The Elipson Planet L range has been available in the UK for roughly a year now and has been well received, including a Highly Recommended when AVForums reviewed it here. The Planet M joins its bigger brother and is designed around the same principles. The major difference is that the Planet M is not a full range speaker and is designed to work in concert with a subwoofer. To this end Elipson has released the Planet subwoofer to partner the M.
The Planet M is likely to be mostly used in surround systems but it is also available as a pair and the stereo heritage of Elipson (more of which later) means that the company is eager for it to be seen as a stereo product as well. To this end, the first review of the Planet M is as a two channel configuration. The availability of individual Planet M's at £199 also means that the £1495 5.1 pack can be upgraded to seven or nine channels or you could create a mixed set with Planet M’s in some locations and L’s in others. Alternatively if you are coming over all Turner Prize you can specify the truly astonishing £11,500 “Sound Tree” that mounts multiple Planets (a solar system?) from the ceiling backed up with a sub.
At the moment £749 buys you a huge variety of stereo speakers, be they a conventional stereo pair or another 2.1 system. Elipson are confident though that the Planet M and Subwoofer combination has what it takes.
The Planet M looks at first glance like a Planet L that has been carefully shrunk. This means it is a near perfect sphere 15 centimetres across. An advantage of using a sphere is that it is possible to mount a surprisingly substantial driver for a relatively small speaker. This is a 10 centimetre doped paper type. This in turn mounts a 2cm silk dome tweeter in a dual concentric arrangement. With many manufacturers producing drivers from all sorts of exciting metals and composites, a paper and silk combination might not sound that exciting but my experience suggests that done well, it has much to offer in terms of tonality and smoothness.
One key difference between the Planet M and the Planet L is that the smaller model does without the rear bass port and is instead an infinite baffle design. This is a logical decision to make with a satellite that will be underpinned by a subwoofer and has some benefits for positioning as well. A single pair of sturdy terminals allows for spade, bare wire and banana plugs to be used. The grilles are non removable which in absolute terms is detrimental to the sound quality but based on my experience with the Planet L (where they can be removed) suggests that they won’t make a huge difference.
Now, with every justification, you might be looking at these spherical curios and assume that they are lifestyle trinkets and that their shape is a fashion gimmick. With this in mind, it might be worth looking at the picture below.
What you see there are the ancestors of the Planet M and you will note that they are not lying around a chic apartment looking swish. Elipson is one of the less well known French brands but they have a considerable claim to fame. For decades, they were the official loudspeaker of French television and broadcasting and many studios followed suit in using them for monitoring. Elipson is as synonymous with French television as smoking, philosophical debate and gratuitous nudity.
The spherical design creates the lowest level of cabinet colouration short of having no cabinet at all. Original Planets were fibreglass and had separate mid-bass and tweeter housings but the basic design and intent remains unchanged. Far from being a lifestyle statement, the Planet M has the potential to be a very clean and accurate loudspeaker indeed.
The matching £399 Planet Subwoofer is of more conventional design than the Planet M but a smart looking unit nonetheless. This is a downward firing, ported, active design that is built around a 200W Class D amplifier and a 20cm driver with a reasonably long throw. This is a relatively simple design by the standards of some similarly priced designs. High and low level inputs are supported and there are rotary controls for volume, crossover frequency and a phase switch. There is no form of on board EQ and any adjustment is done from the rear panel. This is not the end of the world, good stereo from a sub sat system is dependent on the raw ingredients rather than bells and whistles but I would prefer top panel controls even if it came at the expense of a little aesthetic elegance.
The good news is that the fit and finish of both components is absolutely superb. Each Planet M is a hefty little thing that feels extremely substantial. The subwoofer doesn’t feel quite so beefy but is still well assembled for the price. The paint finish is perhaps the best aspect of the lot. It is absolutely flawless on both the satellites and subwoofer and is available in black, white and red. This is not a cheap product but arguably feels more expensive than it actually is.
Each Planet M is supplied with a mounting ring that allows you to place a ball on a vertical surface without it rolling off. The ring has rubber damping for improved grip and for reducing resonance. The good news is that these make the Elipson’s a cinch to place. The infinite baffle design means they can be placed right up to walls without adverse effect although there is next to no bass re-enforcement from doing so.
I used them on shelving, windowsills and speaker stands and obtained good results in all locations. The cabinets are extremely inert and combined with the mounting rings, they are very effectively decoupled from the outside world. A floorstand and wallmount are also available but were not supplied for review. The net result is a speaker that should be very easy to get working well.
The subwoofer proved equally unfussy. I’ve long been sceptical about the “hi-fi” aspect of high level connections and I found that the line level connection gave the best results. The best integration was achieved with the subwoofer in phase and on axis with the satellites. For the purposes of listening, I mainly used an Electrocompaniet ECI3, Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus and a laptop as a source but also tried it with a Naim Supernait and Yamaha RX-V3900 AV amp.
A sub/sat system lives or dies on one simple facet of the design; does the satellite reach far enough down the frequency spectrum to hand over convincingly to the subwoofer? If this one aspect of the design is not satisfactorily met, all other points of the design however brilliant will be largely irrelevant. The good news is that the relatively large size of the Planet M means that the handover to the Planet Subwoofer is carried out at a convincingly low level.
