Monday, 20 February 2012

Westone W1 Quick Review

Westone W1 Quick Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

Brief: Westone aims for the consumer market

Price: £84


Driver Unit Balanced armature, full range

Ear coupling Intraaural (in-canal)

Frequency Response 20Hz -16 kHz

Impedance 30 ohms @1kHz

Input Connection 3.5mm Angled

Max. Power Input 40mW

Microphone (w/a) N/A

Noise Isolation Passive - Up to 90% of ambient noise*

Sensitivity 117 dB SPL/mW @1kHz

Accessories: Deluxe travel pouch, Ten different eartips, 1/4 to 1/8-inch jack/plug adapter, Inline volume control.

Build Quality: First class.

Isolation: Very good. It may not be quite up to the best but its really rather close. Easily enough to let you survive air travel or Tube use. Alternatively enough to turn you into a stain on the road if you aren’t paying attention. Be warned you won’t hear traffic coming at you so look where you are going.

Comfort/Fit: First class. They are small and well shaped. They have a good assortment of tips and I don’t know of anyone that has problems with this sort of thing. Of course you may be that one but odds are you’ll be fine.

Aesthetics: They are okay, perfectly acceptable but I can’t say I give a toss either way. Not unattractive but not particularly pretty either.

Sound: These are a BA that has like many before it been tuned to behave a bit like a dynamic. While I’m never a fan of this sort of thing Westone have done a pretty good job of it, probably better than anyone else. It still means it’s a bit of a hodge podge with not quite the best of either but it makes a very capable generalist. Very capable. Lows for a BA are great in reach and expansion, it’s no SE215 but hey ho. Mids are detailed and tonally in the middle, happy to do liquid or dry with equal enthusiasm. Highs are detailed and very gently roll away so you don’t notice when they fail. It works very well and means you really only see the bits they just right. It’s clearly been tuned by someone rather capable. What is notable is the instrument separation, it is excellent. Much better than I’d expect for a single BA at work. Mostly these don’t really excel anywhere but they do a very good job at everything, a bit of a jack of all trades but a rather good one. Oh and they looooooove getting amped.

Value: Well for your £84 they are in no area the best you can get but they don’t suck anywhere either. Like Ety does highs, the 215 does lows, the PL-50 does mids. The W1 does a bit of everything so you could probably get away just fine with only having it and being pretty happy. I like lots earphones so maybe it’s not really for me but if you’re a bit more of a normal person and want to just have one this is a pretty fine option.

Pro’s: Great all rounder, great brand name, comfy.

Con’s: You pay for that brand name, isn’t the really the master of anything in particular

Westone W1 Review

Westone W1 Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First Impressions: This is a little thing I’ve been interested for a while. Westone is one of the big and old names in the IEM world, still the W range is their first venture into a consumer orientated product. Visually once I’ve got them out their quite nice box they look just like baby versions of the W4’s I have. It’s spooky. Oh and Westone please can you start including some Shure Olives in the box (the black foamie type tips Shure make) I know you give a few types but they are what works best for me and I bet many others too. Nice case.

Having a listen I can’t decide if I’m happy or not. Clearly these are not the W4 but I just don’t know what it is I was expecting from them. These feel quite middling.

Source: Mostly the 1G shuffle without the impedance adapter and some time with the HM-601

Lows: These are Balanced Armature earphones and as such they do not move air like the more common and cheaper dynamics can. They don’t do the rich rumbly lows that is particularly common in the cheap stuff and its quite possible that a product like the W1 is going to be the first BA product for someone as they begin to enter the world of good earphones. So if that’s you be prepared for a significant decline in the amount of air that’s being moved in your ears. Moving air is not what BA do well. So as I could have guessed would happen these have been tuned somewhat to give more a of a rounded and low end sound (for a BA anyway) and for me, meh. It’s not giving good impact, nor good depth or expansion. I’m really not keen on this style as it tries to make the driver do something its not really intended for and it sacrifices its best qualities. Still it is a pleasant sound and when pressed it does very well in the low end for a single BA. I’d say one of the fuller sounding ones but it doesn’t compete is fullness with dynamics like the SE215. It also really isn’t up there in speed either like the hf5. It’s a halfway house compromise, which I can’t fault if you’re to only have one earphone. A bit of a jack of all trades, good but not great.

