GCN LAB REVIEWS
Audio file: A rich sound from inexpensive, analog speakers
Wood-framed Genius speakers match the quality of high-end models
- By John Breeden II
- Jan 10, 2011
Pros: Rich sound; inexpensive; uses standard audio jacks.
Cons: A bit large for some desktops.
Ease of Use: A
How many times do we install new systems and then forget about the audio? I know we’ve done it in the lab quite a bit. Speakers have become a sort of an afterthought these days. But they have also become something else: weak.
In fact, you really don’t know how bad your speakers sound until you hook up some really great ones. Although KTE Systems, also known as Genius, insisted that its newest model, the SP-HF1800A, would be great, we had our doubts. For one, the SP-HF1800As are made of wood. Yes, freakin’ wood. And we can’t remember the last time something wooden was attached to a test computer in the lab. Secondly, they have standard RCA jacks in the back, so there is no fancy high-definition audio. But the price was the nail we thought we would be putting in the coffin of the review. How good could they really be at just $79?
We do have to say that we were impressed during the unpacking process. The SP-HF1800As are 15.5 inches tall and 6.5 inches wide. They are also quite heavy for speakers, at least partially because the frame is made of wood instead of plastic. They are black and look pretty darn high end, like you would expect to see sitting beside the ministereo in some luxurious penthouse suite.
There are three speakers in the array. The middle 4-inch speaker handles the mainstay of the voice data and most musical instruments that fall into the 500 to 7,000 Hz frequency range. The identical speaker sitting below it acts as the woofer and handles anything that falls below the 500 Hz range. This is a great design because the woofer is never interrupted when playing a complex piece. You can crank up the SP-HF1800A pretty loud and not hear any distortion. The final speaker acts like a tweeter and pumps out really high pitched sounds and special effects.
The three work in concert to produce waves of beautiful sound that you probably haven’t heard coming from your computer. Almost every set of computer speakers we have tested in the past suffered from a bit of a tinny sound at some volume level or sometimes at every volume level. But not these.
If anything, the bass is a little too strong even without a dedicated subwoofer as a separate unit. Thankfully, the bass can be reduced using the front-facing control knob, which might be necessary depending on what type of audio file you want to play. You can also adjust the treble. The recommended settings for bass and treble have grooves that you can set both knobs into, which is exactly halfway through their rotation.
The wooden case we were so unsure about actually works in favor of better sound. It gives voices and music a stronger, richer tone that audiophiles will appreciate. The fact that the speakers are separating the tones means that voices really pop in music, too. In any case, we won’t make fun of wooden construction again.
To test the differences in sound quality among different speaker sets, we hooked up a very expensive — more than $400 — set of high-definition audio speakers. These used the HDMI port on our test system, so they could be attached at the same time as the analog SP-HF1800A.
We brought in several co-workers and had them sit in front of our test computer and then switched the audio back and forth between audio source A and B, with A being the SP-HF1800A. We asked them to rate the two speakers, which were alternately playing the same song set. The SP-HF1800A got higher ratings across the board.
People said it had a richer, fuller sound that was more pleasurable to the ears. When we ran the same tests using a political speech as the audio source, the results were even more in favor of the SP-HF1800A, with every tester saying it was easier to hear and understand all the words when the signal was coming out of the Genius speakers. Here, having the voice channel pop because of the frequency separation really helped.
The SP-HF1800A is a little sparse on features, but there are two of note.
First, there is a headphone jack in the front of the right speaker, so if you need to listen to something privately, you just plug in a headset. Doing so automatically cuts the main audio signal off regardless of the volume setting.
Second, Genius smartly included an extra line-in jack right beside the headphone jack. If you want to listen to something from an external audio source, such as an iPod or digital recorder, you just plug it in. You can do that without disconnecting the speakers from the computer because those analog ports are around back. This is a nice extra, given that the speakers are a little too large to be moving around all the time. And the secondary audio source sounds just as good as the one coming from the main computer.
The only complaint we have — and this is a very minor one — is that the black finish is not actually painted onto the wood. It’s some type of applied covering. The only way we found that out was because there was slight damage to the test unit in shipping and a corner of it was lifted up. We guess that the stuck-on coating is a nice way to fake really high-quality materials and still have a great-looking unit for only $79.
In the final analysis, everyone who experienced the wooden SP-HF1800A speakers loved the audio quality, preferring it to those of more expensive systems that use higher quality audio ports. The nice look and extra features are just icing on the cake.
Whether you want your computer to be a presentation tool or just want great audio for the price of a merely acceptable audio system, you can’t really go wrong with SP-HF1800A speakers. If you have a touch of extra space on your desktop real estate, these are speakers you definitely want to move in.
GCN Director of Information Technology Tuncay Tankir contributed to this review.
KYE Systems, www.geniusnet.com
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.