GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published October 1, 2006

 

January 1, 2007

GoodSound! Products of the Year for 2006

AV123 x-ls Loudspeaker and x-sub Subwoofer

The GoodSound! Products of the Year for 2006 are the x-ls loudspeaker and x-sub subwoofer from AV123. Appropriately for a Web-based publication like GoodSound!, the x-series products exemplify the new paradigm in high-fidelity commerce: online retailers who bypass traditional sales channels to sell direct to consumers. This way, a manufacturer or importer can offer excellent products at rock-bottom prices. The complete x-series package comprises two small bookshelf speakers and a sleek subwoofer for just $418 USD. The x-ls speakers provided good, clean sound, and I found the x-sub to be the best subwoofer I’ve ever heard at such a low price.

But AV123’s x-series models don’t just deliver good sound. Their clean lines and beautiful wood finish give them the appearance of much more expensive speakers -- they can sit proudly in any living room. Their small size makes them ideal for apartment dwellers -- even the x-sub could fit comfortably in a college dorm. If you decide you need surround sound, buy another pair of x-ls speakers and you’ll have better sound than any home-theater-in-a-box, and without breaking the bank. I concluded my review of the x-ls and x-sub by saying that they offered "a stylish, good-sounding, affordable solution for people on a budget." Finding such products is the goal of GoodSound!, and what better candidate for our Product of the Year? The x-ls and x-sub are sure winners in what was a very good year.

…Eric Hetherington



GOODSOUND! GREAT BUY


AV123 x-ls Loudspeakers and x-sub Subwoofer

Some audiophiles believe that the only standard by which to judge an audio component is the sound it produces. While it’s true that this is the most important criterion, it isn’t the only one. Two other important criteria are the manufacturer’s commitment to the product through its warranty and customer support, and the component’s appearance. Most people don’t have a man-cave (or woman-cave) in which to set up their audio system; for most, an audio system must be placed in a room that serves a function other than listening to music -- a family room, bedroom, or office. In such spaces, a component’s appearance is not insignificant. Satisfying all of these criteria is easy in a cost-no-object product, but it leaves us with a design problem for budget gear: Is it possible to design audio components that look and sound good?

Description

AV123’s x-ls loudspeaker ($219 USD per pair) measures 13.5"H x 8.5"W x 12.125"D and weighs 17 pounds -- pretty heavy for a small bookshelf speaker. The weight is explained by the x-ls’s impressive cabinet, which is made of 0.75"-thick MDF finished in real-wood veneer. This is the first speaker I’ve seen at so low a price that has real-wood veneer, and it makes a big difference in the x-ls’s visual appeal.

AV123 rates the x-ls’s efficiency at 87dB, its nominal impedance at 8 ohms, and its frequency response at 55Hz-20kHz. The drive-units are a 1", ferrofluid-cooled, treated-fabric dome tweeter, and a 6.5" curvilinear treated-paper woofer cone custom-built by Peerless. On the rear of the speaker, just below the port, is a pair of five-way binding terminals. My one gripe about the x-ls speakers is that they didn’t come with grilles. I like seeing the exposed drivers, but they seemed to be magnets for pets and kids -- and a potential disaster if you have a fluffy cat or long-haired dog. (I noticed recently on the AV123 website that they now show the speaker with a grille.)

The x-sub subwoofer ($199) shares the x-ls’s good looks and measures 17.75"H x 9"W x 13"D. The cabinet is built of 1"-thick MDF and weighs 38 pounds. Like the x-ls, the x-sub has real-wood veneer with an exceptionally smooth finish. Instead of having the sub simply sit on four legs, the AV123 designers have inserted a sizable base under the legs that not only contributes to the sub’s good looks, but also makes moving it around the room easier. On the top front of the sub is a slot-shaped port. (My daughter, almost two years old, thought this a great place to put her Dr. Seuss board books. Luckily, I stopped her every time, but I wouldn’t want to leave it unattended with little kids around.) The sub’s heavy construction is likely to limit cabinet resonances, which should help keep the bass nice and tight, and its small footprint makes it incredibly easy to find a place for in a room. The heart of the x-sub is an 8" mass-loaded woofer driven by a 150W amplifier and with a stated frequency response of 28-150Hz.

At the top left of the control panel on the x-sub’s rear are knobs to set the crossover point and volume so that you can match the output of the sub and your speakers for seamless integration. Under these knobs is a switch to change the phase (0 or 180 degrees), and next to them is an RCA input jack for LFE input, and two more for line-level input. If your system has a subwoofer output, you can use the designated input; if it doesn’t, you can use any variable line-level output from your preamp, integrated amp, or A/V receiver to connect it to the sub.

Finally, along the top of the panel are speaker-level connections if you choose to run the subwoofer between your amplifier and speakers. The speaker-level connections are five-way binding posts with a reasonable amount of space between connections. Below the speaker-level inputs/outputs is the power switch, and under that the power-cord receptacle. When switched on, the sub remains in standby mode until an audio signal is received at one of the inputs, at which point it turns fully on.

The x-ls and x-sub each come with a three-year warranty and are eligible for 30-day in-home trials. If, after auditioning the speakers and subwoofer, you decide you don’t want them, you can return them to AV123 minus the cost of shipping. Thirty days should be long enough to decide if they’re right for you, and is consistent with in-home offerings from other online companies, such as Axiom Audio and Aperion Audio.

