Looking for subjective impressions on 2.0 bookshelf/monitor options

brettjrob

Limp Gawd
Joined
Aug 3, 2008
Messages
387
After half a year of ownership, I've determined my M-Audio AV30's are simply not meeting my needs. The midrange is richer and more accurate than any multimedia/computer speaker set I owned in the past, but something still isn't quite right.

Basically, the AV30/AV40 sound is too "sterile" or "dead" for my tastes. Drums/cymbals just don't sound crisp or lively at all. It's like music is trapped within the speakers themselves, and is not being projected forward to my ears. That probably sounds ridiculously stupid, but I can't think of any better way to describe it. I hate to invoke audiophile terms I don't really understand, but I'd say the "soundstage" is focused too much in front of me, whereas I want it to be centered on me. I have them set up as the manual recommends, about 3 ft. apart and facing 30° inward, and I'm sitting 2-3 ft. in front of them with the tweeters at ear-level.

So now I'm looking for replacements, but I want to stick with a 2.0 setup. My highest priority is to find a set that sound more "forward" and lively. Just to be clear, lack of bass isn't my problem with the AV30; it's just the subjective character and soundstage of the mids/highs. If anything, I'd sacrifice bass to get better mids and highs, if I must.

I care exclusively about music -- specifically, modern rock/alternative/progressive type stuff. I game and watch movies from time to time, but couldn't care less about wall-shaking bass when I do. I don't plan on mixing my own music on these, either. Oh, and I'll be using them on my desk and sitting just a couple feet in front of them, so they don't need to sound good from across a room.

I'd really like to hear people's subjective descriptions of the sound put out by various popular 2.0 bookshelf and monitor sets, especially relative to one another. I see a lot of brands recommended here -- Polk, Energy, KRK, Mackie, etc. -- but rarely does anyone compare and contrast how they differ from one another. I'd love to find a store that lets me try them out myself, but unfortunately I don't have that option, living where I do.

I'm open to both active and passive options -- although if I go the passive route, I'm not sure whether to get (a) a receiver, or (b) a USB DAC + T-amp. Budget is around $250-300 total, so for passive options, I'd prefer the speakers themselves to be in the $150 range.
 

Zepher

[H]ipster Replacement
Joined
Sep 29, 2001
Messages
20,030
My brother bought the M-Audio Bx5a monitors yesterday at Guitar Center and they sound very crisp, clean and full for a small monitor. We listened to 5 other active monitors in the same size and price range ($150-250) and these sounded the most natural.

He was using Polk speakers and a sony receiver but wanted to use the Polks for his rears on his surround setup so he bought the M-Audio monitors.
 

brettjrob

Limp Gawd
Joined
Aug 3, 2008
Messages
387
Thanks for the replies.

Zepher: I've read a lot of good things about the Bx5a, yet I'm leary of going with another M-Audio active monitor set when I'm dissatisfied with the AV30's. We do have a Guitar Center here in the OKC metro area, but it's almost an hour away from me. Maybe I can make the trek up there as a last resort.

spaceman: I've also seen the WAF-1 mentioned a lot on here, as well as on Head-Fi. There seems to be a good consensus that it's a quality product for the price, but can anyone offer some subjective descriptions of its sound, relative to other speakers they've owned and heard? I'm really looking for something forward and lively. So even if it's a high-quality product, if it has a more recessed or laid-back sound, it may not be a good fit for me.
 

Zepher

[H]ipster Replacement
Joined
Sep 29, 2001
Messages
20,030
I have the Alesis M1 Active MK2 monitors for my setup. They are at the upper range of your budget and are a bit larger than the Bx5a's.

here they are on my desk next to the 19" monitors,
game-setup.jpg
 

spaceman

[H]F Junkie
Joined
Jan 7, 2005
Messages
14,883
You will not get a better match for your needs in that price range than the WAF-1 unless you want to buy used. If used, I would suggest, for example, the Paradigm Atom V5s on audiogon right now. Those are forward and lively. Oh and the Waf-1s have a 30 day money back if I recall correctly. I always give advice in accordance to what I would buy myself. This is based on experience. I have heard all of the Totem, Paradigm, Tannoy, Focal, Cambridge, Usher, Av123(now dead due to an idiot running things), Rega, SVS, Tekton, etc monitors. In the sub $250 price range, the WAF-1s are the best of the lot. They are better than many of the $500+ monitors out there too.
 
