The more observant among you will know that we have covered quite a few members of the Elipson range of late. Since the company’s relaunch a few years ago, the model line has expanded in include the smaller Planet M, an active subwoofer and the all-in-one Music Centre to power them.
Superfically, the speakers you see here are the spitting image of the Planet L reviewed almost a year ago but with one critical difference. Where on the Planet L you would find a pair of speaker terminals, on the LW you will find a mains socket and a power switch. This is because the LW is an amalgamation of the Planet L and the amplification of the Music Centre. The other feature you won’t find on the LW’s is any form of input on them. This is because the other feature borrowed from the Music Centre is the Kleer wireless module.
The result is a self contained system that only requires your iDevice or computer to become a fully functioning hi-fi system. This is certainly an appealingly minimalist proposition but making active speakers is not a straightforward task. Has Elipson managed to keep the positive features of the Planet L in making the conversion?
As a member of the Planet family, the LW is a spherical standmount speaker. We have discussed in previous reviews of Planets why the choice of a sphere is not a gimmick or lifestyle decision. Historically, Planets have been variations on a spherical theme (although the limitations of drivers and the cabinet materials meant that older models had to be content being roughly spherical). The reason for this is that a sphere represents the smallest volume of cabinet required to achieve a given volume and the lack of corners and flat edges results in a significant improvement in how the speaker deals with radiated energy and cabinet resonance.
The LW is the same size as the Planet L and makes use of the same driver assembly - a concentric pairing of a 6.5’ reinforced paper midbass driver with a centrally mounted 1’ soft dome tweeter. Given how well these drivers work in the Planet L (and in shrunken form with the Planet M) keeping them for the LW seems logical enough. The concentric arrangement has an impressive payoff in terms of saving space and should also allow for a more focussed soundstage as a degree of time alignment is achieved simply by having the tweeter on axis with the mid bass driver.
Instead of the single pair of terminals on the rear, the LW features a single figure eight mains socket and a power switch. This provides power to the defining feature of the LW, a 50W ICE Power class D amplifier. This is the same amp used in the Music Centre all-in-one system and is one of an ever growing range of ICE Power options available from Scandinavian lifestyle supremos Bang & Olufsen. The use of a Class D amp has allowed Elipson to fit the amp and power supply into the Planet chassis without affecting the lines (and bear in mind that the limitation in this instance is the 6.5’ hole at the front that the electronics must pass through as the Planet chassis is a one piece arrangement). In turn, the modules convert far less energy into heat so there is no need for a visible heatsink to mess up the lines.
The most interesting decision that Elipson has taken is that each Planet LW contains a stereo amplifer and is rated at 2x50W. This means that each driver has a channel of amplification and as such the LW is a “true” active with the crossover placed ahead of the amplification. This allows for a degree of control over the amplification that would not be possible otherwise and technically means that it should be impossible to damage an LW using the internal amplification although I stress I didn’t try.
I met the head of acoustics for Elipson at the IFA show in September and one of the most interesting points he raised was that what had been intended to simply be an “Active Planet” actually revealed itself to be a speaker with different behavioural traits to the passive version. Elipson quotes the same frequency response for the LW as it does the L but in practice the active speaker manages to have rather less roll off at this frequency than the passive version. As such, there have been some tweaks to the voicing of the LW to take advantage of this.
The ICE Power amps are not the only feature that the LW has borrowed from the music centre. The Elipson does not have a line input like a conventional active speaker and is instead fitted with the Kleer wireless audio technology system. This will receive a signal transmitted from a matching dongle. In this instance, two dongles are supplied, one for an iDevice such as iPod, iPhone or iPad (the dongle is the older dock type but works correctly with the Lightning adaptor on newer Apple devices) and one that is a conventional USB dongle to attach to your computer.
As a result of this, the LW is more of a self contained audio system than a classic active speaker. It effectively contains a preamp as well so that level can be adjusted by the user independently of the source - a necessary fit as most computers will lock their level when outputting their audio over USB. To this end, Elipson supplies a small remote control to adjust speaker volume and power the LW’s on and off.
The good news is that the same fit and finish that has impressed us with the other Planet models is all present and correct on the LW’s as well. The review pair was supplied in white and the paintwork has the same fantastically deep gloss and completely smooth finish. The grill is fitted with a running light to show the status of the speaker at any time (red for standby, flashing white for on with no dongle locked and solid white for on with dongle detected) and can still be removed although both myself and Russell have found it to be completely transparent in use.
As you might expect, the LW weighs more than the passive L but is still compatible with the various mounting options for the Planet. This includes a floor stand, wall mount and truly astonishing looking ceiling fitting (which although able to hold the LW is presumably going to challenge your electrician in terms of providing power for it). In the box, each speaker is supplied with a mounting ring to prevent your spherical speaker from rolling off the surface you put it on. A neat (if slightly pointless) touch is that the rings are marked “Planet LW” as opposed to “Planet” presumably to avoid us feckless reviewing types forgetting which version we’ve been sent.
As a stereo pair of LW’s has no physical connection with one another, the Kleer system also allows for each speaker to “discover” its partner and work as a stereo pair. This also means that more than one pair of speakers can be made to receive the signal from a single dongle which gives the LW some interesting possibilities in terms of a relatively hassle free commercial installation.
