DESKTOP SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 14, 2017 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Small-footprint amp and speakers
Streaming app
Hi-res capable
Minus
No analog line input
No S/PDIF input
No sub output

THE VERDICT
The Sony CAS-1 is a sleek and simple desktop system, optimized for input from computers and mobile devices, with sweetly addictive near-field imaging.

It’s been 21 years since the MP3 audio file format made its debut, 17 years since Napster revolutionized the distribution of digital music, 15 years since the iPod brought that music to a pocketable device, and 13 years since Apple made downloads legit with the iTunes music store. Computerized audio is now enjoying a vigorous middle age—old enough to support lots of audio products and system configurations, young enough for some of those products to be innovative. Outfitting your desktop with an audio system can cost as little as $13.99 for a pair of AmazonBasics powered speakers or as much as several thousand dollars for the highest-end speakers and integrated amps recommended by our sister site AudioStream.com.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Mar 07, 2016 0 comments
One of the hottest trends in consumer electronics is multi-room speaker systems. While single, portable Bluetooth speakers are fine for travel and using outdoors, many people are seeking simple and elegant solutions for whole-home listening. The new Libratone Zipp ($300) and Libratone Zipp Mini ($250) are certainly interesting options.

Bob Ankosko Posted: Dec 18, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $395

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Striking design
Excellent build quality
Impressive sound
Subwoofer output (for gamers and bass hounds)
Minus
A remote control would be nice (for some applications)

THE VERDICT
The extraordinary Talisman speakers take desktop music to a new level.

The decision to feature Serene Audio’s Talisman in our Premiere Design section (November) was a no-brainer. We’ve seen lots of unusual speakers over the years but nothing quite like the squiggly lines of Sia Rezaei’s imaginative design. You might hate it, but I find it inspiring. And it’s a desktop speaker that’s only 8 inches tall. I don’t know about you, but I spend way too many hours pecking away in front of a computer, usually with Pandora playing in the background through a pair of cheap (no excuses, I know) computer speakers. The promise of great sound from visually striking desktop speakers appeals to me, so I asked Rezaei to send me a set of Talismans.

Fred Manteghian Posted: Dec 16, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Powerful and dynamic
Faithfully reproduces acoustic instruments and vocals
Extremely well built
Minus
Expensive, to be sure

THE VERDICT
Unbelievable sound quality for a one-piece music system.

How proud are the English of the English? Pretty damn. It’s why Bentley chose Naim for their “in-cabin” sound systems. (They don’t even call it automotive sound. How cool is that?) I asked that an appropriately equipped Bentley be sent along for comparison to Naim’s one-piece Mu-so music system, but alas, no review samples were currently available (or so I was told). That’s OK, I’ll just sit in my easy chair and use a calf’s-leather-scented plug-in air freshener to re-create the ambiance while I listen to the Mu-so.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Oct 05, 2015 2 comments
Pop quiz: What image first comes to your mind when you hear Bluetooth speaker system? Is it a small, portable, single-cabinet pseudo-stereo box with meager amplification? Would it blow your mind to imagine a Bluetooth system that’s actually a 2.1 desktop system, complete with two stand-alone two-way speakers, a separate amplifier/control box and yes, a separate subwoofer? Take a look at the Thonet & Vander Rätsel BT 2.1 Bluetooth system with a 75-watt. Sadly, I’ve gotten so accustomed to tiny little Bluetooth speakers that my mind was suitably blown.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 20, 2014 8 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $249/pair

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Inviting, carefully tailored sonics
USB computer input
Easy setup
Minus
Controls in back
Unprotected drivers

THE VERDICT
Our audio editor’s favorite budget desktop (and TV) speakers have gotten more convenient thanks to the addition of a PC-friendly USB input, making them an even better value.

We may love good sound, but we can’t completely banish bad sound from our lives. We can’t listen to vinyl and high-rez audio all the time. We’ve all got some lousy MP3 files in our music libraries, love streaming services, and endure blaring SUV ads on TV. What’s the best way to make this substandard content palatable? Audioengine has offered compelling answers for years with its powered speakers, the chunky Audioengine 5 and smaller Audioengine 2. Now they’re available in variations that can accept USB input from a computer, including the Audioengine 2+ reviewed here.
Al Griffin Posted: Apr 03, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Spacious bipolar sound
Ample bass for a desktop speaker
Stylish look
Minus
Slightly edgy midrange at high volume levels

THE VERDICT
Def Tech’s desktop speaker succeeds in bringing dynamic hi-fi sound to the home office.