Last edited:

Christobevii3

Limp Gawd
Joined
Jul 13, 2008
Messages
294
I use the gizmo and av123's. They are similarly voiced and slightly warm. You should like them a lot.
 

Shike

Weaksauce
Joined
Jun 6, 2005
Messages
81
Yeah, AV123 is gone. The owner did a lot of bad things, we'll leave it at that though.

I'd suggest a used pair of NHT Super Zeros . . . there were a ton of them on ebay after the SZ 2.0's were announced. They're really easy to drive too, so your choice of amplification isn't nearly as important.
 

spaceman

[H]F Junkie
Joined
Jan 7, 2005
Messages
14,883
Yeah NHT is a good used bet too. Basically, get any of the models we have suggested and you will have what you want.
 

Blk02

Limp Gawd
Joined
Feb 19, 2008
Messages
183
I would suggest passive speakers and a stereo amp. Many times companies just take passive speaker boxes and stick an amp in the back, which removes air volume that the speaker could be utilizing for sound reproduction. In the desktop range of speakers this can become even more of an issue because the speaker box is already small to begin with. Also, some active speakers will overheat and shutdown (Audioengine 5). You dont have to utilize an expensive tube amp to get decent sound. You could use an Audioengine N22 amp or try the EMP Tek CS100/VT40.2 tube amp combo deal going on right now. I am also in the market for another 2.0 desktop setup right now, so I will list some of the speakers that I have found great reviews on.

EMP Tek CS100 & VT40.2 Tube Amp Combo Special
http://www.emptek.com/special_cs100_tube.php

Audioengine P4
http://audioengineusa.com/Store/Audioengine-P4

PSB Image B4 or B5
http://www.psbspeakers.com/products/Image-Series/Image-B4-Compact-Bookshelf
 

brettjrob

Limp Gawd
Joined
Aug 3, 2008
Messages
387
After a bit more research, I'm leaning strongly towards the T-amp + passive speaker route, so actives are out.

So far, I've seen the following recommended:

Tweak City WAF-1 -- good price, but obscure company; not sure I want the risk of losing support/warranty if they go under
Alesis M1 -- a bit out of my price range
NHT Super Zero
PSB Image B4 -- pushing the edge of my price range

Any further recommendations would be welcome, as well as opinions on these speakers as pertains to music playback. To summarize my original post: looking for passive 2.0's in the $100-250 range, will be used as computer speakers (nearfield), care exclusively about music, and want forward/lively sound.
 

TESLA

Gawd
Joined
Aug 4, 2005
Messages
936
I would suggest getting a pair of the sub-$100 Insignia (yes, the BestBuy store brand) bookshelf speakers (Model # NS-B211). (They have been listed for less in the past, but their current price is $87.98 new, before tax, with free shipping.)

Do not let the brand name fool you; these really sound very good for the money and are of excellent build quality.

They are also very forward (often listed as a possible negative), which you seem to like in your speakers.

I would then put as much of your budget as possible into the T-amp.

If you can swing it, I would, without a doubt, get the Kingrex T20 AMP. These are for sale for $259, sans a required DC 12V power supply, at ALO Audio. (For $299 you can get the AMP + DAC version which will act as a wonderful USB sound card, which is certainly worth it if you can afford it.)

If the Kingrex is out of your budget, even with the savings from buying the Insignias, ALO Audio also sells a T-amp made by Trends which sounds very nice. The Trends does have less power, however, so the Insignias will not open up as much (less dynamics) as they would with a higher powered amplifier.
 

brettjrob

Limp Gawd
Joined
Aug 3, 2008
Messages
387
I would suggest getting a pair of the sub-$100 Insignia (yes, the BestBuy store brand) bookshelf speakers (Model # NS-B211). (They have been listed for less in the past, but their current price is $87.98 new, before tax, with free shipping.)

