I rarely get all that excited by the sound of iPod speakers, if only because you can so easily get better sound from a good set of desktop speakers. I've cited Audioengine's terrific little speakers many times in this blog, and I still love them, but there's a new speaker from Emotiva Pro, the airmotiv 4, and it's raised the sound quality benchmark for $399 per pair speakers.
Audioengine is one of my favorite brands. For me it all started with their petite A2 speakers ($199/pair), and then I gushed over their P4 speakers ($249/pair). But Audioengine isn't the sort of company that reinvents its line every year or two. No, they invest a lot of time into designing great products, and then let them be. The A2 and P4 are still in the line, and are still stellar.
I've shied away from reviewing all that many iPod speakers, mostly because they don't offer the best possible sound for the money. That's my beat, finding great-sounding gear, and iPod speakers rarely qualify. Convenient, you bet, sound great, well, that's another story.
The Arcam rCube is a portable iPod dock. Fit and finish are upscale; it's a truly elegant design. The top of the cube has five touch-sensitive buttons--source select, wireless on/off, volume up and down, and standby--arrayed in front of the flip-up door that conceals the iPod dock and the speaker's carry handle. The rCube is available in a black or white finish, and I think the white one looks great. … Read more
The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 is easily the best speaker I've heard for $350 per pair. Wharfedale started making loudspeakers in 1932, which makes it the second-oldest still-surviving speaker manufacturer in the world (Tannoy is the oldest). The entry-level Diamond Series speakers debuted some 49 years later; the Diamond 10.1 we're reviewing today is from the latest incarnation of the line.
Wharfedale not only designs and builds all of its own woofers and tweeters in-house, it also designs and manufactures nearly every part of its speakers, including the crossover networks' resistors and capacitors. Even the bolts that … Read more
The nice folks at Parts Express sent over an amazing-sounding little amplifier, the $129 Topping TP30. It's a tiny desktop Class T amp design, with one analog RCA stereo input and one USB connection (the TP30 has a built-in digital-to-analog converter). The amp delivers 15 watts per channel to 4 ohm-rated speakers (10 watts into 8 ohms), and has a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the front panel.
With its extruded aluminum chassis, 8mm thick, CNC-machined front panel, and solid-metal volume control knob the TP30 wouldn't look out of place in a high-end system. It even feels expensive, but I have just one nitpick: the illuminated blue LED ring surrounding the volume control knob is too bright. I wish there was a way to dim it or turn it off. The amp measures a tidy 4.13 inches by 1.77 inches by 8.07 inches.
The USB interface utilizes standard Windows audio class 1 drivers (it worked fine with my Mac mini). Internal parts quality is superb; the TP30 boasts Elna capacitors, Dale resistors, and an ALPS volume control. The Burr-Brown USB digital-to analog converter chip accepts up to 48 kHz sampling rates with 16-bit resolution.
I compared the sound of the TP30 with my Audioengine N22 amp ($199), and they're both pretty good. The N22 has a fuller, warmer tonal balance, but the TP30 has a more immediate, detailed sound with more tightly controlled bass. I used my Audioengine P4 speakers for all of my speaker-based listening tests. It's interesting, the TP30 is a digital amp and takes digital signals "straight-in" via its USB port; the N22 is analog-only and is a more traditional Class A/B amplifier design. It sounded softer, and a wee bit less defined than the TP30.… Read more
You don't have to be an audiophile to appreciate good sound and music, so I've put together a healthy selection of great gift ideas, all priced under $300. Tuesday's blog has nine more, and they're all less than $100 each!
The Sherwood RX-4503 stereo receiver ($130) would be a great way to start building an awesome-sounding budget hi-fi. I briefly auditioned the Sherwood and came away really impressed with its sound quality. The stereo receiver serves up 100 watts into each of its two channels, and includes a mono preamp output if you decide to add a powered subwoofer. It has Dolby Virtual Surround and Dolby Headphone faux surround processors. A front-panel connection is also included for the Sherwood BT-R7 Bluetooth Audio adapter, allowing wireless streaming from your mobile phone or other devices. The Sherwood could also work wonders in a stereo home theater system.
B & W is one of the more legendary names in British hi-fi, and its speakers are used in many of the world's top studios, including the Beatles' favorite, Abbey Road. B & W is also known for its sleek styling, and its P5 on-ear headphone ($300) is definitely a looker. Its real leather earpads and chunky tubular metal construction put all of the other similarly priced headphones on the market to shame. The P5 sounds best plugged into an iPod or other portable music players.
