We previewed Elac’s Debut ConneX DCB41 speakers in a recent News article. Powered speakers with multiple inputs, their arrival here was hotly anticipated. Q Acoustics’ M20 were already in situ and kicking up a storm. Would the similar DCB41 impress too? I only had access to the ConneX for ten days so they jumped straight to the top of the review queue.
Unboxing the DCB41 was a surprise; they’re tiny. Significantly smaller than the M20, which themselves are already small. You can see the difference in the photo below. ‘Great for the desktop’ was the first thought. ‘Bass won’t be strong’ was my second (a small driver can only go so low). Would their sound credibly fill a room? I had my doubts.
What they do
The basics first. Costing US$599 / £499 / €529, the DCB41 comprises two speakers, one of which contains all the electronics, including 2 x 50W of Class D amplifier power. A switch on the back assigns this main speaker as left or right. Connect it to the other with standard speaker cable (provided). There’s a single analogue input on RCA sockets that’s switchable between line and phono use. Hello turntable, an option I tried.
The digital roster includes one each of optical, USB and HDMI inputs. Plus aptX Bluetooth, the higher quality version. HDMI is two-way ARC, so the ConneX can take the place of a soundbar for TV use. USB is for Mac and Windows computers only, but is able to handle up to 24bit/96kHz music. Conversely phones, USB streamers and the RaspberryPi won’t work due to the lack of specific drivers (I did get an LG V30 phone working, but not reliably). A shame, the RPi in particular would be interesting with the Elacs. No sweat. Enter a £90 Wiim Mini streamer with optical output; it worked a treat (review soon).
A knob on the back of the main DCB41 handles volume and changes input. Not the ideal position but the supplied remote control is preferable anyway. Or change volume on your computer / TV. An XBass Enhancer feature, which boosts bass, is accessed via the remote. In use I felt it muddied the sound so it sat out most of the review.
Besides, it wasn’t really needed. The DCB41 are far from thin-sounding speakers. Partly thanks to the DCB41’s slotted port, which enables bass to go lower. I was nervous about it being on the rear though. Would that make close-to-wall placement problematic? It often does, the bass reflecting back off the wall. Something for me to test. Finally, should you want more bass there’s a subwoofer output.
Three finishes are available; black, walnut, and a rather striking blue. Build quality is good for the price. And the grills are removable, which is how I used them; the speakers were a bit more transparent that way.
Using the ConneX is straightforward. From the remote; select input, adjust volume, then hit play on your source (the Wiim app in my case). An LED on the main speaker indicates mode – red for optical, white for USB etc. Simple enough. And you can switch the LED off – handy if listening without grills. The remote itself is small, neat and responsive to commands.
And that’s about it. The review system comprised two boxes and one small puck-size streamer (the Wiim). Very neat, very small. Or add a turntable like the £329 Pro-ject T1 – the one I tried – for a great starter analogue setup. How did it all sound?
Actually not ideal to start with. In desktop mode on a freestanding table, the ConneX didn’t have any rear wall reinforcement. Turns out they need some; in free space they lack a little richness and weight.
So closer to the wall they went; problem solved. Between 12cm and 30cm worked well. 20cm was optimal in my room (from rear of speaker to wall). In all cases the bass was good without being boomy. The shorter the distance, the shallower the soundstage (as usually happens).
Over time I tried the ConneX on speaker stands. On a coffee table. On a sideboard. On a shelf. Some positions were better than others, speakers stands being the best. In all cases the ConneX were thoroughly engaging though.
Basically they’re flexible on positioning. Being small helps. They were clearly also designed to work well close to a wall (easier said than done). Sure, optimising their position in your room will bring benefits. They’re not inherently fussy though.
The key thing that struck me straight away was the soundstage. It was bigger than I expected – taller and wider. Deeper too with the speakers out a bit (see above). Certainly bigger than diminutive speakers have a right to be. With hindsight I was expecting one step up from a good wireless speaker. What I got was one step down from ‘full on HiFi’. Impressive. I love it when that happens.
Whatever, the sense of acoustic was good, the stereo effect in line with ‘proper’ systems. Performers weren’t pinpointed quite as specifically as with dearer speakers. The sense of realism, of being there, was good though. I can’t see just one wireless speaker (Sonos etc) getting anywhere near it, regardless of cost. Stereo counts for a lot.
Take Kei Koito playing Bach organ works on the Arp Schnitger Organ in the Netherlands. Despite their limited bass the ConneX capture the grandeur of the music. It feels like you’re in the cathedral. Likewise with ‘Fermi’s Paradox’ from Carolyn Surrick and Ronn McFarlane (on our October playlist). A sort of Baroque / Bluegrass crossover (better than it sounds) it’s much smaller in scale but again beautifully recorded. The DCB41 nails the palpable sense of the acoustic.
Elsewhere, running the audiophile slide rule over the ConneX gives good results. The speakers dig out a good amount of detail, enabling you to hear what’s going on in mixes. Midrange is good, passing the Richard Burton test nicely (Jeff Wayne’s ‘The Eve of the War’ from War of the Worlds – see Oct playlist).
