Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Home Theater Direct HTD Level 2 Bookshelf Speaker Review

Home Theater Direct HTD Level 2 Bookshelf Speaker Review

I’ve wanted to review a Home Theater Direct product for a while now and when a deal on them came up I couldn't resist picking up a pair of HTD Level 2's. As one of the more popular direct internet speaker retailers, the whole line has been well received. Their Level 3 speakers with their ribbon tweeters being considered some of the best speakers in their price point.

So how does the comparatively Plain Jane HDT Level 2 stack up against some of the more mass market speakers? I compared the HTD's with both the Pioneer BS22's and the Definitive Technology SM45s. Both are easily available speakers just above and just below the price point of the HDT Level 2.

Before we look at the graphs and talk about how they sound, let’s take the HTD Level 2 apart and see what's it's made of.

Side by side with the Pioneer BS22  
It's a bit shorter than the BS22 and significantly heavier. Build quality is no joke on the HTD Level 2

The rear and terminals 

Tweeter Removed 
Not all that interesting. Uses a small neodymium magnet. 

Mid range removed 
Not very interesting, the driver is listed as 6 ohms. I couldn't find anything regarding the part number

Good amount of stuffing for a budget speaker 

What is this? That’s part of the port. These are slot/transmission line ported.

The crossover 
Look at all those resistors. What does it all mean!

Internal bracing
Starting to make sense as to why this is so heavy.

As you can see, construction is top notch. I don't know anything about xover building, but it is big, and bigger is better right? Maybe someone can tell us more about it.

Close Mic of Individual Drivers 1/12 Smoothing

The HTD level 2 does not appear to be ported all that low. About 80 hz by the close mic measurements. There is also some pretty large spikes centered at ~400hz and ~850hz. I believe that these will be seen later in the 1m measurements.

The grill isn't too bad. It tames the output a little bit; but at 1m or greater distances it doesn't have much effect. They are pretty transparent overall.

Drivers @1m 1/12 smoothing 

In this instance of measurements there is a deep but narrow null at 400hz. I experienced the perfect inverse of that in a previous measurement. I'm going to conclude that both the null and the spike are somehow due to the spike in the port response. 

The bumps at ~850hz and 1.2khz match pretty well with the close mic measurements of the mid range.

The difference between tweeter response with and with the grills becomes pretty negligible

Full speaker @ 1m with port overlaid 1/12 Smoothing 

Trying to show if there is any relation to the point noise and some of the peaks and dips in the 1m graphs.

The 400hz peak coming out of the port does line up with both the peak and dip seen at 1m and the peak at ~850hz. And possibly even the peak from ~1.2-1.8khz

As seen later, when smoothed to 1/6 db per octave these are a +/- 3db speaker. Though it's a wavy one.

Off axis Responses 

Horizontal off axis response 

Horizontal off axis responses, overall it stays pretty consistent until you break past 20 degrees off axis.

Vertical off axis response 

Vertical off axis responses. Getting even a little bit above the tweeter makes things ugly right at the xover point. Being below the tweeter doesn't have nearly the negative effect.

Comparison With Competitors 

HTD Level 2 Bookshelf speaker: Comparison 1/3 octave smoothing 
Here we are comparing the HTD Level 2 with a number of other common popular bookshelf speakers.

Level matched @ 100hz

HTD Level 2 = BLUE
Def Tech StudioMonitor 45 = RED
Pioneer BS22 = GREEN
Infinity Primus p153 = PURPLE

HTD Level 2 vs Pioneer BS22 

HTD Level 2 vs Def Tech SM45

HTD Level 2 vs Infinity p153 

TL;DR and How Do They Sound?

The HTD Level 2's are a great looking basic black speaker. Build quality is exceptional, these are literal tanks that make music and if matte black or any other wood grain finishes are something you like then they will look great in your room. As far as performance is concerned, they are a +/- 3db speaker (at 6db per octave smoothing at least) but it's a pretty inconsistent 3db's.

The HTD Level 2 is not a bad speaker (I'm looking at you Pinnacle BD 500), there are no overtly distracting issues, and overall they are enjoyable enough.

But they don't stand out in the crowed, I was not wowed by either objective measured accuracy or their subjective fun.
At times they sounded very similar to the Pioneers, so if you have Pioneers already I don't think the HTD level 2's much of an upgrade. If you are looking between the two, the Level 2's can be a touch more exciting if there is a lot of activity in the areas of the frequency response that are boosted a bit, (700hz-1.5khz or anything after 8khz) but it never seemed to be a consist difference.

