Classic stereo speakers have been with us for several decades and it doesn’t look like they are diminishing, quite the contrary. In particular, active pairs of speakers are becoming more and more popular, as they offer not only a simple design, but above all high-quality musical expression.
Whether we are talking about the sound system of the workplace or the rest area in the home, the result will always be a certain compromise between the size, purchase price and sound quality of specific speakers.
The previously very popular computer speakers in the form of small gray boxes can still be found on the market, but their performance is rather below average. Of course, there are clear exceptions, these are speakers that have been tried and tested for years, the price of which does not change much, but they are often already morally outdated from the point of view of connectivity or expansion functions.
Active speakers, which at first glance do not fundamentally differ from passive ones connected to an amplifier, are ideal for a workspace where you are most often at the computer, and at the same time you do not intend to completely give up on sound quality, rather you want to enhance your musical action. We therefore invited several representatives from this review to the test.
Alphabetical list of tested models
- AQ M25
- Creative T100
- Edifier R1700BTs
- KRK Rocket 5G4
- M-Audio BX4 BT
- You Will Be A Prisoner E5 BT
- Sencor SMC BS50
- Wavemaster CUBE NEO
If we were to summarize the argument in one paragraph, then active monitors are a better solution mainly because of the stereo – you simply cannot conjure up a stereo space from one small speaker connected via Bluetooth. The size of these speakers is also important – they usually have a larger enclosure, which also means better dynamics, and the transducers simply have something to “lean” on.
For the computer and in the living room
For comparison, we selected a total of eight representatives for the test across a fairly wide price range, from about CZK 2,800 to CZK 7,000. At this price level, there are already very high-quality speakers with accurate to neutral sound.
Their use is universal and you will be limited in practice only by the number and type of inputs – they can be used both on the computer table and in the library in the living room or anywhere else. In order to limit the selection, we have added another condition, which is that the speakers have been launched on the market in the last two years.
Unlike a number of multimedia speakers with a 2.1 or 5.1 configuration, we won’t come across many design fads or flashing LEDs here. Here, in short, the minimalist line is followed – almost always the speaker will be a block of various sizes and most often black, sometimes in white or wooden decor.
The overall sound tuning can be completely different for models with similar parameters!
Mostly we also see the use of MDF board for the production of the sound box, although plastic pieces are not an exception either – the material does not play such a central role here, it is taken over by the placement of the drivers and the overall tuning of the sound, which can be completely different even for models with similar parameters.
It might seem that adjusting the sound and volume corrections on the side of the Edifier is practical, unfortunately it is not, as you have to keep leaning over to check how you actually set it
Connectivity also goes hand in hand with use – it is quite wide and with one exception we can find a Bluetooth interface on the tested pieces, the standard is the connection using an RCA cable (2x cinch) terminated with a 3.5 mm jack. In several cases, there is also an optical signal input or an HDMI connector (both are ideal for connecting to a TV), one model offers the option of connecting using a USB cable, when it reports as another sound card, another pair has a classic USB connector for playing content from a flash drive .
And if you already have speakers in the living room, a remote control will be a very practical addition for easier switching on, input selection or volume adjustment. It can be found in most of the tested pieces, in contrast to the headphone output, which only two models have.
Sound field, placement and stereo
Compared to mono-speakers in the form of portable Bluetooth pieces, you can enjoy a better presentation of space thanks to their stereo connection in the case of active speakers. nonetheless, this also has certain pitfalls. If we want to reach for high-quality speakers that are suitable for close listening – so-called nearfield models, it is necessary to take into account their location in relation to the listener and also their possible directionality.
In practice, this means that your head should form the apex of an isosceles triangle, with both speakers forming the remaining two points. Each speaker has a different radiation angle towards the front, so it is advisable to turn the speakers slightly towards the listener. Last but not least, there is directional performance in the vertical plane, where the best sound is achieved when the center of the speaker is at the height of your ears. All this needs to be considered not only before the purchase, but especially during the subsequent placement of the crates.
