Elipson Music Centre HD Black Edition Review
Time for some music in the round
What is the Elipson Music Centre HD Black Edition?The Elipson Music Centre HD Black Edition is an all in one two channel audio system that offers a wide range of on board sources and inputs, coupled with an amplifier that is powerful enough to run most speakers that are remotely price comparative to it. Those of you with long memories will know that the Elipson is not an all new product however. We looked at an earlier iteration of the design all the way back in 2012 and many of the basic functions of this model are unchanged.
Since 2012 of course, the market for systems of this nature has expanded considerably. As I noted recently, we have reached a point for many users that the need for them to consider anything other than a one box system as the means of getting exceptional performance is something that really only applies at the upper echelons of pricing. In order to ensure that the Music Centre HD Black Edition is able to cut it with the new arrivals, Elipson has been busy giving it some tweaks and tucks. One of these tweaks involves raiding the Google parts bin and equipping it with a Chromecast- something we’ve seen before recently in the Cyrus ONE integrated amplifier. Does a little dose of Google’s magic make the Elipson just what you need for 2018?
DesignAt its heart, the Elipson is stereo audio system with a selection of sources and inputs. Those inputs reflect both that the device is a little older than some of the systems we’ve tested recently but also that as a French company with a strong business in countries that haven’t adopted streaming with quite the same enthusiasm that the British have. Integral to the Music Centre, you get a CD player, two analogue inputs, an optical digital input and an internal FM/DAB/DAB+ tuner. The connectivity is in fact, unusually close to the Quad Artera Solus we looked at recently- although that sports rather more digital inputs than the Elipson does.
These inputs are given power by an ICEPower Class D amp rated at 120 watts into four ohms (so rather less into eight). When the Music Centre was launched, this was a gently radical thing and it’s a testament that Elipson had the right idea that such a fitment is now rather more common. ICEPower modules are developed by Bang & Olufsen and represent a very high quality option in the Class D world and it means that the Elipson should be well served to drive a reasonable selection of speakers.
If those speakers are on the small size though, one feature of the Music Centre is extremely interesting and rather better realised than some rather more expensive rivals. In keeping with many systems of this nature, there is a subwoofer output. Unlike many of those rivals, the subwoofer crossover point can be set on the Elipson rather than simply on the sub itself. For the majority of subs you might be considering to use in systems of this nature, this is not the most important thing going but it still shows a level of thought that can be absent in some rivals.
When we last looked at the Elipson, it made use of a proprietary wireless adaptor system to allow for you to send audio to it via a phone or tablet. This system worked well enough but it was a little restrictive in operation and strictly limited to a (just about) lossless signal. Rather than try and coax more flexibility out of the system, Elipson has instead taken the route of including a Chromecast in the box of the Music Centre and switching the online needs of the device over to that. This might seem a little lazy in comparison to what is happening further up the pricing ladder- with Naim in particular integrating a custom 192kHz capable Chromecast into the Uniti products- but a degree of perspective is needed here. The most crucial aspect of the Chromecast is that it is the clout of Google and the economies of scale they afford that allows it to be as cost effective as it is. For a small company to try and develop something as capable would be vastly more expensive. Like the Cyrus ONE, the inclusion of the Chromecast makes for a much more capable product.
There are some minor irritations that come with this though. The first is that as the Chromecast is external, you will sacrifice one of the two analogue inputs to connect it- although at the very least, the Elipson has a second for use with a turntable or similar. The other is something of a missed opportunity. The Music Centre has a USB connection that can be used to charge mobile devices and this has enough power to drive the Chromecast but unfortunately, doing so from the review sample introduced a fair amount of noise into the audio signal. To be clear, Elipson doesn’t say you should do this and a mains adaptor for the Chromecast is supplied but it would be useful if you could reduce the number of mains sockets in use.
The other big difference for this latest generation of Music Centre is the switch to a black finish. This is naturally very of the moment - black is indeed back right now - and the unique aesthetic of the Music Centre is enough to carry it off. There are some slight detractors to it over the silver in my eyes. The first is that the brushed silver finish really is genuinely lovely and the black masks this a little. The second is that - like many pieces of black equipment, it is a fingerprint trap of the first order.
Despite this, the Elipson is still a very cool looking thing. So little else in the industry adopts this form factor that the Music Centre manages to look and feel effortlessly different to the bulk of its rivals - a device that is as much furniture as it is audio equipment. It is also usefully compact too which makes it easy enough to accommodate in most spaces. The display is clear and easy to read and the rear connections and the overall build also feel very good.