I found the Definitive Technology SM45's to be both a slight more accurate speaker for most of the spectrum, though the last octave might not be for everyone as it is elevated though never harsh. But more importantly the SM45 were a far more fun speaker, throwing a huge bright sound stage that just grips you into the music.

Overall I’m not sure how the HTD Level 2 fits into anyone’s go to recommendation of a good budget/entry level speaker. While a good speaker itself, the Pioneers can be had for much less, and are a much smoother and accurate speaker, though mellow in the treble area. The Definitive Technologies can be found for just slightly more money and equal the HTD’s in construction and IMO best them in performance in every way. And while not directly talked about here, the Infinity Primus line remains a great and my personal favorite budget option as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pinnacle BD 500: REDUX

Pinnacle BD 500: REDUX
It has been almost exactly a year since I posted my first review and comparisons of the Pinnacle BD 500's. At that time I liked them well enough, but found them to be missing something when compared to the Definitive Technology SM 350 (which I still think is a great and exciting to listen to speaker). In the last year I've learned a lot and gotten better at measuring and listening. So one year later why not revisit and see if I still feel the same.
I have been a big fan of Pinnacle and currently run the larger BD 2500 towers, BD 750 bookshelf and BD 700 center speakers in my home theater. (Someday I'll get a review of at least the BD 750 bookshelf speakers.) With the incoming Dolby Atmos standard I wanted to prepare to use it by getting a few pairs of matching of Pinnacle BD 500 bookshelfs to use as ceiling mounted speakers. The BD 500's share only the tweeter with its larger sibling bookshelf speakers (BD 750/650), but I was hoping for some relative similarly in sound.
I bought this pair second hand, and I believe them to be an earlier revision to the series II that I bought on Woot previously. While the cones of the mid ranges look the same, they mount differently, the baskets are different, and magnets appear to be also. I don't have the tools to test TS parameters to verify any further. Tweeters are lacking what looked like a heat sink on the back of the magnet that my original one had, and the crossovers are also different. To that end, without getting another pair and with nearly a year between this and my last experience with them; this isn't a perfect revisiting of that previous review.

The Pinnacle BD 500 remains a good looking little black speaker. If you are in to the high gloss look, these easily match and beat the Definitive Technology SM 350 and TEAC LS-H265. The finish is thicker than just paint, having seen one the finish crack after a pair of BD 500 OW's fell from their mount, the finish itself is probably 2mm thick. It's very nice.

Here is the cross over

Here is what Sound and Vision got when they reviewed a Pinnacle BD based 5.1 system. The BD 500 is the red trace.

As you can it's got some nice waves to it. How close did I get to replicating that? Pretty close.
Below are the close mic measurements. 

Something different and bad seems to be going on with this crossover design choices. Pinnacle lists the X-Over point at 5 kHz. From the measurements it looks like the midrange is crossed over at 5khz, but the tweeter is crossed over at 2 khz. As seen in the 1m measurements. I think that this overlap maybe responsible for the excessive null between 2khz and 5khz
Below are the @1m measurements. Both individual driver and full speaker.

