Thursday, March 30, 2017

Return of the Gangsta: Swan Hivi m200mkII Powered Desktop Speaker Review

Swan Hi-Vi m200MKII: Return of the Budget Hifi OG

Y'all know me, still the same O.G. but I been low-key

Swan (and now Hi-Vi) have been a long time manufacture of legit speaker drivers since the mid 90s. You can find the raw drivers for sale, and used in DIY speaker all over the internet. You can read more about the history or Swan here. While HiVi has embraced the fact that there design and development is based in China, this is no fly by night, or manufacture of questionable quality products. That said, they haven't seemed to get a lot of traction the last 4 or 5 years or so. I wasn't too familiar with Swan products prior to this review, I knew they made drivers since I've seen them sold on Parts Express for years, and I was passively familiar with was the M10 2.1 set as it is not an uncommon suggestion for people looking for ~$100 2.1 sets, (and legitimately probably the best in it's category) and The Overnight Sensations are a high quality entry level DIY kit regularly suggested. But raw drivers and favored Massdrop products are FAR from the only product they make. In fact, if you start going through the Swan/HiVi catalog, you'll more likely end up thinking, “WTF don't they make”. I was lucky to be given a pair of on of Swan/HiVi's staple products, the M200mkII's for review and allowed to give away in an upcoming raffle. Thank you to Redditor /u/HiviSpeakers-Michael for the offer.

Doing some Googling around the M200mkII have been in production for nearly a decade (even loner if you include the original M200). Much longer than most of the current go to suggestions at the price point, and in the time before Reddit, were a common choice for PC audio enthusiast looking for higher end equipment. They really are an OG set of speakers. Just as Death Row Records paved the way for Platinum selling rappers everywhere, the Sawn M200 family of speakers paved the way the likes of AudioEngine, Kanto and arguably desktop favorites like the JBL 305's.

Right from opening the box you can tell there is a little more to these speakers than a lot of comparable offers have. Far removed form nondescript and 90 degree angled black boxes with cloth grills. The Swans, have curves, angles and striking wood (vinyl wrap) and matte black contrast. Even the grills have style to them. They are are not just powered speakers, but more like furniture that will reproduce music very nicely. If the size is acceptable, the wife approval factor should be pretty high. In the shortest of summaries, the performance in on par with a lot of the current crop of similar priced passive offerings. Factoring in a real amp (check out that transformer!), and bass/treble controls, you'll hard pressed to say they aren't strong contenders in an ever improving price point. Which if we are being honest, has quickly became an issue of personal preference rather than unquestionably superior products.

Give me the microphone first so I can bust, like a bubble

One of the cool things about all the Swan/Hivi products is that all their drivers are available for DIY builds and as such there is a lot of official and hobbyist documentation about them.

The M200mkII uses the HiVi TN25 tweeter (4.8/5 starts with 28 reviews on Parts Express) and a variation of the SN5 midrange driver. This one minus the phase plug from what I can tell. The known data on the drivers something that not many other manufactures can offer.

Since they M200 family is marketed more for the PC and Desktop situation, the bass and treble controls are a welcome addition. It's a bit of a bummer that there there is no indication of how much adjustment they offer or where “0” is on the scale. In efforts to try to figure out the adjustment range I measured both the master and slave speakers separately using a Sony DH130 as the amp for the slave.

Let's take a look at the measurements I got.

Passive speaker: Close Mic vs 1m outdoor measurements.

Looks like the port is tuned about 50hz. The mid range plays exceptionally flat and appears to be crossed over with the tweeter at 1.5khz. (though I could not find any documentation to confirm this, the m200mkIII active cross over is 1.8khz per Swan/Hivi literature)

Without a grill the tweeter plays smooth and is free of major peeks or dips, though with a slightly rising rate.

Using the passive speaker and an external amp to get a baseline frequency response. Shows that overall things look pretty impressive and compare very well with, if not better than, the commonly suggested products from Elac, Kef, Pioneer and Infinity.

Active speakers bass and treble adjustments

There is a wide range of adjustment for the Swan HiVi m200mkII. You get about 10db of boost at the either end of the bass and treble range. The Bass and Treble boosts seem to hinge around 1.5khz, which is also pretty much the driver cross over point.

