The all-in-one powered-speaker space feels really exciting. It’s both a response to and a repudiation of current mass-market trends. On the one hand, it very much embraces digital and streaming, but on the other, it refuses to compromise on sound. The Vanatoo Transparent One Encore (T1E) loudspeaker is a good example, and has the added benefit of costing only $599 per pair. This speaker hints at what I imagine the future of hi-fi might be, at least at the entry-level.
In design, the T1E isn’t exactly breaking new ground aesthetically. My review pair are sleek glossy black boxes (cherry finish is also available) with 5.25" aluminum cone woofers and 1" aluminum dome tweeters powered by internal Class D amps generating 100Wpc for the woofs and 20Wpc for the tweets. They look boxy and simple and just fine on my desktop or sitting next to my main system. I won’t pretend they’re the most beautiful things in the world. At the end of the day they look like speakers, but that’s pretty much okay with me. The active speaker of the pair has a little orange indicator light that blinks whenever the remote is used to input some data. Otherwise, the T1E’s aren’t going to make me wax poetic about the merits of superior industrial design. (They aren’t getting hidden away, either.)
The back of the active speaker is where the real fun begins. It features a connection for the tether cable, a sub output, an analog input, a power switch, a blue power-indicator light, a USB port, an optical port, and a coax port. Above those are tone controls for treble and bass, along with a volume-control knob. All of these can be adjusted by the remote, which is a little curved rectangle that’s light, feels nice in the hand, and is above-all very, very useful. The T1E also does aptX Bluetooth, which I appreciated, especially when I had to move my Chromecast to a different device. It accepts formats up to 24-bit/96kHz and the analog input is converted to 24-bit/48kHz.
On top of all this, the T1E has built-in DSP functions. Tone can be controlled via the remote and the knobs on the back, but there are also two different main settings. One is for using the speakers on stands at least two feet away from a wall, and the other is for using them on a desktop close to a wall. Since I used them on the desktop for the bulk of my review, this is the setting I left them in. The speakers can also be toggled between stereo and mono mode, along with other more esoteric customizations that I won’t go into. I mention these things only to say that the T1E’s are surprisingly flexible and can be tweaked to taste.
What interests me the most about the T1E is the passive radiator for bass. When you see the T1E, the last thing that comes to mind is low end. I mean, they’re small—really small—and unfortunately small speakers typically don’t do bass all that well. You need space and power to really crank the bottom end. That said, the passive radiator gave me a little hope. I don’t want to spoil too much of the review, but these little speakers do pack a nice deep wallop relative to their compact size. That can’t be the result of the passive radiator alone, of course. It’s a combination of a bit of DSP magic, a bit of those nice-sized woofers, and lots of experience from the team over at Vanatoo.
For speaker placement and listening, I tried two main configurations. First up, I put the T1E’s on stands in my usual hi-fi spot. Now, I’m not going to write a ton about this. My room’s pretty big and these speakers are pretty small. That said, they did a decent job, better than I expected. True, they looked kind of silly next to my full-sized tower speakers, but size isn’t everything. I suspect that if I were still in my old listening room, which was much smaller, they’d be plenty big enough. But I’m not in that house anymore, and so here we are.
The second configuration was on my desktop, which was where I did the majority of my listening. This is where I think the T1E really shines. Nearfield listening is its wheelhouse, which isn’t a bad thing. There are a million different close-up placements where the T1E can work, especially with a little bit of tweaking. For me, it was on my desk, although I could see them playing equally well in my living room or out on our enclosed porch. Truth be told, I liked having them on my desk, and so that’s where they stayed.
General setup was as simple as it gets. I started out by plugging my Chromecast dongle into the back of the master speaker, and initially used the USB-A port for power and the optical jack to move data. However, I switched power over to a wall socket because I didn’t think the speakers were getting a sufficient supply, but it was worth trying for the convenience. There are some customizable settings, such as changing the DSP from shelved to flat. Mostly these functions are the kind of things you’d set once and forget about, but they’re worth going through on initial setup. All in, I think it took me maybe twenty minutes tops to really get the T1E’s positioned and playing and sounding good.