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Speakers

Sitting pretty: These curvy desktop speakers dazzled the Audiophiliac

From Canada, Serene Audio's Talisman speakers will strike a chord with the audiophile crowd.

Desktop audio, aka computer speakers, have always fascinated me. They differ from regular stereo speakers in that desktop speakers are designed to be listened to in the "nearfield," from 2 to 5 feet (just over half a meter to 1.5 meters) away from the speakers. That's not to say these speakers can't also be enjoyed from further away.

I've been smitten by more than a few Audioengine, Emotiva, JBL, KEF, and M-Audio active (self-powered) desktop speakers, so when Serene Audio requested a review, I was curious about their rather distinctly designed Talisman monitor ($395, £379 in the UK, AU$300 in Australia; prices are per pair). Talisman was designed and manufactured by Serene Audio in Canada, and warranty coverage runs 5 years.

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Serene Audio Talisman speakers Serene Audio

I'm just guessing of course, but Talisman's curvy shape is either a love-it or hate-it thing, I think it's attractive, and the black (or white) leather-covered sides, top and bottom are a nice contrast to the speaker's real bamboo wood finish. My wife thinks the Talismans are really cute.

The 8-inch (203mm) tall cabinet is beautifully constructed, the 3-inch (76mm) full-range driver is exposed and no grille is provided. There's a small bass port on the backside, so don't plan on jamming these guys up against a wall, leave at least some clearance back there.

Connectivity is as basic as it comes, there's just one mini-jack, 3.5 mm analog input, so you can hook up the Talisman speakers to a phone, tablet, computer, or even a turntable (as long as it has a built-in phono preamp like the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable does). There's also a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and a RCA subwoofer output jack on the right speaker, that speaker also contains amplifiers for both speakers, and a volume control, which is inconveniently located on the back panel. Or you can control volume from your phone, tablet, computer, etc.

Even without a tweeter the sound had plenty of detail and clarity; bass was reasonably full, but with a 3-inch driver the Talisman's bass wasn't deep or gutsy. Adding a sub to the Talismans will obviously bump up the bass, but that's not going to transform these little guys enough to please head bangers.

I listened to jazz, electronica, acoustic and world music and found a lot to like about the clear sound. Weezer's "The Blue Album" was less satisfying, these little speakers just don't have it in them to rock out; when I tried they sounded strained and harsh. Switching over to my Adam Audio F5 desktop monitors, they played louder, were more dynamic, and the bass can roaring back to life.

Brian Eno's ambient music was downright atmospheric over the Talismans; the sound came forward of the plane of the speakers and floated there, not only that, the soundstage extended far beyond the width of the speakers on my desktop! These little speakers all but disappeared as sources of sound; the Talismans reminded me of the wide-open sound of flat panel speakers. The Adam Audio F5s' soundstage was smaller in all dimensions.

I mostly listened to the Talismans on my desktop, but also from 6 feet away in my office, the speakers sounded just as good there. I would draw the line at home theater applications that use stereo speakers, the Talismans won't pin-your-ears-back with high-impact sound. Otherwise, the Serene Audio Talisman is a terrific little speaker.