Now it is possible that there is something going on in the amp or EQ portion to alter playback in undisclosed ways, and in addition to the bass and treble controls. From what I can tell, tuning the bass/treble adjustment knobs all the way left (to about a 7:30 position) actually adjusts the response a negative DB amount (~-2). The adjustment also appears to occur in an exponential fashion. Meaning cranking the knobs all the way right (to the 6:00 position) gives some extreme amounts of boost. Flat or 0 db boost happens at about the 10:00 position and quickly increases. The knobs also turn completely smooth, with no clicks or tactile indicators.

Active Speaker @1m outdoors with grills on.

Another way to show the bass and treble adjustment range. This time only one knob activated at a time, at there appears to be some variance in adjustment range when only one of the options is used. I'm going to take a wild guess that it's to do with power output from the amplifier section since it eeks out an additional ~2dbs of boost compared to when both adjustment point are at max

Grill on vs grill off.

Overall the grills are pretty transparent, but there is a small null around the 5-6hkz point with them on.

Passive speaker: 1m outdoor vertical axis measurements.

In my testing set it, its difficult to get more than +/- 15 degrees vertically off axis. As expected, when getting below the tweeter axis a large null appears in the frequency response. Since this are intended to be desktop speakers, it's a moot point. Above the plane of the tweeter the response is largely unchanged.

Passive speaker: 1m outdoor horizontal axis measurements.

Again the Swan/HiVi m200mkII performs well and doesn't lose a ton of output until you are getting past 35 degrees off axis.

Passive speaker: 1m outdoor on axis response vs averaged response from all 1m measurements.

One thing that I did find weird and I'm not sure if it was a manufacturing glitch, but the RCA and speaker input/outputs seemed to be flipped or reversed. I've always remembered it Red = Right/Positive so when Red is still the Right speaker/Positive terminal but orientation is reversed it gave me a second of confusion. But not to worry, labeling is correct.

So get up, get a move on and get your groove on

In room bass is good to 45 and audible to 35 (in the context of a sine sweep at least), but can do with a subwoofer if the lowest notes of rap/edm are a requirement. You'll have to think ahead before adding a subwoofer, because there is no RCA out, and the speaker level out put is only for the left channel. So something like a miniDPS might be needed to integrate them properly. However they do impressively well without one. They handled the strong bass line from my go to test tracks like (Live: T.B.D), (The Heavy: How you like me now) perfectly.

Tweeter TN25 doesn't have quite the crispness or clarity of the KEF q100, but remains more than adequate in revealing detail, and a good bit better level matched than either of Andrew Jones Pioneer or Elac Debut offerings. If something is badly recorded, ripped or bricked walled you'll hear it. Seem to benefit from a bit of toe in.

Watching some more documentary/lots of talking Youtube videos, voices are clear and lifelike. Not a hit of any sibilance in vocal or acoustic tracks (Civil Wars and Chris Cornell covers of Billie Jean come off wonderfully.) Very strong center image and a sense of depth (Glitch Mob: Fortunate days) even when sharply off axis.

The speakers really come alive when you get closer to ½ way up on the volume knob. I think they would be very suitable to use in a medium sized room as main speakers. I can imagine that the units are not super efficient, and you seem to lose a good bit of dynamics at lower volumes

The knock test sounds like the cabinets are much more dead than many, they make the Kef q100 sound embarrassingly hollow, though nothing yet matches the solid and dead knock of the Def Tech SM45 or HTD Level 2's. But its hard to tell how structural the wood printed decorative side pieces are. They appear to be well glued on so I'm sure it's of some functional benefit.

Another classic CD for y'all to vibe with

These are great and under represented/appreciated speakers. It's time they comeback to the forefront of popularity like Dr. Dre after a leaked copy of Detox. The performance is on par with almost everything at the price point, the only caveat might be the JBL 305's which I haven't heard, but are unequivocally one of the best values out there. BUT the Swans offer something that just about no one else does. Their drivers or of known quantities (and very good DIY options on their own right) and they don't look like everything else out there. If you want something that doesn't look like every other boring black box, these might just be it. It's really no wonder that they had a strong following on many of the PC/Tech forums almost a decade ago. I really wish their was a passive equivalent though, if you saved the cost on the amp and EQ you'd have a pair of passive speakers VERY hard to beat for the money.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I'm Back! The Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitor Speaker Review.

I'm Back! The Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitor Speaker Review.