Do not let the brand name fool you; these really sound very good for the money and are of excellent build quality.

They are also very forward (often listed as a possible negative), which you seem to like in your speakers.

I would then put as much of your budget as possible into the T-amp.

If you can swing it, I would, without a doubt, get the Kingrex T20 AMP. These are for sale for $259, sans a required DC 12V power supply, at ALO Audio. (For $299 you can get the AMP + DAC version which will act as a wonderful USB sound card, which is certainly worth it if you can afford it.)

If the Kingrex is out of your budget, even with the savings from buying the Insignias, ALO Audio also sells a T-amp made by Trends which sounds very nice. The Trends does have less power, however, so the Insignias will not open up as much (less dynamics) as they would with a higher powered amplifier.
I've seen the Insignia's widely mentioned as being a steal, and also as having a very forward soundstage. However, I've also read several blurbs about their being a bit muddy and having weak highs, so I'm wondering if they're more suited to a home theater than serious music listening (which is all I care about). Have you heard them for yourself? How would you describe their music reproduction, if so?

Also, I've seen them in-store, and I'm honestly not sure they'd even fit on my desk. I'm not too fickle about desk space or aesthetics, but those things would be freakin' monsters as desktop speakers.
 

Zenshi

Gawd
Joined
Jul 7, 2007
Messages
676
@brettjrob - As many suggested some nice options, I will not add to the list. Rather I was wondering about the issue with your AV30's. From what you say, I am not sure if the problem is an imaging issue, a high end bandwidth issue, a response time issue or an accuracy issue.

I am a noob regarding audio but from what I know imaging is the speaker's ability to give a less direction soundstage. In otherwords there is less angluar dependence on its frequency spectrum for speakers with higher imaging. Whereas, bandwidth on the high end is just that, your speakers cannot reach the highs too well and either gets distorted or rolls off. For response time, this depends on how fast the speaker can respond to the sound signal (basically the electrical signals that come into the speaker). Finally accuracy is that you have good imaging and good high end limits but the frequency spectrum is not flat so that some high frequencies sound less than others. Again, being a noob, I am not sure if I am explaining this well.

Originally, when I read your problem of hearing the sound like it was too far in front of you, I thought it was an imaging problem. However, if that was the case, some orientation of the speakers may resolve or improve this. On the other hand you also say your high end sounds like cymbals do not seem crisp. This made me think it may not be imaging at all but that you have roll off (bandwidth issue) or your high end is not flat (accuracy issue). If this is the case, then some sounds would not sound true and you may feel like the sound was unfocused (making you feel that the focus was somewhere else). However since this is not an imaging issue, no amount of placement of the speaker would resolve this since it never will sound accurate.

Then I noticed that the lows such as the drums were also not crisp. This made me wonder more about the timing of the speaker since it is both in the high frequency (cymbals) and the lows (drums). It is just that very sharp spikes in sound like percussion instruments sound rounded. I would think this would be due to one of two things. First the speaker is not fast enough to respond to the electrical signal, causing lag. This then would muffle the sound since the lag broadens the sharpness of the signal (I am talking sharpness wrt to a tempral scale and not a frequency scale). However, you may also have resonance issues in that the speaker once it emits a sound does not finish the sound quickly but that it decays in time. For example if a sharp quick sound was sent to the speaker, does is also come down quickly after the sound or is there some time it takes to go down. This I would think would also muffle and round any sharp sounds in the speaker. If this is the case, then you can have accuracy, high frequency range but it will sound as you say "dull" due to the muffled tempral response.

I am not sure what sort of drivers or cabinet the AV30 provides but if the cabinet stability is not there, I can imagine it gives less than crisp sound. You may want to look for a speaker that uses drivers that are known for fast response and that the cabinets are strong structurally.

