Once upon a time, long, long ago and in a land far, far away (at least that’s how it seems now) all speakers hugged the wall. Popular models like the Linns Kann and Sara and the little AR18 spawned a slew of imitators and pretty soon you didn’t just stand your speakers close to the wall, you braced them against it. Of course, doing so delivered serious amounts of bass weight and scale from the diminutive cabinets that were all the average British home could accommodate, whilst sound-staging and imagery (the main performance areas to suffer) were dismissed as irrelevant at best, the work of the devil at worst.
But, like so many things, the Celestion SL6 changed all that. Speakers could still be small, but now they and their stands demanded the kind of free space previously demanded by large floorstanding transmission lines (it was a long, long time ago…). Reduced frontal area and slim, tall stands were the sop to aesthetics that justified the kind of demand for lebensraum that would have made even Hitler blush. And so it has been ever since. It’s got so that the seriousness of any small speaker design seems to be directly proportional to its impact your domestic space.
Finally it seems, the natives are revolting, although in this case it’s not the British. First that doyen of the highend, Dave Wilson, produced the Duette, a two-way speaker with a near-wall alignment option, and now Sonus Faber (a key player in the move to let small speakers dominate their surroundings) have produced a near-wall design of their own. Okay, so the little Italian is actually intended as a rear channel speaker in surround systems, but that hasn’t stopped enterprising two-channel aficionados spotting and exploiting the potential lurking therein.
The Auditor Elipsa is a tiny two-way design – at least in terms of internal volume. The cabinet shape echoes the other wide but shallow Elipsa models, but in this case it’s reduced to postage stamp proportions. So, although the speaker is only 155mm deep (224mm including the neat wall bracket that’s supplied with it), its frontal aspect is pretty much a foot (340mm) square. What might otherwise be a rather bluff appearance is softened by the contoured side cheeks and contrasting vertical stripes of baffle and wooden cabinet, the latter available in light graphite or natural maple. Drivers are the established 25mm ring-radiator, teamed with a rear reflex loaded 150mm compressed natural fibre cone and integrated via a simple second-order crossover. Connections are limited to a single set of binding posts. Impedance is a flat 4 Ohms, efficiency 89dB and, despite the tiny internal volume, bandwidth is quoted as 55Hz to 30kHz; ahhh… the joys of wall reinforcement.
The Auditor Elipsa proved refreshingly easy to drive, with a range of amps more than equal to the task, but including both the Emille KI-40L and the Rogue Audio Cronus 40 Watt valve integrated amps. Indeed, these seemed perfect in most regards. Even with the speaker wedged against the wall there seemed to be no ill effects from the rear-firing port, while the sheer scale, presence and weight of the sound produced was astonishing – until I remembered how we used to listen!
Just because the little Sonus live against the wall, don’t go thinking you can take liberties with them. There are two keys to getting the best out of these speakers: the precise distance behind them (too much and they lose their low frequency weight and substance) and the distance you are sitting from them. I found they gave the best results on a perfect equilateral triangle with just a touch of toe-in. Sit any further away and they start to sound soft and rounded; if not muddled then anything but explicit. But up close and personal they’re undeniably rich yet also quick, dynamic, vibrant complex and immediate. As with any speaker, the bass alignment is critical, and I’d be lying if I said the Elipsas possess the best-textured or sculpted bottom end I’ve heard. In truth, bass notes are a tadge wooden and thickened – homogenous lumps rather than complex waves. But, and it’s a big but, they’re in the right place, there’s no overhang and they have nice, precise pitch, meaning that musically speaking they do what the bass is meant to do, even if they don’t float the notes or a voluminous acoustic space. Just don’t inch the speakers forward to lighten things up – the mid and top get awfully thin awfully quickly if you do.
With the speakers carefully placed mid-band and treble is pure Sonus, taking after their superb free-space namesakes. Voices are natural and expressive, while the power of the midbass, with its firm foundation from the wall, gives them a wonderful sense of life and presence. Electric bass has drive and drums have a wonderful sense of impact. Above all, these speakers feed off the energy in a performance, making music fun and reminding us what more than a few modern designs appear to have forgotten. Their sense of scale and easy power mean they’re just as comfortable with a late Beethoven symphony as they are with girl and guitar. In both cases they major on the directness of communication, rather than the hi-fi niceties (although they manage a better sense of orchestral staging than you might expect, partly by extending the acoustic space forwards).