My first review in a while and a very long time coming. Before for I get into the nitty gritty and all the important details for the Yamaha HS8's, I have to give a shout out to /u/rodarmor for donating them to me many many months ago as review samples. These speakers will be part of another also long over do give away coming up in the year so be on the lookout for that on /r/BudgetAudiophile.

While in general powered monitors tend to be thought of as having their primary place in a music/mixing studio; over the last few years powered speakers have been becoming ever more popular as a choice for people looking for high quality self contained audio solutions. Going with powered speakers generally means a step up in performance from other entry level passive speakers (or at least are marketed as such), with the added bonus of eliminating the need for external amps. To varying results, AudioEngine, KRK and JBL have been the recent go to choices for powered speakers, but Yamaha has had a line of powered monitors that have flown under the radar for some time.

The boring specs: As the name suggest, the HS8 sports an 8 inch mid-range and 1 inch dome tweeter behind a metal wire grill. There are no other grills, so for those of you with aesthetic concerns, or little hands, be ready for pair of giant snow white mid-range drivers in your line of sight. With the glowing logo on the front may cause varying levels of annoyance in a darkened room. The HS8 is bi-amped with 75W going to the mid-range and 45W to the tweeter for a total of 120W of power, plenty to get loud for any reasonably sized room. A not too uncommon complaint with powered speakers is that sometimes their may be hiss associated with them, but I experienced none unless their was no source signal and the volume knobs on the rear turned all the way up. The HS8 comes with XLR and 1/4” TRS inputs that give you a few easy connection options. One thing to be aware of is that there is no stand-by mode, only on/off switches on the back panel.

Because they are monitor speakers, they are intended to play pretty flat and return what the artist intended. They do a great job of it as the measurements show. While I've grown to much prefer generally flat playing speakers, some who like speakers with particular voicing characteristics may find them to be dry. To me, things just sound right. 

If Ron Swanson and the Very Good Building and Development company needed a set of speakers. The Yamaha HS8 might just be them. They are very good speakers.


Here we have close mic individual driver measurements. Since the Yamaha's have trim level adjustments on both the mid-range and tweeter; there exist a number of possible configurations to suit your personal preference or room needs.

Yamaha documentation states that the mid-range and tweeter or crossed over at 2khz. But the measurements seem to point to the mid-range being crossed over steeply at ~1.7khz; and the tweeter actually begins to roll off at a equal rate at about 2.3khz. Average those two numbers out and you get 2khz or so. 

Regardless where the mid-range is crossed over, it;s steep enough to eliminate essentially all cone break up. The tweeter plays very smooth with a slight uptick past 7khz.

The speaker is ported fairly deep at 45hz. 

These are as full range as any bookshelf speaker can get.

Here we have a quick comparison of the close mic measurements with no trim adjustments and a 1m outdoor full range measurements. (both using 1/12 octave smoothing, elevated ~7 feet with no gating)

These are pretty flat and neutral playing speakers.

Here we have 1m measurements of highlighting the tweeter trim adjustments. It looks like the tweeter level adjustment hinges at about 1.5khz

Here we have 1m measurements of highlighting the mid-range trim adjustments. It looks like the mid-range level adjustment hinges at about 2khz but doesn't really do much until after 1khz.

Here we have some horizontal off axis measurements (zero trim adjustment). It isn't until you start pushing past 45 degrees off axis that there is significant roll off of the tweeter and a wide depression in the upper mid-range starts to show. 

The Yamaha HS8 should lend itself to a wide range of placement options.

Here we have some vertical off axis (degrees below from the tweeter) measurements. The speaker doesn't preform terribly but once you hit 20 degrees below the tweeter an expected deep valley at the cross over region is apparent. 

Here we have some vertical off axis (degrees above from the tweeter) measurements. The dip in response appears almost immediately once you are out of vertical alignment. This time much more tightly centered at the crossover point.


The HS8 offer a multitude of adjustment possibilities, I did almost all my listening without any adjustment to the mid-range or tweeter level controls. I felt like this was the most fair way to listen and potentially compare to any other speaker. It's toss up on what you notice first about the HS8; is it how deep and authoritative the bass is, which BT-dubs, digs deep enough to makes this a damn near full range music speaker. Or is it how clean detailed mid-range and treble are? To steal a phrase from The Rock, it doesn't matter what you notice first, because you'll be darn close to audio heaven no matter what.