Bass doesn’t go low, nor is it weighty, but no one told the ConneX that. ‘Movin on Up’ from Heather Small’s Colour My Life (reworkings of her best tracks) is decidedly punchy. And the DCB41’s dynamics are reasonable, if not quite up there with the rest of its performance.
Overall there’s a balance to the sound that reminded me of the Elac Debut B5.2 we reviewed a while back. Nothing stands out as untoward, nor do the DCB41 try to major on any one aspect of performance. Instead they deliver good sound across the board, the sum of the parts exceeding expectations of £500 powered speakers.
Playing from different sources didn’t change that view. Used with TV, the first series of Disney’s The Mandalorian was served well by the ConneX. The HDMI input worked as it should, without noticeable lag, and the sound was suitably cinematic in scale. Enough for this listener anyway; add a subwoofer if you want more.
Plumbing in a Pro-ject T1 turntable also seemed to work well, whether using the T1’s line or phono outputs. Listening in this mode wasn’t extensive – I’d toted the ConneX to my son’s house – but whether connected to the DCB41’s line or phono inputs it sounded good. And for convenience, the Bluetooth output of the turntable worked a treat into the ConneX. Not everyone is focused on the nth degree of sound quality.
The key thing for me was the enjoyment the whole ConneX experience brought. I was engaged with the music, not pining after the expensive system the Elacs had replaced. Of course there was a big difference in quality. The DCB41 easily cleared the minimum acceptable quality hurdle though, and then some. Regardless of how I used them – that flexibility thing again.
Pimp my ride
Out of the box the ConneX are very good. Pamper them and they reward though. In priority order, a higher quality streaming service (Apple Music, Tidal etc) is worthwhile. A lossy one (yes you Spotify) clearly sounds inferior. Secondly replace the supplied speaker cable with something better. It needn’t be expensive – there’s only one cable, and bare wire termination is fine. Budget £25+ for a couple of metres.
Finally, sit the speakers on something appropriate. I used Isoacoustics stands that were to hand. Their ISO-PUCK Minis might be better suited. £90 / US$100 sounds a lot until you hear what they do. Overall spending 20-30% on top of the ConneX’s price reaps dividends. If you can stretch to it you’ll find the improvement is justified. If not, don’t worry, the core sound quality is still very good.
Comparison – Q Acoustics M20
Both the Q Acoustics M20 (in for review) and the DCB41 are powered speakers with multiple inputs. At £400 the Q Acoustics cost less but have no phono or HDMI input. Which, if you need them, just about equalises the price.
A full review of the M20 is coming soon. I can’t reveal the conclusions yet as I haven’t reached any. If you’re about to buy powered speakers, wait for that review though. The differences between them (e.g. size) could be sufficient to push you one way or the other. And the sound quality comparison is set to be an interesting one!
Comparison – separates
The other approach to system building is separates. Step forward Elac Debut B6.2 speakers driven by a Marantz PM6006 amplifier. Into which I plumbed the Wiim Mini streamer, reducing the variables on test. The amplifier and speakers cost £730, quite a bit more than the DCB41’s £499.
Firing up this system after the ConneX gave a definite uptick in sound quality. The sound was notably more transparent and the soundstage was even larger than the DCB41’s, impressive though that is. Dynamics were stepped up too. Overall tonality was very similar, in line with the Elac Debut sound. Perhaps surprisingly, bass didn’t go significantly lower than the DCB41. Maybe down to the lighter / faster nature of the Marantz amplifier.
Note that the B6.2 speakers were positioned 40cm out into the room, twice that of the ConneX. 60cm was even better, the B6.2’s soundstage gaining depth. Whichever, they need more space than the DCB41. There’s also an extra box – the amplifier – to accommodate. And an extra £230 to find.
So it’s a bit of an apples and pears comparison, but these separates win on sound quality. Noticeably, switching back to the ConneX didn’t disappoint though. They still sounded really engaging, allowing me to focus on the music, not the sound.
So basically a big thumbs up for Elac’s DCB41. No they’re not perfect, no they’re not giant killers, sweeping all before them. Yes they’re a really good listen. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.
The balance of features is well considered. Having an ARC HDMI input for TV is a definite plus. That the USB input only accommodates computers is a geeky-audiophile issue more than a real-world one. There are alternatives (BT for phones, DAC HATs for the RPi, optical streamers).
The DCB41’s diminutive size is a real bonus, in some cases it could be the deciding factor. They’ll fit on an IKEA Billy bookcase for example. Sticking them on top of a wardrobe would work in my bedroom. Or lay them on their side in front of a TV, negating the need for a soundbar. The ConneX’ size makes them more flexible than many alternatives.
And finally sound quality is very good; I’m surprised Elac has managed to wring such a big sound out of such a small speaker. It certainly had me properly engaged with the music, not lamenting the five-figure system sitting it out on the sidelines. All of which makes the DCB41 solid value for money. It very much continues Elac’s long run of form. And then some.