We recently auditioned the M-Audio's Studiophile AV 40 stereo speakers, and found a lot to like. Those big, beefy monitors were great for audio from a PC or any other stereo audio source. However, with 4-inch woofers and speakers weighing 14 pounds each, the AV 40s required a design and spatial commitment that not everyone's going to be willing to make (especially in the usually crowded environment of a computer desk). So we decided to check out M-Audio's smallest and least expensive speakers, the Studiophile AV 20s.
Although they're not as large as the company's step-up models, the M-Audio Studiophile AV 20 stereo speakers still take up a sizable amount of desktop space. Each of the speakers is 7.8 inches tall by 4 inches wide by 6 inches deep and weighs about 10 pounds.
While reminiscent of its more expensive siblings, the design of the AV 20s is narrower and less boxy--the front face arcs upward, and the corners and edges are rounded. The speakers sport a medium-density fiberboard housing, with a strip of black vinyl accentuating the tweeter and woofer, which are covered with black mesh metal grilles. The left speaker is easily distinguished from the right speaker with a volume-control knob/power switch, which is encircled in blue light.
The only input is a single pair of stereo RCA (red and white) connectors on the rear of the left speaker. That lets you connect pretty much any audio source with stereo line outputs (DVD player, stereo receiver) or--with the included 3.5mm-to-RCA stereo cable--anything with a standard headphone jack (PC, iPod, portable player). The power cable also plugs into the back of the left speaker--the power transformer is built-in, so there's no wall wart or power brick. Both speakers have spring-clip connectors, which is how you link them together (with the included speaker wire).
The Studiophile AV 20 features a built-in Class D amplifier that delivers 10 watts per channel. The speakers use a two-way design: each one has, according to M-Audio, a 2-inch composite paper/fiberglass woofer and a 1-inch Mylar balanced-dome tweeter.
However, that tiny woofer--half the size of the one on the AV 40--is the problem. The Studiophile AV 20 miniaturized the sumptuous production of "Paper Moon" from Whiskeytown's Pneumonia album. The strings and percussion instruments sounded harsh, and Ryan Adams' vocals were likewise undernourished. The bright sonic character was present regardless of the type of music we played. And since the speakers don't have bass and/or treble controls, we were stuck with that sound (or forced to adjust it at the source).
We did a shoot-out with Creative's GigaWorks T40 speaker, which is about a third larger than the Studiophile AV 20. The differences between the Creative and M-Audio weren't huge, but the larger speaker was less bright, with a bit more bass oomph. We first listened with the T40's bass and treble controls set "flat," and after we adjusted the controls to our liking, the Creative pulled further ahead. Back with the Studiophile AV 20, Tom Petty's "Square One" from his Highway Companion just sounded overly bright, without much bass support--even by PC speaker standards.
We also put the AV 20s up against the $90 Bose Companion 2 Series II--and found the M-Audio product to do a better job. Overall, the M-Audios delivered a somewhat cleaner, crisper sound, free of the noticeable sibilance exhibited by the Bose. That said, the evaluation was more a confirmation of the Bose's weakness than the M-audio's strength. And the Bose models did include the second input and headphone jack missing on the M-Audio.
The bottom line is that we were disappointed. The M-Audio Studiophile AV 20s are serviceable PC speakers, but they lack the capability of their more powerful--and admittedly more expensive--brethren in terms of delivering deep bass. That 2-inch woofer just couldn't keep up in our tests, producing a sound that was comparatively thin. True, not everybody can fit a large pair of speakers on their desks, and the smaller ones deliver comparatively thinner sound. Still, if you're looking for that ideal pair of powered speakers to use with any sort of nonamplified audio device (PC, iPod dock, CD player), we'd stick with the $150 M-Audio Studiophile AV 40s or $100 AV 30s, and accept their larger size as a worthwhile compromise for the improved sound quality.