5.0 out of 5 stars Price / performance king for small powered speakers, February 17, 2014
Nice sound, very solid build, and made for actual use by actual people. For a small to medium sized room like bedrooms and living rooms, there's no need for any more than these two.
Aside from those obvious things, one of the features I most like is the auto shutoff. I leave the volume at near max on the speakers, and leave them on all the time. When its time to play music, they turn on, and when its over, they turn off. It's one less thing to worry about. A sign of good craftsmanship is not just getting the basics right, its spending time on the little details. You can tell the designers put a lot of love and care into making these and considered the use cases closely. Another nice touch is the additional power port on the back, to power an Airport Express or something.
I initially bought some AudioEngines but the 2's were too quiet and the 5's still required a DAC and were nearly as much $ with worse build and sound. Not worth the impulse purchase at Best Buy, trust me (also whatever you do don't buy those airplay docks - overpriced crap). After that, I considered buying more expensive stuff like a Peachtree Decco65 amp and passive speakers - they're probably really great, but at $1200+, the next step up is pretty steep. I did maybe 20 hours of research figuring out what to get.
MY USE CASE
- Play in a 15x15 bedroom via a mac
- Can play the quietest beethoven sonata all the way to hard rock
- Good sound with minimal fiddling / configuration / equalizing
- Doesn't take up much space
- Relatively inexpensive
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK - To meet these requirements, powered speakers are a must. The amps in them can be better tuned to the drivers characteristics and inherent flaws. This gets you more for less, *as long as the people making the speaker actually spend the time to do it*. They need to put love and care into it (see above).
Just about every other powered speaker out there is designed for analog input, which mean that you're going to have to buy a dedicated DAC ($100-200) to avoid poor range, random pops & cracks, etc. Vanatoos are designed for digital inputs, thus avoiding the need for a dedicated DAC. No DAC = no circuitry = lower cost. And there's no signal degradation because the digital source stays digital all the way through. You can tell this is an industry stuck in the past by how slow its been to adopt digital-first inputs, instead bringing analog-first down to small/mid size active speakers where it is unnecessary for the typical use case.
VOLUME - no question these meet my first requirement. Not full size speakers but they sound neutral and uncompromised at good volume. I grew up in audiophile family listening to classical music on 5' tall speakers - you can't expect that level of sound from these, but you'll be happy with the sound given that the speakers are NOT in your face.
SPACE - I'm happy with just the two speakers. The designers made these get a bit lower than other speakers (down to ~48hz) and their lows sound great, which means I don't need a subwoofer. There's an input for one in case I move into a bigger room.
BUILD QUALITY - When I looked at AudioEngines, MAudios and the like, the build quality and the attention to detail weren't there - they had that throwaway plastic electronics feel and barebones capabilities. My initial budget for speakers was ~$300, but once I did my research I realized how little $300 bought (e.g. AE2s + DAC, or various refurbs). The Vanatoos at $500 exhibit none of that cheapness - they have that Apple style of no-BS elegance and quality and once I realized that, I could justify buying them because I'll be keeping them for a really long time. Don't get me wrong, $500 is kinda steep and not what I had in mind when starting, but you get a lot more than what you pay for here.
In case its not obvious, I'm really happy with these speakers. I do wish I could have gotten a slightly lighter wood grain, and when they power up from nap, they take about 3 seconds. But those are quibbles. My only real issue is not the speaker itself, its Apple. The 3rd gen Airport Express sucks at streaming via Airplay - I tried a dozen firmware/connection configurations including direct ethernet and it's always skipping. So much for that Apple elegance, at least from Apple :/ I hear the Apple TV is more reliable to stream with, but that there may be a delay in input. I believe new Airport Express (802.11ac) models are coming and hopefully they will resolve this. Until then I'm using USB.
Finally, although I don't know the guys, I'm also really happy to support the creators - its an electronics guy and a acoustics guy getting together to build the speakers they wanted.
San Francisco, CA
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