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 Post subject: AudioEngine A2: Little Big Speakers
PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 9:59 pm 
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AudioEngine A2: Little Big Speakers

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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 10:54 pm 
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I didn't read the entire review, only a few pages.

SCPR doing reviews on speakers is an interesting idea. Specifications for audio equipment could actually be tested for once. Audio IS a concern, since there's little point talking about audio quality when it can barely be heard over the thundering roar of 9 80mm Thermaltake fans.

I'd like to say that I'm not impressed with the system as an audio setup. The per-speaker amplifier wattage is higher than most computer speakers, yet poor for bookshelf speakers. Most computer speaker setups have a subwoofer that can do low frequencies poorly, while this only has maximum 5in woofers (great for computer speakers, basic for bookshelf speakers, bad compared to a subwoofer). This setup does not seem upgradable, since there is no subwoofer output, the amplifier is integrated, no pre-outs; only the second speaker could be replaced, while still using the relatively low-wattage amplifier. The standby loss of 1w while off is relatively good, yet any standby loss is undesirable and unnecessary.

If space is a concern, then these would be probably the minimum computer speakers I'd recommend. They look like there was real effort in the design, so I actually would recommend taking a look. If space isn't such a concern, as a minimum I'd suggest a 100$ subwoofer, a couple of good bookshelf speakers (what, 80 to 100$, just slightly bigger in size) or even towers, and a receiver (whatever is left in the budget). More frequency range, each part can be upgraded to audiophile-grade over time, more speakers could be added (surround sound), and it isn't much of a higher cost. Energy usage will be higher, mostly because the equipment will be more capable, but I'm sure the receiver and subwoofer could be selectively chosen with efficiency in mind.

edit: just wanted to note that the review was well done. Any issues I mentioned couldn't have been mentioned otherwise. What other speaker review mentions a standby power loss? I'm impressed as well that the company would send a sample to SCPR. I'd suggest upgrades such as pre-amp outputs, especially a subwoofer output (doesn't need a special subwoofer included), moving the amplifier to a separate component that contains the power block, and maybe non-analog non-headphone-type inputs if possible (SPDIF, digital coax, or just something impressive).


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 1:33 am 
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Shoot, just when I thought I'd lost the itch to buy a pair of the A2 speakers, here comes Mike with a nice article about them. These seem like they'd make a neat addition to a low-end DAW, perhaps in a portable laptop-based system. I hope if those bases/stands are introduced later, you'll do a follow-up. Otherwise, maybe some Sorbothane feet might be a good addition to minimize vibration transmission into a desk--large one(s) in the front like in the article picture, two small ones in the back corners for more decoupling and balance.


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 Post subject: speakers
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 4:54 am 
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alright, SPCR reviewing speakers, I like it. You might want to consider these. I know I sure have. They are the JohnBlues from Taiwan's Tommy Wu. I like saying that. :)

http://www.sixmoons.com/audioreviews/johnblue/jb3.html

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 Post subject: Re: speakers
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 7:38 am 
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Greg F. wrote:
alright, SPCR reviewing speakers, I like it. You might want to consider these. I know I sure have. They are the JohnBlues from Taiwan's Tommy Wu. I like saying that. :)

http://www.sixmoons.com/audioreviews/johnblue/jb3.html

aiyaiyai!

Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys, but I'm not sure that I want to wade into the molasses of high end audio reviewing. I fled screaming pell mell out of the insanity of high end audio >15 yrs ago and I'm not ready to go back. That's why all my hifi gear is old, I only want great value, proven products, castoffs of other idiophiles' whims. Reviews like that (and photos of all the OT gear in it) trigger a spartan-side reaction in me. What's wrong with 30 year old Linn Kans with a Rega 3, a Nait and a stack of vinyl? I want to ask! :lol:

The most fun I ever had with a stereo system was in the mid80s -- a pair of Linn Kans, Naim 42/110 pre/amp with a Linn LP12/Ittok/Supex in a funky old house with a long 35'x12' room + lofted ceiling. Joe Cocker's Sheffield Steel LP never sounded so good, ditto stuff by Sting at the time, Jennifer Warnes' tribute to Cohen, old Dylan.... :roll: sheesh, you have me yearning in public for youthful times way in the past! :oops:

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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 9:53 am 
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Interesting review, thanks for that.

I'd add one more thing to the cons: no front/remote volume control. It's a common problem with monitor speakers.

Sure, you can use the volume control on your PC, but that controls the volume digitally. Any serious listener will tell you that's a bad thing, because it happens digitally in the Windows sound mixer and causes a lot of distortion. Anyone willing to spend £100 on some speakers probably uses Kernel Streaming or ASIO with no volume control anyway.