In terms of quantity it’s a pretty balanced IEM, the bass is about on par with the mids with it tailing off a bit as it goes lower. Low extension is better than you might expect for this type of set up.

Mids: Nice but nothing exceptional. BA’s tend to shine in the mids but it feels as though the W1 has been tuned to flatten that out, dampen down the mids and boost the lows and highs so they all fit inline. To me that always feels like holding back something’s strengths but I can see a case for it. The mids here are somewhat like the mids and neither too much one way or the other. So no butter like creaminess of the PL-50 or cool dryness of the hf5 but something that again sits in the middle. Honestly I can’t say it moves me, in fact I find it a bit boring. Yes it’s very capable and can turn its hand to all styles rather well but it never seems to find a style to make its own and run with it. Sure this makes a good generalist, good if you’re only going to own one earphone so I can’t really call it a failing. It’s a stylistic choice. Still side by side with the hf5 it falls short in its raw abilities, not hugely far but it’s not top.

Highs: Here again they aren’t the best you can get but they do a pretty decent job of things. They aren’t beating the hf5 again but they are pretty gentle on the ear and sound accurate. They sound very accurate actually. Sure they are missing out on a quite a bit of detail but they roll of gently so that your really aren’t terribly aware of what’s being muddled. Westone have a lot of experience at this from the long running UM range but they have opted to be a bit less so here. They have a struck a very nice balance between rolling off and smoothing to still retaining some shimmer and detail. Again it may not be the most excitingly tuned IEM out there but the highs are nicely detailed and nice to the ear. Extension is pretty fair too and the roll off is gentle so you don’t really get that sudden and noticeable drop off you can with some BA stuff. Timbraly they are good too, rather good for a BA if not quite up to the wonder that is the RE-0 in the highs.

Soundstage: It pretty reasonable, again it feels on the bigger side for a single BA but it’s not really quite up there with dynamic stuff. Still its middling nature means it works pretty well with everything weather it’s supposed to be intimate sounding or large. Where it is pretty good is instrument separation. This seems to be a Westone specialty and it comes through here. For a single driver it is quite impressive and instruments are clear and distinct from each other sounding well separated.

Comfort: Very. Naturally I can’t promise the same for you but these were very comfortable and this shape of earphone is known for being so. I have never yet seen anyone have trouble with these. Their shape, small size and wide range of available tips means I’m pretty sure these will fit everyone comfortably.

Fit: Once you get a tip that works for you then it’s just a case of shoving them in and that was that. No muss no fuss.

Cable: It would appear to be the same high quality cable Westone have used for ever. Its black, braided, highly flexible and rather sturdy. It’s a great cable that has been around for years so I’m sure it’s been tweaked to survive well by now.

Microphonics: None. You have to wear these up anyway.

Amped/Unamped: Now most of the testing I did I did with the Shuffle, then some with the HM-601 as to me these seemed the likely type of players these will be used with (that I have anyway) rather than with separate amps. However for convenience I also used the FiiO E9 hooked up to the computer. Oh my, there was a difference, these instantly jumped up at least a level in quality. Now clearly any desktop amp isn’t where these will live all day but the difference was pretty large. The addition of impedance that I’m usually so fond of however wasn’t so great. It did remove the hiss from the Shuffle but it really muted the instrument separation with not much gain elsewhere. Unusual.

Build Quality: Top notch, I’d expect nothing less form a premium brand like Westone.

Isolation: Westone only claim up to 25db but that seems on bit on the low side to me. Granted these aren’t quite up to Shure levels and so a bit behind Ety too but these isolate well. I’d have no trouble using these on a long flight, on the tube or where ever. As ever my warning to those not used to it, look where you’re going if you would like not to become a road stain. You will not hear that double decker bus that’s hurtling towards you.

Accessories: You get a rather nice little case that feel super sturdy and a bunch of tips. I really would like the see the inclusion of some Shure Olives (black foamie tips that look like olives) but that’s really all I can whinge about. Oh and you get a 6 to 3.5mm adapter and a variable attenuator. It’s a nice little bundle.