Below is a comparison with the Pioneer BS22 @1m

I used the Pioneer as my main comparison speaker. They are common, and pretty good for the money. Thought a bit warm and can be muddy. The Pioneers are clearly the superior speaker here. The grills remain a killer, but we are acceptably flat from 400 hz on.
Listening impressions
While nothing is particularly harsh sounding, something always seems missing when listening to music on the Pinnacle BD 500's. Voices are very forward.
This isn't meant to be a direct comparison between the Pinnacles and another pair of speakers, but I used the much loved Pioneer BS22's for any AB testing. The Pioneers are not perfect, but they are a great budget choice for many and very easily found online and in retail stores.
The Heavy - Short Change Hero
For anyone who has played Boarderlands 2 you already know this song. A slow, melodic song, thick with guitars and bass. When the song breaks from it's slow, The Good The Bad and The Ugly esq into at the 1:24 mark, all the impact that should be associated with it is lost. Kelvin Swaby has a wonderfully unique voice, and while for the most part it seems to be reproduced well enough, at times it's the lower regions have been sucked out and are missing.
Petey Pablo - Part 2
I've always like this song, and I've used it in the past because of Petey's deep gravelly voice has been easy to get wrong in other speakers (JBL Loft 30). When nothing else is going on the Pinnacles seem to do that well enough during the intro. Once the main part of the song starts it is a whole other story.  Again, it is still Petey, but now he is well behind some really loud high hat ticks, and a xylophone or something. The level of treble become very over baring quickly here. I can imagine this being problematic to any 2000's rap track.
 Justin Timberlake - Suit & Tie
The oddball song of the group. At first I wasn't sure I hadn't switched back to the Pinnacles. Everything sounded ok at first. There was reasonable and clean bass. But even though Justin Timberlake's singing voice is a bit higher than many, soon you could pick up where it's fullness was lacking and even the first time I could pick up on anything being truly harsh sounding. When Jay-Z has his verse, it is noticeably thin doesn't carry the weight that it should. But even on the Pinnacles, the sound was still enjoyable and in some ways better than the performance of the Pioneer BS22's, which much cleaner, less muddy bass, though not as deep.
 Billy Idol - Rebel Yell
If you don't love this song then you're no one I want to know. A classic rock song, that should be on everyone quintessential 80's play list. I don’t think there is a lot going on in the upper registers here. So the increased tweeter output wasn't much of a factor here. But there is a distinct lack of fullness in the Billy Idol's voice, a little like it's coming out of a tin can. The eclectic guitars are also underwhelming.
Five Finger Death Punch - House of the Rising Sun
Up to this point, in every song I listened to you can at least hear the instruments. Maybe they were too bright, or too mellow, but at least they were there somewhere. In House of the Rising Sun, they are just straight up missing. One of the guitars (the deeper, probably drop D tuned one) is just gone. Not represented at all. Strange to hear such a major difference to the whole song, more than just what's emphasized and what's not.
I could continue with a list of a dozen more tracks, but the overall results are similar across the gamut.

I wanted to really like the Pinnacle BD 500's. They were one of the first non big box store speakers I tested and at that time and thought they compared pretty well. I do run a 5.2 Home Theater consisting of the all big brother speakers in the Black Diamond line and have been very happy. They are a HT speaker though, and aren't board flat, but have a pretty gentle upward trend that makes them exciting but not offensive.  
But I would avoid the BD 500's, I have learned a good bit since I last reviewed these speakers and can no longer have them on a list to recommend to people. Much better speakers are more easily accessible and can be had for less. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Budget Battle: The Sequel: Pioneer BS22, Infinity Primus p153, Micca MB42X-C, Teac LS-H265, HTD Level 2, Def Tech SM 45: The 1 Meter Measurements

Budget Battle: The Sequel: Pioneer BS22, Infinity p153, Micca MB42X-C, Teac LS-H265, HTD Level 2, Def Tech SM 45:    The 1 Meter Measurements

The Pioneer BS22 is probably the most well known and "the standard" for budget audiophile products; and will acts as such for the following comparisons.

In all the following comparisons, the measurements are new with no change in amp/computer settings or volume. Mic was adjusted to tweeter height for each speaker. This should give a good approximation of relative efficiency. Graphs is in 2db increments.

Pioneer BS22 @1m no grill 1/12 smoothing

The Pioneer BS22 plays very flat throughout the entire audible range. But after 3khz, output is about 3db lower than everything else. Giving very smooth but subdued output on from the tweeter. I don't find the Pioneers to be an exciting speaker.

Pioneer BS22 vs Infinity Primus p153 @1m 1/12 smoothing

The Infinity Primus line is my personal favorite budget offering. Built like a ton of bricks. More efficient, brighter, very flat out to 6khz, where it hits a steep but pretty narrow dip. They make a huge sound stage. The upper most registers might be a tad bright for some though.

Pionner BS22 vs Micca MB42X-C @1m 1/12 smoothing

I don't have the standard Micca's. I got on the Micca MB42X-C hype-train when they were released and I haven't done much with them. I did use one as a replacement center channel speaker (as it's marketed as), I had no complaints and it worked well in that respect. However in vertical orientation as a main channel speaker. I don't find the MB42X-C to be all the hot.

The huge hump 900hz to 3khz is very audible and distracting. Without the grills there is also a large hump between 4.5khz and 8khz. I don't know if the eq file by /u/strategicdeceiver, but from his measurements of the standard Micca, these look like they would be similar.

Regardless of your version of the Micca, if you are not using any EQ.  Keep those grills on.