Having an analogue volume control is much preferred, but like many monitors these have theirs at the back where it's hard to get at.

My advice for anyone who wants to listen to music seriously on their PC is go for headphones. Get a descent amp and set of cans (easily doable for £75, e.g. Sennheiser HD495s and a Creek OHB-11 or similar) and reserve speakers just for games/videos. Set up WinAMP with Kernel Streaming or ASIO to get the best sound quality. You can get amazing sound from relatively inexpensive headphones, where as comparable speakers don't start until you hit about 10x the price (ditto with amps). Plus, they annoy other people less and you don't have to worry about positioning or re-arranging your room at all.

My own headphone setup:

Onkyo PCI-SE200 soundcard (bit-perfect output)
C.E.C. DA53 DAC

Then into either these for serious listening:
Audio Technica HA-5000 amp
Audio Technica W5000 headphones

Or these for more casual listening:
Jan Meier HEADFIVE amp
Sennheiser HD496 headphones

And for speakers I use some old but good Yamaha 2.1s.

Oh, and BTW MikeC, did you burn the speakers in at all?

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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 10:32 am 
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MoJo wrote:
Oh, and BTW MikeC, did you burn the speakers in at all?

Of course! Except for the first listen, which was right out of the box. All the others were done after ~2 months being connected to the TV, probably had close to 100 hrs of various inputs by the time real listeng tests were done -- all in the past week.

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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 10:40 am 
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Good review there.

Ditto on the burn in question by MoJo. were they strait from the cloth bags to your PC and on to the review? or did you spend some time with burn in?

One concern I have with their design is that the amp is _inside_ the one speaker. This seems to give an unequal amount of volume inside each of the boxes, and the volume inside a cabinet is a big deal when it comes to designing these things.

For my own audio I went the simple route and I have my home stereo system and PC both in the same room. Patch cords go from my soundcard to the amp inputs and life sounds good.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 11:02 am 
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Would be a good choice for the non-audiophile who wants something stylish. I don't think it's a good idea to do audio stuff often here though. If there is some special synergy with computers, it would be really interesting, but these are just active speakers. Active speakers are great, it's a shame audiophile speakers are almost always passive, all speakers should be active; nevertheless there is no particular connection with computers, silent or not.
What might be interesting is usb speakers with computer-based dsp, no analog crossovers at all. I am sure you could make almost perfect but inexpensive speakers this way, with dsp exactly tuned to the hardware. But then... you could do the same thing in dedicated hardware and it would actually sell because you could just connect to a digital output.


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 11:10 am 
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kittle wrote:
For my own audio I went the simple route and I have my home stereo system and PC both in the same room. Patch cords go from my soundcard to the amp inputs and life sounds good.


A more compact option that some people may be interested in is the T-Amp. It's small but sounds exceptional, and is ideal for a computer setup when paired with bookshelf or monitor speakers.

Plus, it has a big easily accessible volume knob :)

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 11:14 am 
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MoJo wrote:
I'd add one more thing to the cons: no front/remote volume control. It's a common problem with monitor speakers.

A volume control is there though, and yes you definitely want to use it rather than digital.
Quote:
Anyone willing to spend £100 on some speakers probably uses Kernel Streaming or ASIO with no volume control anyway.

At this level modern onboard sound with windows vista audio is actually very appropriate (provided it is at max volume).


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 11:18 am 
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MoJo wrote:
A more compact option that some people may be interested in is the T-Amp.

A nice similar compact option: http://www.trendsaudio.com/image/Product/TA-10_back.jpg


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 1:15 pm 
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My thanks also to MikeC for a very good review. I too used to inhabit the world of high end audio insanity, as both a hobbyist and later, as a means to making my living (sales, then later, speaker repair/rebuild). Audioengine are filling a niche that has been largely ignored - the computer as a good quality audio source. Sure, there are plenty of devices intended to mate a computer with a high end audio system placed in the same room or elsewhere in the house, but they are, like too much in the realm of quality audio gear, out of reach for the average user interested in getting decent sound. They also presuppose a separate audio system and a willingness to entangle the two.

Much of what passes for speakers in the computer world are a travesty of crappy design, lowest common denominator parts and horrible implementation. Most computer owners have simply come to accept that this is the norm.

It doesn't have to be. Though tiny, the A2 is sheer genius in a tiny box at a ridiculously low price. A decent quality bookshelf speaker of small size might be something like the PSB Alpha, the current version selling for something like $199, takes up more space and doesn't include the amplifier circuitry to power it. Prices for decent, small speakers only go up from there, and many are already too large for a desk top application.

