Never content to leave well enough alone, we’ve spent a lot of time looking for an audio system that could topple B&W’s mighty Zeppelin off its perch as our favorite iPod sound system. And now we've finally found it -- in Focal-JMlab’s Focal XS Multimedia Sound System.
The Focal XS is the logical follow-up to Focal’s awesome iCub powered subwoofer, which had a 2.1-channel amplifier but didn’t come with satellite speakers. The new system includes not only a pair of excellent near-field satellites, but also an integrated iPod dock and a USB interface so you can sync your iPod to iTunes, and convert digital audio from your PC’s USB port.
To be entirely fair to the Zeppelin, these two devices are really designed for different applications: Where the Zeppelin system is designed to fill a room with sound, the Focal XS is more of a near-field system that’s best enjoyed when you’re sitting in close proximity to it. And that probably explains why, unlike the Zeppelin, the Focal XS does not have an analog video output that would allow you to watch movies stored on your iPod on your big-screen TV.
The Squeezebox Boom is another solid entry in a long line of great audio streamers. Logitech has mastered the art of building inexpensive, good-quality powered speakers, and the ones integrated into the Boom are no exception.
The Squeezebox Boom’s closest competition is Roku’s SoundBridge Radio, but it’s not much of a contest. Both devices can function as an alarm clock, waking you with music streamed from your PC or Internet radio stations (and both have an all-important snooze bar), but the Boom sounds better, supports more audio formats, and consumes much less room on your nightstand.
TBI Audio Systems bowled us over last year with its passive Majestic Diamond peakers; the company recently sent us the follow-up to those speakers (the Majestic Diamond IR) along with the new hybrid-powered Millennia MG3 Class D amplifier. (Buying the components as a package shaves $100 off the cost of acquiring them separately.)
Hybrid power means the amp can operate on either A/C power (using the included power supply) or eight AA batteries (not included). Plugging in the power adapter shuts off the batteries (but it won’t refresh any rechargeable batteries you might be using). Add a set of strong passive speakers and a digital media player capable of playing tracks encoded using a lossless codec (we used Cowon’s FLAC-friendly A3) and you have a fabulous audio system you can listen to just about anywhere.
Axiom Audio’s Audiobyte speakers have convinced us it’s time to retire the M-Audio Studiophile LX4 system we’ve long used as a reference point for speaker reviews. They also surprised us in a number of ways: They’re made in Canada, not China; the amplifier comes in its own enclosure, as opposed to being hidden in one of the speaker cabinets; and the subwoofer is passive! We think we're in love.
If you think deploying a subwoofer is a prerequisite to obtaining big-time bass, you haven’t heard Audioengine’s A5 speakers. And if you’re convinced you need huge cabinets for thumping bass, you haven’t heard the company’s new diminutive A2 system.
Soundcast has embedded its wireless iPod streaming technology inside a fantastic battery-powered, self-amplified outdoor speaker. It’s pricey, but building a good wired outdoor system would cost as much—even if you do the work yourself.
It’s been 10 years since my first Tannoy encounter. I auditioned the company’s exquisite studio monitors as an associate editor at Electronic Musician, and the acoustic bliss I experienced then lingers still. With that remembrance renewed, I couldn’t wait to hear Tannoy’s i30. Boy, was I disappointed.
We’ve been around long enough to never say “never.” That’s why we decided to take a look at Logitech’s new Z-Cinema speakers. They tap your PC’s audio through its USB port, and they rely on digital signal processing trickery to deliver a good audio experience—two of our biggest pet peeves with “multimedia” speakers. But we like ‘em anyway.
If you think a deploying a subwoofer is a prerequisite to obtaining big-time bass, you haven’t heard Audioengine’s A5 speakers. And if you’re convinced you at least need cabinets as big as those of the A5, you haven’t heard the diminutive Audioengine A2.