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.
Even though the Carina has a more upfront presentation, soundstaging and imaging were well above average for this class of compact. During Vaughn-Williams Wasps Overture, there was good if not standard-setting orchestral depth. Layering of string and wind sections was naturalistic, but Carina doesn’t exaggerate spatial details with a recessiveness that can create a false sense of dimension. In soundstaging it has a more straightforward monitor-like signature.
The exoticism of the JET tweeter might get the headlines, but the low-frequency heavy-lifting lands on the shoulders of a modest five-inch mid/bass—a fine driver and a great support player that, in combination with the carefully tuned cabinet, yields a low end that goes admirably deep. For example, during Rutter’s Lux Aeterna from Requiem (Reference Recordings), where the chorale and the pipe organ underscore one another, Carina could claim solid bass extension into the 50–60Hz range. While it courageously hints at the true extension that this recording is capable of, ultimately the low-frequency power of the pipe organ was mostly suggested. Thes presentation was impressive, nonetheless.
Note that Carina possesses substantial midbass output, meaning that placement in your room is important. In my small-room setup I pulled the speakers out at least a couple feet from the backwall; otherwise low-end response was predominant. In spite of these ministrations Carina tended on occasion to impart a thickness to the bass range that in my room I was never able to entirely dispel. For instance, during Ana Caram’s cover of the “The Girl from Ipanema” from Blue Bossa, the acoustic bass was presented as more of a pulse than a group of specific pitches. In this respect, the bass response from the active Elac Navis ARB-51 (Issue 291) was more specific in pitch, timbre, sustain, and decay.
At the end of the day, size does impose some limitations. Symphonic pieces like Beethoven’s Eroica tended to the drier side, in part because Carina could not fully reproduce the massive movement of air that an orchestra generates. The Carina presented the essentials of the symphony, but was not in full possession of all the subtle acoustic and ambient cues.
In exchange for a small footprint and ease of placement, compact two-way monitors like the Carina BS243.4 engage in a complex dance that balances sonics with convenience. Certain performance benchmarks are often just out of their reach. But with the better engineered efforts, almost inexplicably, a kind of sonic alchemy occurs, and they just seem much higher in fidelity than mere specifications would indicate. Elac’s Carina ably demonstrated that it indeed possesses that sonic magic. On a scale of sheer musicality and value, it rates very high in my book.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Two-way, bass-reflex
Drivers: JET folded-ribbon tweeter, 5.25″ aluminum cone woofer
Frequency response: 46Hz–30kHz
Nominal impedance: 6 ohms (4.8 ohms minimum)
Dimensions: 8.5″ x 12.5″ x 8.0″
Weight: 14.7 lbs.
11145 Knott Avenue, Suite E & F
Cypress, CA 90630
Analog front end: SOTA Cosmos Series IV turntable, SME V, Clearaudio Charisma and Sumiko Palo Santos cartridges; Parasound JC 3+ and Pass Labs XP-17 phonostages
Digital front end: dCS Bartok DAC, dCS Puccini (SACD), Lumin S1 Music Player, Synology NAS, MacBook Pro/Pure Music
Electronics: Aesthetix Mimas and MBL Corona C51 integrated amplifiers; Pass Labs XP-12 preamplifier
Cables and power cords: Wireworld Silver Eclipse 8 interconnect and speaker cable, Audience Au24SX cables and power cords, Synergistic Atmosphere Level Four and Shunyata Venom NR power cords
Digital cables: Audience USB, AudioQuest Carbon FireWire; Wireworld Starlight Cat 8 Ethernet
Power conditioners: Audience aR6-T4 and Shunyata Hydra
Accessories: VooDoo Cable Iso-Pod.
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