2017 Buyer's Guide: Desktop Loudspeakers

Equipment report
Categories:
Stand-mount
|
Products:
Audioengine A2+,
Audioengine HD6,
Focal XS Book,
KEF X300A,
Magnepan Mini-Maggie,
Paradigm Shift A2
2017 Buyer's Guide: Desktop Loudspeakers

Audioengine A2+
$249
Easily one of the best deals in high-end audio, the Audioengine A2+ powered desktop speakers are simply incredible. How is it possible to get such low-end extension, wide soundstaging, pinpoint imaging, and smooth sonics from tiny desktop speakers that cost $249? Even though the amps in the A2+’s are rated at only 15W, these speakers pump out enough sound to easily fill large rooms, and do so without the distortion of most desktop transducers. Perfect for the workshop, bedroom, desk, or dorm room, the A2+’s should be at the top of everyone’s small, powered desktop-speaker list. USB, RCA, 3.5mm inputs, and subwoofer-out make theA2+’s as plug ’n’ play as they come. audioengineusa.com

Paradigm Shift A2
$279-$329/each
A 2012 Golden Ear recipient, the cleverly named Shift A2 is more than just a serious loudspeaker—it’s a winning example of forward thinking. Compact, internally powered, equipped with DSP bass-management, and packed with enough back-panel inputs to connect to almost any source, it is what 21st century entry-level high end is all about. Its Everyman appeal bridges generations of music lovers, and it just happens to sound great in the bargain. It won’t be for the devout traditionalists, but its combination of sound and value extends the welcome mat to nascent high-enders who may have thought they couldn’t afford the entrance fee. paradigm.com


Focal XS Book
$299
To view the XS Books as just another pair of flashy-looking computer speakers would do them a disservice. While functioning best as nearfield monitors tethered to a good computer-audio system, the XS Book speakers also work beautifully as part of a small-room bookshelf system, combined with a network player. We can easily see someone enjoying XS Books as part of a summer-weekend-house sound system: Store them in their case during the weekdays, along with all the cables, and you’re all set for a quick Friday getaway. For $299, the Focal XS Book powered-speakers offer a lot of sound, flexibility, and functionality. And though, in the end, they are a lifestyle rather than an audiophile product, it’s a lifestyle that most people won’t mind living. audioplusservices.com


KEF X300A
$599
Think of KEF’s perky little plug-in as a smaller, reimagined LS50/Uni-Q for desktop duty and the world of computer media. To fulfill this mission KEF includes Class D bi-amplified power and a full-time 24-bit/96kHz USB DAC; the result is a speaker system that’s well balanced and dynamically adept across the macro/micro landscape, with a strong midband and a firm presence range. The X300A possesses an image stability and pinpoint focus that are only approached by single-driver transducers. It’s not a laid-back, cool-your-heels kind of speaker. It has a pacey forwardness, and a bass response that’s more dynamically punchy and well defined than it is truly extended. (On a desktop its response never descends below the upper bass.) But at the end of the day there’s no denying a jump factor that should get your trackball and paperweights dancing. kef.com


Audioengine HD6
$749
Perhaps the most versatile piece of gear the clever team at Audioengine has come up with yet. Powered, DAC-equipped, Bluetooth-enabled, the two-way HD6 is comfortable on a desk or shelf, flanking a flat panel or set out in the room on a pair of stands. It’s basically a complete audio system that only needs a source as humble as a smartphone to get it up and running. Sonically it has a forgiving signature in the treble range, and an ear-coddling midrange with a warmer, slightly darker voice that is effective at conveying big sound from a small box. Bass response is largely very good—a little overly enthusiastic in the upper midbass but with commendable control and usable extension into the 50–60Hz range. It’s hard to imagine a loudspeaker that does more for less. A crossover product like few others. audioengineusa.com


Magnepan Mini-Maggie System
$1490
The Mini-Maggie system is a three-piece, ribbon-tweeter-equipped, planar-magnetic, dipole speaker system intended primarily for desktop use. Featuring small tweeter/midrange panels that sit atop the desk and a two-channel mid/bass panel that sits in the footwell below, the Mini-Maggie package is arguably the finest desktop speaker ever made. In fact, in detail, resolution, purity, freedom from grain, soundstage width and depth, and, above all, coherence, the Mini-Maggie rig sounds for all the world like a pair of Magnepan’s exceptional 3.7s on a slightly smaller scale (meaning that bass extension, the size of the dynamic envelope, and image height are reduced relative to the larger 3.7). Interestingly, the Mini-Maggie can be used for whole-room applications, too, provided you set the system up in smaller rooms, keep volume levels moderate, and make a point of adding a second mid/bass panel for more lower midrange/bass reinforcement. magnepan.com


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