Power to the Speakers: Three New Active Desktop Systems Page 5

"Comparisons are odorous," Dogberry tells us in Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare is riffing on the philosopher's "comparison is odious," a thought originating with Donne, Cervantes, Marlowe, or, probably some still earlier wit). Fortunately, I'm not afraid of a little odiousity.

The Paradigm Shifts are brighter than the Audysseys, which are brighter than the Audioengines. The A2s also play louder than the 5+'s, but only a bit - and if you don't mind a little "hair" on your sound, not even that. The little Audysseys fall well short of either in the clean-level derby, but still play far louder and cleaner than they have any right to do.

The Audioengines sounded the most beguiling in my desktop setup, but at lower levels the Audysseys virtually matched them, albeit with a crisper presentation. In-room/on-stands, the Paradigm Shift's gave the most high-end-sounding far-field reproduction (though again, not by much of a margin), with a big, airy image and worthy dynamic contrast. On the desktop, I found the A2's became a little fatiguing when placed too close; at arm's length or more they sounded simply fabulous. (This gets complicated, because if your desktop speakers are behind the video monitor's plane you get undesirable acoustic reflections and diffractions. Actually, you get a goodly dose of these even when they're coplanar, so a few inches in front is best. Thus, if your eyesight permits it, monitor placement of 2 feet or so is just about ideal.)

Which would I buy? All three. If I wanted something that was primarily a "computer speaker" that could serve for fairly serious occasional music listening as well, the Audysseys' size and placement flexibility make them the obvious choice. For a permanent in-room hi-fi setup the Paradigm Shift A2s impressed me as the most competitive with a high-end amp-and-mini-monitor combo. And the Paradigms and the Audioengine 5+ compete very effectively with small-bookshelf/integrated amp combos that sell for $800 total - or more.

All three are tremendous values. And more are out there - with more still, doubtless, on the way. The revolution has begun. Power To the Speakers!