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Product Review
 

Swans M200 Multimedia Speakers & Edirol MA-10 D Micro-Monitors, For Use With Computers

December, 2002

Arvind Kohli

 

 

Swans

Edirol

 

Specifications:

Swans M200 Multimedia Speakers

Two way, rear ported.
Frequency Response: 55hz to 18khz
Power amp rating: 36wpc
Dimensions: 13"H x 7"W x 10.5"D
Weight: 26 pounds pair
MSRP: $299 per pair

Swans
Website: www.theaudioinsider.com

Edirol MA-10 D Micro-Monitors

Two way, front-ported.
Power amp rating: 10 wpc
MSRP: $175 per pair

Edirol Corporation North America
Website: http://www.edirol.com/

Introduction

In an audiophile utopia, we would be able to hear any piece of music on demand, with the highest fidelity of reproduction. But in the real world, we slog most of our waking hours, away from our beloved music. We do this so we can afford to pay for our gear, media, and other incidentals (e.g., house, car, food, etc). The tragedy is that we spend most of our time earning money and have very little time being able to enjoy it. So how about if we could bring some of that satisfaction to our place of work? This would give us a little extra pleasure in our lives.

So, for those of us who spend several hours a day in front of a PC at work, it would be conceivable to add this extra sprinkle of nicety. Unfortunately, the dinky little speakers generally available for use with PCs are a far cry from having the ability to provide the kind of delight we crave. At best, they can be relegated to the task of providing information in the sense that they are fine for intelligibly understanding the sound they put out, but forget about enjoying it like we would with our main gear.

Well, here are two products that could bridge that gap. They are powered, compact enough, and compatible with a PC’s output to serve the purpose. Let’s see if they fit the bill and can bring some fun to our stoic desktops.

The Products

Swans are distributed in the U.S. by The Audio Insider, and sourced from the mammoth HiViResearch in China. HiViResearch has over half a million square feet of production space and manufacturers about 2 million speakers a year.

Swans actually produces a full line of speakers, including the previously reviewed Diva 4.1. The product under review here is their only entry in the powered, compact category. It is definitely aimed at the audiophile who is looking to improve sound quality wherever they have to rely on puny built-in or stock transducers.

The front panel of the main speaker has a volume/standBy knob and tone controls. The rear has an AC input, power switch, pair of RCA jack for line-in, and a heavy duty set of speaker posts. The passive unit also has the same heavy duty speaker post to input the speaker level signal from the main unit. The speakers are finished in a black vinyl with wood-grained side panels, and a removable black grille. The fit and finish on this product is beyond reproach. It is a large unit for the desktop, but it looks quite attractive.

The speakers are a two-way rear-ported design. You will need to keep the ports from being placed within 6” of a rear wall to avoid excessive bass reinforcement. Also, keep the wires in the back away from the ports to avoid interference. The line level inputs feed into a built-in amplifier that delivers 36 wpc. That may not sound like a lot, but I never went past the 12 o’clock position, and never encountered any distortion or compression.




The Edirol MA-10D Amplified Digital Micro-Monitors are a two-way bass-reflex design with two ports in the front. Edirol is a division of Roland Corp., which is a well know name in professional audio. Edirol specializes in desktop media production products. There are two 10W amps built-into the main speaker of the MA-10Ds. One of the amps transfers an amplified signal to the passive companion via an RCA connection on the rear. The rear of the main speaker has a user selectable set of coax and optical digital inputs that feed into a built-in 24/96 DAC. The rear panel also has a set of RCA line level inputs that feed into the power amp, and a single RCA connection for a speaker level input. Thus, these speakers can be used with a digital or line-level or speaker-level input. Now that is versatile!

The speakers come with a blue vinyl finish and wood-grained side panels. They are quite pleasing to look at from a distance, but from up-close, the inexpensive fit and finish of the drivers and controls did bother me, in addition to making me wonder about the overall quality of the product. The front panel of the passive speaker has no controls, while the main speaker has a power switch, headphone jack, tone controls, balance, digital input, and volume control.