I have nearly pulled the trigger on the A2 several times. I currently use a set of TDK S-150s, a sub-sat system utilizing NXT panels in the sat speakers, which makes them tolerable for most things but still deficient for music listening. The midrange becomes easily compressed and the bass from the sub unit is round, fat, and utterly unrealistic.

My computer audio consists of the S/PDIF output from the computer's on board sound card run through a Headroom Micro DAC, which in turn feeds the TDK speakers and a McCormack Micro Integrated Drive, a fantastic headphone amp and preamplifier. The McCormack drives my Sennheiser HD650's (a bit of aural heaven), and a McCormack Micro Power Drive, a small, high quality stereo amp. The amp drives a pair of PMC Audio TB2 monitors, excellent stand mounted speakers.

Unlike MikeC my speakers are in the same room as the computer, so I have the luxury of listening to my audio system (most of which is of a similar era as his, except the DAC and the speakers) while working at my computer. At night I don the headphones and enjoy great tunes and good sound. Thing is, using the audio system for casual listening while working or doing other things (like watching movies or TV shows on the comp) isn't really practical, and the disparity between the cheap speakers on my desk and the better ones across the room is beginning to grate on my ears.

So it seems a pair of A2s are in my very near future.

Or perhaps my excessive nature will win out and a pair of A5s will wind up on my desk instead. :)


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 3:59 pm 
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They look great, but one glaring CON not mentioned in the review. Lack of digital SPDIF connections.

Put a coax SPDIF connection on the back of these, and id buy one in a heartbeat.


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 5:56 pm 
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Aris wrote:
They look great, but one glaring CON not mentioned in the review. Lack of digital SPDIF connections.

Put a coax SPDIF connection on the back of these, and id buy one in a heartbeat.


That would be cool, but it would also require an internal DAC to convert the digital signal. At that point you are looking at a significant price hike.


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 6:33 pm 
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Does anyone know how these speakers from m-audio compare? They're also self-powered, a bit larger than the A2, but a lot cheaper. Does the price translate into sound quality?

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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 8:14 pm 
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qviri wrote:
Does anyone know how these speakers from m-audio compare? They're also self-powered, a bit larger than the A2, but a lot cheaper. Does the price translate into sound quality?

Couldn't tell you, as I've disclosed, I have virtually no exposure to "PC speakers". But I can read. This review linked at that m-audiop page, for example: http://www.m-audio.com/images/en/review ... ioPro3.pdf

Have you read it? It's the goofiest excuse for a spkr review I've come across. Well, one of them anyway. You come across a lot of bad OT dribble-on-forever reviews in audio. maudio must have thought their potential customers would like a laugh on them.

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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 10:16 pm 
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I have a pair of the M-Audio Studio Pro 3s, qviri. They're fine for youtubes, and a step above standard PC speakers, but I wouldn't buy them to listen to music on. While I have doubts about the 50Hz claim, the Audioengines look a lot more thoughtfully made.

The other category someone might think about at prices around $200 is used active monitors, that is powered speakers made for studio use and designed for nearfield listening.


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PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2008 8:34 pm 
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Thanks for the review. I wrestle over the question of upgrading my PC audio or just using the big system downstairs all the time. My main stereo idles/plays at a moderate volume for 60W, but fills the house with sound. Haivng a decent set of speakers 3ft from my ears would certainly cut down on the power used...but like Mike, I'm not sure I'd get used to the in-your-face sound quality.

I'm no audiophile, but...


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 6:19 am 
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I did read some of the first comments through, but then stuff seemed to get out of hand too badly so I just skipped straight to the end.

First of all, they cost only $199, for that price you can't really expect too much from active speakers. For that price I'm comparing them to PC-speakers rather than actual monitors and in that category they are

+ extremely stylish
+ not made of plastic
+ did I already say they look great compared to all plastic piles of crap?

and the real cons that I can see (again, seeing the price) are

- the sub-out MIGHT be nice and should NOT add too much to the price
- some might want to have the volume control on the front panel

And that's it. Very impressive bit of kit if they indeed sound nice. The external power supply may seem like an odd decision, but then again I'd rather have a thin DC-cable sneaking to the speaker than a huge mains cable.

About the testing; simpliest way to F up the sound quality of speakers is to place them on a table. Get them up from the table via small stands and aim them correctly and you get what you paid for. I'm not at all susprised by the results you got in the review.

