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.