Value: Currently sitting at £84 these are maybe not the very best audio quality you can get for the money but they aren’t too far away either. You must also recognise that partly you are also paying for that big famous brand name and the certainties that come with it. You get a very high quality earphone with rather good sound quality and a very adept ability to turn its hand to a bit of everything. Particularly if you don’t have any specific tastes or requirements this generalisation makes it ever more appealing. Not everyone is a crazy person like I with a range of earphones to choose from. Normal people buy one and use it for everything. If that was me and my budget was £84 I don’t think I’d have any trouble opting for a set of these but the SE215 is really good too. It would depend on just what you’re after but either could suit you best. Still, hand on heart, I think the 215 might prove to be the more popular option. Actually I think if it was me it may come down to coin toss to decide.

Conclusion: I have never quite been the big fan of Westone. They have a sound that just has never really done it for me and in comparison I’ve always favoured the Shure house sound. Since in the last few years things have rather heated up in the earphone world and they have begun to get a bit more aggressive about things. Westone have their W range and Shure has the SE range, especially the lower end ones, particularly the SE215. The old 210 was often the entry point to their brand and it was not a well loved product to many. They went for something vastly more populist and came up with the 215. So why am I telling you about this? Well I think this is Westone’s version of the same. They have gone for a more populist sound but they have done it by tuning a BA to be more rounded and weighty sounding where as Shure went with a dynamic. Shure clearly pushed the idea further and Westone is a bit more reserved, I honestly can’t say which I like more. The W1 feels more like an in between product but is still is deep down a BA and in terms of clarity focus they excel in ways most dynamics cant hope to. This is pretty much the part where I just ramble back and forth about how but this one does this and that one does that. In short there are pro’s and con’s to the way each company has gone.

Looking more at the W1 on its own its a fab little IEM. It weirdly loves lots and lots of power though. The more and more I listen to it the more and more I like it, it’s really growing on me. Oh and if you like to make things go loud then you may love this. Its loves to given a bit of welly and let off that leash. It’s fun, enjoyable and from what I recall is one of the more even handed and balanced IEM’s. Clarity and detail is very nice but it’s not what you get it for. Others can do that better, this is no analytical monitor, it is a good quality, solidly capable IEM with some life injected into. It has a little enthusiastic heart beating in there that wants to make your music come to life and for you to enjoy it. In that mission I do think it rather succeeded as I find myself rather enjoying them and not really wanting to hand them back. Well done Westone.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Audioengine A2 Review

Audioengine A2 Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First Impressions: Well F me, these things are tiny. I knew they were small but it’s not until now it becomes apparent how small. It’s even more apparent next to their siblings. Given what I’ve read of their bass response I must say I’m concerned. Packaging was nice and what not but seems a little over kill for something so small, also slightly saddened by the external power supply. Erm, where is the volume control? No, that can’t be it, that dial on the back, no surely not. Who puts the volume control on the back? Oh that’s going to tick me off, I can tell.

First listen, which is right after hearing the A5+, okay its clear there is rather less low end but I like it. Actually I really like it. I really had fears about a giant mid bass hump but no. Okay a bit but I can live fine with it. God the mids sound so open in comparison. Can I be liking the little, half the price one more after only 10 minutes?

Set up: Computer to FiiO E9 and E7 combo feeding the line out into the A2.

Lows: Let’s not beat about the bush. These have little teeny drivers and we have all see the video on youtube that knocks the cards down with the bass. I must confess I expected these to be crap. I expected they had been tuned to squeeze stupid levels of mid bass out the poor little driver and I expected the ensuing chavtastic sound to grate on my nerves. I expected I would hate it. The reality is they don’t do that at all. Sure there is a bit of a hump but these pretty much just accept small means they move less air and will produce less bass. I love it. I love the honesty of it and it runs out I love how it sounds. These have just enough punch and expansion to let you know all that’s going on, for the most part. On “Your Father and I” they do begin to show what they can and can’t do but they cope just soooooooo much better than I thought they would. There was another song that escapes me now that they did rather just fail at as the lows were too low which I think is a good thing. Better to not try than mangle everything in the process and still fail. The bass does became a bit limited in tonal variance; it always feels a touch monotone. Clearly it can’t give you a bass dominant sound but the bass keeps up remarkably well. It’s rather fast too, unsurprising given the driver size but it’s about as fast a low end as you could hope for. Think quality and well manneredness rather than abundance though. While they spit out a good amount for the size these are not bass monsters, that said I have no desire to hook up a sub. I will offer the caveat that these I think are more primarily desktop speakers. If you want them to give up room filling scale then I could see a good case for adding a sub. Especially if you’re in an American size living room, here in the UK its less of an issue in the shoe boxes we live in.

