Introduction – what is the Heritage XLS 15?
The Elipson Heritage XLS 15 (hereafter ‘XLS 15’) is a three way standmount speaker (I mean, notionally, there’s a bookshelf somewhere in the world that could handle them too but we’ll stick at ‘standmount’ for now). Even a cursory glance at the pictures should confirm that this is a rather different proposition to what normally passes for a ‘standmount’ speaker in 2021. I don’t generally stick an image in the intro section but – just so we can be in no doubt what we have here – below is a photo of the Elipson with a PMC twenty5 21i for scale.
The Elipson belongs to a different school of design to anything we’ve tested here before (even the Tannoy Legacy Eaton, which you might assume to be a kindred spirit, isn’t completely analogous to what the XLS 15 is channelling). The form factor you see here might be best seen as a ‘second generation’ loudspeaker. It combines elements of first gen designs – larger drivers which allowed for decent frequency response within the boundaries of acceptable sensitivity – but, thanks in part to an increase in transistor fed watts, also higher power handling and (believe it or not) a more compact form factor.
One oddity of this is that, while Elipson was very much active at this time, the speakers it was actually building during this period didn’t look anything like this. This means that the XLS 15 is a ‘homage’ to a design ideal that the company didn’t actually sign up to at the time (it does make use of its actual history in other products though in fairness). Is this a pastiche of the real thing from a company watching from the sidelines and does this line of design actually convey any tangible benefit in 2021? Time to find out.
Specification and Design
Before we get on to trifling details like the size of the XLS 15 (and trust me, we’ll cover that), the most significant aspect of the specification we need to mention is that, where every standmount (and at this price point floorstanders too in fairness) are two way or two and a half way designs, the Elipson is a true three way. A 25mm silk dome tweeter hands over to a 55mm coated dome that looks very much like a scaled up version of the tweeter. It is this that hands over to a 300mm (12 inches in old money) paper pulp cone.
Midrange drivers can offer tangible benefits to music reproduction but here the need for it is practical as much as anything else. The bass driver is rolled off at 700Hz which is neither here nor there in where two way crossovers sit in modern speakers but coaxing a 300mm driver to behave itself up to 700Hz is no mean feat in itself when you think about where a modern sub tops out at. That midrange dome pretty much has to be there to ensure a remotely civilised handover to a tweeter. The midrange handles everything between 700Hz and 5000Hz (which means that the tweeter is working less hard than most conventional rivals too).
Now, as a first point of order, if you are envisaging that each XLS 15 wades into battle with the equivalent of a subwoofer bolted to the cabinet, you need to think again. Elipson quotes a frequency response of 40Hz-25kHz at +/- 3dB; solid but not something that’s going to worry a dedicated sub. The idea here is a flat and effortless frequency response from 40Hz and up rather than something that wobbles organs. The other facet of this is that you don’t need a volcanic amount of power to do this either. Elipson quotes a sensitivity of 92dB/w with a six ohm impedance. Unless you have a barn to fill, you won’t be needing megawatts to run the Elipson at a reasonable volume.
There are some other aspects of the XLS 15 that are period correct that make it a little different to more conventional rivals. Each cabinet is ported with a large circular front port. Now, when I say ‘large’ I mean it. If you are reading this and you have small children, it’s large enough to post toy cars up to fairly respectable sizes through so please don’t say I didn’t warn you. These ship with a large foam bung in place but I’ve preferred the performance without. The other feature is that the crossover is adjustable. Both the midrange and tweeter can have a plus or minus 1dB cut applied to them to better match the frequency response to what you are playing and how your room is behaving. The crossover itself supports single wiring only.
To get the best out of your XLS 15, they really need to be angled back to help their time alignment. With three drivers at work (one of which is radically different to the other two) this is of more than abstract relevance. Elipson supplies the XLS 15 with three different brackets that can be applied to the front of the lower edge of the cabinet that imparts the correct degree of rearward lean but Elipson’s sister company Norstone makes a short stand that does the same thing while lifting the cabinet up a little. They’re £199 a pair but well worth it.
Right, we’ve made it this far so it’s time to talk about those looks. Just to provide some context to things, the XLS 15 is 70 centimetres tall and, even when on the Norstone stand, it is no taller than a PMC 23i. The key number here though is width. The PMC presents a front to the world that is 16cm wide. The Elipson is 42cm wide – two and a half times as much. Just how well the XLS 15 is going to ‘work’ in your room is more a question of mentality than tape measures. This is never going to ‘blend in’ or be discrete and attempting to make it do so will wind up looking utterly ridiculous.
The counter to this is that – with a certain courage of your convictions and the right décor – the XLS 15 is, particularly at the moment, cool in a way that most audio equipment can never be. I’m a fairly small fish on social media but it’s fair to say that photos of the XLS 15 generated ‘engagement’ in the way that not a lot else I post does. There’s something grin inducing about the complete lack of subtlety that you’ll either completely embrace or want no part of. It’s important to stress that Elipson doesn’t seem to have bet the farm on the XLS 15. They continue to make the Facet and Prestige models that are rather more conventional and for a different sort of wacky, the planets continue as before. This speaker exists to channel the current fondness for nostalgia and will hopefully find people looking for just that.
Something that does help the Elipson here is that the price being asked for the XLS 15 is a fairly reasonable one. At £1,790, the XLS 15 is a lot less expensive than anything that JBL or Tannoy is producing with similar dimensions and even the Klipsch Heresy IV (which is technically a first gen speaker but is dimensionally similar) is nearly £2,000 more. There’s not much in the way of perceivable cost cutting either. The finish is perfectly acceptable for the price and they feel impressively solid with it. I think they work best with the grilles off because the black fabric is a bit severe (I’d bet a round of drinks that if Elipson offered one in a mad seventies colour as a cost option, they’d have plenty of takers) but that’s about the limit of my criticism; implicit in that I’m not going to critique them for being huge because that’s kind of the point.
