its just Lee, guitarist Howard Roberts on finger snaps
(Lee cut his instruments part), bassist Jack Mondragon, and drummer Shelly Manne
using his fingers -- no sticks -- on snare and tom-tom. Richmond describes
"Fever" as "the sexiest song that Peggy Lee -- or maybe anyone -- ever
sang." Through the NEARs, Lees voice comes across as a bit honky; the more
subdued character of the A6-6T6s offered a more realistic performance. Again, the
soundstage was as broad as the Iowa cornfields, but not as deep as through the NEARs. The
sub, and the woofers in the A6-6T6s, gave the bass and bass drum some nice heft. All in
all, a fabulous job on a fabulous performance.
The rest of my notes on pop and jazz recordings continue in
a similar vein. But after spending a good deal of time listening to EDs A6-6T6s with
their A2-300 sub, I asked Brett Bell what kind of music Elemental Designs designer,
Ben Milne, listens to most often. He said that Milne listens to lots of different kinds of
music, depending on his mood, but that if he had to pick one, it would be male singers
accompanied by acoustic instruments. That surprised me -- Id found that where the
A6-6T6 excelled was with many types of classical music.
This came to me while I was reviewing the A2-300. I played
Bachs Toccata and Fugue in D Minor to see how well the sub could reproduce the pipe
organs pedal notes. The A2-300 certainly did the low bass justice, but the A6-6T6
did a fine job on the rest of the notes. For truly full-range reproduction, the A6-6T6s
did need the subs bass reinforcement; by themselves, their bass reproduction was a
tad light. There was very good articulation of the keystrokes -- an organ must rely on the
acoustics of the room its in for any sustaining of notes; the organ is either on or
I played Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops
performance of Leopold Stokowskis orchestration of another Bach work, the
"Little" Fugue in G Minor, from The Fantastic Stokowski (CD, Telarc
CD-80338). With this recording, possibly because it was recorded in Cincinnatis
spacious Music Hall, the depth of the A6-6T6s soundstage was greater than with the
pop or jazz tracks. The strings were suitably recessed (the Music Hall has a rather dark
character with strings), but the flute and other winds were reproduced commendably. Then
there was the solidity of the double basses and timpani. Overall, it was very satisfying.
I then tried a piece of a very different nature: Leonard
Bernsteins overture to Candide, with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony
Orchestra (CD, London 452 916-2). This time the depth of the soundstage was outstanding,
but it was a bit narrower, though still plenty wide. The strings had a very silken sound,
while the brass was typically BSO: fairly forward. The contrapuntal snare drum near the
pieces end was perfect -- distinct but not too forward -- and the triangle, usually
buried among the general hoo-ha at the end, was clearly present and accounted for. Again,
a very satisfying performance by the A6-6T6s.
I was extremely impressed by Elemental Designs A6-6T6
towers. While their overall sound is refined and works well with jazz and classical, they
can still get up and rock -- so long as you dont require break-the-lease sound
levels. But if your taste runs to, say, Cerwin-Vega or JBL speakers, the A6-6T6 is not
for you. However, if you (as do I) enjoy the sound of British minimonitors, or if your
electronics tend toward brightness, the A6-6T6 may be right up your alley. It isnt
the Holy Grail of speakers, but at $500/pair its a stone bargain. By all means,
check em out.
. . . Thom Moon
Price of equipment reviewed