The Audioengine P4 is a bona fide audiophile mini speaker that sells for $249 per pair. I gave it a very positive review last year, and now I love it so much I retired my self-powered Audioengine A2 ($199 a pair) speakers. While the A2 is still amazing in its own right, the P4 is better in every way, but it has to be used with a receiver, like the Sherwood on this list, so the P4 winds up costing a lot more than an A2. If you have the dough, or a spare amp, the P4 is the way to go. … Read more
Audioengine's spectacularly good A2 has been my powered speaker reference for years. I recently enthused about Audioengine's slightly larger passive P4 speaker ($249/pair) that need to be powered by a separate amp. I was surprised that Audioengine didn't introduce an amp when they brought out the P4, but now with the N22 ($199), the time has come.
It's an unobtrusive, vertically oriented design--7 inches high, 2.75 inches wide, and 5.5 inches deep--and it weighs 3.5 pounds. The clean front panel has just a volume control and a 3.5mm headphone jack; the … Read more
Audiophiles never gave up on tube electronics. Sure, there's no shortage of great-sounding solid-state amps to choose from, but tube amps are still a hot commodity in the audiophile world. As good as solid-state amps can sound, they never sound like tubes.
Thing is, tube electronics are more expensive to build than solid-state gear, so when I hear about an affordable tube amp, I want to hear it.
The Miniwatt N3 Integrated Tube Amplifier uses a single ECC83 twin-triode tube feeding a single EL84 output tube per channel, and the amp features a switching power supply. The N3 delivers a healthy 3.5 watts per channel; it was designed in Hong Kong and it's built in China.
Yeah I know 3.5 watts doesn't sound like much, but the N3 made its presence known with a range of speakers, running from my Audioengine P4s ($249/pair), to Dynaudio Contour 1.1s, up to the mighty Zu Audio Essence towers ($3,600/pair). I can't tell you the N3 will work with every speaker, satisfy headbangers, or fill your loft with high-decibel sound. But those 3.5 watts will play louder and sound better than you would have thought. At night with your room lights turned down the tubes' soft orange glow will look way cool. … Read more
Bowers & Wilkins staked out its claim as Britain's highest-profile speaker manufacturer long ago, and it's now easily the country's best-selling brand. B&W speakers are favored by audiophiles and grace many of the world's top recording studios.
I recently wrote about B&W's terrific new headphone, the P5, which was introduced at the same time as the MM-1 computer speaker. They're both extremely handsome designs, and that's something we've come to expect from B&W.
The speakers black cloth grilles and brushed metal trim are indeed tasteful; the shiny black and chrome remote is also pretty slick. The remote controls power, volume, play/pause, and next/previous track selection for iTunes. The speakers make a cute little "plop" sound and the left speaker blue LED flashes when you raise or lower the volume. The MM-1 feels right.
The MM-1 is pretty small; it's 6.7 inches high and 3.9 inches wide and deep; they have a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter. The right speaker houses four 18-watt Class D amplifiers, two of which power the left speaker. I noticed the powered speaker's aluminum top panel runs warm to the touch. The USB connection is fed to an "audiophile" quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that incorporates equalization to increase the 3-inch woofers bass output.
We can't agree with B&W's "no need to add a subwoofer" claim. Computer speaker systems with high-quality subs, like Altec Lansing's Expressionist Ultra MX6021 PC speaker-subwoofer system ($199), can produce dramatically more and very high-quality bass. This Altec system is one of the very best I've heard, with great dynamic power and overall clarity. Then again, you can't add a sub to the MM-1, but the wee B&Ws take up a lot less room than the Expressionist Ultra MX6021. As always, size does matter.
Listening to streaming radio with the MM-1s, sitting about 2 feet away from them, was mostly not so pleasant. The streams grit and harshness were all too evident. But there were exceptions, and the MM-1's woofers got a nice workout from WFMU.org's 128k MP3 reggae programming. Bass was deep and punchy, though no match for the mighty Altec sub.
The MM-1 all too clearly revealed marginal sounding MP3's shortcomings, so I mostly played CDs for my MM-1 listening sessions.
The MM-1's bass on the opening organ passages from Philip Glass' "Koyaanisquatsi" CD were fairly deep and clear, without the bloated boom we've heard from a number of computer speakers. … Read more
We've been a little tardy in reviewing Audioengine's PC speakers, but we're glad we finally got our hands on both the 2 series ($199) and the step-up Audioengine 5 series (about $325 online) because they really are quite impressive.
For their size, the Audioengine 2s deliver deep, tight bass, and offer excellent detail and relatively big sound, even though they're so compact. True, the Audioengine 5s deliver a richer, fuller experience, but for many, the step-up model will just seem too bulky to leave sitting on a desk (they truly are bookshelf speakers with a more … Read more