This praise isn't to mean that these speakers are completely perfect; without any adjustments, some vocals might be just a tiny bit forward when compared to something like the KEF q100 or the Infinity Reference r152 (though the HS8 doesn't have the rising response on the top end, so it's a bit of give and take). I don't think it is a driver characteristic, as it doesn't show up in the close mic measurements, it could possibly be some combination of box resonance due to the lack of bracing and some port noise which is localized at about 400hz. Regardless of the origin, it isn't any sort of major deficiency. And the wonderful upside of the built in level control is that you can mitigate some of it of that with a flip of a switch.

Do to their size, desktop placement is problematic but not impossible; but you wont get the pin point imagining that the coaxial drivers in the KEF q100 provice. As much as I enjoy the HS8, if you were looking of a desk top monitor/extreme near-field speaker I probably would look elsewhere.

I already touched upon the KEF q100 in a quick comparison, and the well praised ELAC B6 would be another fair one. Aside form one set being powered and the other being passive, they share a lot in form and performance. In my opinion the Yamaha HS8 could be thought to be overall very similar to the ELAC, but an overall improvement, doing without some of the bass bloat and a better more level playing tweeter.


The most apt comparison would be with the JBL 305/308, unfortunately I don't have a pair of either in my possession so we have to make due with some similarly priced speakers I do have.

All these last comparisons are gated measurements outdoors at 1m. So anything much after 300hz is a bit of a wash.

Yamaha HS8 vs ELAC B6. Overall these speakers are pretty similar in many respects. Not just in size and construction, but also in performance. The HS8's are significantly pricier and powered, but they also get the nod in performance; largely due to a properly leveled tweeter and a less bloat in the bass.

Yamaha HS8 vs the Kef q100. The Kef's are my current desk top choice and what also resides on my desk. They can also regularly be found for about half the price of the Yamaha's. But the Kefs, to have a brighter tweeter, while it's climb is very smooth, if you know you like a more mellow smooth speaker (like the Elac's) they may not be for you.

Yamaha HS8 vs the Infinity Reference r152. The Infinity's are a highly underrated line of speakers and fantastic performers. A true sleeper speaker if their every was one. They go head to head with anything at their price point and do it very well. Perhaps even better than the Yamaha's do it. Though like their Primus siblings, the Reference line does have a bit of a rising rate in the tweeter response, while still maintaining a very respectable +/- throughout their entire response range.

If you are looking to spend ~$600 on a pair of speakers, the Yamaha HS8 should absolutely be on your shortlist. They aren't much to look at, but not much is at these prices. These are great speakers and they do everything very well, play music just about exactly as the artist intended and can do so without a subwoofer for just about everything. They would be right at home in a studio, dedicated listening room, home theater or even a really big desktop.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

ELAC Debut B6: The Current New Hotness

ELAC Debut B6: The New Hotness

In the seminal classic Men in Black II, Agent J as played by Will Smith, describes his new suit and ride as the "New Hotness". Forever entrenching this wonderful phrase into world wide pop culture.

Currently, The Urban Dictionary defines "New Hotness" as: 

Something that is young and fresh, usually dealing with the physical makeup of a human being. The opposite of old and busted.

If there was an Urban Audiophile Dictionary it might look something like this.

And it would still be true. 

The ELAC Debut's have made a large splash over audio forums the last couple months and for very good reason. For $280 a pair, you get a really nice speaker, that looks about as good as a black box can get, and one well deserving of your consideration for both stereo and home theater uses. 

Before any talk on performance, I have to comment on the grills. These things suck. They must have been a necessary evil form higher ups at ELAC, as Andrew Jones has stated that he voices his speakers without grills. Unless you absolutely need the grills on or love the way they look, I would remove all of them, tweeter grill included as it pops right off. 

SEE HERE For complete break down of the speakers and drivers


The fact that the ELAC's have two grills means that there are a few extra potential usage combos and how those combinations measure is something we will get to.

But first the basics: Close mic measurements.

Moving from left to right, you can see that that ELAC B6 is ported pretty low at about 45hz. And the port remains pretty quiet with just a little bit of noise at about 1.75khz. It doesn't appear to show up at 1m measurements.

The large mid range plays smooth enough and quickly drops off past the xover point and shows a little bit of break up after 5khz.

The Tweeter is a touch on the mellow side and it is reasonably flat. It rolls off slightly after 10khz. This is not an in your face speaker, but a smooth and full sounding one that does a lot of things very good. But once again, the design is slightly hampered by the grills forced upon the drivers.

