Who are these really aimed at?
Who in the world would buy an under $100 pair of powered studio monitors? Probably not any recording professional interested in serious monitoring. But there are plenty of others. For one, all those folks with iPods might like (small) room filling sound for less than $100. Let's see, that might include perhaps several tens of millions prospective purchasers, most of whom are sick and tired of "iPod profiteering" from manufacturers trying to overcharge for anything iPod related. If that's you, give these little monitors some serious consideration!
Warning about me:
I'm a recovering audiophile prone to frequent relapses, and I'm doing the recovery step that requires me to appreciate something that doesn't cost over $10,000. (Recovering audiophiles are those trying to switch back to listening to music instead of listening to equipment). So I'm going to tell you some reasons why a hopelessly picky audiophile would be forced to say "hey, these are amazing!". The clincher is, if you spend another $100, you can get great sound out of these good enough to allow even the most jaded audiophile to really enjoy listening to music. And with a total outlay for under $200, you and anyone else with ears will be totally blown away. No audiophile would faint at the purity of this sound, but they would totally faint if you told them they could get this much for just $200! Further on, I'll compare these with other alternatives.
So, how do they sound?
I purchased these because of their incredible low price, and because I noticed these speakers had some very interesting specifications that suggested they might produce wonderful imaging. Great imaging becomes possible when a speaker's sound doesn't focus into a narrow beam. They use a woofer which is only 3 inches in diameter, meaning it doesn't seriously focus any sound wavelengths smaller than 3" which is any frequency up to 4400 Hz. (By comparison an 8" woofer focuses sounds higher than 1650 Hz.) At the same time, the specs say the tweeter takes over at 2400 Hz, and being less than 3/4", it focuses only sounds higher than my and many other peoples' ears can hear. These specifications suggest great imaging. And indeed it is fairly excellent. It's sounds a little reduced probably because both the woofer and tweeter are behind protective grids to fend off prying fingers which could damage them. But overall, this pair has got imaging a lot of megabuck speakers can't match. Overall imaging score: A-
Here a couple of limitations come into play. First, there's a lot of box resonance. Yes, the enclosures are made of MDF, the preferred anti-resonant material for megabuck speakers. But you can hear that the woofer's backwave energy (the sound radiated into the enclosure when the woofer moves inward, rather than outward to radiate into the room) is not totally absorbed in the enclosure. Some of it sounds like it reappears as resonance, causing a slight coloration. A whole bunch more radiates out the rear bass port. As a result, this background noise obscures a fair amount of low level detail such as echoes that help a listener hear the environment the recording was made in. Second, at higher listening levels it sounds like the tweeter isn't great at handling heavy high frequency signals--massed strings, cymbal crashes, etc. You hear this only occasionally as a subtle blurring of high frequency sounds, but this effect goes away at lower sound levels. So for detail I would give these a grade of "C", but it can be easily raised to a "B" as I'll explain further on.
There is some, but just not enough to satisfy. And, in an effort to get some bass out of an impossibly small box, an open rear bass port is used. Its sound suggests it is designed to smear what little bass there is (under damping) in order to make it feel more present. So, something needs to be done about the bass. There is a "bass boost" switch, but it's mostly a placebo. The cost of a fix is under $100 additional: a low cost powered subwoofer. You need one with an adjustable hi cut filter (a home audio subwoofer, NOT a home theater subwoofer). One such sub is the Yamaha YST-SW015, which regularly appears discounted online for about $80.
To connect the monitors and the sub, all you need is a stereo mini plug Y adapter. I have one plugged into my iPod's headphone jack with one line going to the StudioPro 3's input and the other going to the sub. Nothing else is needed. Well, almost.
One more thing is needed. A couple of paper towels. Fold them repeatedly until their width is only about an inch. Then roll them up and they'll be just the right size to insert into the rear bass ports. Stuff them in tightly. Now you've stopped a lot of that backwave energy from blurring the sound. You've also eliminated a fair chunk of what little bass there was. But then, you've got your powered sub haven't you? So, no problem.
I'm using the setup I described above with an older Yamaha SW45 powered sub I bought for $40 on ebay in a 20'x25' room with a 9 ft. ceiling. The monitors are on top of an island about 1/3 of the way into the room. The sub is underneath. I've had to turn the sub's hi-cut control to its max of 150Hz.
The sound is nothing short of amazing. Plugging the bass ports really cleared up the midrange and took away most of the coloration. From a listening distance of 15 ft with the monitors about 8 ft. apart, I get a beautifully blended soundstage and the sub's bass blends smoothly with the monitors. And even though these monitors have only 10 watts each, the system plays plenty loud, even in this big room. The sub (70 watts) is doing most of the heavy lifting.
It wouldn't be fair to compare an under $200 system with an all out audiophile rig--there are clearly some compromises. But the sound is more than good enough to enjoy greatly with no show stopping deficiencies (My iPod files are from CDs encoded in Apple Lossless, so they have much more detail than typical 128k compressed files). If you're not a jaded audiophile I think you'd be totally blown away. 200 bucks! Wow!
Putting it in perspective
Compared to more expensive studio monitors, this setup has much better imaging because most of those have larger, more directional woofers, and usually higher crossovers to the tweeter which makes imaging even worse. The possible exceptions might be NHT's M-00 and the KRK V4, both of which cost over twice as much without a sub!
Compared to Apple's iPod HiFi ($350), this system goes way deeper (32Hz.) and is way more open (those big tweeters are very directional, plus they are too close together).
Compared to pricier PC speakers, there's way more detail than from any of those without dedicated tweeters, including those from Bose, Cambridge Soundworks, and others.
The Cambridge Soundworks Mick Fleetwood portable ($400, discounted) would beat this system on imaging and detail with about the same amount of coloration, but it has a much weaker subwoofer. And its amplifier feels cheap and flimsy.
Compared to a used budget audiophile system, such as a mid 90s NHT 2.1 system using a pair of SuperZeroes and an NHT SW1 sub with SA-1 sub amp and a decent stereo amplifier, this system would compare unfavorably on many counts. However, even used, you'd pay almost 4 times as much for such a system.
A pair of StudioPro monitors, a low cost home audio sub, and two paper towels. All under $200 for great full range room filling sound. Absolutely astounding.
The StudioPros feel heavy and solid and exude quality. They come with neat stands so that you can angle them up to your ears if you're using them on your desktop. You get a detachable power cord and about 8 ft. of what looks like 22 gauge speaker wire (well, it's only for 10 watts) to connect the slave speaker. There isn't a lot of gain (magnification of the audio signal) on the volume control so you need a strong signal to get full volume. As is typical of monitors designed for close on-axis listening, high frequency emphasis does not seem as strong as with many home hifi speakers.
Recommend this product?
The amazingly low cost StudioPro 3 is a good value on its own, but needs bass help, which you can easily afford at such a low price. Enhanced with a sub, its great imaging and decent detail (with paper towels installed) makes listening a real pleasure and can fill a normal size room adequately. I know of no other way to get sound so fulfilling for so little.
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Amount Paid (US$): 88