Most early examples of desktop computer speakers were funny-looking, bad-sounding, cheaply constructed things. There were exceptions (models from Audioengine come to mind), but these tended to be rare. Although things have improved somewhat since then, any new desktop speaker trying to earn some respect still has its work cut out for it.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 26, 2012 7 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $600 At a Glance: 2.1 independently amped channels • Bluetooth and dock connectivity • Tweaked by Paul Barton

The NAD VISO 1 was an immediate hit in my household from the moment it was uncrated. Between my roommate and myself, it received Bluetooth input from an iPad 2, iPhone 4, and iPod touch 2G. The dock played host to two iPod nano 6Gs and two nano 2Gs in addition to the nano 5G actually used for formal demos. Though not portable in the strictest sense—it won’t slip easily into a briefcase or carry-on—the system was still movable, and eager hands shifted it from living room to bedroom to kitchen. It was pressed into service to provide music for ballet exercises, cooking, reading, and bedtime listening.

Rob Sabin Posted: Oct 02, 2011 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $600 At A Glance: Excellent tonality • Good imaging • Cumbersome WiFi setup

I've never been a big fan of paying for brand names for their own sake. Build quality? Yes. Performance? Absolutely. Aesthetics? Sure. Ease of use? Certainly. Each of those has value, and it often makes sense to pay more, even a lot more, for any one of them. But sometimes, in the course of shopping for whatever, you encounter an entry from a well-respected or even elite brand that at first glance seems so outlandishly priced you have stop and wonder: what am I really paying for here?

Suffice to say that was me when Bowers & Wilkins first suggested I take a little ride with the Zeppelin Air, the company's $600 iPod dock...

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 08, 2011 1 comments
Price: $300 At A Glance: Internet radio in attractive wood-veneer box • Also accesses music from PC or USB device • Wi-Fi or wired connection

Net Radio in a Box

This review needn’t be complicated. The product certainly isn’t. Tivoli Audio’s NetWorks Internet Radio is a little wooden box that plays Internet radio. Aside from the remote, it has only one visible control, a wheel on top. If you never deviate from a favorite station, you’ll rarely even think about the other controls.

Kim Wilson Posted: Jan 19, 2011 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $399

At A Glance: Single-box solution • Easy setup and operation • Perfect for smaller rooms, garage, and outdoors • Integrates with existing Sonos systems • Product now called Play:5

Sonos, a leader in low-cost, wholehouse audio, has made it possible to inexpensively stream audio from a computer to multiple A/V systems using one or more of its ZonePlayers. The $399 Sonos S5, the newest ZonePlayer, is completely self-contained. It incorporates its own power supply, amplification, and internal speakers, which allows audio streaming from a wide variety of sources without a dedicated sound system. It can serve as your main (or only) ZonePlayer or as an extension of an existing Sonos system.

Scott Wilkinson Posted: Feb 09, 2010 0 comments
When I profiled the B&W Zeppelin and Zeppelin Mini iPod sound systems in my Ultimate Gear blog, I got several requests for a real review. So I contacted B&W, which sent me both units to play with, and I'm happy to report that they both live up to the company's considerable reputation—once you get the settings right.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 21, 2008 0 comments
Plant a seed, grow an iPod docking system.

My first impression of the mStation was that it had grown out of the ground. Having just uncrated it, I knew it hadn’t really sprung out of the carpet, of course. Yet somehow it seemed more like a young stand of trees than a floorstanding iPod docking system. If I waited long enough, would this self-contained trio of cylinders erupt in branches and leaves? No, and yet there was something organic about it. The pair of metal speaker tubes seemed to rise up from the base, while the subwoofer drum suspended between them seemed to levitate in midair. In addition to having a whiff of the arboreal, it also resembled a headless robot.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Dec 11, 2006 0 comments
The biggest bang for the box.

I was smitten with Polk's I-Sonic tabletop system when I first laid eyes (but no hands-this was a prototype) on it at a Polk press conference. The strong fixation, no doubt, grew out of my need to replace an aging Bose Wave radio that had served me well but was clearly at its watts' end. I was also enticed by the unusually swanky set of features (a built-in DVD player, XM capability, and HD Radio). And then, of course, there was the fact that I couldn't get my hands on one; exclusivity is often enticing.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 04, 2006 Published: Nov 04, 2006 0 comments
Start your engines.

The increasing iPod-centricity of the audio industry has not prevented one brave manufacturer from releasing a product without the omnipresent iPod dock. Why would Audioengine do such a thing? Their Website explains: "There are so many iPod-dock products on the market right now, so we made a decision early on to spend our development budget and time on audio quality and other features (like USB charging). We feel that Apple docks are the best, so why waste resources trying to redesign a nearly perfect dock? We were also able to keep Audioengine pricing much lower without integrating a 30-pin dock system."

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