Why not? I mean, if you were me, wouldn't you? In an exchange with Bruce Brown, Owner and Engineer at Puget Sound Studios (see our Q&A), Bruce mentioned that he was using the Focal Solo6 Be monitors (as well as the Twin6 and Sub6 in a 5.1 array) in his recording studio. And that information stuck in my head and poked at me when I recently thought about desktop speakers to review. And I thought why not? Rated at 40Hz - 40kHz with a 150W rms, BASH® amp for the midbass/bass driver and a 100W rms class A/B amp for the treble, these bad boys max out at 113dB SPL (peak @ 1m). So yea, they work really well as nearfield desktop earth movers.
The Focal CMS 40 powered speaker is referred to as a monitor on the company's website. A subtle distinction perhaps but a monitor is meant for monitoring records during production whereas a speaker is meant to be used when the production work is done. So a monitor is a tool for listening whereas a speaker is a tool for enjoyment. Some listeners, like audiophiles, for example, do both and a speaker like the Focal CMS 40 is practically made to order.
Can You Handle the Truth?
What the heck is a "monitor" speaker? The word was initially applied to actual studio monitors, but it quickly came to be associated with any small- or mid-size bookshelf speaker. The M-Audio BX5 D2 is a bona-fide active (self-powered) monitor that can be used as a reference in a home studio (or desktop system). Accuracy is de rigueur for monitors, so if you're searching for a speaker with a sweet sound that makes everything, including nasty MP3s sound good this little guy won't cut it, but well-recorded electronica, jazz, classical, or most types of acoustic music the BX5 D2 will be a treat for your ears. They list for $299 a pair, but I've seen them going for closer to $230 online, and for that kind of money it's hard to beat.
Single driver speakers have some fairly straight-forward pluses and minuses—they only use a single driver to reproduce everything. So that means no crossover which, contrary to some adherents of the single driver way, is not necessarily an evil one way or another but most single driver speakers I've heard, and I've heard a bunch, tend to do at least one thing really well and that thing is immediacy. But what does immediacy really mean? From my way of hearing, it means that the sound of the music coming out of a single driver speaker sounds incredibly present as if the music is caressing your ears, intimately. Single driver speakers can sound seductive. The Ancient Audio Studio Oslo powered speakers use a single driver.
Here's what I've learned after thirty odd years in the audio business as a high-end audio salesman, and later on as a reviewer: The problem with speakers, including a lot of really good ones, is they sound like speakers. You're always aware the sound is coming out of a box or panel. Most of my favorites minimize that effect and have an "open" quality that lets the sound float free of the speakers. KEF's new X300A speakers are among the most open sounding speakers I have ever used with my computer. They're good, really good.
It's A Clean (Musical) Machine
The PSB Alpha PS1 powered desktop speakers are some of the cleanest, clearest-sounding speakers to have graced my desktop. Even using my iMac's 3.5mm analog output, the music taking up residence on and around my desk is remarkably free from any sort of sound other than the music itself. There's no boom in the bass, no tipped up treble, just clean, clear, music. For $300/pair that should make a lot of music lovers very happy.
Sometimes, most times for non-audiophiles, when you buy a piece of hi-fi gear you want to hook it up, plug it in, and enjoy your music. This kind of enjoyment mainly means dancing, singing along with your favorite songs, playing air guitar or air cello for the more sophisticated listener, and genrally just having fun. Fun with music. I'm not saying that audiophiles don't do all of these things, I'm just saying they tend to add a lot of baggage to this relatively simple prospect. And if nothing else, the Monitor Audio WS100 speakers are all about fun.
Vanatoo is a new company and the Transparent One Powered Speakers are their first product. Five years in development, according to Gary Gesellchen one of two Vanatoo founders, the Transparent Ones arrive packing some interesting technology including a USB input that's not connected to a DAC but can handle up to 24/96 data (more on that in a minute), an A/D converter, a 1” silk dome tweeter, and a custom 5 1/4” passive bass radiator that assists the 5 1/4" XBL™ woofer/midrange driver in reaching down to a claimed 49Hz (±2dB) in a 10" x 6 1/2" x 8 1/8" box. If that's not enough for ya, there's a subwoofer output if you feel the need to reach beyond the 40s, bass and treble controls, an AC power inlet so you can plug in your powered devices like an Apple Airport Express, and Coax and Toslink inputs. And if you stick with basic black, that package will run you a hair under $500 for the pair. Vanuatu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean and was selected as the happiest place on Earth by the New Economics Foundation and its also where Vanatoo got its name. Don't worry, be happy.