The downsides of the Elipson relate mainly to the bolted on nature of Chromecast. Where many all in one systems now sport apps that control every aspect of the performance, the Chromecast can only undertake control of its own functions, leaving the rest of the Music Centre dependent on a remote which while perfectly satisfactory, is still a line of sight device. This means that it doesn’t feel quite as clever as some rivals. On a more specific note, while all inhaler type CD mechanisms can be a little on the noisy side, the Elipson makes some spectacular noises at times.
So little else in the industry adopts this form factor that the Music Centre manages to look and feel effortlessly different to the bulk of its rivals
How was the Music Centre HD tested?The Elipson was connected to a pair of Acoustic Energy AE1 Classic standmounts on Soundstyle Z60 stands. It itself was connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner for the duration of testing. As well as the Chromecast, some testing of the analogue connections was undertaken by a Michell Gyrodec with SME M2-9 tonearm and Soundsmith Othello cartridge into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage. The optical input was connected to a Panasonic GT60 Plasma TV while the Chromecast took a feed from a Melco N1A and an iPad Air. Material used included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF as well as Deezer, Freeview and Netflix with some limited testing undertaken with CD and radio.
Sound qualityIn part, this section will avoid repetition of some of the aspects of the original review because there hasn’t been a significant change to the core aspects of the Elipson. To be clear though, this is no bad thing. The way that the Music Centre handles the delicate guitar work of Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood’s Black Pudding on CD is a very well considered balance of sweetness and punch. The texture of the guitar and Lanegan’s distinctive vocals is entirely well balanced and very convincing. There is enough sense of weight and scale to make instruments have the heft that they need to be believable. The relatively insensitive AE1 Classic needs a goodly proportion of the Elipson’s volume to deliver what it does but I haven’t run out of headroom at any stage.
When you switch to the Chromecast, the impressive levels of gain that Google has managed to extract from their little device ensures that you are less likely to run out of power using it this way than with the internal inputs. More importantly, used via the totally silent mains USB adapter rather than attempting to power it from the Music Centre sounds genuinely good. A rip of the same Black Pudding album played via the Chromecast doesn’t elicit any significant differences in performance. Furthermore, switch to high res with a 24/96kHz download of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and the Chromecast is able to make good on some of the tweaks in mastering and dynamic range that this version has going for it.
Above all, the sheer flexibility of Chromecast is the winning aspect here. The ability to send any streaming service via the iPad to the Elipson as well as a host of other apps makes for a very capable device indeed. Sure, compared to the (vastly more expensive) Naim Uniti Star, the Elipson feels a little more compressed and lacking the seismic low end but it still sounds more than good enough to sit down and spend an evening pottering through your music collection and enjoying everything you play. This is no less true when using the Cyrus phono stage and Gyrodec. The Elipson captures the rhythmic assurance and excellent bass response of the Gyrodec and still has enough headroom to get the job done- although phono stages with lower gain might have issues with speakers like the AE1 Classic.
The only slight fly in the ointment is the optical input which seems to be a little lower in gain terms and sounds a bit flat with both terrestrial and on demand TV. There are also some unwelcome noises if you unwittingly send the Elipson a multichannel signal. What is taken with one hand is given with the other though and the DAB radio does a better job than some more expensive rivals of keeping this rather flawed format sounding good. As a number of rivals are now internet radio only, you might find this attribute a rather useful one if you’re a real fan of the airwaves.
The ability to send any streaming service via the iPad to the Elipson as well as a host of other apps makes for a very capable device indeed
- Engagingly refined and musical performance
- Well made
- Chromecast adds welcome flexibility
- Not practical to self power the Chromecast from the unit
- Noisy transport
- Slight lack of feature integration
Elipson Music Centre HD Black Edition ReviewThere have been times when I’ve been testing the Elipson where I’ve mentally put a black mark against it as neither being as integrated as some other devices we’ve seen recently nor as capable in absolute musical terms. The thing I’ve then had to do is remind myself is that it is much more affordable than any of them. Even the very keenly priced Quad Artera Solus is another £600 and when you put this in context, you begin to realise that Elipson has played a bit of a blinder. By borrowing from the Google parts cupboard, they’ve given a relatively… ‘mature’… system a feature set that is entirely competitive and done so at a hugely competitive price point. It isn’t perfect- if you’re used to full app control and you have very demanding speakers, you will need to spend more but the Music Centre HD is still able to deliver on the promise of an all-in-one in a wholly satisfying manner that is entirely worthy of recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £999.00
Ease of Use8
Value for Money9
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