Radiient Elara Fit and Finish and Performance
I was immediately impressed with the finish of these speakers as I took them out of the box. For sure they look like high quality esoteric speakers. The five-way binding posts are of the highest quality, the inclusion of spikes, the tweeter sitting on top of the mains, the wood-grain finish... they all scream esoteric. On closer inspection a couple of things became apparent. First, the vinyl veneer wasn't of very high quality. I noticed some bubbling at the edges and the grain just didn't feel right to the touch. While the provided spikes give the speakers that esoteric feel, they really aren't that practical. In what application do I need carpet spikes for a bookshelf speaker? Perhaps if you want to put them on a shelf with some of those brass feet (which should be provided as well if that is how the manufacturer sees these speakers working in a room) I could see it. Regardless, I felt there should be some rubber feet provided as well as the spikes. The five-way binding posts were of high quality but I would have liked to have seen them moved down on the speaker for practical purposes. While I think they look neat up there, the location near the top of the rear of the speaker makes hiding wires difficult.
The fronts of the speakers were gorgeous with the wood grain ending at a black, piano gloss faceplate and a black grill. I actually would have preferred a different color grill as the black faceplate tended to get lost behind it. In the room, however, it worked as the fronts of the speakers disappeared into a darkened room. The swept back nature of the speakers gave them a kind of elegance that I really appreciated. It also accentuated the binding posts making my complaint about their location less important in my mind.
The posts for the grill double as the mounting screws for the black face. This creates a very nice, clean front that adds to the elegance of the speakers. From a purely aesthetic point of view, there are a very nice looking set of speakers! Everything is designed so that the speaker is not just the deliverer of sound, but a piece of furniture that either compliments a décor or becomes of the focal point of it.
The big thing as you can clearly see, it that these speakers look great - at least with a cursory glance. If you really examine them, some of the issues with the vinyl veneer become readily apparent. If a better veneer were used (like the ones used by Axiom) these speakers would get the highest marks for aesthetics (though likely cost more than they do, so there is a balance). The matte finish on the housing for the top tweeter seemed out of place to me. Something that matched the faceplate would have made more sense. As it is, your friends will likely think you spent thousands on esoteric bookshelf speakers.
Loudspeaker Placement and Set up
I set these speakers up in the traditional 5.1 configuration with the surrounds off to the sides of the couch on stands just behind the main listening area. My only real problem with the set up with these speakers was that the surrounds (which are the same size as the mains) are fairly deep, forcing them to be off the wall. Frankly, my listening room is small and I don't have much room on the sides of my couch so it took a bit of finagling to get them in there and pointing in relatively the right direction. There doesn't appear to be a way to wall mount these speakers easily, so I imagine that they are meant to be stand mounted behind a couch. Given the looks of the speakers, I can see why.
I calibrated the elara speakers using the test tones on my Denon AVR-3805 to 75 dB and used my reference Axiom EP500 sub. Even with the mains having a rated frequency response down to 50Hz, I crossed them over at 80 as I felt there was too much sound loss at the 60Hz option even in two channel mode. This also becomes moot as the rears and center are only spec'ed down to 60 Hz. The off axis response of these speakers seemed limited and I had to point the mains directly at me to get any sort of convincing soundstage.
The first thing that I immediately noticed after calibration was a bit of midbass bloat with these speakers. In the long run, I didn't mind it as it wasn't excessive, but it was noticeable in a direct comparison with my Axiom m22s. Overall, I found the sound to be very lifelike and accurate, especially in the higher registers. Cymbals, bells, and higher notes were all delivered with conviction. The soundstaging was fairly good in the sweet spot but there were times that I felt it was a bit diffused. At higher volumes (and I do mean higher ) the speakers did tend to break up a bit, both the woofer and the tweeters. The highs became shrill and the midbass muddied. In my room, you'd almost never want to listen to anything that loud (especially with the wife at home) but I do think these speakers would hold up well in a medium sized or slightly larger room (with a sub of course) at reasonable volumes.
Performance - Movies
Boy did I have a miserable experience in the theater during Serenity . I went with a friend that brought a bunch of his friends. I ended up sitting next to a couple with a few kids. I was happy when the kids ran down to sit at the front of the theater, sad when they came back because the Reavers scared them, and aggravated when the husband proceeded to answer every one of his children's and wife's questions during the movie. Add to that the uncomfortable seats and mediocre sound and you don't have to guess why that was the last movie I'll ever see in a theater.
With all the bass that is in movies these days, it is hard to really remember to ignore the sub and just focus on the sound of the rest of the speakers. For the most part, I was impressed with the performance of the speakers. I found almost nothing really wrong with the playback of this movie other than some of the dialogue. There were a number of times during this and other movies that I though the center channel really lagged behind the rest of the speakers. More than once I stopped the movie to check the level on the center to see if there was a problem. Voices just seemed a little farther back or softer than the rest of the movie.
Unleashed with Let Li is far from a great movie. It is good, and I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't classify it as great. For a sub review it is horrible in that it has very little LFE. Personally, I picked this movie because of all the dialogue and piano. The elara speaker system did a very good job on this flick of presenting both in a convincing manor.
There were a few moments where the center seemed a bit low but other than that, the piano was lifelike, the music (while a bit harsh) was delivered as it was meant to be (harsh), and the voices were convincing.
Two movies have become a staple of reviewers everywhere - Batman Begins and War of the Worlds. I picked Batman Begins for this review (mostly because I used WotW for the last write up). As I had my wife up watching with me (a rare treat I assure you) I could turn the volume up a bit more than usual. Surround effects were delivered and movement in the space was very convincing and immersive. While I like this movie less and less the more I watch it, it is still one of the better superhero movies to be released. My biggest problem with the movie was some of the choices for close-ups. They had Christian Bale perched on chairs and railings like a bat in a number of scenes (much more than in any other Batman movie) then zoomed in on his face so you couldn't see it. The more I see that movie, the more that irritates me. I'm looking forward to its sequel where I hope some of that will be remedied.