How Smart Can a Radio Be?
Logitech has recently rejigged its entire lineup of music-playing products giving them all a new home under the "UE" umbrella. Here's what Logitech says about their new UE line:
Artistry Meets Engineering
Now, as Logitech UE, our commitment to precision technology and sound quality is the inspiration behind everything we do. State-of-the-art research facilities and top engineers from around the world ensure that every last detail in each of our products—from headphones, to smart radios, to wireless speakers—is perfect. Artists on stage or people in their living rooms are all united by the music they live for. And we are dedicated to creating products that bring it to them pure and undiluted.
I reviewed the ADAM ARTist 3s back in October 2011 and while I very much enjoyed them, the built-in DAC which is limited to 16/48 playback gave me pause. I wondered aloud if the Adam A3Xs might be the more interesting option for the music-loving powered desktop speaker seeking audiophile seeing as it leaves out that DAC, does away with the 3.5mm minijack connection forcing you to get a DAC to sit in between your computer and speakers which is a good thing for you and your music (trust me) while it keeps pretty much everything else, all stuffed inside a less fancy cabinet. Yea, you could just get a 3.5mm to Stereo RCA cable to connect your computer to the A3Xs but that's like feeding a thoroughbred astroturf. My hunch was I'd love the ADAM A3X, you know love in a manly hi-fi kinda way, and I'm not afraid to tell you up front—I was not wrong.
The Reserve Series (tm) speaker cables from CEntrance
During the review period of the CEntrance Audiophile Desktop System (ADS), CEntrance announced they would be coming out with 'upgraded' CEntrance-branded & designed speaker cables for the ADS package. So I held onto my review ADS and waited for the new/upgraded pre-production speaker cables to arrive and they have. What's even better, just like me, existing owners will be getting their very own upgraded speaker cables gratis which to my mind equates to a class act(ion). But wait just a gosh-darned minute! Cables couldn't possibly matter so why go to the trouble?
Masters and Slaves
If you've read the specifications for the Audioengine 5+ speakers, you'll notice that the left speaker is the Master making the right the Slave. What this really means is Audioengine has stuffed all of the non-passive parts like the 50W per channel Class A/B amp into the Master which makes a lot of sense to me for a speaker that's sold in pairs. You'll notice that some other powered desktop speakers can be purchased solo so each one has to contain the works. The Master/Slave relationship helps save on parts cost but it doesn't necessarily skimp on performance as we shall see and I got to hear.
Hi-Fi In-A-Box Smoke and a pancake? Flapjack and a cigarette? No? Cigar and a waffle? No? Pipe and a crepe? Bong and a blintz? No? Amp and a DAC? The CEntrance Audiophile Desktop System combines the CEntrance DACmini™ PX DAC/Amplifier ($1,475) with their MasterClass 2504 speakers ($700) and throws in a USB cable, speaker cables and perhaps most surprising and unusual of all, a Pelican 1550 Carry Case with component-hugging padded inserts to keep your Audiophile Desktop put while in transit. This attention to practical portability kinda begs you to take the Audiophile Desktop on the road.
Paradigm Shift A2 Re-Viewed
If you read my initial review of the Paradigm Shift A2 speakers, you'd have read that I found they made too much noise on their own. Specifically, the tweeter hissed no matter what else was going on and the apparent reason for this noise level was they were run very hot—the gain level from the dedicated tweeter amp had them hissing at a level I found too distracting to enjoy. While other reviewers noted this as well, some felt it was OK. Livable. Well after my review and a few others, Paradigm decided to take another crack at this formula of gain v. noise level. And I sure am glad they did. If you liked the A2s before, you'll like them better now.
Packing 100 Watts into a desktop speaker with aluminum drivers strikes me as message in and of itself. The Paradigm Shift Atomic Atoms (A2) pack two 50W amplifiers into each cabinet so each driver gets its own dedicated power source. The A2s are sold as a single speaker but they can also be bought and played in stereo pairs which is mainly how I listened. Although I must say that the idea of a mono desktop setup did cross my mind.