The Elac Carina series of loudspeakers nestles in the sweet spot between the affordably priced Debut and UniFi loudspeakers and Elac’s mid-priced Adante line. As of this writing, Elac offers three models in the Carina series: the $1199-per-pair BS243.4 two-way compact reviewed here, the $2398 2.5-way FS247.4 floorstander, and the $919 three-way CC241.4 center channel.
A conventional design in most respects, what distinguishes Carina from similar models is its use of Elac’s well-regarded JET tweeter—a transducer based on the Air-Motion Transformer technology developed by loudspeaker pioneer Dr. Oskar Heil. In TAS’s Illustrated History of High End Audio, Volume I, Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley describes the principle behind Heil’s AMT in detail: “The AMT is similar to a ribbon transducer in that a conductor is bonded to a polyethylene diaphragm and suspended in a magnetic field. And as with some ribbons, the diaphragm is pleated. But the AMT is unique in that rather than the magnetic field pushing and pulling the diaphragm back and forth in a one-to-one pistonic motion, the pleats open and close like an accordion, being pulled open and pushed closed. The ‘Air-Motion Transformer’ name comes from the fact that air is squeezed out of the pleats at several times the speed of the diaphragm’s motion.” Among other things, this means that an AMT is much faster than a conventional pistonic transducer, which translates into higher sensitivity, transient response, and dynamics. Over time, Elac has produced its own refinements of the AMT, including a new neodymium magnet system, which have effectively increased sound pressure levels and extended frequency response. Historically, tweeters of this quality were reserved for more elite loudspeaker lines, but it’s nice to see them implemented in the more affordable rank-and-file.
Visually, the Carina BS243.4 is a portrait of a small stout monitor, barely topping a foot in height. The seamless enclosure—bolstered by non-parallel sidewalls, softly radiused edges, and a smooth, nicely applied satin finish—appears to have excellent construction quality. Elac’s JET tweeter is paired with a 5.25" aluminum inverted-cone mid/bass, which features a large voice coil and an oversized magnet. The diaphragm design uses compound curvatures to control cone breakup and extend operating range. Sensitivity is rated at 85dB, a lower figure that is not uncommon for a small-enclosure monitor that descends as deeply as this one does. In a clever twist on port configuration, Carina is a downward-firing design—a challenge given that monitors of this ilk would ordinarily sit flat on a floorstand or a bookshelf, effectively blocking the port’s output. To take care of this potential issue, an integral metal plinth attaches to the bottom of the cabinet, elevating the enclosure to a height sufficient to allow the port to operate as designed. Nicely played, Elac.
This is the fourth Elac compact I’ve reviewed since the estimable designer Andrew Jones (formerly of KEF and TAD) joined the Elac team. In that period I’ve ascended Elac’s compact line from the plucky Debut B5 and concentric-driver Uni-Fi UB5, to the more recent Navis ARB-51 powered three-way compact. In all my encounters, the Elacs have demonstrated forthright tonal honesty, a bread-basket-sized midrange, and low frequencies that extend well beyond expectation.
The Jones treatment was in full bloom in Carina—a sonic signature defined by a ripe, rich midrange laden with darker walnut overtones. In contrast with Debut and UniFi, Carina ups the sonic game significantly. It offers a sound that is more nuanced and more linear across the frequency spectrum. It also has greater finesse and finer gradients of micro-dynamics, particularly at lower levels, than Jones’ other Elac models. At the frequency extremes it further extends the bottom octaves, while adding smoothness and naturalism to the treble. Its midband is quite neutral, and certainly not tilted upward. On Norah Jones’ “Wish I Could,” for example, it produced a slightly darker, chestier vocal sound, with a rich resonant cello accompaniment—no easy task for a compact. Critically, the JET tweeter never grows overly assertive. Rather, its fatigue-free performance blends invisibly with that of the responsive mid/bass cone driver. This was exemplified during Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, where the JET beautifully reproduced the expressive textures of violin strings and the air from the oboe. In another era, the mixture of ribbons and cones might have spelled disaster—the speed and material differences creating amusical mismatches. Not so here.
Interdriver coherence was very good and port colorations were minimal. Vocals in general were standouts, Linda Ronstadt sang with a purity and palpability during “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” that made my eyes tear up each time I listened. On the other hand, and in comparison with my reference ATC active towers, the character of vocals in general remained slightly on the drier side and reduced the wider envelope of ambience around the singer’s voice.
With Carina’s largest driver topping out at a mere five-plus inches, I was caught off-guard by the low-end impact, dynamic drive, and weight the speaker was capable of. Even at higher output levels, Carina can swing with the best of them, as it demonstrated during the Manhattan Jazz Quintet’s cover of “Autumn Leaves,” where the trumpet solo and acoustic bass backup has left many a small monitor gasping for air. In this instance transients were swift and clean but not pointed or needling. Fact is, it’s the rare small two-way that doesn’t compress dynamics. Carina joined that elite crowd, lively and quick and up to the challenge.