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.

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