I am not sure what speakers give this. In general the speakers that have good reviews probably are better in overall response. Something like the Ascend Sierra 1s or Dynaudio or Adam monitors are probably no-brainer choices. However they are expensive and if you are looking for a lower price speaker, you may want to read up to see what has good accuracy, imaging and uses decent drivers and a cabinet that uses 3/4" MDF. Unfortunately I am not sure what that is.

This is a very interesting subject that brings something I always wondered about. The Logitech speakers uses some ok drivers (they uses Tangband drivers in speakers such as the Z5500) but their sound is often given as "dull" or "muffled" or "muddy". I am wondering if its more an enclosure issue, an amp issue or driver issue...or all three? Just wondering.
 

TESLA

Gawd
Joined
Aug 4, 2005
Messages
936
***snip***
Have you heard them for yourself? How would you describe their music reproduction, if so?

Also, I've seen them in-store, and I'm honestly not sure they'd even fit on my desk. I'm not too fickle about desk space or aesthetics, but those things would be freakin' monsters as desktop speakers.

I have heard them, and they were very impressive for their price. Keep in mind when reading some reviews that these speakers are billed as "bang for the buck" versus other more expensive options and are often compared to far more expensive speakers. They are amazing sub-$100 speakers, but they are still sub-$100 speakers and, as such, have their faults.

Do not expect the Insignias to take on $600+ bookshelves or active monitors. That is not why they are billed as such great speakers. They are billed as great speakers because they are able to outperform or match anything else in the $200-300+ range and perhaps even keep pace, but not outperform, in the $400 price range in some areas.

Also, these speakers are most often found in 2.x configurations (for music), at least in the critical listening community, so I would not worry about that.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these are bookshelves and not true monitors. They are not magnetically shielded and should not be used right next to your computer case or a CRT. They also should not be placed right in front of your face. (This holds true for most bookshelves, not just the Insignias; I would allow at least 2-3 feet between the speakers and your listening position and allow at least a foot of open air behind the speakers as well for best results.)

Lastly, the quality and output of the amplifier is important as well if you are still going the T-amp route. As stated previously, you will have better dynamics with the more powerful Kingrex T20 versus the cheaper but less powerful Trends. (Again, this situation is not unique to the Insignias, but it does help to explain how these speakers can be seen as weak in some setups and wonderful in others.)
 

Zenshi

Gawd
Joined
Jul 7, 2007
Messages
676
Last edited:

PCMusicGuy

[H]ard|Gawd
Joined
Feb 9, 2006
Messages
1,220
I use the Insignias at the office with an A500 amp. Well worth the $35 bucks when I got them on sale.
 

spaceman

[H]F Junkie
Joined
Jan 7, 2005
Messages
14,883
Pnsignias are worth $35. I would not pay more than $50 for them. They do ok but yeah. Not close to something like Ascend Acoustics.There are a lot of $100 bookshelves you can get used too. Paradigm, energy, etc. All very decent and solid enough to buy used without hesitation.
 

TESLA

Gawd
Joined
Aug 4, 2005
Messages
936
Yeah, I feel slightly embarrassed now. I went back and talked with my friend whose Insignias I had heard; apparently he has the Ninja crossovers in them and slightly modified cabinets, which he says improved the sound quite a bit... :eek: (I believe this is why I rated them as sounding in the $300 range, but I would still wager that in the sub-$100 to $150 bracket they are amongst the best you will find in terms of new speakers.)

My recommendation still stands, however, in that if you were to get Insignias or another pair of well regarded inexpensive speakers and put more money into the T-amp, you will have a better experience overall and a clearer upgrade path down the line.
 

daddy-o

Weaksauce
Joined
Apr 2, 2010
Messages
84
I have the Insignias plus a t-amp from Parts Express, and the combo is outstanding. I ended up swapping the Insignias out for a pair of Energy CB-5's for size alone (wife concession), but the Insignias were outstanding, almost better in every way.
 
Top