Elipson Music Centre Connect HD All In One System Review
- Comprehensive and effective spec for the price
- Lively and articulate sound
- Well made
- Feels a little bass light
- Some interface quirks
- No HDMI ARC
Introduction - What Is the Music Centre Connect HD?
The Elipson Music Centre Connect HD is an all in one system. Those of you who have been reading AVForums reviews long term will also know it is not a new all in one system either. It has in fact been nearly a decade since this distinctive looking device first hit the UK market. Instead of junking a piece of industrial design that they were clearly very happy with, Elipson opted instead to tweak the feature set of the Music Centre to keep it competitive and relevant.
This is a solid business plan but some of the intervening feature updates have felt a little tacked on. Adding Bluetooth was a savvy decision but the expedient of simply adding a Chromecast Audio to the box, as was the case with the last version of the Music Centre we reviewed, felt like the sort of thing that a company that didn’t have an interface to its name might do. It worked well enough but, in the face of rivals that had an interface built in, it didn’t feel as homogenous.
The Connect HD is here to correct that. Boasting Elipson’s own interface that we first saw in the W35 wireless speaker, it gives this comparatively venerable design a new lease of life in two areas. First of all, it means that this latest version of the Music Centre can now keep network audio rivals honest and secondly, it gives scope for Elipson to sell you a household’s worth of devices that all communicate with one another. Heading up to a decade in production, does this ensure that the Elipson can still challenge for top honours? Read on to find out.
Specification and Design
Ten years, ago a device that had publicly made the switch to Class D was still relatively unusual. It’s a reflection of the progress that we’ve made in this gently reactionary industry that this is no longer the case. The Music Centre continues to make use of one of the smaller commercially available ICE Power amps that gives it 120 watts into four ohms and an unspecified amount into eight. This is sufficient for the sort of speaker that the Elipson is going to be called on to drive. It’s compact, energy efficient and cool running.
Another feature that continues is worthy of praise too. The Elipson is fitted with a subwoofer out in keeping with most products of this nature but, unlike most of them, it is possible to set a crossover frequency on the Music Centre which can help with integration of a 2.1 system. Given that Elipson continues to sell the Planet M and Planet Sub to undertake this role, it’s in their interest to do so but it’s still something that is not routinely specced on rivals.
Something else that is worthy of note is that, as the Music Centre has evolved over the years, it presents a specification that is slightly different to something that has come from a clean sheet of paper in 2021. The Elipson retains the ability to play CDs; something I regard as a bit of a novelty in my own listening habits but an activity that many people are very keen on. It can still access FM and DAB and store them to presets rather than being completely dependent on internet radio. The decent Bluetooth implementation is retained too. In short, if you’ve been consuming music in a ‘pre network audio’ fashion, you can continue to do so while adding new functionality to your listening.
The external connections are also unchanged. The Music Centre has a pair of RCA inputs and another analogue connection on a 3.5mm socket. There is additionally a single optical connection that works to 96kHz. It’s here that the Music Centre is perhaps showing its age a little. A single optical connection is good enough to allow for a TV to be supported but rivals are frequently a little more flexible and HDMI ARC is increasingly widely supported too. The arrival of the streaming interface heads off some of the requirements but not all of them and some people might find this too restrictive.
The Connect app, as noted, is the same as the one built into the W35. It seems to be Elipson’s own work (or least bespoke to Elipson) and combines the ability to read a UPnP library with internet radio and streaming services. In the latter case, the Elipson supports, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer and Spotify and Napster. These on board services are supported by AirPlay but not Chromecast (which the older version did support but only by dint of having the Chromecast Audio supplied. There is some suggestion in the documentation that the maximum sample rate is 24/96 but the review sample has played 24/192 content without issue so, even if it is downsampling, it seems to do so seamlessly.
For a relatively new streaming interface, Elipson Connect is refreshingly free of truly annoying issues. I don’t understand why it is portrait only and the long single list of albums is far less satisfying than a tile view but these are fundamentally less important than the more positive aspects of the design like the fact that, in its time under test it has been completely stable used on iOS and Android (and noticeably smoother and faster than when I tested it as part of the W35). The Elipson isn’t as good as the Naim interface or BluOS. It is as good as DTS Play Fi, the interface of the KEF LS50 Wireless or the the bolstered Formation app that Bowers & Wilkins released to augment its system. I can get momentarily het up that it’s not Roon ready but I don’t honestly feel that most people will care.
