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It's a Thing: We Love Powered Speakers
By Music Direct Brand Ambassador Bes Nievera

In the early days of Music Direct, carrying loudspeakers was not much of a concern. We stocked no more than two to three unmemorable models from manufacturers that came and went. We were too busy shipping tons of records (but now we ship ton after ton of records), tweaks, and hardware, but not speakers. As a result, we initially set out to become THE retailer for electronics, tweaks, and music. With those goals accomplished, in the past few years, we've added loudspeakers to the list. Today, Music Direct carries an incredibly wide selection of loudspeakers from the world's best-known brands – Focal, KEF, Klipsch, JBL, Revel, Cambridge, Wharfedale, Vandersteen, and ATC, to name a few. And subwoofers from the likes of SVS and REL Acoustics.

As with any audio category, loudspeakers – be they small, compact bookshelf, or outsized towers and behemoths at the heart of every audiophile listening suite (because calling your room a mancave is, like, #no) – dictate what gets placed with them. Receivers, integrated amps, and stereo and multichannel separates are the traditional glue that complete the formula speakers demand. But, if you've fought the idea of purchasing a pair of powered speakers that generate enough power inside a well-engineered driver and cabinet design to create a soundscape so impressive you'll want to chuck some boxes in favor of a more dedicated music space, the time to open your minds to that idea is now, friends, because it's happening.

In a recent Facebook post, Soundstage's longtime editor Doug Schneider noted, "Over the years, after visiting so many speaker manufacturers and talking to so many speaker designers, I definitely see the future for them as this: Despite audiophiles' reluctance to accept active speakers – preferring instead to build up systems with separate amps, sources, and lots of cabling – I see a definite shift in the market for people who want high-quality, all-in-one, active stereo speaker systems where everything is basically built in." For our part, we've seen an influx of amped speakers that improve desktop-based solutions and dedicated listening areas with some of the most earth-moving designs on the market. Imagine taking your fave music – from Lykki Li's collaboration with Mick Ronson, or that always seminal demo track from audiophile notables like Miles or Oscar – and hearing it in near-perfect detail. Or moving from a major symphonic work from Stravinsky to a mind-bending, shape-shifting track by The Orb? Today's collection of powered speakers have reached such a pinnacle.

One example is ELAC's Navis Series speakers. ELAC's compact ARB-51 bookshelf speaker and tower sibling, ARF-51, when combined with their Discovery Connect Wireless Companion, deliver a hassle-free wireless experience via ROON, Qobuz, or TIDAL apps. Music appears to come from every space in the recordings – in part because of the exceptional engineering of designer Andrew Jones. On ARB-51, Jones' innovative concentrically mounted tweeter/midrange speaker and bass driver blend is powered with a 60-watt Bash Amplifier for the bass, while a 100-watt Bash amplifier aids the midrange and a 40-watt Class AB amplifier feeds the tweeter, all with stunning results. ARF-51 comes on as a glorious slim-line tower that exercises its right to produce a toe-tapping experience with each track, largely courtesy of its three 5 1Ž4" woofers. Both models offer ports for genuine bass extension, and speaker placement is relatively simple, making it easy to place in any good-sized room. Did we mention they're independently amped, freeing up space for a simple connection to other sources via their on-board RCA and XLR hook ups? Add a preamp and sources (phono, digital) and Navis is more than worthy of the affordable cost.

KEF's long-heralded LS50 Wireless has reigned supreme in terms of owner satisfaction and amazing sound, but the company's LSX mini speakers are again rewriting the rules. Its compact design suggests it consumes a third the calories of its bigger brother. Yet on a recent audition, we were floored as it loaded a 15' x 20' listening room with effortless energy. Part of its charm comes from the "music integrity engine," a DSP algorithm that advances the listening experience for a fatigue-free feel. Wired or wireless, the speaker is a little warrior.

If a state-of-the-art design is on your mind, I strongly suggest the ATC SCM40a active tower speaker. A bold statement from the gang that outfits just about every recording studio or mastering house you can name (Abbey Road is one), this 38.6" x 14.6" x 13.5" speaker is frighteningly accurate when it comes to reproducing distinct instruments, and it throws a soundstage at you like a fast pitch. Powered by three A/B amplifiers in each cabinet (providing 150W to the woofer, 60W to the midrange, and 32W to the tweeter), SCM40a proves a commanding design, providing a full spectrum of detail and focus with each listen. You just might want to build a dedicated system around these beauties and let em' rip. As TONEAudio's Jeff Dorgay commented, "If you're tired of the cable and equipment hassle, I can't suggest a better pair of active speakers than the ATC SCM40as. They produce sound well beyond what their price tag suggests, especially considering that you will eliminate at least a few thousand dollars in speaker cables and power amplifiers."

Among our growing gallery of speakers that diversify its feature base for every taste, Klipsch joins that band of merry boxes with plenty to rock about. The Sixes Heritage Series Speakers are examples of engineering knowhow that extends beyond the iconic line created by its namesake, the late Paul W. Klipsch. With a look that screams Klipsch quality, the bookshelf/desktop-sized Sixes are cased in classic walnut veneer cabinets with rear ports, and powered with a 100Wpc amp to push their custom 1" titanium tweeters in Tractrix horns and 6 1/2" woofers to serious extremes. Its future-proofed goods seal the deal. You get a a 24/192 DAC for excellent reproduction of fave tracks via USB, Toslink for PCM playback through your TV or other optical-acceptable sources, a switchable line/phono input (imagine that, an onboard MM turntable input!), and even a LFE/sub output to extend the bass even further with a subwoofer of your choice.

In a league of their own, some of our powered loudspeakers blend sensible pricing and unique performance. Wharfedale's DS-2 powered desktop speakers are an ultra-compact model that delivers aptX Bluetooth playback (a 3.5mm stereo plug is onboard for analog playback), while SVS's all-new Prime Wireless offers substantially more power over the Wharfedale with a 200wpc four-way amplifier design, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth playback, and more. Managing your music is handled by the intuitively simple Play-Fi app, and the speaker also comes loaded for analog support with RCA connections.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg of our outstanding loudspeaker lineup. Your Music Direct Audio Consultant can assist you in selecting the right speaker (including the passive ones) that will move you and your music. Give us a call!

June 17, 2019

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