Pionner BS22 vs TEAC LS-H265 @1m 1/12 smoothing

I like the TEAC LS-H265 a lot at $90. I don't like them as much at $150 which is closer to their going price now. Build quality on the TEAC's is Dayton B652 level, so not very impressive for the current price. But they seem to do things well enough to be enjoyable and exciting. But not so accurate. 

Pionner BS22 vs HTD Level 2 @1m 1/12 smoothing

The HDT Level 2's are going to be my next full review. Great looking speakers, dense and heavy, anything speaker build like a ton of bricks. 

I haven't seen any published measurements on them so there isn't much to go by. In my A/B testing with the Pioneers, they sounded remarkably similar. With just a touch more brightness or "sparkle" for lack of a better term. I enjoyed them, but it is hard to call them better than the Pioneers.

Measurements were not as flat as I was expecting or hoping for. In the upcoming weeks I will investigate these further. 

Pionner BS22 vs Def Tech SM45 @1m 1/12 smoothing

With a new house and room, I brought back out the Def Tech SM45. I could not get these things to measure or sound good in my previous location. I'm chalking it up to just an incomparable room.

I didn't do any listening AB test this time around, but I was able to get measurements pretty close to Stereophile http://cdn.stereophile.com/images/912DSM45fig3.jpg

All the speakers overlayed and level matched @100hz 1/6 smoothing

All the speakers overlayed and level matched @1000hz 1/6 smoothing

All the speakers overlayed 1/12 smoothing

It is very apparent that these all measure almost identical until about 400hz. Most likely due to room issues than anything else.

All the speakers, as they measured with no adjustments. The Infinity's are the most efficient of the bunch but a good amount. You can really see the exaggerated humps in the Miccas. The big ramp up out of the Def Tech tweeter.

All the speakers overlayed 1/3 smoothing
It is very apparent that these all measure almost identical unto about 400hz. Most likely due to room issues than anything else.

Showing in 1/3 smoothing to make things a little easier to see. This should still show some of the major performance differences and flaws within the group.

All the speakers, as they measured with no adjustments. The Infinity's are the most efficient of the bunch but a good amount. You can really see the exaggerated humps in the Miccas. The big ramp up out of the Def Tech tweeter.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sound Appeal SA-vf6.5s: The review, break down and comparison. All aboard the hype train!

Sound Appeal SA-vf6.5s Review

I stumbled upon these while searching Amazon for new cheap bookshelf speakers to review. From their outward appearance and the lofty claims made by AV-Express, I thought that Sound Appeal SA-vf6.5s  coming in at $69.99 were the perfect budget speaker review candidate.I was hoping to be the first to jump on these, but I was beat to the punch by a few other hobbyist reviewers. So far the opinion seems to be split down the middle.

First Impressions: Build

All the pictures on the marketing materials show these speakers sans grills, as such they are as handsome as any other black vinyl fake wood finished speaker box. With the grills they become even more nondescript. The real problem with the grills is getting them off and just how much the plastic frame covers the tweeter. By far these are the most permanent feeling removable grills I have encountered, you really feel like your pushing the structural limits of the plastic while trying to pry them off. And those grills should come off because the black plastic covers so much of the tweeter and that is causes some nastiness in the measurements as you will see below.

1 meter driver measurements. 

The cabinet of the SA-vf6.5s is a tad larger and better looking than its most obvious competition, the Dayton B652. (I'll be using both the Dayton B652 and the Pioneer BS22 for some comparisons) But not built any better; and as such rings pretty hallow sounding. I'm sure some internal bracing would do some good. Internal stuffing is abysmal with the thinnest egg create foam you can imagine, more and better stuffing would also probably help.

Drivers looks nice enough for the price point. 6.5 inch mid and the claimed 1 inch dome tweeter looks to be built as well as anything else in the budget. There has been some questioning about the claimed size of the tweeter and if AV-Express is accurately representing it. I pulled out my measuring tape and got 1 inch from edge to edge of the tweeter driver. The diameter of the dome however is closer to 7/8 or 3/4 inch. Is this a case of exaggeration or using the wrong measurement I don't know. The tweeter uses a good size ferrite magnet.

The SA 6.5 claims to have a 12db per octave crossover. And it does, but only on the tweeter. The woofer plays full range. The mid does a pretty good job playing out to about 3.5khz before it quickly drops of. Close mic measurements show some extra jaggedness but it seems to work itself out as you get a little farther away. I'm guessing the tweeter is crossed over pretty high, near 6khz would be my guess. Perhaps someone with cross over design expertise has a better understanding and can chime in.