Aesthetically, the Music Centre keeps its eye catching disc shaped chassis that it has retained from the start. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that the rise of robotic vacuum cleaners means there are rather too many things the same shape as the Elipson busy getting themselves wedged under sofas but, taken on its own merits, the Music Centre is still a good looking device. It could be better though. After a few years of black, I feel that the time is right to let silver have another go (or given Elipson’s clear talents for painted finishes, maybe something in that direction). Even in black though, this is an elegant device to have out on display.
It’s not perfect though. I have found the display a little dark and hard to read and the touch controls for the CD player are not as responsive as they could be. The feature stickers that now emblazon the front aren’t very appealing; if you’ve bought the unit, you probably don’t need to have the functionality sold to you again. The remote handset is also not a thing of beauty but does work well and gives the Elipson some flexibility beyond being tied to the app. Build quality is good too, with everything on the Music Centre feeling like it is going to stay put.
As the Music Centre has evolved over the years, it presents a specification that is slightly different to something that has come from a clean sheet of paper in 2021
How Was the Music Centre Connect HD Tested?
The Elipson has been used in wired and wireless configurations on the network, taking power from an IsoTek Evo3 Corvus mains block and a library feed from a Melco N1A NAS drive. It has been controlled from an Oppo Find X2 Neo and iPad Pro 11 inch (which has also been used for AirPlay testing). Speakers used have been the Spendor A1 and Focal Kanta No1. Material used has been CD, FLAC, AIFF, Tidal, Qobuz and some internet radio.
More: Audio Formats
Standard procedure at this point would be to say that, as the Music Centre Connect represents an evolution of the existing version of the product that dates back to year dot, it sounds much the same. The thing is, that’s not completely true. With this statement comes the following caveats. I didn’t have an earlier version of Music Centre to hand and neither was I in the same review space as I was when I tackled the previous review. Nevertheless, the move to streaming seems to have altered some traits of the Elipson.
Many things are very much as they were before though. The Elipson has more than enough power to take either pair of test speakers to any level you might realistically want to drive them to and it’s largely free of any trace of harshness or aggression while you do so. There’s plenty of detail and a decent sense of a soundstage as well. The Elipson manages to do an unfailingly good job with voices and instruments too. It has a trace of midrange emphasis that works to the benefit of both and this is present without having a hugely distorting effect on the rest of the frequency response.
At least, not always. Checking back though my notes for the previous Music Centre was an observation that the optical input felt a little bass light. Having spent some time with the Connect, it is hard to shake the feeling that, in tapping the same DAC for the Connect, there is some of the same lack of bass heft. If you connect a Chord Qutest to the analogue input and play the same content, there is a level of bass extension that the Music Centre struggles to replicate on its own. What’s more, it’s not as noticeable when the same material is played back from the original CD. I genuinely don’t know why this might be and what might be causing it but it does seem to be fairly repeatable.
Happily, it is not terribly difficult to tackle. On the assumption you will be using the network connection for the bulk of your listening, I’ve found that simply using the on board EQ setting to knock the bass up to +2 seems to be quite sufficient to counteract it. With this tweak made, the Elipson is a genuinely good listen. It’s rhythmically fluent in a way that goes beyond ‘competent’ and into the realms of genuinely engaging. With both the Spendor and the Focal, it has delivered a performance that I have been happy to keep listening to beyond that which is strictly required for the business of testing.
Something else that the Elipson does very effectively is balance off the ability to show the benefit of well recorded and Hi-Res material with being able to flatter less than perfect audio sources. Internet radio, AirPlay from YouTube and other activities that can leave some products tripping over themselves to show the flaws in the material are things that the Elipson handles very well. It strengthens the notion of this being an all-rounder to handle the full remit of what a device of this nature might be called upon to do and not something waiting only to do the ‘good stuff.’
Internet radio, AirPlay from YouTube and other activities that can leave some products tripping over themselves to show the flaws in the material are things that the Elipson handles very well
Elipson Music Centre Connect HD All In One System Review
The last all in one to pass through before the Music Centre was the HiFi Rose RS201E. Against the outstanding design and interface of the HiFi Rose, the Elipson can show its age in some key areas. There’s certainly little that the Elipson can do to compete against that glorious full colour display that the RS201 presents to the world. Even the less wholly radical Quad Artera Solus Play presents better connectivity and wider streaming service support.
Key to reaching a satisfactory conclusion about the Elipson though is to remember that list price. It is £900 cheaper than the HiFi Rose and £850 cheaper than the Quad. For nine hundred quid, the Elipson presents a usefully comprehensive specification that balances up to the minute needs with a degree of legacy support than many rather more expensive rivals eschew. The Music Centre Connect is a clever revamp of a longstanding champ and the result comes enthusiastically Recommended.
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