It was easy to appreciate how the UB5’s dedicated woofer and concentric driver have been put to use. Two key issues stand out: The first was the point-source-like coherence that the coincident created. Because the coaxial arrangement creates a near-ideal time alignment, the experience is more akin to a single full-range driver with the benefit of the two transducers both operating within their specified frequency ranges; this can yield a significant improvement in output and dynamic payload, and with less distortion. Compared with the two-way B5, there’s an added specificity, steadiness, and focus to images that are trademarks of the concentric driver. This tighter imaging allows vocalists an even more distinct stage presence that I find especially attractive. Add to that a sibilance range that was natural, sharp, and quick (as in life) but not overdone to the point of drawing attention—qualities I plainly noted during the title track on Jennifer Warnes’ The Hunter LP [Impex]. Another great example was Rosanne Cash’s version of the My Fair Lady tune, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” taken from a PBS in-studio broadcast. Here the UB5 conveyed all the close-miked intimacy of the performance, gently accented with warmth and a you-are-there immediacy. At the more dynamic end of the vocal spectrum, the UB5 reproduced BS&T’s frontman David Clayton-Thomas with all the unbridled brio he’s known for. His raspy, full-throated performance of “More and More” was captured in all its nuance and electricity.
Bass quality was the other most notable improvement—a development I expected in light of the addition of the dedicated woofer (its crossover point is 270Hz). There was rock-solid fifty-cycle midbass output similar to the B5 but qualitatively much more controlled, and perceptibly less reliant on the port. For a dance track such as Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” there was a hip-gyrating amount of midbass slam and door-rattling pulse. Timbral definition in this range could become a bit woolly and indistinct at moments, but having that crucial low-end energy was a tradeoff that more than makes up for this minor issue. To be sure, actual bottom-octave bass (sub-40 cycles) was beyond the UB5, but by any standard this was one game little loudspeaker. Soundstaging was about average in width and depth; nonetheless, Rutter’s Requiem “Lux Aeterna” still conveyed at least some sense of venue dimension and expanse, with discernible boundaries and depth. The height component could have been more convincing too.
To the UB5’s credit and throughout this evaluation I found myself comparing it to far pricier speakers, such as the excellent KEF LS50 ($1500) or the Revel Concerta2 M16 ($850, review forthcoming). Given its meager $499 price tag, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the UB5 has a couple of weaknesses. Transparency was very good for this segment; still there is a bit of veiling. The UB5 doesn’t fully shed the bounds of its enclosure—its cabinet doesn’t fully disappear like those of a handful of more expensive small monitors do. Thus during the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, images often seemed more localized in the box. The tweeter was generally well behaved but when pushed hard, a hint of glare snuck in during the aggressive piano solo from the Manhattan Jazz Quintet’s “Autumn Leaves.” So no, the UB5 is not perfect but the primary point is that it isn’t easily pigeon-holed. It was fiercely competitive with speakers well beyond its price segment.
With the Debut and Uni-Fi series Jones has cemented his bona fides in the realm of entry-level loudspeakers. And once more—this time with the UB5—he has caused us to recalibrate our expectations for affordable speakers. Like a Michelin-starred chef, Jones is a guy who can grab any handful of ingredients and whip up a five-star meal. However, as outstanding as they are, the B5, UB5, and their floorstanding brothers are still entry-level and akin to “small plate” appetizers for many high-end gourmets. Transducer tapas, you might say. But not for long I imagine, at least if the news I’ve been hearing from Elac comes to fruition in 2017. So, whatever Jones and team might be cooking up in Elac’s kitchen it should be quite a feast. Meanwhile enjoy the bounty that is the Uni-Fi UB5. It might just be the best five hundred bucks you’ll ever spend.
Specs & Pricing
Speaker type: Three-way, bass-reflex
Drivers: 1" soft-dome tweeter, concentrically mounted; 4" aluminum-cone midrange; 5.25" aluminum-cone woofer
Frequency response: 46Hz to 25,000Hz
Recommended amplifier power: 40 to 140Wpc
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms; minimum 3.4 ohms
Dimensions: 7.87" x 12.75" x 10.75"
Weight: 16.5 lbs.
11145 Knott Avenue, Suite E & F
Cypress, CA 90630