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Candidate for best budget, pro quality desktop speaker: Alesis M1 Active520

The Audiophiliac checks out an entry-level professional quality desktop monitor speaker from Alesis.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
Alesis M1 Active520 desktop/computer speaker Alesis

I didn't know the retail price of the newly revised Alesis M1 Active520 desktop/computer speakers when I first set them up. I assumed they ran $300 to $400 a pair. They look and feel that expensive, so imagine my surprise when the company's representative sent an e-mail quoting a $199 minimum advertised price or MAP.

"That's each," I asked. She said no, "The M1 Active520 retails for $199 a pair." Well alright!

This bi-amplified speaker features a built-in 25-watt amplifier for the 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter and a 50-watt amplifier for the 5-inch polypropylene woofer. The cabinet feels solidly built and features a 1-inch thick front baffle!

The M1 Active520 is a professional monitor speaker, so it doesn't have an RCA input, just XLR and TRS 1/4-inch input jacks on the rear panel. Chances are your computer or digital converter doesn't have those jacks, but the work around solution is simple enough, just buy a $6 RCA-to-1/4-inch plug cable to hook up the M1 Active520 to your desktop system. The speaker measures 6.5 inches wide by 10.5 inches high by 7.75 inches deep, and it weighs 13 pounds. There's a rear-mounted bass port, so you'll need to place the speakers at least six inches away from the wall for best sound.

The bass is solid, the midrange is clear, and the treble detailed. Designed as a pro monitor the M1 Active520 has a neutral, uncolored sound signature, so it doesn't add warmth or bump up any frequency range. You can alter the sound with the speaker's high, midrange, and low frequency equalization switches on the rear panel to accommodate your tonal balance preferences.

The M1 Active520's rear panel's connectivity and controls Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I compared the M1 Active520 with Audioengine's recently revised A2+ desktop speakers ($249/pair). The A2+ is a much smaller speaker, it's just 6 inches high, and has a built-in USB digital converter. But it sounds smaller overall, and it makes a lot less bass. If you can accommodate something larger than the A2+ the M1 Active520 would be worth considering. The A2+ is a wonderful little speaker, but as always with speakers' sound quality, size matters.

Hans Zimmer's "Man of Steel" score on CD has loads of big drums pounding away and tons of deep bass. The M1 Active520 did a good job, but the JBL LSR305 monitors are more dynamically alive, go deeper in the bass, and project a bigger, more precisely focused soundstage. That speaker's suggested retail price is double the M1 Active520's, but the LSR305's heavily discounted price is just $240, or $40 more than the M1 Active520.