These days, soundbars are all the rage when it comes to home theater sound systems. But if you go with one of those slimline systems, you’ll almost certainly be sacrificing sound quality and channel separation. If you want the most wide-open and theater-accurate sound system, you have to go with individual satellite speakers. The Edifier e255 is one such system, providing everything you need to add a proper 5.1 surround sound system to your TV, and doing it with style.
The first thing you’ll notice about the e255 is that the speakers aren’t just ordinary black boxes. Instead, they’re stylish, retrofuturist enclosures which are designed to be seen and not just hidden away. The ovoid enclosures look particularly slick with their glossy red shells, though they do show fingerprints pretty easily. Good thing you won’t have much reason to touch them once they’re set in place.
The system includes six speakers – two front satellites, two surround satellites, a center channel which also includes audio inputs and processing circuitry, and a subwoofer. There are five 16-watt amps for the tweeters, five 20-watt amps for the mids, and a 220w RMS amp for the subwoofer. There’s a tiny IR remote too, which lets you control volume, switch inputs, change surround modes, and access the settings menu.
System setup is nice and easy. Simply unbox the speakers, plug the fronts into the center pod, then plug that into an outlet. Plug the subwoofer and surrounds into power outlets, and they connect wirelessly to the system. There are three digital optical inputs and one analog input on the center speaker for connecting audio sources. You’ll probably only use one of these inputs though, since the best setup is if your TV has a digital audio output, so you can just select inputs on the TV and not have to switch again on the sound system.
What I noticed immediately upon powering on the system is that the sound quality is very clean and natural, without any of the overemphasis of low end that often comes with most home theater systems. Depending on your personal preference, this can be a good or a bad thing, but the overall impact is that the sound quality is much easier to live with in your living room than one of those wall-shaking surround systems that will have your neighbors banging on your door.
Since each speaker is independent, you can place them wide apart, providing a nice open soundstage, and great separation between all of the channels. The subwoofer can be placed anywhere, but it will produce the biggest boom when it’s near a wall or a corner of the room, and placed directly on hardwood. In my case, I have carpeted floors, which limited the thump a bit.
One thing I noticed is that no matter what input source I used, I had the crank the volume on the e255 up at 80% or more of its limit to really get a nice room-filling sound. Even at 100%, the system wasn’t as loud as I expected for its specified wattage, but then I discovered I could make them louder by going into the settings and increasing the volume of each speaker individually beyond its default setting. This sort of fine-tuning is usually meant for tweaking individual channels, but by increasing the baseline for all speakers an equal amount, I was able to get substantially more volume overall, even at the top setting. Think This is Spinal Tap’s “This one goes to eleven,” and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
The system offers full compatibility with Dolby Digital sound sources, as well as DTS. It also can enhance surround imaging for other sound sources with Dolby Pro Logic II, which offers a variety of modes for listening to music, movies, games, and can even create virtual surround from stereo soundtracks. Overall, I found DTS soundtracks offered the most theater-like experience, but there’s still very good surround and imaging from Dolby sources as well.
The Edifier e255 system sells for $799 and is available now with free shipping to the lower 48 US States. It’s a great little system if you’re looking for something that looks different, and still offers great sound quality.
When you think of desktop speakers, they’re usually big boxy things with a couple of round drivers or maybe a horn tweeter. But the guys at VETR have designed something very different – flat speakers which use sheets of carbon fiber to help disperse their audio. I was pretty cynical about the idea when I first saw them, and figured it was just a design gimmick. But I was wrong. VETR’s PANL1 carbon fiber speakers actually sound very good.
In fact, their flat panel design allows them to create one of the widest, most open soundstages I’ve heard from a pair of desktop speakers.
The first thing you’ll notice about the PANL1 speakers is just how thin they are. Each 11″ tall speaker consists of a bent stainless steel stand with set of very flat drivers inside, both attached to a 1.3mm thick panel of real carbon fiber. The look is pretty darned slick, though I do have to say the large “VETR” logo cut out of one of the speakers is a little distracting. Given the fact that they’re designed to be minimal, a giant logo kind of defeats that idea a bit. But at the end of the day, the question is how good a pair of speakers sounds, and not how they look. In addition to the stainless and black carbon fiber design shown here, VETR plans to make the speakers with several other colors of carbon fiber, as well as with black stands.
Connecting the PANL1 speakers is simple – just connect the power brick and speaker cables into the included compact subwoofer/amplifier and the right and left speaker panels, plug the 3.5mm to RCA cable to your analog audio source, and/or push the Bluetooth button on the remote to set up your wireless device.
Straight out of the box, I found high frequencies to be a little lacking, and the lows from the sub to be a bit overdriven, but fiddling with the reduce bass button (as recommended on the instruction sheet), and then increasing the treble setting solved that problem quickly, and I was quickly treated to some extremely bright and dynamic sound. I’d love to see the amplifier’s equalization come pre-tuned for the speakers from the factory, especially since it seems to lose its settings if they lose power. Once everything was configured properly, high frequencies were cleanly detectable all the way up to 19.5 kHz or so, while the low end kicked in right around 20 Hz in my testing.
Are their dynamics good as traditional drivers? Well not quite, but they’re way better than I expected from a product I thought would be all about aesthetics.
What’s most impressive about the PANL1 speakers is their soundstage – which is expansive and open – creating an image that far exceeds the width or height of the speakers themselves. While the imaging isn’t as precise as big floor-standing loudspeakers, it’s much better than most desktop or bookshelf units. I’m guessing that has something to do with the fact that each PANL1 speaker has over 130 square inches of surface area – nearly 10 times more than than typical desktop speakers.
They can also push out an impressive amount of volume, in part thanks to the compact subwoofer which takes on the low-end duties with aplomb, and 48 watts of amplification per channel. There’s plenty of deep, thumpy bass to be had from this 7″ sub , which appears to be some kind of off-the-shelf OEM unit that VETR is pairing with their proprietary carbon fiber satellites. Speaking of volume, the PANL1 speakers seem to perform the best when driven at 70% or more of their maximum volume. At lower volume levels, they do lose some of their dynamic range, and things get to be a bit vague in terms of imaging. On the other hand, at loud volumes, they sound fantastic.
I’m quite impressed with the overall sound quality from the VETR PANL1 speakers. They offer very good dynamics and minimal distortion when played loud, and they look cool doing it. Keep in mind that the speakers reviewed here are prototypes, and there may be further refinements made to the final production version, which are expected to ship by June 2018. A few wishes I have for the production version include shrinking the VETR logo, and pre-tuning the amplifier to the optimal equalization from the factory. I’d also love it if the IR remote could be pointed at the satellites rather than the subwoofer, since that’s likely to be placed on the floor, and not necessarily in the line of sight of the remote.
Currently the PANL1 speakers are being crowdfunded over on Indiegogo, where a $249 pledge will get you the Super Early Bird pricing for the system. The next batch will go for $299, followed by $349 once those sell out.
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