Mids: Looking at other reviews of these I see much comment that they are coarse or grainy, I think I would sooner say they were a little dry. Sure this makes for a slightly more raspy sound but in this case it also makes for a much more open sound. They feel so much more open and expressive than the 5. What’s more, I can hear them! They are so clear and present no matter what else is going on the vocals still cut through everything. Love it, love it, love it. Okay I’m maybe loosing objectivity here but these are friggin’ awesome. This is about the most fun you’re ever going to ever have with a 2 inch anything. They do especially well with female vocals rather than a male, they just deal with higher better than lower frequencies. It’s not like they can’t do male, Mr Johnson still comes through beautifully but I could possibly argue he sounds a touch light. These do favour the dry vocal over the liquid but only a little bit. However it is probably more than many are used to. The Head-Fi crowd has more experience with balance than does the sort who has only ever heard the sort of Sony, Phillips or JVC HiFi’s they flog in the likes of Comet. They tend to have a very thick, heavy liquid set of vocals so this in comparison will seem very dry.

Quantity wise these have an almost Etymotic like balance mids are clear and centre stage but ever so slightly in the shadow of the treble. There is no way vocals’ are getting lost behind anything though.

Highs: If there was anywhere that coarseness could be an accusation thrown at it it’s here. There treble like that on the 5 its all about its crispy edge than it is about true accuracy or dealing well with delicate detail and shimmer. Okay so they went for a bit of a fun sound and let’s be honest, their target market won’t have the ears that I have. (If they did Beats wouldn’t sell anything) so yeah, crispy energetic enthusiasm. I feel that given its similarity to the 5 I should be bashing it a little but the mids are so much more prominent the highs don’t stick out so. They are as gritty and lacking in utter refinement but these are cheap little things. They do a stonkingly good job. The detail is pretty great if edgy. These aren’t really meant for detailed critical listening, they just happen to be about good enough that you can sit at your computer while you work and do so. It’s not perfect but it’s really good.

Soundstage: Coming right from the 5 these instantly sound small. They are small. They do sound bigger than you would expect though for their size. These cannot do room filling with scale and authority but I don’t think they are meant to. These being sat on my desk at arm’s length and they fill my horizon with ease. They can go loud of course, too loud. Loud to the point it just sounds stupid and ridiculous. It never takes on that room filling presence, maybe it would do so with a sub attached. Frankly I feel that’s not really what these are meant for, if they had a remote control for the volume then maybe.

Dynamics: These can rise and fall rather well for something so small but they don’t have the vast range that the 5 has. These want more to kept within a power range as when you ask them to go too loud they just sound loud and can be a touch impolite. These do a most impressive effort but they are still very small and I do somewhat feel the need to work the volume dial. They do make up for it somewhat with their terrific sense of enthusiasm. They like their siblings can run with the energy of a Jack Russell which thankfully are of a size you can either let them or reign them in with ease. Oodles of fun.

Power: Well not so much power, these little babies can’t move that much air and never take on the drama and presence as only can something the same size as you. These just don’t have that sort of power; they can do volume and loudness but not true power. As I said before these I feel are desktop speakers and they perform that role superbly. They are not going to fill Westminster Abbey.

Aesthetics: Okay so they are in white and I can’t say I’m loving that. The only other white things I have have all been relegated to the kitchen (why I ever bought white speakers and a white computer I don’t know.) Other than that, what’s not to love. The things are tiny, I mean friggin’ tiny. They seem to have a different gloss to the 5’s and the edges are less rounded. They seem if anything whiter than the 5. If they weren’t so white they would basically melt away on my desk.

Build and Durability: These feel very solid and to the eye seem very well finished. Much like the 5 the only think I feel in can raise as an issue is the lack of grills but Audioengine say you don’t need one. The woofer is Kevlar so you probably don’t “need” one but personally I’d just feel happier with one. Still I’ve never heard of anyone breaking them so it’s probably not really an issue. I’d just feel more comfortable.

