Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)

Reviewers' ChoiceWhen I received an e-mail from Jeff Fritz, SoundStage!’s editor-in-chief, asking if I was interested in reviewing Edifier’s S350DB 2.1-channel speaker system ($299.99 USD), a wave of nostalgia swept over me. From my senior year in high school, way back in 2003, through the end of college, I listened to my music through Klipsch’s ProMedia speaker systems -- first the 2.1, then the Ultra 5.1 (which I used in a 2.1 configuration). They were great computer speakers, with clean mids and highs, punchy bass, and terrific output for their size. With a simple 3.5mm input, I could plug my computer or iPod into them and get pretty killer sound. Fifteen years later, a descendant of the ProMedia 2.1 can still be had for $129, but there’s no way they could now live up to what they sound like in my memory.

Could this fancy-looking, 2.1-channel Edifier system -- two minimonitors and a subwoofer -- recapture the Klipsches’ magic? I had to find out.

Edifier

Who?

When Herr Fritz’s e-mail appeared in my inbox, the name Edifier was new to me. The company was founded in Beijing in 1996, and built its reputation in China on making 2.1- and 4.1-channel computer-speaker systems not unlike Klipsch’s ProMedia models. Through the early 2000s Edifier diversified their speaker line with more lifestyle models, and were successful enough that the company went public in 2010. They then acquired Stax Ltd., the esoteric Japanese manufacturer that pioneered electrostatic headphones. Edifier now claims to have over 3000 employees worldwide, and an annual manufacturing output of over 8 million units. Their current product line includes earphones, headphones, a soundbar, portable speakers, and a variety of 2.0-, 2.1-, and 5.1-channel speaker systems. Most of Edifier’s speaker systems are active -- their bent is very much plug-and-play.

My first impression of the S350DB was overwhelmingly positive. I’d never received review samples of speakers that had a frequency-response plot printed right on the box, but there it was. This 2.1 system comprises two small speakers each measuring 8.8”H x 5”W x 6”D, a ported subwoofer measuring 12.3”H x 10.4”W x 11.8”D, and a small, circular, infrared remote. The total weight of the system is a whopping 42.1 pounds. The speakers are made of MDF clad in a handsome cherry finish, with surprisingly good build tolerances for the price. The satellites’ front baffles are made of a solid-feeling plastic that looks like brushed aluminum and includes a built-in tweeter grille; on the rear is a bass-reflex port.

Edifier

The right-channel speaker is the brains of the outfit. Inset into its right side panel are three knobs: Treble, Bass, and a multifunction control for volume, input selection, and power on/off. Both speakers connect to the rear of the subwoofer. There you’ll also find analog inputs (RCA) labeled PC and Aux, and two digital inputs: optical TosLink and coaxial S/PDIF. There’s also a Bluetooth aptX 4.1 input. Edifier includes an RCA-to-3.5mm stereo miniplug and TosLink optical cables, a power cable, and an XLR-style cable that connects the left speaker to the sub; the right speaker has a captive, VGA-style cable.

Each satellite has a 0.75” titanium tweeter and a 3.5” aluminum-cone midrange-woofer; the sub sports a long-throw 8” woofer, ported on the right side of the cabinet. Specifics about the amps and crossover were effectively nonexistent. The S350DB is specified as a 150W system, with 15W and 25W respectively allocated for each tweeter and midrange-woofer, and 70W for the sub. Edifier emphasizes that the system uses DSP -- I suspect a bass cutoff of 160Hz from satellites to sub, given the specified frequency responses of 160Hz-20kHz (sats) and 40-160Hz (sub). My online sleuthing turned up rumors of the use of multiple class-D amplifiers and a DAC chip from Texas Instruments, but I couldn’t verify either without tearing apart my sample sub.

Edifier

Distortion for both sats and sub is specified as 0.2%, and I was told by Edifier’s PR rep that it accepts “high-res” files, though Edifier’s literature notes that the optical input is limited to 24-bit/48kHz, a limitation shared by aptX Bluetooth. Make of that what you will. Of particular interest to me is that Edifier makes its own drivers and cabinets, and develops their speakers using an anechoic chamber. They seem to have invested serious engineering effort into the S350DB system. Their corporate YouTube video gives me hope that Edifier takes genuine pride in making their products sound good. I just wish I had more technical details to report. On the plus side, they do offer a two-year warranty on the S350DB, and a 30-day return policy if you’re not satisfied.