The port on the SA 6.5 narrow oval port, while it does increase the bass extension in close mic measurements. It looks to be turned pretty high, and at distance, doesn't seem to add much to the speakers performance. If they were crossed over at 80hz with a sub, I don't think this would be an issue. Bass depth ends up being just hair better than the Daytons.

Overall they are build as good as most other speakers at the price point.

 How Does it all Sound? 

If we can get past some of the lofty claims, and compare them with speakers at the same price point. Then they do pretty damn good.

I don't use any of these speaker in near field situations, but at 6 feet away I liked them a lot. Imagining was nice and wide. Going through my common listing tracks all came back with enjoying the music and not being distracted by distortion, harshness or tunnel sounding vocals. These ain’t no Daytons for sure. Voices are natural and smooth, but bass is a tad boomy and blah with the elevated mid bass region.

There is a 5db dip in the response from 5.5khx to 8khz and centered about 6.5khz. At first I thought that this was due to just by the roll off of the mid and the crossover frequency of the tweeter, but upon some further testing of the other speaker (and seeing that the tweeter responses are different). 

 I think it is due to a comb filtering or another form of cancellation. Will that be audible? I'm not sure. It's a pretty narrow region and the Pionner BS22's suffer a similar dip, though due to the grill and not any sort of cancellation.

Off axis response seems pretty good on the horizontal plane. I had to get the speaker to 45 degrees off before the response changed significantly. So I don't think much toe in will be required for these. As you get father off axis, you can see what I think is the cone break seen in the driver measurements at 6khz becomes more audible.

Tonally, I had a hard time telling them apart from the Pioneers during some A/B comparisons. Before anyone loses their mind, I am not saying that they are not better than the Pioneers. But at 1/2 the cost they do a good job competing with them. 

With products more in line with their price, (Dayton B652, Polk R150/T15/M10, JBL Loft, Insignia NS-SP213, Micca MB42x, Sony B1000), they become a good option to look at. They kill the Dayton, Polks, and JBLs; if any of those were in your short list of speakers, the SA-vf6.5 best them with ease. I wish I had the Insignia's again to compare directly. The Insignia's have a much better tweeter and crossover but are lacking on the bass response. If I was using a sub, I would take the Insignia's in a heart beat. I don't have the Micca MB42x, but I do have a pair of the MB42x-C. I found the Micca MTM's to be brighter, and without the lower mid range and midbass to filled out. Making me prefer the SA-vf6.5s with a lot of music. 

Below are new measurements of some of the potential competitors I had on hand.

As you can see, the Pioneers and Sound Appeal's measure pretty similar 200 hz to nearly 7khz


If you're looking to spend $69.99 or less on speakers, then these should absolutely be on the list to investigate along with the Micca MB42s and Insignia NS-SP213. Cheap speakers are getting better and better, but don't expect these to be giant killers. While I found them to be very similar in sound to the Pioneers, the Pioneer are better in every way. The Pioneers are also 2x the price. There maybe some QC issues here, in my experience both speakers measured a bit more differently than I would hope past 5khz. Though how audible it will be is anyone’s guess. And if the promotional materials could tone down trying to resurrect Billy Mays, I think we would have a potential budget winner.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pioneer BS22 Grill Mod: Before and after measurements

Pioneer BS22 Grill Mod: Before and after measurements

The Pioneer BS22's have been one of the most recommended and highly reviewed entry level or budget speakers in recent memory. While very good at the price point they are not perfect. 

One known issue is how very non-transparent the grills are. I've read some second hand accounts that Andrew Jones designed the speaker with these grills in mind, or at least to be used specifically with the grills on. But after the measurements, I can't see that as anything but marketing hype, the all to common, "it's a feature" excuses. 

That all being said, I find the Pioneers to be a bit muted and subdued as is, and always listen with the grills off. So, I decided to see if the grills or more specifically all the plastic in front of the tweeter could be modified and help correct this "feature". These are my results.

In the above graphs you have close mic measurements on top (mic at tweeter) and then 1 meter measurements at below. 1/6 octave smoothing used on both.

As you can see, with the grills on there is a pretty large dip at centered at 8.5khz. (in RED), removing the plastic (in GREEN) didn't have all the effect that I had hoped for, but there was some measurable improvement. How well that translates to your ears, I'm not sure. Removing the grills entirely (in BLUE) is still the best option for the flattest frequency response from the tweeter. 