Value: Excellent. Not only do I love how these sound they are so small yet so impressive sounding. As a pair of desktop speakers these, to many, are probably thought of as very expensive, you know the £20 creative things buying segment. Or if you’re spending it’s so you can get a big ass sub to make games roar and explode. That is not what these are, these are serious proper grown up speakers. These are impressively good and mature sounding, they just happen to belong either side of a computer. These are for people who want something good and desk space demands it must be small. That they don’t need an amp taking up yet more desk space is just icing on the cake. These are stunning value in that situation. Just be sure that’s what you’re after. These can go loud and they can rail enthusiastically and throw down at party time if that’s what you want. If you want the room shaking bass that the 5 or things with a sub offer then that’s not really the A2. The A2 can go wild but it really deserves to offered more beautiful things.

Conclusion: I really like these. I really honestly expected not to given what I had read of them, oh and the card video on YouTube. I thought oh god they are going to be so chavtastic they will drive me insane. They can go there if you want to EQ the hell out of them but naturally these are quite beautifully tuned. As I sit here with Tori Amos’s new album (which btw music industry, should not have been cheaper for me to buy from the US and ship halfway round the planet than to buy it in the UK) and those familiar with the woman will now what to expect. Her a piano and lots of rising and falling. Everything sounds fantastic, so clear such great separation that these have been nothing but a pleasure to hear. Everything I’ve heard on them I have pretty much loved. From the slow and mellow to the youthful exuberance of the Busted CD I recently bought (don’t ask) and that’s a fantastic versatility. I honestly think I could have these as the only speakers in the room and I’d be happy with them. Okay maybe I would need a sub to give them greater scale, maybe. These are just so versatile and accomplished at everything I’m super impressed. I don’t want to give these back.

These are however what they are and they are small. These are desktop speakers. If nothing else than the sodding volume control being hidden on the back means you’re meant to use your source, i.e. computer to do so. These aren’t going to be used as your HiFi it would just be an awkward pain in the behind. I’m not saying you couldn’t just that you won’t buy them with that intention. You’ll buy them for your desk. Now in that role they excel, they offer a real grown up taste of quality and by god I like it.

I just really wish it had a remote and volume control on the front.

Audioengine A5+ Quick Review

Audioengine A5+ Quick Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

Brief:  Powerful, powered party speakers.

Price: £288

Specification: Type: 2.0 powered (active) bookshelf-style speaker system, Power Output: 150W peak power total (50W RMS / 75W peak per channel), AES Inputs: 1/8" (3.5mm) stereo mini-jack, RCA L/R Outputs: RCA L/R audio (full-range, adjustable), USB Type A (power/charging) Voltages: 115/240V, 50/60Hz manually switchable, Amplifier Type: Dual Class AB monolithic, Drivers: 5" Kevlar woofers, 20mm silk dome tweeters, Signal-to-noise: >95dB (typical A-weighted) THD: <0.05% at all power settings, Crosstalk: <50db, Frequency response: 50Hz-22kHz +/-1.5dB, Input impedance: 10K ohms unbalanced Protection: Protection: Output current limiting, thermal over-temperature, power on/off transient protection, replaceable external main fuse, Dimensions (each speaker HWD): 10.75" (27cm) x 7" (18cm) x 7.75" (20cm) Weight (LEFT speaker): 15.4 lbs (7 kg) Weight (RIGHT speaker): 9.6 lbs (4.4 kg)

Accessories:  Included Accessories: (1) Remote control
(1) Speaker wire (16AWG), 3.75 meters (~12.3ft)
(1) Detachable power cord
(1) Mini-jack audio cable, 2 meters (~6.5ft)
(1) RCA to RCA audio cable, 2 meters (~6.5ft)
(2) Cloth speaker bag
(1) Cloth cable bag
(1) Setup Guide
(1) Product line brochure

Build Quality:  Solid, weighty and feel very well constructed.

Aesthetics:  Colour choice is up to you but they look a quality piece of equipment.  The finish on them it top notch if you like that gloss look.  The minimal use of cables too is a visual boon.

Sound:  Party party , party.  That’s how these speakers are tuned and it’s what they want to do all the time.  I found it rather annoying as most of the time my music listening is while I work and these just got on my nerves.  I didn’t want to crank the volume and dance I wanted a nice, smooth gentle sound and these don’t do that.  They are boisterous and rambunctious.  The bass is fast, hard hitting and punchy.  I want softer and more relaxed.  These would roar and slap you in the face for attention.  The mids in comparison while good were a bit too liquid and they got lost in the melee.  In vocal heavy songs this really frustrated me.  The highs were decent but tuned to be crispy and playful rather than accurate and delicate.  They got on my nerves with the exuberance.  These are really rather V shaped and in a party machine that’s great, it’s probably just what you want but I don’t want that, i want something more grown up and mature sounding.  While I can’t deny these are very capable they are tuned to live in an 18 year olds room not mine.

