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.
The first track I listened to that really gave a good sense of what these speakers can do was Go-Go Penguin’s song “Branches Break” from its 2016 album Man Made Object. The track is centered around almost gentle piano playing. That piano came through smooth and concise, with a pleasant little shimmer on the upper notes as they ran through the melody. When the drums slowly drifted into focus, I felt the beat gain footing and solidity, along with nice upper extension on the cymbals. Congos come in toward the latter half of the track, a nice rolling rhythm keeping everything in time and moving along.
Next up, Kanye West with his masterpiece album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The track “POWER” starts with a choir of voices chanting and clapping before the beat drops in with Kanye rapping loud over the noise. The T1E did a decent job of reproducing the huge sound, but the midrange felt a little veiled. I switched over to “All Of The Lights,” and really liked Rihanna’s voice, centerstage and big. The horns were smooth and that bass hit hard at the drop. The T1E definitely won me over with its dance-ability. I cranked the pair loud enough to drive a dance party and never felt like the speaker was on the verge of distorting.
Still thinking along those dance-beat lines, I switched from my Chromecast over to Bluetooth. Resolution dropped a tad, although not significantly. I turned to Beck’s latest album Hyperspace and really enjoyed the heavy synth opening track. The T1E did a decent job of making it sound as expansive as it really should. In particular, I felt like the title track “Hyperspace” was a good example of the T1E’s strengths and some of its weaknesses. The sound was big and bold, but the complexity got swallowed up a little bit. Still, the bass was tight for such small speakers and the strange, shimmering, underwater sound was pleasant and almost hypnotic.
I preferred the sound from Chromecast, but Bluetooth wasn’t too far behind in terms of quality. Switching back to Chromecast, I turned to Charles Bradley’s record Black Velvet, in particular the title track, because apparently I have a thing for title tracks. I loved the sense of space and reverb, absolutely big and chilling. The T1E really nailed it, including the incredibly quiet organ in the left channel. Horns were sharp and right in the center of the soundstage. I can’t say the T1E imaged perfectly, but it was tight enough and appealing enough at any rate. Next up was “Fly Little Girl,” with Bradley’s gravelly voice absolutely soaring. He sounded crisp and outsized, just the way he should.
In the end, fully contained powered speakers are a fascinating subset of the hi-fi world. They have a legitimate crossover appeal to the non-audiophile crowd, but they really can sound pretty fantastic, especially when paired with an all-digital setup. These days, if someone asks me what sort of stereo equipment he should buy, powered speakers like the T1E are definitely going to be bouncing around in the back of my mind.
Okay, but still. I’m not going to pretend that the Vanatoo Transparent One Encores are the most exciting products in the world. They aren’t going to replace a traditional hi-fi setup in a mid-sized or larger room, and they’re obviously not for pure analog audiophile types. That said, on the desktop or in a small room, I think they’re worth serious consideration. For a streaming-centered solution, they don’t need anything more than Chromecast to get solid sound. Even that’s unnecessary if Bluetooth doesn’t make your spine crawl (which mine doesn’t, by the way). I was happy to have these on my desk, and while I didn’t find myself ignoring my traditional setup in favor of the T1E’s, I did find my time with these little powered marvels worthwhile. Deep enough bass, nice midrange clarity, even a little sparkle on the uppers: You can’t ask for too much more.
Specs & Pricing
Drive units: 5.25″ aluminum cone woofers and 1″ aluminum dome tweeter
Inputs: AptX Bluetooth, USB, TosLink optical, coax, analog
Frequency response: 48Hz to 20KHz +/-3dB
Input resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
Dimensions: 7.5″ x 10″ x 6.5″
Weight: 12 lbs. active, 11 lbs. passive
By Drew Kalbach
I have a degree in English from Temple University and a Masters in Fine Arts with a specialty in poetry from the University of Notre Dame. I’m a full-time self-published author with over 100 books in both romance and men’s adventure fiction.More articles from this editor
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