Does modding the grill make a huge difference? No, not really. But if you prefer the look of the grills being on or you are trying to protect the tweeter from little fingers; I do think it is a worthy and easy mod to make. 

Below you can see how much was cut out of the grill. Nothing too extreme and there is still plenty of strength to the grill.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Infinity Primus p163 measurements and comparisons.

Infinity Primus p163

The Infinity Primus line of speakers has been long standing go to choice for those looking to put together a solid home theater or music set up. The Primus p163 specifically, is very commonly suggested as good choice for the front two or three speakers for the those looking to build a nice entry level home theater. Overall the combination of positive technical reviews and a happy user base continue to make these a popular choice.

I have personally used the entire line, minus the p252 and the matching subwoofers. Overall I have been very pleased with their performance to price ratio and prefer the Infinity's to other common budget values like the Pioneer BS22 and Micca MB42x

Previously I've reviewed the Infinity Primus p143 and thought that they were great performers for the price and should be an option for everyone looking for a sub $100 set of bookshelf speakers.

First let's look at two professional measurements of the Primus p162

In 2007, Stereophile did comprehensive review of the Primus p162 and provided theses measurements.

SoundStage! Network created these measurements of the p162 in an actual anechoic chamber.

In a quick comparison of the two measurements were can see that they match up very well. There are some obvious differences though. The low end from about 60hz to 200hz is measured as a bit more inflated in the Stereophile measurements, my guess would be probably due to the close mic measurements taken, and the large spike at 700hz (due to some nastiness out of the port) is softened a bit. But overall you can tell they are measuring the same speaker and getting very similar results. 

Here are my measurements of the Infinity Primus p163

These measurements were all taken outside, at 1m distance.

After 500hz, my outdoor measurements match up very well with both the Stereophile and the SoundStage Network. I was not able to do close mic measurements on the Primus p163, so unfortunately I can't compare the mid and port measurements to Stereophile or NoAudiophile, though I trust that their near mic responses are accurate. Equally unfortunate is the floor reflections that affect the measurements before 500hz. However, the Primus still remains very close to +/- 3db throughout

The green trace is what I wanted to highlight the most here and what shows show adjusting placement a little bit in relation to the seating position can really bring out the best in the Primus p163. By raising the tweeter to just ABOVE ear level, much of the elevated tweeter response is diminished and made for a measured response of +/- 2db or less for 800hz until the tweeter begins it's steep drop off after 16khz. While the extension might not be as great as other speakers, I'm very impressed with the flat measurements.

Next are some comparisons to popular reviewer NoAudiophile

strategicdeceiver AKA NoAudiophile, has also recently taken detailed measurements and made an EQ correction file to address some of the response issues and mellow the tweeter direct on axis response.
When the review came out, I was initially a bit skeptical because the measurements were so different in regards to the p143's tweeter output at 7khz and above, as the use the same driver. The cross overs look very different, p143 vs p163, but I lack the knowledge to understand the results of those differences. Perhaps some tweeter attenuation is designed into the p143. When I began my own more detailed look at the p163 I was able to confirm very similar tweeter measurements.

Grills on

Grills off

EQ corrected response vs Speaker raised 2 inches

In my measurements, by raising the speakers just a few inches in relation to your ears (mic position) you could achieve results very similar to those of the EQ file does.

I have not used the EQ files and have since moved houses; so I probably wont be able to recreate the exact some 1m responses, instead will have to make new ones which will have their own possible issues. But I don't disagree with any of the EQ aspects. I do think his listening impressions are very colored and don't accurately represent the impressions that many others do due the obvious room issues in his testing workshop.

I personally like the Infinity line more than the Pioneer Andrew Jones. I think they are better speakers, I find the Pioneers to be too warm and even a bit muddy. At full retail price, I do not think the Infinity Primus p163 represent all that great of a value when you have some very exciting bookshelf options just under $200. I also don't know of anyone buying them at full retail either. I would suggest to those looking at the p163, to move up to the Infinity Primus p363 Tower and wait to pick them on when they are on sale for $99 each. You'll save on the need for speaker stands, and they have been very well reviewed and do not seem to have the same elevated treble after 7khz