Other than the basic information above, I could not get much additional technical data. At these price points, the manufacturer has to sell a ton of product to make a worthwhile return, and they probably do not put in the kind of design effort or components that are appropriate to disclose details about. They certainly do not make that information available to the press or public, and perhaps with good reason. These products may not have impressive designs or components, but do an excellent job and provide awesome value. The message from the manufacturers is that you should enjoy the product and not worry about how we made it. That attitude is their prerogative, but I found it frustrating to not be able to find out much about how they are built. For some of us, this hobby is as much a journey of knowledge as it is of enjoyment, so it is a shame when some manufacturers do not support both needs.

Setup

Both sets of speakers were auditioned with my computer desk at home, placed on either side of my PC monitor. The speakers were placed about 34” apart and 46” inches from my ears. The speakers were also pulled a little ahead of the front of the monitor. All three were set up firing straight ahead.

I am not as meticulous as other fellow hobbyists about speaker placement. I follow basic precepts, but try not to get too caught up in micro-measurements. But, with this review I had to be quite a bit more accurate because of the close distances. A 1" disparity that may not be noticed 8’ away, is quite significant when it is less than 4’ away.

With the rear ports on the Swans, you will need to be mindful of the distance from the rear wall. If you have to place them less than 6” from the rear wall, you can get bass loading, giving you a tremendous amount of LFE which will adversely affect the balance and could interfere with the signals traveling through the line and speaker level wires in the rear. However, this is better than stuffing the ports, which would change the tuning. When I had the walls at a distance of 8” from the rear, I had no issues.

The speakers were connected to the line-out on my SoundBlaster Live card with the stock ¼” to RCA interconnect. I did experiment with trying to connect the Edirol to the digital out on the SoundBlaster, but could not find a digital interconnect rated at 75 Ohms with a SPDIF/RCA complement of jacks. I had to resort to using a RadioShack ¼” to RCA adaptor, but that really defeats the purpose. The built in DAC in the Edirol would theoretically benefit from being fed a digital signal, compared to a line level signal from a PC soundcard into the RCA jacks. But with a questionable connection it would be unfair to try and do a comparison. SoundBlaster cards used to have a very bad problem in that they unilaterally applied sample rate conversion to 48 kHz and then applied a bunch of unnecessary DSP that you couldn't turn off, in which case the analog input/outputs were actually better. But, the cable issue isn't really important if the cable runs are under two meters, where impedance reflections at frequencies for standard two-channel digital audio are negligible. It's technically ideal to have a 75 ohm cable, but not absolutely necessary if the distance is short.

The Sound

For my listening tests, I compared the two speakers to a Harman/Kardon HK195 speaker set that came with my Dell PC. I fully expected the HK to not measure up to the other two, but wanted to give you some reference of what these two units would sound like in comparison to a ‘stock’ PC speaker.

There were no surprises here at all. The Swans finished ahead of the pack by a great measure. The Edirols came in second, and the HK195 a distant third. I ran tests with all three speakers calibrated at 60 dB and 80 dB with pink noise (recorded at –20 dB) at the listening position. Here is what I heard.

At the 60 dB level, a 65 Hz tone was barely noticeable on the HK195, and at the 80 dB level, while it was a little louder, I would not regard it of usable loudness. I would estimate the HK195 was usable down to about 75 Hz. The Edirol was beyond the limits of usable at 40 Hz with the 80 dB setting, and 50 Hz with the 60 dB setting. At the same settings, the Swans put out quite a bit of clean bass, and I would estimate the usable limits to be at about 35 Hz at the 80 dB setting, and 45 Hz at the 60 dB setting. It made a huge difference to have a near full-range speaker hooked-up to my PC. That made all the difference in the world in terms of total involvement.

Playing ‘All or Nothing at All’ (Diana Krall, Love Scenes, Impulse, IMPD233), the HK195 barely allowed the instruments to be recognized, the double-bass and guitar could not be heard at all at the 60 dB setting. When I tried to turn up the volume to the 80 dB setting, there was an unbearable amount of distortion, never mind trying to listen to instruments. The Edirols also distorted at the 80 dB setting, though not to the same extent as the HK195. At the 60 dB setting, I could barely hear the double-bass and the guitar, and I only heard them because I was straining to hear them.