With a certain courage of your convictions and the right décor, the XLS 15 is – particularly at the moment – cool in a way that most audio equipment can never be
How was the XLS 15 tested?
The Elipson has been used on the supplied Norstone stand and been connected to a Chord Electronics CPM 2800 MkII and Cyrus i7 XR integrated amp; the latter also working as a digital source. Source equipment has been a Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 and Hugo Mscaler with SOtM SMS 200 running as a Roon Endpoint and an LG 55B7 OLED. Some analogue testing has taken place via a Michell GyroDec turntable with Vetere SG-1 arm and Vertere Mystic cartridge running into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage. Test material has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal and Qobuz, on demand TV and some vinyl.
Before we get into this, let’s make what at first looks like a ridiculous comparison and compare the XLS 15 to the Neat Ministra. The Neat is £5 more than the Elipson (although you can get stands for rather less so you’ll likely to wind up spending a little less across both) and, provided that it has a reasonable delivery of power to it, it can actually match the frequency response of the (much) larger speaker. In terms of timing, the ability to handle very complex and high speed time signatures and detail retrieval – particularly in the upper registers – sees the Ministra slay the Elipson. In this particular David vs Goliath contest, David gets some killer blows in pretty early.
The XLS 15 is not and never will be a speaker I would describe as ‘urgent.’ Where some more conventional rivals move with the immediacy of a rat up a drainpipe, that big 12 incher will not change direction in the same way. It’s commendably well controlled and – at sensible volumes at least – it always sounds impressively together but with the splendid If We Don’t Make It by UNKLE, it’s on the beat rather than delivering ‘b of the bang’ style urgency.
That’s not the only limitation either. That 700Hz handover between bass and midrange is better than I thought it might be (to be clear some of the original designs from the era this speaker riffs on had many drivers on the go and you could hear every one of them) but you can still perceive it happening with certain bits of music in a way that the smaller two way rivals simply don’t suffer from. Putting the +1dB increment on the midrange alleviates it somewhat but it never truly goes away.
The thing is though, this Goliath does have a few skills of its own and if you dial into those talents almost everything else begins to sound a bit broken. Let’s begin by talking about soundstage. Modern speakers leverage cleverly designed baffles and waveguides to give an even and cohesive dispersion of audio. The Elipson on the other hand simply produces an vast, utterly linear stereo image by the expedient of being enormous. If you are fed up of having music beamed at you into a sweet spot, this is the perfect antidote because, where many rivals are a torch, the Elipson is a floodlight.
And, while the low end cut off of the XLS 15 looks the same as many rivals, this only tells half the story. The effortless heft that the Elipson has below 100Hz is a glorious listening experience. Air’s So Light is her Footfall has some wonderfully articulate bass and here it has a weight and presence that no combination of 5.25- or 6.5-inch drivers is ever going to do in quite the same way. It also means that, where I often say that certain speakers tested here really only come alive with a bit of power and level behind them, this really isn’t the case here. Because there is so much natural oomph to their performance, from the moment that the XLS 15 is up and running, it sounds weighty and potent.
There’s also a degree of genre specific ability here but not always in the manner you might expect. Live music on the Elipson sounds compellingly and consistently real because it matches the scale and space of those recordings and – bluntly – it sounds a bit like the equipment often being called upon to make the noise at the venue itself. It is uncannily good at pianos too. As noted earlier, there are fine details that the resident speakers here pick out that would forever be a mystery if you owned the Elipson but I’m of the opinion most owners won’t care.
Should you want to watch telly through them, they’re impressively capable too. Given that the XLS 15 uncomplainingly generates vast and even soundstages, so long as your screen is basically between them, you wind up with a sort of ‘wall of sound’ around the on screen image. It takes a moment to get used to but it’s very pleasant once you do.
Modern speakers leverage cleverly designed baffles and waveguides to give an even and cohesive dispersion of audio. The Elipson on the other hand simply produces an vast, utterly linear stereo image by the expedient of being enormous
- Huge, effortless and believable sound
- Exceptional value for money
- Possibly the coolest speaker the site has ever tested
- Very definite performance envelope
- Not the last word in timing or detail
Elipson Heritage XLS 15 Speaker Review
As we enter this part of the review, I need to state from the outset that this is one of an occasional series of products where the scores are almost irrelevant. For many people, quite apart from the size and looks, this speaker has some idiosyncrasies that mean that going to listen to them for an audition would be pointless, let alone buying them. If I said that about most products, I would then have to apply the sort of score that Tom doles out for the ‘Made for Sky’ movies.
The thing is, for every person left flummoxed by these gentle giants, there will be another who hears them and never wants to return to a world of squawky little boxes ever again. In the same way that an affordable projector can’t touch a competent OLED for technical picture quality but still delivers a cinematic experience that a 55” screen is going to struggle with, so it is here. The Elipson reminds us that we moved away from this school of design not because what we do now was decisively better but because it was so much easier to accommodate. My house is full of speakers, some of which are technically brilliant and better in most measurable ways than the XLS 15 but it won’t stop me missing them when they’re gone. I am thrilled that Elipson has brought the price of this unique listening experience down to a more terrestrial price point and, while it’s far from perfect, it is unquestionably lovely and for that reason, it earns my Recommendation.