Elipson quote a minimum frequency response of 90Hz for the Planet M and a crossover set at a smidge under 100Hz on the Planet Sub gave a cohesive crossover that felt seamless and gave the bass response sufficient omni-directionality to ensure that the subwoofer was relatively unobtrusive. Disconnecting the subwoofer altogether and running some test frequencies through the satellites suggested that the Planet M has meaningful output down to 60Hz or so. The dividend of mounting a relatively large driver in the satellite is pretty clear.
Better news is that the Planet M shares many of the positive features of the larger Planet L which was one of my favourite speakers of 2011. If you are still unsure of the sonic benefits from a spherical speaker, a few minutes with the Planet M ought to have you more convinced. Cabinet colouration is something that is easiest to experience when it is suddenly largely removed from the listening experience. The Planet M is not merely uncoloured for a £350 satellite; it is uncoloured for a speaker full stop. Couple this with the focus that the dual concentric drivers have and you have a remarkable little speaker.
Listening near-field with a little toe-in on either satellite presents an incredibly even and coherent soundstage with very little influence from the speakers themselves. There is so little in the way of phase issues or “time smearing” that for the most part the Planet M sounds like a single driver design, only one with no appreciable roll off to higher frequencies. The speed and accuracy that results is very likeable mainly because it isn’t “forced.” Even relatively relaxed music benefits from how quickly notes start and stop and how this results in a very clean sounding performance.
Tonality is good too. In technology terms there is nothing unduly sophisticated about a paper mid bass driver and silk dome tweeter but I have often heard some of the most natural sounds from this pairing. So it is the case here. The Planet M generally manages to sound believably real across a full range of instruments. It is particularly accomplished with voices. Returning to my flavour of the month, Oli Brown, sees the Elipson convey his cover of No Diggity with all the passion and intensity intact. Brown has a considerable vocal range and where the Elipson really scores is how no part of this range sounds strained or forced. With speech radio, this accuracy is nigh on uncanny and really points to the heritage of the brand.
Pushed beyond their normal volume levels- which I would imagine would be sufficient for most UK listeners- the Planet M will harden up a little but only under provocation and even then, they do so in a relatively graceful fashion. They are also relatively forgiving of poorer material which is a neat trick when you consider how revealing they can be of better material. Using Spotify and internet radio services as well as certain YouTube and web material both music and as a backdrop to video was entirely pleasurable and suggests that if you were looking for a very smart PC system, you could do a great worse than the Planets.
As the underpinning of this performance, the Planet Sub is a likeable piece of equipment as well. The best accolade that a subwoofer can really hope for in listening is that it draws little or no attention to itself and for the most part this is what the Planet Sub achieves. The biggest challenge it faces is keeping up with an exceptionally fast and clean satellite. Elipson has achieved this in part by trading speed for outright depth with the Planet Sub. On balance, I think this is the correct decision to make - certainly in the context of a music system. It will be interesting to see how the Planet Sub fares when a full multichannel version of this system is reviewed and whether this slight lack of absolute heft is noticeable.
My earlier gripe about having the controls on the rear panel, are partially vindicated in use. The Planet sub needs very little tweaking source to source but doing so is a bit of a pain and you either end up tipping the sub forward or having the rear panel partially on display. This is not a huge problem and anybody using an amplifier with active bass management rather than a simple pre-out will be unaffected by it. Having visible controls on subwoofers is not a visual problem if they are well implemented however and I think Elipson could carry it out if they were minded to do so.
- Excellent sound quality
- Unfussy placement
- Flexible mounting options
- Great build quality
- Subwoofer trades some impact for speed
- Not cheap
- Looks will divide opinion
Elipson Planet M Speakers & Planet Subwoofer Review
The Planet M and Planet Sub in 2.1 configuration is great fun to listen to and a genuinely impressive design. The star of the combination is the Planet M satellite which takes all of the appealing performance aspects of the larger Planet L and adds extremely unfussy positioning and relatively compact dimensions to the mix. £149 each is no small amount of money for a small speaker (although the saving as a package is useful) but the Planet M has certain abilities that are singular at almost any price let alone this one which must count for something.
The Planet Subwoofer suffers slightly in comparison to the exceptional satellite. By all accounts it is an agile, tuneful and commendably fast design but it faces more competition from rival designs than the satellite does. I don’t want to be seen as damming with faint praise what is a well built, relatively well equipped and capable unit. The Planet Sub is a good match both visually and sonically for the Planet M and I found the results very satisfying. I would be interested to see what other similarly priced designs could do however.
Ultimately, this system faces no shortage of competition both from conventional stereo and rival 2.1 systems at the price point. Listening to the Elipson suggests that this is no mere “me too” exercise and that a great deal of care and attention has been lavished on the design. The looks will divide opinion- I think they look fantastic but plenty of people who have seen them are less convinced and £749 is not exactly cheap but if you are after a system that can work and work well in a confined space, the Elipson deserves an audition.
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