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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Audyssey's potent little Lower East Side desktop speakers

Most very small speakers are bass-challenged, and then there are the Audyssey Lower East Side Media Speakers. They rock!

Audyssey Lower East Side speaker Audyssey

There are times when you can't quite believe what you're hearing. Little speakers' bass limitations are a fact of life, but Audyssey's Lower East Side Media Speakers can generate considerably more bass punch than I've heard from any speaker of this size and price. Beyond the bass, the sound was lively and fun; I really enjoyed spending time with these speakers.

The Audyssey Web site lists the price at $249.99 a pair, but Amazon sells 'em for $199.95.

The red-accented, matte-black plastic cabinets feel sturdy and come mounted on metal desk stands that tilt the speakers back at a rakish angle, so the sound is aimed up toward your ears. The left and right speakers aren't identified in any way, but after I played a few recordings I learned the speaker with the volume control was the right speaker.

How little are they? Just 9.3 by 5 by 6.8 inches. The black cloth grilles aren't removable, but I'll take Audyssey's word for it that the LES has a 0.75-inch tweeter and a 3.5-inch woofer, and there's a 3.5mm headphone jack up front. The back hosts an exposed oval passive radiator that augments the woofer's bass output. The amplifiers for the left and right speakers are in the right channel speaker, which houses the volume control and Toslink optical digital and 3.5mm analog inputs. Those two inputs should cover most hookup scenarios with Apple TVs, computers, TVs, Blu-ray and DVD players, cable and satellite boxes, games, iPods, and phones.

Audioengine's A2 speakers ($199 a pair) are about the same size, but the Lower East Side speakers have more bass energy and they're more dynamically alive. Again, the bass punch is remarkable for a small speaker, so unless you really crave bass you won't need to add a subwoofer.

The LES isn't the most accurate speaker I've heard, the treble and bass aren't "flat," but I still enjoyed the sound. It pulled me in, and the Audioengine A2 speakers by comparison felt a little bland. The A2's charm is its easygoing, rather laid-back sound, so you might say the Audioengine and Audyssey speakers are polar opposites. Evan Rachel Wood's jazzy take on Dylan's "I'd Have You Anytime" sounded close and intimate on the A2s; their smoother tone suited the music better than the LES speakers did.

The LES speaker, front and back Audyssey

The LES' treble coarseness might irritate buyers who live on a steady diet of acoustic music, and cymbals can sound a little rough. So for this review I gravitated to the other musical extreme and concentrated on electric and electronic tunes. I was amazed by the way the LES kicked butt with DJ Krush's "Jaku" album. Man, the pumped-up beats had a solidity and punch that I've never heard from a speaker as small as the LES.

The low-end emphasis was especially impressive when I had the volume turned way down; the music still sounded great. Size limitations were more evident with the sound turned up loud. The LES is a little speaker, after all, so don't expect a 9-inch-tall speaker to put out enough sound to fill a big room for a party, that's not going to happen. Listening in the nearfield on a desktop, the LES played loud enough for me.

DJ Krush's sound with the A2s was definitely acceptable, but the beats didn't connect like they did over the LESes. I didn't try them with my TV, but the LESes would probably sound great as TV speakers. I like the LES and A2 for different reasons, but if you want something that sounds a lot better than either one, no problem: get Emotiva's Airmotiv 4 speakers, which go for $399 a pair.