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tale of multimedia speaker woe, advice??


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Hey, I am looking to build a good sounding setup for my computer. My requirements, beyond sounding good, are basically that the speakers look decent and be fairly unobtrusive on my desktop and that the system not be too susceptible to interference from my phone. By this I mean that I have a pair of Audioengine 5s which sound great, but if my phone is within four or five feet of he speaker with the amplifier, they sporadically click like crazy. It can get really annoying, since my phone (an iPhone) docks to the computer. So I moved them the Audioengines away from my computer and into my kitchen. Almost all other multimedia speakers do this -- I did a bunch of tests in a store one day -- but I haven't found any as bad. Before the Audioengines, I had one of those Harmon Kardon 2.1 sets, and it was truly dreadful sounding.


So I recently bought the Focal XS system. At first I was pretty happy with it, it sounds a little bright and the crossover is so high you can really localize the subwoofer. But I recently noticed some strange noises in the background in a song I was playing over iTunes. I didn't think too much of it, since it is a live recording from the 50s, but I thought I would play it over my stereo to see if it sounded different, and sure enough when I did the sounds were gone. I thought that was pretty strange, so I spent the next hour trying to diagnose it. The noises only came from the right speaker, so at first I thought one of the drivers had malfunctioned. Just for kicks, I put the file on my iPod, docked it, and played it from the dock, and much to my surprise, the sounds were gone. So I tried all kinds of other things, using the auxiliary input with my iPod, an external DAC (I tried USB & S/PDIF), line out on my computer etc, etc... nothing else made the sounds go away. Finally, I discovered the simple problem -- the volume control unit (which is in the base of the right speaker) is somehow causing interference, and the iPod, when it was in the dock, was acting as a shield. I could also solve the problem with a sheet of aluminum foil. This isn't some subtle audiophile stuff -- it's really, really obvious once you know what to listen for, especially when there is a loud, high pitched noise (like a high soprano singing).


So I am left wondering what to do. Should I just wrap the base of the right speaker in tinfoil and live with only using the remote? Seems kind of ridiculous for having spent $600. Should I take it back and get a new set of Focal XS, and see if they have the same problem? Somehow I am not optimistic that the problem is only with this pair of speakers.


I guess I could return it and try something else, but it is hard to find something where I wouldn't have to spend twice as much. I was considering going to something with active studio monitors and balanced cables, on the theory that that should protect me from interference more. Here are some setups I have been considering:


(i) Cambridge Dacmagic, NHT M00 speakers, S20 subwoofer (I don't think you can avoid a sub with these speakers), PVC Pro for volume control -- I think this works out to about $1700

(ii) Benchmark DAC1, Dynaudio BM5a (probably the compacts), no sub $2000


of course, it would also be possible to do the Dacmagic, NHT PVC Pro and BM5A compacts for less -- maybe $1500, although I sort of like the idea of being able to use the DAC1 as a headphone amp.


Does anyone have any other advice or ideas? Particularly at a (hopefully much) lower price bracket? In principle I was happy to live with the Focal XS, because they seem to be a great compromise between size/price/looks and sound, but I don't know how happy will be now that I have found this issue. I don't know if I really want to reproduce something that is basically comparable in quality to my main system (Airport Express, Musical Fidelity VDAC, Rotel RA-1062 and Audio Physic Yara Evolution speakers.)


Also, for desktop monitors like the M00 and the BM5a, does anyone have any recommendations on where to look for stands to raise them a few inches above the desk? (I suppose if I went with the Dynaudio MC15s, that would be a solved problem, but I don't see any other advantage to them, and they are more expensive and do not use balanced inputs.) The Focal XS solved all these problems for me -- getting the speakers up off the desk, DAC, volume control, interconnects, subwoofer, so I'm kind of bummed to have found this problem.


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I don't think going balanced will neccesarily solve your problem. I get the same clicking from iPhone that you are describing through the tv in my bedroom. I have been told it is due to the EDGE setting on the iPhone. For what it is worth the clicking does not occur on the 3G setting. If you are thinking of changing speakers than I would also recommend the AVI ADM9.1s. They are active monitors with a built in pre and DAC. I have never had a clicking problem with the speakers and iPhone and I plug my phone in right next to them.


ADM9.1s ,2.0 Ghz Mac Mini, Panasonic BD-35 blu-ray player.

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Yeah, I have heard that the 3G is better. I am stuck with EDGE for the time being.


I can put up with a bit of interference -- pretty much all the speakers I have tested have exhibited the effect to some degree, but the Audioengines are unfortunately really over the top. The AVI ADM9.1 look really nice, like the perfect solution, but again I'm not sure if I can justify the expense for what is not my main system.


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Many people do think of the AVIs as a computer speaker but in my opinion they are the main system and they happen to work well with a computer as the source. I have mine hooked up to my turntable and blu-ray player as well as my Macbook and have never been happier with a hi-fi system.


ADM9.1s ,2.0 Ghz Mac Mini, Panasonic BD-35 blu-ray player.

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Well, I decided to just get it over with and spontaneously went with option (ii), a pair of BM5a compacts, which I got for a good price, with a Benchmark DAC1 USB (I decided to go with the USB because it is a little more convenient to use that than the optical output of my computer, and my thinking is that maybe it will hold its value better if I ever decide to sell it?)


So far it seems much better than the Focal XS. The brightness of the Focal isn't there with the Benchmark/Dynaudio, there is no weird problem with the system interfering with itself, I have a splendid headphone amp, and I like that I can't easily tell that all the bass is coming from one place at my feet, although maybe when I recover from the sticker shock sufficiently I will pick up a subwoofer. The Focal sub definitely went a few Hz lower, not surprisingly, than the Dynaudio monitors.


Anyways, I don't think I'll do a direct comparison with my Musical Fidelity V-DAC, because that way lies madness... the benchmark makes a nice preamp for a pair of active monitors in a desktop system. But (it seems like a trivial thing, but...) I don't think I would be entirely satisfied with the size of, or the detents in the volume control of the Benchmark if I were using it for my main system with a power amp.


The cellphone clicking issue isn't entirely gone with this system, but it should be manageable, and hopefully when I get a new phone that doesn't rely on EDGE it will go away entirely.


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You asked: "for desktop monitors like the M00 and the BM5a, does anyone have any recommendations on where to look for stands to raise them a few inches above the desk?"


I have the M-00's as part of my desktop computer system. I was able to isolate them from the desktop by using Aurelex MoPADS. The MoPADS improved the sound considerably and only cost $40 per pair. The MoPADS are wedge-shaped, so you can adjust the tilt of the speakers up, down, or level. If you want to raise the speakers even higher, you just buy another pair of MoPADS to put on top of the first pair.


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