(you can tell I hate generic PC speakers pretty deeply, I have a discrete 5.1 setup around my computer (consisting or Amphion Helium 2 speakers) and I love listening to music. I still see why some people buy these 2.0-setups and I really think these Audioengines would be the right thing to choose for many people out there.)

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 9:01 am 
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You know i went back to their website to check out their A5's, and honestly their not that big. 10" tall. My current (as Jipa so eloquently put it) "plastic pile of crap" pc speakers are 8.5" tall, with a small 2.5" woofer.

6" tall is very very small, even for PC speakers. I think if your really serious about your PC audio playback, go with the A5's. Only thing really holding them back in my mind is the $325 price tag. But the A5's do have a subwoofer output to expand it to a 2.1 system, and they do sell a matching 125w RMS powered 8" subwoofer that goes with them for an extra $400.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 12:27 pm 
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Aris wrote:
You know i went back to their website to check out their A5's, and honestly their not that big. 10" tall. My current (as Jipa so eloquently put it) "plastic pile of crap" pc speakers are 8.5" tall, with a small 2.5" woofer.

6" tall is very very small, even for PC speakers. I think if your really serious about your PC audio playback, go with the A5's. Only thing really holding them back in my mind is the $325 price tag. But the A5's do have a subwoofer output to expand it to a 2.1 system, and they do sell a matching 125w RMS powered 8" subwoofer that goes with them for an extra $400.


From reviews of the A5 I've read, I get the impression they are not intended for near field use. Doesn't mean they would not work well that way. They would have to be raised off the desk surface and angling might take some time to dial in.

The price for the A5 is not, in my view, in the least prohibitive - you get a lot of speaker and electronics for the money, not to mention build quality.

Since reading the A2 review here and spewing about my own audio mania I've been swinging back and forth between a pair of A2s and a piar of A5s.

Help! :)


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 12:46 pm 
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Fallsroad --

Jipa and others have expressed explicitly a key reason why PC speakers don't sound good: The top-of-desk plop-down "environment" is just terrible for any speaker. It's precisely why I am not sold on having any speaker (including the A2) at my computer -- I have no convenient, good mounting solution for a pair of speakers at my PC desk. Give me a pair of stylish stands that will raise the speakers off the desktop, prevent the speakers' vibrations from getting into the desk, and keep the speakers firmly secured... and I'd probably have the sample A2s on my desktop right now. (This would even make me seek out a better sound card.)

But the question of whether I could stand to have speakers positioned so close to me over the long run remains. Maybe if you have to work with "nearfield" monitors in a cramped studio, you do it because you have to. But if I don;t have to, could I learn to enjoy the sound from any speaker from that close up? I'm not sure. Maybe the stands need to be articulated like a typical desk lamp so that another foot of distance can be added between the speakers and me.

Curiously, I don't have the same reaction (about closeness to the speakers or drivers) to headphones or earphones -- both of which I use a fair bit.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 1:43 pm 
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Mike, are the bottoms of the A2 flat? I'm thinking I'd use a piece of laminated MDF to use as a base, then having the A2 sit on the MDF with a little Blu-Tack or something similar to make it stick. Then perhaps have adjustable machine screw legs with sorbothane feet (or spikes if you're into that whole deal) to adjust the tip-up angle.

I also recall reading from another review that the Audioengines require some kind of EQ-ing to compensate for a "boomy" low end. Did you notice anything like that, or is it perhaps that the other reviewer just had it set up where the placement surface exacerbated the bass?


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 2:08 pm 
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Hardrain wrote:
Mike, are the bottoms of the A2 flat? I'm thinking I'd use a piece of laminated MDF to use as a base, then having the A2 sit on the MDF with a little Blu-Tack or something similar to make it stick. Then perhaps have adjustable machine screw legs with sorbothane feet (or spikes if you're into that whole deal) to adjust the tip-up angle.

I also recall reading from another review that the Audioengines require some kind of EQ-ing to compensate for a "boomy" low end. Did you notice anything like that, or is it perhaps that the other reviewer just had it set up where the placement surface exacerbated the bass?

Don't think your stand would improve the sound. You want to raise the speakers off the table top. The proximity of the drivers to the flat surface is bad for sound -- causes all kinds of reflections. This is why angling them up helped -- it reduced the reflections off the desk.

I would not say they have boomy bass... but I did note some kind of mild mid-bass boost that usually had a positive effect.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 2:42 pm 
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MikeC wrote:
You want to raise the speakers off the table top. The proximity of the drivers to the flat surface is bad for sound -- causes all kinds of reflections. This is why angling them up helped -- it reduced the reflections off the desk.