Value:  Good speaker and amp with a remote, you want this much this good for less i don’t believe.

Pro’s:  Super minimalist, massive power, party machine par excellence

Con’s:  Party sound whether you want to party or not. Too excitable. 

Audioengine A5+ Review

Audioengine A5+ Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First impressions: Okay, next to the A2 there things are friggin’ huge. Not sure I’m loving the in white look but if id paid money for them are you may or may not then you only get white if you want it. I’m not sure I’m loving the off centre tweeter, I know many do it but I just don’t like that. What I do like is the packaging, it’s a nice touch to have everything in little bags but as a friend pointed out “so why didn’t they put the plug in one too?” I suspect it’s because it’s a UK plug, not that it matters but why not it? All the cables and such are in there which is a very nice touch. I think an all in one solution should be just that and there is nothing worse than not having that cable you need when you buy a new toy.

First listening and its not really doing it for me. Granted these are literally fresh out of the box so nothing is definitive. However I’m not sure I like how these are tuned. Seeing as Audioengine suggested giving them 50 hours to open up I guess I’d better get started.

Set up: Computer to FiiO E9 and E7 combo feeding the line out into the A5+.

Lows: Hmm, not to my tastes. I really don’t know why these have been tuned how they have as it seem unnecessary to me, they have a big bombastic low end and frankly it gets in my way. It’s a big hump of punch and rambunctiousness that just constantly wants to go wild. It’s like a teenage dog (in dog years) that pretty much fully grow, yet has so much boundless enthusiasm that it cannot stop from pulling on the lead. It yearns to go run and play. It’s cute on a dog on a speaker it’s not. Granted I’m a bit of a boring old fart and I tend to prefer music that’s a little bit boring. I don’t want a party beast blasting out Lady whomever, Christina what’s her face or that Perrier woman. It loves to take pre-eminence and it shouldn’t. Frankly it really annoys me.

You’ll notice I haven’t said anything fit quality yet. Now given I dislike how it’s tuned and behaves, if I can set that aside the technical abilities of it are reasonable. There is little softness or bass bleed. It likes to hit hard and move quickly so that ability deserves praise but it’s not a flavour I want. I can’t help myself, but it’s just all party bass. Every song it plays its wants to do with party levels of exuberance and I’m sorry but for lots of music it’s just wrong.

Mids: Meh. They are good when you can hear them but they clearly are in third place in a 3 way race. Thos familiar with my stuff will know I love mids, I feel its where all the most important stuff takes place. Bands don’t stick the drummer at the front of the stage now do they? Vocals here are acceptably good and they never get entirely lost but they sit behind the lows and highs. I know many love a big V shaped sound signature but I cannot find the love for it. If I was back being 18, in Halls and wanting to party every night then hell yeah! That V shaped sound is just what you want. I know I shouldn’t be judging it as an audiophile product as it not but I am and it is hard to be utterly objective on such a subjective subject.

Tonally they a touch on the liquid and warm side. Male vocals in particular seem to get a little boost in the low end that they really should not. Nothing awful but shouldn’t be there. Girly vocals do better. Warmed and softened a touch, not so good though at airy and breathy stuff.

Highs: Crispy. Shimmer and shine these don’t do so well but they really aim more a sparkle and dazzle approach. The highs cut through crisply and cleanly and it gives a great dramatic impression. As I said previously with these speakers its party time all the time. Detail retrieval is pretty good but that crisp edge dominates and overshadows things in a way I don’t like. It feels like a stage magician; look over here not over there. Again there isn’t really anything I’m going to say is bad, these are just coloured to a point some things work well and some doesn’t. For the money I can’t fault their treble ability but as I’ve said with much else, if you can’t nail it then maybe you better to dial it down rather than make you short comings readily apparent.

Soundstage: Here they do rather well, the bigger a speaker the bigger it usually sounds. These are big enough to sound impressively room filling. These in that sense are proper stereo speakers rather than “desktop” speakers like their siblings are. If I was so inclined I’d have no problem with these being the rooms only audio outlet. Still they are rear ported so remember that means even though they may get called bookshelf speakers you cannot put them on a book shelf. They need at least 12 inches of air behind them.