Overall I like Infinity Primus line a lot. I think the p143 is one of the best tiny speakers you can find. The rest of the Primus line has a large following behind then, and when on sale, I don't think anything new in the same price can beat them. I would avoid being right in line with the tweeter, get a little below them if possible to mellow them out. If you can't do that, then use the EQ file made by NoAudiophile. But if you are still looking at the Primus line, a better idea would be to jump up to the p363 towers.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Insignia NS-SP213, Best Buy did something right... and cheap

Insignia NS-SP213 Best Buy did something right... and cheap

For the most part all of us who review cheap speakers have been sticking to products you can buy on Amazon. I left that comfort zone and went outside, drove to the dreaded Best Buy and picked up a pair of their cheap bookshelf speakers, the Insignia NS-SP213. The previous generation of Insignia bookshelf speakers, the NS-B2111, got a good amount of fan fair for a being a cheap bookshelf speaker during a time before the Dayton B652's or anyone looking at $100 speakers ever heard of Andrew Jones.

So was Best Buy successful in producing a good sub $100 speakers? I think so. In fact at the retail price of $69.99 and a sale price of $49.99 they are tough to beat.

Detailed album of Speaker Disassembly pictures. 

The NS-SP231 are your basic black cabinet speaker. At its retail price, there really isn't a huge number of options; and they all are black. But this is easily the prettiest of the bunch. Not shown is the keyhole mount to hang them on a wall.

With Grill

Without Grill

Here is it, next to the Dayton B652

Taking apart the speaker to inspect the drivers and construction proved a little more interesting than expected.

What kind of sorcery is this?

Basic black stamped basket midrange driver

But! A nice, real crossover. No full range mid and cap on the tweeter. The only other speaker in this price range that has something like this would be the Micca MB42x's at $79.99. I also like the molex plug on the tweeter, made my life a little easier while testing.

Tiny bit of corner bracing on the front baffle, and the smiley face port.

Figured out why my screw driver stood up on it's own. Dat magnet.

For the money, this is a well made speaker. Much better put together than many of the units it would be competing against (Dayton, Polk, Monoprice), and not far behind the Pioneer BS-22's or Infinity p153's. Certainly better than the much more expensive and beloved TEAC LS-H265.

So how did it all sound? Pretty damn good for the most part.  

Insignia NS-SP213 Frequency Response Graphs

Here are the individual driver frequency responses

It looks like the drivers are crossed over at about 2.5khz. I didn't find any official documentation that listed it.

Grills are a killer on these things and just make the treble all manners of wonky (as seen in multiple measurements in the album). I recommend taking them off. The speaker is good looking enough that the drivers don't need to be hidden.

Port looks to be tuned around 80hz, so these wont be bass monsters.

Now for the important par; the 1 meter measurements.

As seen in most of my indoor measurements the hump at 150hz is present. The midrange might be just a touch thin, but never bloated or too forward.

Aside from the dip at 350hz, this speaker is +/- 3 db form 150hz (which matched the roll off of the close mic measurement) to 18khz when measured outdoors. And measured pretty similar indoors until about 400hz where room modes get more active.

When measured @1m outdoors the port doesn't seem to be outputting much volume.

Compared to some of the other speakers in the segment, the Insignia's compare with very well. I found them to be very similar to the TEAC LS-H265 in over all tonality; however they do lack the good bass response of the TEAC's. The TEAC's best the Insignia overall, but at 3x the cost.

Unfortunately I've seemed to have lost my .mdat file with the TEAC's outdoor response so I can't overlap them until I get a chance to measure them again. But here is the original TEAC measurements for comparison.


The Insignia's are far and away better than any of the Polk budget offerings (R15,R150 and T15). Much better than the terrible Dayton B452, and lack the harshness that can be heard in the happy accident of the Dayton B652's. I don't have better measurements of the Sony SS-1000, but I'd be welling to bet the Insignia's best those also, the Sony's were very muted with in the upper registers.

I know, call me crazy and stupid, from a personal enjoyment stand point, I liked them more than the Pioneer BS22's, but I personally find the BS22's to be too warm for my taste, and slightly muddy in the bass.

With the understanding that the Insignia's weak bass output points to them needing to be paired with a subwoofer, I would pick them over the Pioneers for myself.


Don't count out the Insignia NS-SP213 just because it's cheap and found at a mass market consumer electronic store. It's a good speaker that everyone shopping this price point should look into. The fact that they can be found locally for many people and have an easy return policy should be an added bonus. Without a doubt they would make an excellent surround speaker.