I suppose that's the inherent problem, that speakers in general won't sound very good on a desk, just as they don't sound good backed up flat against a wall. Getting them away from flat surfaces seems like it'd require some speaker stands apart from the desk, but that would seem to open up the possibility to almost any shielded speaker, defeating the purpose of having a tiny, powered unit. Despite all that, these seem like they'd be a very nice upgrade for folks who listen to things like iTunes or internet radio through the tinny things built into their monitors.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 3:42 pm 
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Hardrain wrote:
I suppose that's the inherent problem, that speakers in general won't sound very good on a desk, just as they don't sound good backed up flat against a wall.

Actually, I don't agree w/that, it really depends on what the bass response is optimized for. Take a very low Q bass enclosure (say 0.5 to 0.7) -- these will sound too thin away from a back wall, they're meant to deliver flat bass into a half-sphere. Put them up against the wall, and if they're well designed, you'll get really flat smooth deep response.

But any surfaces that the >200Hz sounds can reflect off -- in front of the speaker, like the desktop, not behind -- close to the drivers themselves is bad for freq response as well as imaging.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 5:03 pm 
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Sorry Mike, but is this a review or are you simply reproducing the company's literature on the A2s? It would be a real shame if the level of SPCR's critical and independent reviews began to slip. This "review" would certainly appear to be a start in that direction. Sorry I can't find anything nicer to say. :cry:


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 6:20 pm 
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MikeC wrote:
Fallsroad --

Jipa and others have expressed explicitly a key reason why PC speakers don't sound good: The top-of-desk plop-down "environment" is just terrible for any speaker. It's precisely why I am not sold on having any speaker (including the A2) at my computer -- I have no convenient, good mounting solution for a pair of speakers at my PC desk. Give me a pair of stylish stands that will raise the speakers off the desktop, prevent the speakers' vibrations from getting into the desk, and keep the speakers firmly secured... and I'd probably have the sample A2s on my desktop right now. (This would even make me seek out a better sound card.)

But the question of whether I could stand to have speakers positioned so close to me over the long run remains. Maybe if you have to work with "nearfield" monitors in a cramped studio, you do it because you have to. But if I don;t have to, could I learn to enjoy the sound from any speaker from that close up? I'm not sure. Maybe the stands need to be articulated like a typical desk lamp so that another foot of distance can be added between the speakers and me.

Curiously, I don't have the same reaction (about closeness to the speakers or drivers) to headphones or earphones -- both of which I use a fair bit.


MikeC -

I follow what you are saying.

I had read about a pair of Headroom stands for a new Desktop system they have devised, unfortunately, they retail for an absurd $499 a pair. Granted, they are intended to house some of their desktop products, but holy crap! When I first read the Headroom was going to put out a full audiophile desk top system and I saw the photos of the proposed stands, I thought they would have been perfect for either the A5 or A2. Alas.

Home brew stands are an option - you seem to have a lot of experience cutting things up and putting them together to make things work for you. :)

I am a tad fortunate in that my choice in cheap computer speakers involve NXT panels crossed over pretty high to the faux-subwoofer. The nature of the panel's dispersion plus the tilted back orientation reduces some of the more egregious interactions with my desk, especially in the lower frequencies that the satellites do produce.

As for nearfield experience - it can be an acquired taste. The pros are: pinpoint imaging, excellent midrange response (assuming positioning is dealt with and the speakers don't suck from the get go), and for small speakers such as these, better perceived bass response. The drawbacks, beyond the noted reflections and ugly bass bump, are mostly the unfamiliar in your face experience, which some people just cannot get over. I've gotten very used to listening in the near filed, much of it from my years as a speaker technician, where my bench set up included a very small pair of speakers to keep the music flowing as I worked. They were a little further distance form me than on my speakers on my desk now are, but not very much.

I personally do not find near field listening and headphone listening to be in any ways very comparable. There is something quite different between enveloping your ears and consciousness with a piar of good 'phones and listening to speakers in the open air, so to speak, no matter how closely they are positioned. So it isn't a surprise (to me) that you may enjoy one and not the other.

I'm hoping someone can find a practical stand to use with the Audioengine speakers, or that the manufacturer introduces a solution - it seems the logical step given what their intended market for their speakers is.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 6:24 pm 
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Mikity wrote:
Sorry Mike, but is this a review or are you simply reproducing the company's literature on the A2s? It would be a real shame if the level of SPCR's critical and independent reviews began to slip. This "review" would certainly appear to be a start in that direction. Sorry I can't find anything nicer to say. :cry:

Too bad. Everyone has a right their own opinion, but I doubt anyone else believes I parroted the company's pr.

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