Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing for the price? Amazing for the size? No, just plain amazing!, February 21, 2013

Quite simply the best near-field active powered speakers you can get to hook up to your PC. The sound quality is truly amazing. It’s hard to explain how totally engulfed you are in the sound. Goose bump territory. This is one you just have to listen to in order to appreciate.

At first I must admit I was a bit skeptical about this speaker. A new company I had never heard of with their first and only product released just last year. Nothing but absolute glowing reviews on Amazon… hmm. Highly suspect...

But when I read more details about their very unique design approach of creating small powered speakers that used a digital amplifier that kept the signal path completely in the digital domain with no D/A conversion… Well I quite was intrigued. The only reason I even stumbled upon these speakers was because I got a new LG TV where the only audio output was optical digital. With no analog at all this precluded using my Audioengine A5+ speakers, which up to this point I considered to be about as good as you could get.

With the 30 day no fuss try-out return policy that Vanatoo offers I decided to give them a shot. From the first song I heard I knew these were not going back.

I have now listened to these speakers with my entire “speaker audition try-out” playlist. A carefully hand selected list of 150 songs from a broad mix of artists including Ani DiFranco, Ben Harper, Black Crowes, Blues Traveler, Cowboy Junkies, Dave Matthews, Dire Straits, Elvis Costello, Eva Cassidy, Fleetwood Mac, Goo Goo Dolls, Buddy Guy, Jackson Brown, Jack Johnson, Jeff Buckley, Jim Hendrix, Lyle Lovett, Marc Cohn, Marvin Gaye, Matchbox 20, Pail Simon, Pearl Jam, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, The Police, Prince, Queen, Ricki Lee Jones, Rolling Stones, Roxy Music, Rush, Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Mullins, Sheryl Crow, Steely Dan, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Rod Stewart, Supertramp, Tears for Fears, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman, Train, U2, Van Morrison, Wallflowers, and The Who. Pretty much across the board everything sounded superb and you will hear details you never noticed before even on your most familiar music. Quiet and simple songs in particular, where you can pay close attention to nuanced details, is where you can gain not only appreciation for how wonderful these speakers sound but also a much deeper appreciation for the mastery of the recording and mixing qualities of some of the best music production of the past 50 years. For louder and more complex songs, like most speakers, the lack of dynamic capacity becomes more apparent and they don’t sound as special, but then you put it in perspective that these are tiny bookshelf sized speakers that have their limits.

The bass capabilities far exceed what you think is possible with speakers of this size. Deep, tight and accurate. Throw on some Jack Johnson and you will understand. Or better yet listen to Pink Floyd’s “Speak To Me” off the Dark Side of the Moon.

I have had this now for about a month and here’s my summary:

Pros:

  • Sound quality is without question the best I have ever heard in a near-field listening environment on my PC.
  • The rear bass radiator design offers a stunning level of tight bass for a speaker of this size. I mean wow!
  • Super input flexibility with three digital inputs (optical, coax, and USB) along with analog mini-jack. Everything is auto switching.
  • Innovative design using class “D” digital amplifier avoids added color from D/A conversion when using digital sources.
  • It feels like throughout quality. The weight feels substantial. The cherry wood finish is gorgeous.
  • Automatic power saving mode when nothing is playing.
  • Analog subwoofer output jack with automatic detection of subwoofer with integrated DSP crossover.
  • Manual rear controls to adjust the bass and treble levels to suit tastes, albeit pretty blunt adjustments.


Cons:

  • The looks of the speakers don’t do justice to wonderful innovation and sound quality under the hood. They are the antihisys of innovation and just scream “boring”. The nice finish on the cherry version helps a little but they could do a lot better to set them apart from speakers of the 70’s.
  • Vanatoo could learn something from Audioengine in how they package their speakers for their owners. Where the less expensive Audioengine A5+’s adds special touches like encasing each speaker in a high quality cloth bag for protection while Vanatoo’s approach feels much more like any mass produced Chinese electronics product. It’s professionally done but hardly evokes a sense of being “special”.
  • There is only a single subwoofer output that leverages the on-board DSP to mix down both channels into a single channel and also provides digital DSP crossover. You will see the bass response on the speaker change when you plug in a subwoofer. As cool as that is the one thing you can’t do is have dual subwoofers with separate left-right channels. If you are feeding analog you could achieve that with splitter cables and not use the subwoofer output but if you feed it a digital source there is no way to have stereo subwoofers, which I believe creates a superior sound image.
  • Sound quality improves nicely with an isolation layer between the speaker and direct placement on your desk. Even more so when tilted back to better point to ear level which really opens up the soundstage. Unfortunately Vanatoo does not offer a solution to this so you have to look somewhere else. I found my Audioengine DS2 stands work perfect for the job.


In total Vanatoo gets great kudos for creating an amazing speaker for the digital age where just about everyone else hangs onto the legacy of analog audio approaches.

- Les K.
Millbrae, CA



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