Dynamics: These have no problems whatsoever in rising and falling with aplomb. In fact I’d say they thrive on it, they love soaring and roaring with the most dramatic sense of urgency. Is it fun? Oh hell yes. Do I like it? No. They like much of the rest of the sound of them are all energy and enthusiasm. That sort of thing does definitely have a place in the world but that place is not in my home. Still if you give these a bit of welly then they have a grand dynamic range.

Power: These are clearly built for American homes. These can go stupid loud with stupid ease. Actually not only can they go load, they yearn to. Like a greyhound that longs to given an open field and allowed to go for it. These have too much power bottled up inside them that it just constantly wants to burst forth and I find it somewhat annoying. I don’t want a greyhound I want a Jack Russell, happy to sleep all day on the sofa yet capable of incredible energy when it’s appropriate. These need a big space and if I’m honest, living in a detached house.

Aesthetics: Right off all I can comment on is the white ones. Now I don’t know anyone who actually has a home that these would look appropriate in, sure many way love the Apple esq white minimalism thing but who actually has that? Still if you want white that’s your business. I can’t deny the finish on them is very nice and visually I can see not the slightest imperfection anywhere. What’s nice is they don’t leave fingerprints so there should be no trouble maintaining their prettiness. Could be good for their potential student Hall’s life?

Build and Durability: Okay these are solid, weighty beasts, super solidly constructed. Their weight suggests you have an item of substance here. I cannot actually fault anything as a mistake of construction. However what gives me pause is the no grill up front. The FAQ on their site declares the woofers are hardy and tough, Kevlar don’t you know, so you don’t need one. Well maybe I don’t “need” one but I would rather it my choice. Otherwise it’s all great and I’m sure they will cope well with the rigors of student parties.

Value: Well it seems to me that these are often placed in the category of ipod dock rather than anything else. These really aren’t an ipod dock, for a start they have nowhere to put one, sure there is the usb charging socket so you could very cheaply use one. This is something more versatile. It’s a good set of computer speakers too, let’s face it there is no one in the western world who doesn’t have a computer, add this and boom you have an instant HiFi. A pretty much proper HiFi too, sure it’s aimed at a certain market but you could have this as your desktop speakers as much as you could have this as your full stereo. Add in a CD player and there you go, grown up HiFi. No reason why you couldn’t have it hooked into your TV’s audio out. All flat screen thin TV’s have god awful sound and these could be used to turn it into something very capable. Sure it’s not 5.1 but many don’t want the clutter or cables for that. That we have a super versatile little set up is undeniable. For that alone I’d be inclined to pick this over any dedicated ipod dock like the rCube or Zepplin. They have basically one use and no stereo separation. That these cost £288 to me seems rather a bit of a bargain. They are extremely versatile in the potential applications and have a power and ability that would shame any £300 stereo you’ll find on the high street. You could do much worse than buying a pair of these. Pretty damn good value if you ask me.

Oh and the included remote control is super handy.

Conclusion: So, I’ve just said how I think these are good value, would I buy one? No. Would I want one? No. I like a grown up, more sedate sound especially from a speaker and these just want to have party time. They are filled with energy, power and a boundless enthusiasm, screaming at you, goading you to crank the volume dial. I don’t want that. So there is no mistaking that these and I did not get along well and I found myself skipping songs left, right and centre because they just didn’t work for me. A friend who was round yesterday however found their sound to be just his cup of tea, he is so much more fun than I am, he goes out clubbing on a very regular basis where I go once a quarter if I truly must. I wanted the A5+ to be a grown up, mature sound that would be happy to anything I asked of it. A desktop speaker to let me sit and work with some Norah playing softly. No. These just can’t do that sort of music, they really rather have a bit of a vacancy in the midrange and what I hear constantly is the music not the vocals. I want the vocals. They also really don’t do slow, they just forever want to go faster, punchier more dynamasism, and more volume too.

No matter what I listened to I never felt like bursting into song and that’s not me. It’s what I like about speakers and these just frustrated and annoyed me. Frankly I wanted something grown up and these are 18 year olds. Party, party, party. If that sounds like a bit of something you’re interested in then you will probably love these and I do think they would make the perfect student system. It’s versatile, solid, dynamic and dramatically awesome in every sense. Just don’t ask it to do mellow and boring, it can’t.