Close Mic Measurements with 1m overlayed

Overlaying the outdoor 1m measurements reveals a quiet reasonably flat output. Not all that different from Andrew Jones' previous Pioneer speakers. A little bit elevated in the midrange with helps with a smooth warm sound.

There is a bit of a wrinkle at 2.5khz to 3.5khz. I would take a guess that it maybe do to some of the cone break up.

Similar to the Pioneer BS22's,overall the treble is a bit down from the midrange. And the grills cause issues lower in the frequency response than I have seen in any other speaker I've measured. All the way down to about 1.8khz, there is at least measurable effect.

The difference between both grills removed, and both grills on remains apparent in the tweeters output. Without the grills on, there is a significant peak at about 14khz, that's pretty high in the range and probably not going to make an audible difference to anyone though. I'm not sure why that peak shows up in 1m measurements, but not close mic measurements, but I suspect it's due to the pretty deep horn loading of the tweeter driver.

Overall these are really nice speakers. They are too large for any serious near field or desktop listening, and you have them that close to the wall the bass can be pretty overwhelming and a bit bloated.

As a non near-field 2.x or surround sound set up I think these B6's would perform great. They do a lot of things right. They are smooth and reach deep for their size, but if you are like me and tend to like something with just a little more sizzle you might have better luck with something like the KEF q100.

Later we will see how well they do off axis. SPOILERS...they they are great at it.

How do all these grills effect output?

ELAC Debut B6 @1m: Both grills removed vs Both grills on

The 2 grills over the tweeter and the potential combinations that presents will be seen in the next few graphs.

All grills removed is the control measurement, as Andrew Jones has stated that he voices his speakers to be used without girls

ELAC Debut B6 @1m: Both grills removed vs Main grill removed, tweeter grill on

As you can see here, the tweeter grills alone doesn't effect the output all that much on axis.

ELAC Debut B6 @1m: Both grills removed vs Main grill on, tweeter grill removed

The main grills does effect the output a bit more. Down to the mid-range level. And produces a weird, probably inaudible spike at 15khz.

IMO the grills should be removed if at all possible.

Off Axis Measurements: Surprise Surprise!!!

I was not expecting the results I got when I started my off axis measurements. The ELAC's are very impressive here. More so than just about any speaker other than the KEF q100 that I have tested.

ELAC Debut B6 @1m: Horizontal Axis. Grills off

There have been a few reviews of the new Debut B5 and B6's but none have really talked about their off axis response. 

I was very pleasantly surprised by both the horizontal and vertical responses. 

There is some excess energy coming out at 2.5khz that never dissipates, but the general roll off is very smooth out to 30 degrees. 

ELAC Debut B6 @1m: Positive Vertical Axis. Grills off

It's the vertical axis response that really impressed me. With my testing set up since the speaker is already 7 feet off the ground, I wasn't able to get the mic get higher than +10 degrees in relation to the tweeter. But I've seen many other speakers develop deep nulls at the cross over point at near the same point. The ELAC B6 showed none of that. 

ELAC Debut B6 @1m: Negative Vertical Axis. Grills off

The negative degree measurements were equally as impressive. 

The ELAC B6 seems to lend itself to a variety of placement options without suffering very much acoustically. 

I'm very impressed with it's performance.

ELAC B6 comparisons: KEF q100, Infinity r152,  Pioneer BS22

I wanted to show some basic 1m comparisons between some of my resent speakers that are in similar price points and Andrew Jones's much loved Pioneers.

ELAC Debut B6 vs KEF q100 @1m. No grills

Comparing the ELAC B6 to beloved KEF q100. Shows that the KEF is going to be brighter speaker for sure. With a good bit more extended highs.

I am I very big fan of the KEFs, but it is understandable that others may prefer something less in your face.

The ELAC's also do a great job keeping up with the off axis response of the KEF's co-axial drivers. 

And the KEF's do a solid job of keeping up with the ELAC's bass response despite a much smaller woofer cone area.

ELAC Debut B6 vs Infinity r152 @1m. No grills

The new Infinity Reference line has been my new absolute favorite mass market speaker. (though it looks like it might already be on the discontinued list.) And if I was going to redo my home theater this would be on the very short list of options.

I didn't get a chance to AB test between the 2, but both are great performers. In the end it's not all that different in the Pioneer BS22 vs Infinity Primus p153 comparison. I think it would come down to what sound signature you prefer.