Controls are very minimalistic for Creativo on the not very visible upper side, unfortunately without backlight.
The resulting speech is also largely influenced by the position of the speaker in relation to the wall or corner of the room. If you have models with the rear exhaust of the bass reflex directly against the wall, the bass can be unpleasantly booming, a similar situation can also occur if the speaker is placed in the corner of the room. On the other hand, you can use this physical regularity, for example, to emphasize the bass component.
Monitors for music?
Yes, you read that right – the speakers described above for close listening are mostly recruited from the group of products known as studio monitors. They are characterized by a more precise analytical expression and a minimum of multimedia functions. It depends on the intended use in the home studio, where accurate reproduction is the main requirement, for audio post-production. nonetheless, thanks to this, they manage to play these pieces very well and musically, even at a lower volume.
The imaginary second group is the so-called ordinary speakers, or if you prefer, multimedia speakers, which focus more on a more entertaining speech and will also offer a much wider connectivity and control method. But this usually comes at the expense of the clarity of speech, especially at low and very high volumes.
What to choose?
Always choose according to the intended use and then according to the sound. If you buy the best-performing model in the test from the KRK brand, you will get an interesting design and really high-quality sound full of details and solid bass with sufficient power reserve – nonetheless, they can only be connected with one combined connector, each piece requires a separate power supply and the user interface assumes , that you set everything up once and never touch it again.
On the other hand, the test winner from AQ offers a little less stability of speech at high volumes, does not have such dense bottoms and is slightly directional, but its connectivity is exemplary and there is nothing missing outside of the headphone output. So even if two do qualitatively the same thing, they may not end up being the same.
Selecting the speakers is only the first round, the next is about finding their suitable position and setting
It should be added that the resulting ranking is based on the evaluation of various properties and criteria and is an absolute ranking only in this limited group of eight speakers. Of course, we primarily focused on music performance and sound reproduction, but the additional equipment and functions cannot be neglected in the evaluation.
If your budget for speakers is limited, you can’t go wrong by buying older models. Usually, active speakers have a longer period between innovations than, for example, portable Bluetooth speakers.
We can definitely recommend several models from our last test in 2019 that are still on sale today. If it should be a piece that can fully compete with the current selection, it will be, for example Pioneer DJ DM-40BT (from CZK 3,990), which are relatively small but very well-tuned monitors in a similar style to M-Audio, but with a more stable and analytical sound presentation. Nor will they buy the previous generation AQ M24 you can’t make a mistake – you can rarely find them in e-shops, but a bazaar purchase shouldn’t be a problem either.
Enjoy quality listening
With classic stereo speakers, it is not too difficult to find their correct location in space so that the position of your ears is in the optimal place in relation to the mounted drivers, as I mentioned above. nonetheless, the layout of the room where you have the speakers has a significant impact on the overall listening action.
The way to a better and cleaner listening is to minimize the large flat surfaces that reflect the sound waves and to partially dampen the space to eliminate reverberation. Especially if you create audiovisual content yourself, such a solution is practically necessary.
The neck is not only sonically perfect, but also thought about sufficient damping – the entire underside is covered with a foam-rubber surface to minimize vibrations and their transfer to the stand
And now we don’t mean a semi-professional solution in the form of detailed bass traps or overall room attenuation. Even a simple heavy-duty window curtain or a single acoustic panel mounted on the ceiling or wall can audibly improve reproduction. Of course, this goes hand in hand with a better performance of the recorded sound by the microphone.
In order to fine-tune the sound, I recommend that you let the speakers play for at least 20 hours at medium power and then listen in detail to recordings that you have listened to well and know what you have/want to hear in them – if you are switching from a lower-quality model of speakers, then you may action even a moment of epiphany when you hear sounds and tones you’ve never heard before in a recording
For example, a mobile phone with a suitable application can help with optimal sound settings and balance – after all, KRK recommends setting up speakers in cooperation with the company’s KRK Audio Tools application, which offers a spectrum analyzer and also recommends choosing a suitable equalization profile.
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