The only speakers that gave me any joy on this recording were the Swans. The double-bass was properly weighted at both the 60 dB and the 80 dB setting, with no hint of distortion or compression. The vocals were not quite as rich or detailed as what I have heard on my other systems, but you must realize I am comparing $300 worth of speakers and amplification with setups costing 5 to 20 times as much. With that caveat aside, I must say that I have never had so much enjoyment at a desk. It may not have had all the detail I am used to, but it had enough to be regarded as high-fidelity. Remember, nearfield listening does increase the apparent detail and bass response.

With ‘Summertime’ (Lesly Olsher, Stereophile Test CD1, STPH002-2), basically, there was a significant improvement in dynamics and tonality as I moved from the HK195 to the Edirols and to the Swans. Unfortunately, none of them could render the sense of space (it was recorded in a basement) that I know lies in that recording. I almost wanted to do the same test with my SACD or DVD player as the source instead of the PC, but that would be moot for the purposes of this review. I only want to report what you can expect to hear on your desktop.

Using ‘Zapateado’ (Pepe Romero, Flamenco, Phillips, 422069-2), the HK195 completely butchered the track. The dancer’s footwork sounded miniscule, and the guitar sounded enormous (which is the complete opposite of what it is). There also was a complete lack of the great soundstage this recording has. The Edirol put a smile back on my face, and some of the soundstage returned though not as deep or wide as it should be, but the guitar and dancer were put in their proper perspectives. With the Swans I was really able to hear most of the magic in this recording. The soundstage was both deep and wide, and I could also start to feel some of the physical impact of the footwork.

‘So What’ (Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Columbia, B000002ADT) – Again the HK disappointed and only served as a benchmark. The double-bass was nowhere to be heard, the trumpet sounded shrill, and there was no soundstage to speak of. The Edirols made the trumpet sound tolerable, but the soundstage still was non-existent, and the double bass could barely be heard only if I strained to pick it out. Again, the Divas came out at the top and brought the double-bass to life. The soundstage did appear, but again not to the extent that I am used to, and the trumpets did actually sound enjoyable.

‘O Grande Amor’ (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve 314521414-2) – With the HK there was a complete absence of low frequencies, and this made the wire brush sound more prominent. This could be mistaken for high frequency detail, but it isn’t, because it simply is high frequencies in the absence of lower ones. There also was a slight chestiness to the male vocals, which is most likely due to a hump in whatever bass the speakers put out in an attempt to make them sound adequate. The Edirols did quite well on this track, especially in terms of tonality of the drumsticks hitting the rim or the wire brush on the cymbals, and I would say this was the only test in which they bettered the Swans. They also did not display any chestiness on male vocals, which is surprising since I would have expected the designers to exaggerate the upper/mid-bass response to make the speakers sound like they had more body. I commend the Edirol team on not giving in to that temptation. The Swans again came out ahead overall, even though the tonality of the drumsticks and wirebrush was not quite what I know it to be, or what the Edirol’s delivered. The Swans did present a nice soundstage, and placed the drum kit just outside of the left speaker. The real magic was in the delivery of the richness in Stan Getz’s tenor sax solo. Chestiness on male vocals could be an issue if the speakers were too close to the rear wall.

Conclusions

If you crave listening to music at your desk, and want it with some semblance of high fidelity, get the Swans. They will not compare to a $3,000 system, but that is not their purpose. Sitting next to your computer though, they will surprise and please you.

The Edirols are not a bad second choice, but they lack the bass, power handling, and finesse of the Swans. The Edirols did have slightly better tonality on some high frequency passages. I could not get over the sloppy construction, but in the end, the sound is most important. The built in DAC could really be handy in some situations.

As to the HK, you really should not pay more than $20 for these. They are sufficient for conveying ‘audio information’, but do not expect any form of enjoyment in terms of high-fidelity.

 

- Arvind Kohli -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

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