ELAC Debut B6 vs Pioneer BS22 @1m. No grills

While I wasn't able to do any AB testings between the two speakers. I still wanted to see how they both measure up against each other at 1m. I also got lazy and didn't impart any gating here, but in the end they would just look even more similar if I did.

I was a bit surprised that the Pioneers appear to be a bit flatter playing speaker in some respects. This is also an excellent time to remember that on axis measurements tell just a very small part of the story. 

Overall, it looks like Andrew Jones was aiming for a similar experience between the two speakers.

I'm not sure what the TL;DR should be really. The ELAC B6's are a really nice speaker. If you are in the market for the new hotness, then I think they are excellent performers. It's pretty hard to say they don't do everything at least pretty good. While I don't think they are the end all be all at the price point, similar to the Pioneer BS22's if you like that slightly smoother warmer sound signature (maybe on the darker side) that is completely unoffensive then these maybe another great choice. 

You can't go wrong with these, but if you can, listen to things like the KEF q100 to see what you prefer before you make you choice.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Infinity Reference r152: Infinity's high end bookshelf reviewed and measured

Infinity Reference r152: Infinity's slightly higher end bookshelf reviewed, measured and compared

It's no secret that the Infinity Primus line has been my preferred entry level speaker choice. So when the opportunity came to get a pair of Infinity's higher end Reference speakers for a reasonable price, I jumped on it.

This current generation of the Reference series was released in 2014 and while it hasn't received the same marketing or sales presence as the long standing Primus line has. They have received some very positive reviews. Both Sound and Vision and Home Theater Review give the line solid praise. Infinity may have hit the nail on the head with this speaker and have a winner.

In addition to a general view and measurement showcase of the Reference r152's, I'll be comparing them with their cheaper but older brother and highly regarded budget speaker in its own right, the Primus p153. All while trying to get an idea of how much of a jump up in performance the r152 gets you.

Before we get into the technical details, let take a quick look at the physical and construction differences. Excuse the potato pictures.

Album of Infinity Reference r152 and Infinity Primus p153 product comparisons 

Both speakers are currently only available in similar basic black wood grain vinyl. But even behind the grill, the r152 seems just a little nicer to look at. The lines on the r152 are a cleaner without the grill wrapping over the top of the cabinet, and the high gloss plastic where the logo is mounted is classy touch.

Taking the grills off changes things up a lot. The r152 have no exposed screws or mounting hardware, which also prohibited removal of the drivers. Aside from the color of the cones, the midranges look very similar. The tweeter sit's higher above the midrange driver but is contained within a large pretty shallow wave guide.

The r152's a pleasant to look at without the grills on, and don't share any of the p153's comparative toy like appearance.

Another big difference between the two speakers, is that the r152 actually has something the looks like a real port. The front port on the p152 doesn't amount to much more than a large hole drilled through the MFD speaker baffle. The rear port on the r152 is physically much larger and deeper and tuned deeper at about ~55hz, than the small front port on the p153 that is tuned to ~75hz. This high port tuning on the p153 is partly responsible for them not being bass monsters by any stretch and really needing a subwoofer to complement all the other things they do really well.

So how does the Reference r152 measure?

Close mic, driver measurements 

The close mic measurements of the r152 are pretty smooth. No major peaks or valleys in any of the individual drivers output.

The Port is tuned to about 55hz and does a pretty good job in not creating excess noise. There is a bit of output centered around 900hz. though which appears to cause a minor wrinkle in the midrange.

The midrange and tweeter are crossed over at ~2.5khz. The midrange looks to have a touch of cone break up at 3khz, but again, it's at a pretty low output level and doesn't resolve into anything as the drivers integrate.

Overall the tweeter plays reasonably flat, with a low wide boost centered around 8.5khz; which I think is broad enough that it doesn't add any noticeable sibilance.

Grills are a bit of killer though and will be seen as such in the 1m measurements, so if possible I'd leave them off.

Overlaying the 1m measurements with the close mic drivers measurements. It looks like the extra port noise shows up as a bit of a hump at 900hz but it's not terrible. 

Overall the speaker is very flat from 100hz - 4khz, with usable output to 80hz without any room gain at all.

There is a a bit of raising out put from the tweeter after 4khz, but overall it's pretty smooth with the grills off. It's enough to add a bit of excitement to speaker output but without being harsh or tiring to listen too. They are a touch less bright than the more expensive KEF q100. 

