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Speakers

Behold: A bona-fide high-end, appealingly compact speaker

First and foremost, the Fostex PX-5HS speakers sound remarkably clear, and don't let their small stature fool you, the little speakers' bass is rich and full.

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Fostex PX-5HS Fostex

I first heard the Fostex PX-5HS speakers at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last October, and even in a cramped hotel room the sound was neutral, accurate, clear and clean. I requested a pair to review, and now perched on a pair of metal floor stands in my living room the PX-5HSs sound better than I remembered, they're really great!

The PX-5HS sports a 5.2-inch (13.2cm) woofer made from aramid fiber impregnated with resin, and a 1-inch (2.54cm) urethane film laminated polyester fiber dome tweeter. Each driver has a dedicated, built-in digital amplifier, there's a 35-watt unit for the woofer, and an 18 watt amp for the tweeter. The electronics and drivers are designed in-house by Fostex in Japan.

The speaker has two small bass ports on the front baffle; but no grilles are included with the PX-5HS. That's alright. I always prefer the sound of my speakers sans grilles. The softly backlit orange "Fostex" logo near the bottom of the front baffle is easy on the eyes, even in dimly lit rooms.

The rear panel houses RCA, XLR, and quarter-inch (6.3mm) phone jack connectors, plus a "Unique Rotary Encoder" knob that controls volume and bass/treble adjustments. It's easy to fine-tune the speaker's tonal balance to taste.

This 11-inch tall (27.94cm) speaker sounds highly transparent, neutral, with crisply articulated bass. Some may balk over the low power ratings, but I found the PX-5HS played reasonably loud. It is, after all, a rather small speaker, so more power wouldn't endow it with much more capability to rock out. The 2014 remastered version of Bruce Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album proved the PX-5HS's potency. The Boss' rhythm section was fierce, and this album's stripped down production really lets the guys sound like a band of brothers.

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Fostex PX-5HS rear panel Fostex

A shoot out with a set of Emotiva Airmotiv 5s speakers left no doubt, the PX-5HS had a more refined presentation. Well-recorded vocals had more body, more presence, and sounded more natural. Stereo imaging was a tad broader, and better focused. To be fair, the Airmotiv sells for a third the price of the PX-5HS, and the Airmotiv wasn't embarrassed by the comparison. Both speakers are close to the same size and use 5-inch woofers.

The PX-5HS is a small speaker, so it's not going to fool anybody into thinking that it sounds like a mighty floor stander. Even so, I managed to get solid bass down to 55 Hertz in my large home theater room. It's also expensive, and there are much more affordable alternatives that play louder and make more bass (Pioneer SP-FS52 or Tekton M-Lore), but they're much larger speakers and require the use of separate amplifiers.

It comes down to this, the PX-5HS is a real contender for folks searching for a small speaker that delivers top notch sound quality. Since the amplification is built-in, you can hook up a pair of PX5-HS speakers to a source, such as the Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player or a stereo preamplifier, like the NAD C 165BEE, and you'll be good to go.

Watching Terry Gilliam's "The Zero Theorem" film that depicts a chaotic retro/futuristic society where Qohen (Christoph Waltz) feverishly works inside a gigantic steam punk computer the PX-5HS speakers projected a wide soundstage. The film's dense mix of sonic textures, buzzes, and whooshes were given their full due by the little speakers, and the bass was big enough I never felt like I needed to add a subwoofer. The longer I listened to the PX5-HS speakers the more I liked them.

The PX-5HS is a near twin of Fostex's PX-5 professional monitor, but the PX-5HS was tuned for hi-fi audio listening from six or more feet away, rather than near-field monitoring like the PX-5. Fostex claims the PX-5HS has "various modifications to change the sound from 'accuracy' for studio use to 'comfort' for home use." PX-5HS has a wood veneer, the PX-5's is vinyl.

The PX-5HS's US price is $899 per pair, £649 per pair including tax in the UK, and AU$1,199 per pair including GST in Australia.

Fostex was founded in 1973 in Japan and is now one of the world's largest developers of OEM speaker and transducer products, employing over 20,000 people in nine countries. They make analogue and digital mixers; a range of microphones, headphones, studio monitors and portable PA speakers.