Listening

I used the x-ls and x-sub in two separate systems. When the speakers arrived, I put them on the mantle of my living-room fireplace and hooked them up to a Rogue Audio Tempest II integrated amplifier and Rotel RCD-1070 CD player using Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In interconnects and Big Silver Oval speaker cables. When it came time to critically evaluate the AV123s, I moved them into my home theater and used them with a B&K AVR307 receiver, a Denon DVD-2900 universal player, Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In interconnect, and Kimber Kable 4PR speaker cables. In the theater, I put the speakers on homemade speaker stands.

Johnny Cash’s American V: A Hundred Highways [CD, American B0007199-02] had a much bigger soundstage than I’d expected from these little cabinets -- the handclaps on "God’s Gonna Cut You Down" seemed to originate far outside the speakers. I noticed that the x-ls speakers preferred moderate listening levels; when I played the same track again, this time much more loudly, the treble began to shake -- the speaker seemed to lose control over the high frequencies. Admittedly, this was much too loud for everyday listening; I never had the problem at moderate volumes. If you’re looking for loud party speakers, these might not be the answer.

"Poison," from Prodigy’s Their Law: The Singles 1990-2005 [CD, XL Recordings XLCD 190], gave the x-sub a workout, but the subwoofer was able to keep up with this fast-paced dance music. In terms of filling in the low end, the x-sub did its job of increasing the music’s subjective size. It was also apparent with this disc that the x-ls speakers were providing a more forward presentation than the speakers I usually use. The sound was projected so far out in front of the speakers so that the music seemed to come from almost the center of the room. The two dueling voices in "Poison" -- one in each channel -- seemed almost within my reach at my listening position, which is 9’ from the speakers.

I’ve recently been revisiting some of my favorite late-1950s jazz releases, and the SACD reissue of the Bill Evans Trio’s Portraits in Jazz [Riverside RISA-1162-6] provided a good example of how the x-series speakers could deal with piano and small-combo jazz. From the very first notes of "Come Rain or Come Shine," the trio seemed to appear in my room life-size. The bass held together better than I thought it might, even when I turned off the x-sub -- the x-ls pair could be a potent duo even without their own trio partner, the x-sub. The piano lacked some of the delicacy that can be achieved with more expensive speakers, but it was light-years beyond the tinny piano sound produced by many small satellite speaker systems that are often more expensive than the AV123s. And "When I Fall in Love" made these speakers shine far above their price point -- Evans’ piano had the right resonance, the bass was deep and clean, and the cymbals sparkled beautifully.

I then played Richard Strauss in High Fidelity: Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony in the tone poems Also sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben [SACD, RCA/BMG Classics 82876-61389-2 RE1]. Strauss’s large orchestra sounded grand, its presence easily filling the room’s width and depth. The AV123s sounded a bit congested in some of the most complex passages, such as the Of Joys and Passion section of Zarathustra. When there were fewer instruments playing, such as at the very beginning of The Hero’s Adversaries, in Heldenleben, the speakers were better able to delineate the instruments and provide better timbres.

Comparison

I compared the AV123 x-ls with my Axiom M22 speakers. The most recent version of the M22 sells for $460/pair -- more than twice as much as the x-ls. Does the Axiom offer twice the sound? Well, I’m not sure how to figure that out, but it did better the x-ls in enough features that I think the price difference is justified. For that extra $241 I get a more relaxed, less congested sound that better controls the overall musical presentation. For example, the Axioms aren’t frustrated by the complex passages in the Strauss works, and keep the instrumental timbres consistent throughout such passages. If I had the money in my budget, I’d spring for the Axioms -- but remember that for that price you could have two pairs of AV123 x-ls speakers. Many people might prefer to have good, pleasant sound in two rooms rather than better sound in one place. There is some good competition at the x-ls’s price, such as the Axiom M3 and Paradigm Atom. I had neither of these speakers on hand, but I did live for years with the Axiom M3. If I were looking for speakers under $300/pair, I wouldn’t want to make my final choice without having heard the Axiom and Paradigm options.

But at $199, the AV123 x-sub seems to be in a class by itself. Back in late 2004/early 2005, I reviewed a subwoofer from Woodard Audio that retailed for $299. In terms of appearance and sound for the buck, the x-sub is a downright bargain and easily surpasses the Woodard. When I think about living with a sub costing less than $300, the AV123 x-sub is a clear winner.

Conclusion

The x-series from AV123 offers a stylish, good-sounding, affordable solution for people on a budget. Overall, the system performed best with recordings of small acoustic ensembles, with which they provided better musical presentation than any similarly priced product I’ve heard demonstrated at the bricks-and-mortar stores. Their performance wasn’t the state of the art -- more money will get you better sound -- but as a budget-friendly, entry-level speaker and subwoofer, AV123’s x-series did its job well and looked good doing it. Budget designs require some give and take, but the sound of the AV123s has not been overly compromised, and these speakers’ fantastic finish means that they could easily be placed in a living room without being eyesores. There is healthy competition at the x-ls’s price, but AV123’s 30-day in-home trial makes it easy to evaluate this model against any other speaker you might be considering. All in all, they’re considerable values.

...Eric Hetherington

Prices of equipment reviewed


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