These r152's are a great speakers.

Off Axis measurements 

One thing the r152 does pretty fantastic is remaining flat while off axis. Even at 30 degrees off horizontal axis the just barely diminished. The wave guide is doing a great job here. 

Vertical axis measurements aren't quiet as exciting and are pretty typical of T/M speakers. 

With all those measurements in now done, how does the Infinity r152 sound?

Frankly the Infinity Reference r152 sounds great. And should be a lot more visible than it has been. Easily within the same level as the KEF q100 and are a clear improvement over the Primus p153.

This is what I originally really wanted to get at. A comparison between my favorite budget speaker, the Infinity Primus p153 and it's higher end sibling the Infinity Reference r152.

I've been a huge fanboy of the Primus line ever since I found them, I think they are great first real speaker for anyone looking at passive components, and when they go on sale nothing new beats them.

That said, the r152's are a better speaker by a good measure, particularly in the treble region.

It is interesting that at 1 meter, the Primus actually appears to have the edge on bass extension. This was absolutely not the case during in room listening. The r152 were able to hit deeper notes with more authority. This was doubly obvious when just playing test tone from old Bass Mechanic CDs.

The midrange out put measures almost identical between the two. At least partly due to ground reflections, but that similarly extends a bit farther up the frequency range than the 600hz than just about all the outdoor measurement comparison of various speakers I have made.Which makes me wonder just how different the CMMD and MMD based drivers really are. I wasn't able to remove the drivers of the r152 so visual comparisons and what that might show are not able to be made.

The p153 is pretty great form the upper midbass to upper midrange and the r152 follows suit just the same. But what really separates the two speakers is the tweeter and it's implementation. The r152 carries a bit less energy from 1.5khz to 5hkz and really smooths out the upper midrange and makes the speaker a bit less forward sounding. It's a rich, smooth sound and is a welcome difference that was a bit more obvious than I expected it to be. 

The new wave guide does a great job of keeping the frequency response exceptionally smooth on the horizontal plane. I didn't get a chance to see how changes in toe in might affect imaging but I wouldn't think extreme toe in would be necessary to still have solid and grounded imaging. Speaking of imaging, I felt that in the desktop use, the r152 did an exceptional job will putting the image right in front of you. 

The new Infinity Reference r152 is a great small bookshelf speaker. The discussion could stop right there if it had to.

The retail price of about $350 a pair puts it in some heavy competition. The closet competitors I had on hand or have had good experience with are the KEF q100 and Definitive Technology SM45. The r152 if right in the same league as the KEF's. The Def  Tech's are build like tanks, better than either the Infinity r152 or the KEF but I've rarely had good luck getting the Def Techs to not be a boomy mess in my rooms and have become really hard for me to recommend unless you can try before you buy.

I did expect that the enclosure build quality of the r152's to be a bit better. With what the Primus p153's lose in looks, they gain is being heavy ass boxes. The r152's are almost a pound lighter each. However the KEF q100 is pretty lightweight too.


The Infinity Reference r152's are sweet speakers and if you have a chance to try them out you really should. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

JBL Loft 40: Review, Measurements and Comparison

JBL Loft 40: Review, Measurements and Comparison

For a good part of the last year, the JBL Loft 40's have become a popular budget suggestion on due to some steep discounts from their original retail price. The product line didn't last very long and appears to have become discontinued, so once the existing stock is gone I wouldn't expect many more to be found.

I had previously done a Harman Kardon shoot out where I reviewed and compared the smaller 4 inch JBL Loft 30's and Infinity p143's, I will be doing the same with the larger 5.25 inch JBL Loft 40's and Infinity p153's.

So how do these often recommended speakers perform and stack up?

Before we get into the measurements and audio quality, let's just take a quick look at the size and build quality of the Loft 40's vs the Infinity Primus p153

Please excuse the following potato quality photos.

The Infinity p153 dwarfs the Loft 40. It's not really a fair comparison. Construction quality on the Primus line far exceeds that of the Loft. The Primus p153's are significantly larger, heavier and pass the very scientific knuckle rap test with aplomb. Where as the JBL Loft 40's are pretty light weight and ring very hollow. The Primus's are little tanks for budget speakers. 

Taking off the grills reveals a boring black box and a pretty dated looking bigger box

To be honest, neither speaker is very exciting to look at without the grills on. The Primus are especially dated looking with the two tone black and light grey. The Loft 40's are just another black box. I really hope that the Primus line gets a redesign or at least a refresh soon; they are pushing a decade old.

