The M-Audio brand name may mean more to musicians and music producers than gamers and iTunes junkies, but all you really need to know is that the company makes one of the best-sounding PC and multimedia speaker sets you can buy, the £90 Studiophile AV 40.
The speaker set reviewed here is the Studiophile AV 30, a smaller set that borrows heavily from the design and sound of its lauded sibling. The AV 30 sacrifices on some of the sonic power and professional features that make the AV 40 exceptional, but it also cuts the price down to an attractive £70 or thereabouts.
At the lower price, we can forgive M-Audio for using a cheaper amplifier in the AV 30 than the class-A/B amp used in the AV 40. We can also forgive it for ditching the studio-quality 32mm (1.25-inch) TRS audio inputs and going strictly with RCA ins. These missing features may have audio purists turning up their noses, but those of you simply looking to coax great sound from your computer or MP3 player shouldn't care.
Most impressive about this speaker set are the features it has in common with the knock-out AV 40. Both use the same 19mm (0.75-inch), ferrofluid-cooled, silk, dome tweeters; offer the same solid, pro-audio construction quality; and include headphone output and aux input mini-jacks on the front of the left speaker, along with an illuminated volume-control knob.
On the back of the left speaker, you'll find the 'bass boost' switch and RCA inputs also found on the AV 40, along with a standard speaker wire clip for running audio to the right speaker. Any length of standard speaker wire can be used to connect the two speakers (a 2m cable is included), offering an advantage over many PC speakers that use an attached, fixed-length cable.
The AV 30 speakers each stand around 140 by 203 by 152mm. Each speaker is magnetically shielded to prevent it from interfering with other electronic equipment (and vice versa), and each sits on a layer of sonically isolating black foam rubber that also helps prevent the speakers from rattling against your desk when at a high volume.
Sonically, the AV 30 delivers a type of hearty, well-balanced sound that you don't often hear from a pair of speakers of this price. The 76mm (3-inch) woofers, combined with M-Audio's tuned-bass reflex ports, offer ample low end while maintaining the punchy bass-drum definition easily lost on songs like Booka Shade's electro-infused Night Falls. In the same vein, we were also happy to see that the AV 30's bass boost switch didn't go too overboard and drive the woofer to the booming, bleeding edge. In fact, songs like The JB's Gimme Some More really benefited from the way the bass boost feature brought the otherwise murky bass guitar to the fore.
Our primary gripe concerning the AV 30 set is the under-powered amplifier. The advertised 15W per channel is adequate if you're sitting at your desk with the speakers within reach, but you'll really need to crank the volume all the way up if you want to hear them from the next room. Fortunately, these speakers sound their best at full blast, and don't suffer from the telltale sounds of overdriven pre-amps or overworked speaker cones. Still, even at their maximum volume, the AV 30 speakers can't quite match the fullness of the sound we've heard from larger speakers like the AV 40, or 2.1-channel systems that integrate a dedicated subwoofer.
One last criticism concerns the placement of the power switch on the back. The placement is typical of pro-audio studio monitors, which assume you'll either be leaving the speakers on or switching them off from a power strip. But, for speakers aimed at the PC and gaming market, it's more common and convenient to control power from the front of the speaker. The power switch location might not be an issue for you, but we feel it's worth noting, lest you find yourself hunching over your desk to switch your speakers on and off each day.
Boasting a solid, compact design and offering powerful, detailed sound, the M-Audio Studiophile AV 30 speaker set is a good option.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet