Discovery Z3 Wireless Speaker Review
THE HIGH NOTES
- Huge Sound in an Elegant, Small Package
- Super Simple to Use
- Andrew Jones Designed
Company & Product Overview
Over the past couple of years, the popularity of this category has exploded. Today it seems that nearly every audio brand we talk to is considering trying to grab a piece of the market. Luckily, ELAC is no ordinary brand, and the Discovery Z3 brings some unique talents to the table.
If you’re into audio, you’ve probably heard of ELAC. They’ve been one of the hottest brands lately, ever since ELAC America brought in a new and talented team in 2015, led by renowned speaker designer, Andrew Jones. His designs have allowed enabled ELAC to set an expectation in the marketplace when it comes to value. All of their designs deliver way more sound than you’d expect to get for the money.
If you aren’t familiar with Andrew Jones, he’s one of the best speaker designers of this generation. He started his career with KEF and Infinity before a 17-year stint at Pioneer. During that time, he not only worked on their high-performance TAD speaker lineup but also developed a series of speakers for Pioneer that quickly become some of the best selling speakers in the world.
Upon joining the ELAC team, the first speakers he developed were the ELAC Debut series, which went on to receive worldwide acclaim and have quickly followed his Pioneer designs to become some of the most popular and best value in home audio.
Andrew has applied his vast speaker knowledge to the design of the Discovery Z3. This compact music player packs a ton of great sound into a very small footprint. As a company, ELAC has been pushing the limits of what is possible in the audio world for 90 years. The new Discovery Z3 is no exception!
Design & Build Quality
The Discovery Z3 obviously shares the same design team who did the outer cosmetics for their new EA Series Integrated Amplifier, as it has a similar appearance. Like the amp, the Z3 has a cool-looking sculpted rubber top inset! The top and bottom have a nice aluminum trim piece and the front and back portions have a black perforated metal speaker grill. The front is very simple with three buttons — volume up, play/pause, and volume down. The rear panel is also pretty straightforward and includes the power cord input, an ethernet jack, and a 3.5mm audio input.
The Discovery Z3 will be happy on almost any countertop or cabinet due to its small footprint. It is 11” wide, 5” tall, and 7.5” deep. About the size of a toaster laid on its side!
In creating the Z3, the ELAC team wanted to provide an all-in-one option that provided far better sound than what they’ve seen from some of the bigger names in the business. It was also important to them that the entire thing was simple to use, allowing even the most casual of audiophiles or beginners to enjoy better sound without having to spend a ton of time simply learning how to operate the device.
The fit, finish, and build quality of the Z3 is also excellent for a product in this category and price range.
Features & Technology
ELAC utilizes two 4” bass drivers in the Z3, designed from the ground up by ELAC. These are augmented by two rear firing passive radiators. There are also two custom made soft dome tweeters. Like many of the ELAC speakers, the tweeters utilize a coaxial design, meaning that they are centered inside of the woofer.
Each of the woofers and tweeters has its own power amp, specifically designed to get the best out of those individual drivers. At Audio Advice, we love this approach as it allows the amplifier engineer to come up with an amp that can be custom-tuned to deal with that one specific speaker.
They also use electronic crossovers instead of passive crossovers. A passive crossover is not as efficient and adds components to the signal path. When you have an all-in-one speaker like this, the shortcut would be to use one amp per stereo channel. Instead of taking the easy way out, ELAC instead opted for a 50-watt amp for each woofer and a 20-watt amp for each tweeter. When you couple the two 4” woofers with the passive radiators, you have a box that can produce quite a bit of decent bass energy, which is very impressive for its small size.
In terms of inputs, the Z3 gives the modern music lover plenty of options. You can use Apple Airplay, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth, Roon, or the rear 3.5mm audio input jack. We could even see a small turntable getting connected up to the rear audio jack.
Setting up the WiFi is pretty straightforward. You’ll download the app for the unit, connect, then go to a basic WiFi setup screen. To pair it with Bluetooth, you can use the app or press and hold the play/pause button to put it in pairing mode. We had some trouble getting it to pair using the app, but it worked instantly using the button, so we suggest you set it up that way.
For the person who has been using Spotify Connect, Airplay, or Bluetooth, there is nothing new to learn. Your smartphone will see the Z3 instantly and off you go. It’s simple and you’ll be listening to your favorite music in under a minute. As with all external devices when using Spotify Connect, you do need some level of Spotify Premium to be able to play to them.
Roon is an option for the more advanced users as you can set the Z3 up as part of your Roon ecosystem. ELAC also makes a high-performance music server called the Discovery, that you can pair up to the Z3 using Roon. We think ELAC did this just because they could or they were envisioning their high-performance audio customers putting the Z3 in a secondary location, providing them with a way to access their music library on their ELAC server. For the average person buying a $499 all in one speaker, this is probably not something they would care about, but it’s pretty cool that ELAC included it. Roon will also give you the option of using more than one Z3 in your system as they can each be named in the Roon system.
We did have one gripe about Bluetooth and Airplay. This is not so much an issue with ELAC or with the Z3 itself, but instead seems to be pretty common with a lot of Bluetooth and Airplay devices. When you use Spotify Connect, the volume control on your phone is a direct link to the volume control on the unit. If you turn your phone up all the way, the Z3’s volume is also up all the way.
Bluetooth and Airplay worked differently, at least on the Google Pixel phone and iPhone 7 we used. The phone will get the volume up to the last max level you set with the buttons on the front of the Z3. So if you have the Z3’s volume turned down quite a bit, you can never really get the volume up high using just your phone. You will also need to break the Bluetooth connection on your phone to use Spotify Connect. The Z3 will show up in Spotify, but will only play for a second until you break the connection. These are minor gripes, but we thought it would be valuable to point them out.
While you technically don’t need the app after setup, it provides bass and treble controls and a bass enhancement slider when you’re using Bluetooth, Airplay, or the rear audio jack. When using Roon or Spotify the Z3 adjusts the bass enhancement automatically, adding more as the volume decreases,
As always, what matters to our team here at Audio Advice and to many of our customers is how the unit sounds — so let’s discuss performance.
We set the Z3 up in a large open space in our office area. The room is about 24’ by 30’. While we realize this is probably far bigger than the typical space the Z3 will find a home in, we wanted to see if it could fill up a room this size.
Jumping right in with Spotify Connect, the answer is a definitive, yes! This little speaker just has an amazing amount of bass output for its size. We did find it performs best if you keep the rear of it fairly close (but not too close) to a wall. This gives it the extra bass and warmth that makes it sound more like a real speaker. When we played it away from a wall, it sounded a little harsh, which totally goes away once you get the room reinforcement. However, you will not want it to be right against a wall due to the rear firing passive radiators. If you are right against the back wall it sounds a little boomy, just as you would expect.
The high frequencies (again as you would expect) are more apparent when you are in front of the unit, but we were very impressed at the dispersion of the highs off to the sides. There is some roll off like with any speaker, but the Z3 will do a great job of getting music to all corners of your space.
Our first test was from the X album by Ed Sheeran — the track “Don’t”. This cut has some pretty deep electronic bass tones on it and the Z3 just did a great job filling up the room with pretty big bass from its modest cabinet. When we cranked things up, it actually got amazingly loud for its size! The Z3 also appears to have some kind of audio limiter, which we think is a great idea. Even at max volume it never sounded distorted. This would also keep you from doing any damage if your party got a little out of control and you tried to crank it up too loud.
We then switched things over entirely to the first Stephen Stills album by the same name. The cut “We Are Not Helpless” is one of our all-time favorites. On the Z3, Stephen Stills voice sounds very natural, considering we’re talking about a $500 all-in-one speaker.
Next, we decided to scour the US Top 50 charts on Spotify. We landed on “Havana” by Camila Cabello. The song is very rhythmic, and the Z3 did an excellent job of making you want to tap your toes and dance.
All in all, it’s important to keep things in perspective when analyzing the performance side of the Z3. This is a speaker the size of a small shoebox. If space or budget is an issue, we think you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that sounds this good in such a small package. Of course, there are bigger all-in-one speakers that can match or surpass it in terms of pure energy, but we have never seen anything this size that can provide such a rich, full sound. Plus, it’s slick design should look great on your countertop or cabinet.
The ELAC Discovery Z3 is someone who has been or wants to get into the world of streaming music but wants a small compact system.
The Z3 may also find itself in secondary rooms or vacation homes as a great sounding all-in-one music player, especially for the diehard ELAC fans out there, of which there are many.
If you’re just getting started, be careful. This little unit sounds so good you may get addicted to the fun world of great sounding audio and find yourself with some full-sized speakers from our friends at ELAC in no time!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Huge Sound in an Elegant, Small Package
It may have a small footprint, but it can fill up a large room with great sound.
Super Simple to Use
If you know how to play music on your phone, that is all you need to know.
Andrew Jones Designed
Andrew Jones has designed some of the worlds highest rated entry-level speakers and some of the most expensive speakers ever made. His expertise in speaker design is why the tiny Z3 sounds as good as it does.