M-Audio AV 40
Not to sound condescending, but M-Audio's Studiophile AV 40 Desktop Speaker System makes most PC and multimedia speakers seem rather puny by comparison. It's not just their size (the M-Audio speakers resemble desktop studio monitors); if you listen to a lot of CDs, watch DVDs, or play games on your computer, M-Audio's larger-than-average speakers should be on your short list. They sounded bigger, delivered more bass, and played louder than the other PC speakers we had on hand. True, the big speakers might be a little too big for some buyers, but if sound quality is high up on your list, you'll find a way to squeeze these bad boys onto your desktop. They're also a great choice if you're looking for a good pair of powered speakers to use with any sort of nonamplified audio device, such as an iPod dock, CD player, or digital audio device.
The M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 system consists of a pair of 8.75-inch-tall desktop speakers. While that doesn't sound very big, the speaker's 6-inch width and 7.25-inch depth make for a fairly bulky design. They weigh 14 pounds each.
The tweeter and woofer are each covered with black mesh grilles. The matte-finished vinyl-wrap and medium-density fiberboard cabinets look and feel more like hi-fi speakers than the usual plastic PC/multimedia speakers. The left speaker is easily distinguished from the right because it's the one with a volume-control knob, which is encircled in blue light.
M-Audio's more affordable Studiophile AV 20 and AV 30 share the AV 40's basic feature set, but are somewhat smaller in size.
The rear of the left speaker has stereo RCA inputs. Combined with the included 3.5mm to RCA stereo cable, that means you can pretty much connect anything with a headphone or line-out jack to the speakers, be it your computer, an iPod, DVD player, and so forth. The speaker includes quarter of an inch "TRS" inputs for professional applications, as well. The left speaker also houses the power on/off and Bass Boost switches, as well as the push-clip connectors that you use to run the included hookup wire over to the right speaker. Up front there's a 3.5mm headphone jack and a 3.5mm auxiliary input to connect any sort of portable device, such as an iPod.
The AV 40 features a two-way design; each speaker has a 4-inch polypropylene-coated woofer and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. The built-in amplifier delivers 20 watts per channel.
The Studiophile AV 40 immediately impressed us when we played some of our favorite Rolling Stones tunes. We cranked the volume up nice and loud and the sound remained clear while the bass was punchy. When we experimented with the Bass Boost control, it added a nice kick and didn't become overblown or boomy.
The Buena Vista Social Club CD demonstrated a different side of the Studiophile AV 40's talents--the soundstage between the two speakers had an open, unboxy sound that smaller PC speakers can't match. Vocals in particular benefited from this open quality. The acoustic bass instruments sounded very natural, defined, and powerful demonstrating the Studiophile AV 40 as a good hi-fi speaker.
The horse racing scenes on the Seabiscuit DVD were exciting and intense. The film's orchestral score didn't sound shrill and anemic the way it does on many smaller PC speakers. Sure, big-time home-theater dynamics are beyond the capabilities of the Studiophile AV 40, but its size advantages over smaller PC speakers on special-effects-laden DVD movies such as Serenity will be obvious to even the most casual of listeners. That said, as good as the Studiophile AV 40 is, it's still not on par with a decent home theater in a box system.
Rounding things out, we fired up Unreal Tournament 3 for some online fragging and came away satisfied. Gamers will appreciate the big speakers' muscle and power on the virtual battlefield and for online play.