As they are so self contained, there wasn’t a great degree of partnering equipment used with the LW’s. They were installed in my listening room on a pair of Soundstyle Z2 stands and for the bulk of testing were run from my Lenovo ThinkPad. I used a variety of lossless material from via Songbird, compressed material via Spotify, YouTube and TuneIn radio and used them as straight PC speakers while performing some day to day browsing. They were then also tested on the end of my iPhone 4 using a similar suite of software to that on the PC.
The most immediately noticeable thing about the Planet LW is that the performance is “the same but different.” All the trademarks of the passive Planet are still here but the LW still feels like a different speaker. Even attaching a pair of passive Planets to an MC1 (which uses the same amplification) would not result in the same sonic balance that the LW has.
So what has changed? In a word - detail. The Planet L is a very revealing loudspeaker that can find nuances in performances that often go unheard with other speakers. Part of this is down to the concentric arrangement of the drivers that allow for a beautifully focussed and incredibly well defined soundstage while avoiding having a “sweet spot” the size of a fifty pence piece that you have to sit in. The LW takes this idea and runs with it. Even the most congested recording is carefully unfolded and presented in a manner that allows you to experience it in a way that it exceptionally coherent without being forensic.
This is aided by the wonderfully even tonality that the LW’s have. There is a tendency to regard a driver made of doped paper to be hilariously low tech - a stone axe to the guided missile of carbon composites and exotic alloys - but the LW’s are an eloquent demonstration that they can be persuaded to produce a sound that is entirely and unambiguously natural. With a well recorded piece like The Cinematic Orchestra’s Manhatta (a piece of music you have almost certainly heard even if you think you haven’t, given that every program producer and their dog seems to be using it at the moment), instruments are wonderfully rich and vivid - never overblown, just “right.”
The is more to the LW than a sweet tonal balance though. Pick up the tempo and the LW has a sense of timing that is a step forward over the already proficient passive version. Everything starts and stops with exceptional speed and agility. This gives the LW a very clean performance and means that you perceive them as a very “fast” speaker. This is aided by the seamless crossover between midbass and tweeter which thanks again to their mounting arrangement gives them a performance uncannily like an extremely well sorted single driver design, only without the rolled off frequency extremes.
This is most noticeable with the bass where as alluded to earlier, the LW seems able to use the same cabinet and driver to produce more bass extension that the Planet L. Aided by a complete lack of bloated overhang, the LW sounds like a larger speaker than it actually is. The only major difference in listening setup that could also affect this is that the review pair of Planet L’s I had were supplied with their bespoke stands while the LW’s spent their time on the Soundstyle Z2’s I own. Given that the Z2’s actually weigh less than the Planet stand, I don’t believe they would be helping bass but it is worth mentioning.
So are they perfect? Sonically, this is a speaker that gets a great deal right and avoids doing much wrong. Placed too close to walls, they can have a slight tendency towards boominess and there is the slightest sense when you listen to very poorly recorded or highly compressed material that they are showing you exactly what is wrong with it but this is a function of how revealing they are. Sources like Spotify are perfectly listenable however so they are hardly “elitist” in terms of how they present material. Stay off the mono 48kpbs YouTube files and you should be fine.
I have more issues with some aspects of operation though. For starters, the LW’s have some background noise when idle. This doesn’t affect the performance but it is enough that you will automatically seek to power them down. The remote is a little small and easily lost and the volume ramping up and down is rather slow. This is doubly annoying because when you are using the iDevice module and can control the volume via the unit it is connected to, it is much faster. There is also no mute button which is a curious oversight.
I suppose that my biggest gripe with the LW is that having created an exceptionally talented active speaker, Elipson has insured that it can’t ever be a part of my hi-fi system. I understand the rationale behind making the LW a completely wireless product. Furthermore, the Kleer system works exceptionally well and hasn’t had so much as a second of dropout or interruption in the time that they’ve been here. In designing them this way however, the Planet LW is a fairly specialist item. If you live at your computer or are surgically attached to your iPad, they are ideal but even though Elipson has worked hard to keep the price down, they are still a fairly pricey solution.
This is compounded by the sheer number of digital preamps and other items that can make use of a conventional active speaker appearing on the market. A long term resident of my listening room is a Cambridge Audio StreamMagic 6 - a UPnP client complete with digital inputs and DSP based preamp. I suspect that connecting this directly to the LW’s would result in a truly excellent system that took up negligible space. As it stands, this is only a theory though because there is no means of testing it - whaddya say Elipson?
- Lively, detailed and involving sound
- Beautifully built
- Incredibly easy to use
- Quite expensive as a lifestyle accessory
- Sluggish remote
- Some noise when sat at idle
Elipson Planet LW Active Wireless Speaker Review
As a technical achievement, the Planet LW is a class act. The striking looks, excellent performance and very solid build of the “ordinary” Planet L has been seamlessly merged with amplification and control to create an outstanding pair of active speakers. Sonically, the way that they take the strengths of the passive Planet L and add pin sharp timing, exceptional detail retrieval and excellent bass extension means they are a very special pair of speakers. They are simplicity itself to use and further proof that simply because something looks like a “lifestyle” product doesn’t mean that they have to perform in anything other than a truly “hi-fi” way.
Other than the slightly sluggish remote and the price - which is reasonable for the engineering involved but high for a speaker of this design intent - I don’t have many criticisms of the Planet LW beyond wanting them to be slightly more flexible in their connections. I would have loved to have tested them as a conventional active speaker with a normal external preamp. In every facet of the design, these stand comparison with similarly priced active speakers and it would be fantastic to be able to use them in this fashion. This is a decision for Elipson to reach themselves though.
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