Measurement's and Review:
How do the JBL Loft 40's actually sound?

Here with the close mic driver measurements we can see a lot going on. It's quite a bit different than what the smaller Loft 30 does. 

Starting with the port, it has decent output to 50hz, and has relatively little port noise which is a nice bonus. 

Moving on to the midrange driver, things get a little ugly. It doesn't play very flat, there is a -10db slope across it's output. There is also a huge dip at 1.5khz that looks unrelated to any sort of null, it also have significant output to 5khz, where it drops off incredibly fast.

The tweeter on the Loft 40, seems to have a very different implementation than on the Loft 30. The Loft 30 tweeter played well enough flat without any significant peaks or valleys. While the tweeter drivers look to be the same between the Loft 30 and 40, the Loft 40 appears to cross it over much higher at about 4khz.

While I couldn't find any published documentation from JBL crossover, they both use the same layout. And while I have very limited knowledge of crossover design, they appear to have different valued parts. The Loft 30 uses a cap with a 3.3j 100v value, while the Loft 40 uses a 335j 100v value. In the end, the tweeters measure very differently. 

Some good news is that the grills are pretty transparent.

At 1 meter without any rear boundary you get usable output to about 80hz with a hump at ~150hz which matches the close mic measurements. 

It's the long and low valley from 150hz-1khz that really take away from the quality of the speaker. A vacuum of midbass and midrange that give the Loft 40 a hollow and tinny sound.

The same dip a 1.5khz as seen in the close mid measurements is seen in the 1m measurements. 

With how high the tweeter is crossed over, it's not doing all that much. I don't think the tweeter is the weak link in the speaker. As the same tweeter in the Loft 30 measures much better. The midrange driver is where the deficiencies lie with the Loft 40.

Off Axis Measurements

It isn't until you get to about 20 degrees off axis that the tweeter really loses output. You can see what looks like the peak in output at the 4khz cross over point. I guess that's better than a null, a bit easier to possibly EQ out. 

Maybe EQing out the peak and using zero toe in might yield ok results if you don't have too reflective of a room. But that's a bit of work for such a cheap speaker.

Vertical axis measurements look pretty typical, with significant nulls at +/- 15 degrees

Comparisons with the Loft 30 and Primus p153

Comparing the Loft 40 to the Loft 30 shows that they actually end up measuring pretty similarly. Voiced matched for sure. 

The Loft 40 predictably plays lower, they both share the similar midbass spikes followed by a wide valley about -5db until 1kh. The tweeter on the Loft 30 plays flatter.

With the height the speakers are during the measurement process, things should be accurate down to ~600hz, where everything after will only catch major output difference.

Comparing the Loft 40 with its Harman Kardon cousin, the Infinity Primus p153 is without a doubt the flatter playing speaker. It doesn't suffer from the valley in the midbass and lower midrange that the Loft 40 does. And it may play a little deeper if they are going to be away from a wall. However during all my desktop listening, the JBL's did seem to have the edge on bass depth, I believe due to the rear facing port and gain from the rear wall than being the better driver.

None of the Infinity Primus line are bass monsters by any stretch, since it's from ported there isn't going to be any potential gain in the lower octaves from their position relative to a wall. In my opinion the whole Primus line, regardless of your placement, should really be accompanied by a subwoofer.

The upper registers on the Primus p153 are just a touch flatter for the most part, but both speakers share a similar a similar bump after 10khz.

With the steep discounts the now discontinued JBL Loft series has become an inciting option for bargain hunters. On sale for under $50 makes these a good bit better of a deal than the were at their original retail price. 

But that doesn't mean I think these are good speakers. But they would be serviceable if you were going to try your hand at digital EQing for if you were going to use them for more limited content like rears in a surround sound. If rear fill is the case, then by all means this will probably do the job well enough.

There is just no way I could have recommend them for any type of use when they were selling for $180 to $150 a pair.  

If you really needed $50 speakers I would look into the Insignia NS-SP213 if you are also planning use a sub, it's cheap well built and easily found speaker at Best Buy, or if you can save a few extra dollars the Micca MB42-X's are a good choice. Obviously both the current offerings from Pioneer and Infinity will best the JBL Lofts also, and easily remain the two go to picks for new hobbyist depending on their musical preference.