Sonically the ELS8 punches well above its weight class. On my desktop I actually preferred the ELS8 to the $1200-per-pair Acoustic Energy Radiance 1 speakers. Why? Because the ELS8 has less bass augmentation from its rear port so it integrates with a subwoofer far better. Also the ELS8 creates a sizable sweet spot that doesn’t waver when you move your head too far to the right or left of center. The ELS8’s sweet spot was equal in size to that of the Spendor SA1, which generated the most voluminous listening zone I’ve experienced on my desktop.
What else does the ELS8 do well? It images and disappears like a good mini-monitor should. Even when they were only 1½ feet away on my desktop, I was unable to pinpoint the speaker drivers’ exact locations after my “spin and point” test. For this test I put on a blindfold (courtesy of British Airways from back in the days when they actually gave you something more than a stiff upper lip), played music on my desktop, and spun around in my computer chair a half dozen times. Then I tried to point where I thought the speaker drivers were. On good speakers I get it wrong, and yes, with the ELS8 speakers I consistently missed the mark.
Some speakers put the front edge of the soundstage at the speaker’s front baffles while others move it behind them. The ELS8s are among the latter. I like this, especially on a computer desktop in a nearfield environment. They also do a commendable job of preserving depth on recordings that actually have some natural depth. While the ELS8s don’t have quite as much separation in the back third of the soundstage as the Paradigm S1 speakers, the Epos matched the Paradigms on the front two-thirds. The Epos also produced an equally wide and properly proportioned soundfield with only the slightest bit of curvature at the extreme outer edges.
Unlike many budget-priced speakers, which achieve only a middling level of resolution, the ELS8’s resolving powers are exceptionally good. Because they don’t add any artificial grain or texture, which would obscure subtle musical details, they make it easy to discern extremely subtle musical cues. On the latest Sara Watkins solo album [Nonesuch] her lead vocals have a delicate airiness that can all too easily blend into the trailing edges of Sebastian Steinberg’s percussion tracks. The ELS8s preserve the individuality of each of these two similar-in-timbre parts. Also the ELS8s do a superb job of differentiating between the different sonic characteristics of recordings. You can immediately tell if a recording is analog or digital, minimally miked or multi-tracked, through the ELS8s.
Most small speakers suffer in comparison to big burly floor-standing brutes when it comes to dynamics. But on my desktop in a nearfield environment the ELS8s do a surprisingly good job of keeping dynamic contrasts largely intact. Although the ELS8’s micro-dynamics aren’t quite as good as those of the Paradigm S1 or ATC SCM7, the ELS8 nearly matches both in terms of overall macro-dynamics. When it comes to crashing orchestral fortissimos the Paradigm S1 does have a bit more headroom, but on commercial pop recordings you’ll have to push the ELS8s mighty hard before they show signs of distress. If you want or need to eke out a couple more dBs of low-distortion SPLs from the ESL8s, try using a THX-standard 80Hz crossover to relieve the ELS8 of low-bass duties and employ a subwoofer (or two).
Speaking of subwoofers, integrating the ELS8 with subs was far easier than with the Acoustic Energy Radiance 1 speakers. In fact the ELS8 mated with a wide variety of subwoofers from the diminutive Aperion Bravus 8D to the burly JL Audio f112 Fathom with the same ease as many sealed-enclosure mini-monitors I’ve used. In all cases the THX standard 80Hz crossover point worked nicely.
Like any small speaker, the trick to wringing the maximum performance from the ELS8s is putting them into the right-sized room. I found the ideal listening distance in my own room was approximately six feet from ear to speaker grille, with at least two feet between the speaker and any boundary walls. You can get some room reinforcement for the speakers’ bass if you move the ELS8s closer to the wall, but you’ll lose imaging specificity as well as skewing the harmonic balance away from neutral toward midbass bloat.