Setup was dead simple. I unboxed the system in my bedroom, set up one speaker at each end of my bureau drawers, and placed the subwoofer on the floor immediately to the right of said bureau. I plugged the two satellites and the power cord into the sub, and flicked the master power switch on the sub’s rear panel. I pressed the power/volume knob on the right speaker and the system sprang to life, as indicated by a small white LED directly below that knob, and a tinier indicator directly below that speaker’s midrange-woofer. I selected the Bluetooth input, paired the Edifiers with my iPhone, and was playing music within minutes. The circular remote worked just fine, though it took me longer than I’d like to admit to get its rear panel off to install its tiny battery.

Edifier

I used the S350DBs exclusively through its Bluetooth input in my bedroom for about six weeks, primarily for background music, before using them as computer speakers with my MacBook Pro on my desk, and finally as a hi-fi system in my living room. Edifier’s US website categorizes the S350DB as computer speakers, but I think the flexibility of a small 2.1-channel system means that they can easily be used in a variety of settings.

Listening

The Edifier S350DB worked well as a bedroom system. The remote was responsive, and I had nary a problem in connecting my iPhone 7 or iPad Air 2 via its Bluetooth input. I found the system’s stock settings pretty good -- I didn’t immediately feel compelled to use the Treble or Bass tone controls. I didn’t listen too attentively during my first couple weeks with the Edifiers -- I was more concerned about their overall reliability, responsiveness, and clarity. They didn’t miss a beat, though I did note that they suffered the same problem as every other multimedia 2.1 system I’ve heard over the years: Assuming that the bass cutoff between satellites and sub actually is 160Hz, that means the sub becomes directional above about 100Hz, making the transition pretty audible. While the satellites produced clean, evenhanded sound track after track, the sub’s contribution sounded disconnected from them, only occasionally integrating well with the sound of the sats.

I grew fonder of the S350DB system when I shifted it onto my desk. I plopped the sats on either side of my 24” video monitor, about 30” apart, and placed the sub to the right of the desk. Which is something to keep in mind with this system: The right speaker’s captive cable is 5’ long, and with the sub ported on its right side panel, it makes sense to place the sub to the right of a desk, bureau, or TV stand. (Apparently, Edifier thinks so, too -- the left speaker’s cable is over 9’ long.) I hooked up the system to my MacBook Pro using my own optical cable, as I needed Edifier’s longer, 3.5mm-terminated, male-to-male TosLink connector for my laptop’s combo headphone jack/optical output.

Edifier

When no signal was fed to the speakers for 30 seconds, they put themselves into a soft standby mode, presumably to save power. Playing a song through iTunes or Tidal would yield a subtle beep from the speakers, and a one-second lag before music began to play. I appreciated that, unlike my old Klipsch systems, the Edifiers were quiet -- there was no annoying tweeter hum, only a subtle noise from the sats when I switched inputs. Even this I heard only occasionally, and only when using the S350DBs as computer speakers. I played test tones from www.audiocheck.net to hear how deeply the subwoofer could plumb, and was surprised when it produced full output at 40Hz. The 30Hz tone was barely audible, and the 20Hz tone wasn’t audible at all. Still, genuine 40Hz extension from a 2.1-channel powered speaker system costing only $299.99? Yes please . . .

The satellites had terrific center fill, producing a clear stereo image behind my Dell monitor that even had reasonable depth. I was quite taken with the Edifiers’ reproduction of Millie Turner’s single “Underwater” (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Tidal), with copious amounts of air and sparkle around her delicate voice. There was nothing soft or hazy about the sound -- Turner’s enunciation of her first lines was almost as intelligible as through my main system. Still, the synths were a little boomy in the upper bass. I recommend careful placement and tuning of the sub -- such efforts could prove well worthwhile. Odds are that the S350DB sub will sound punchy but also a bit bloated at first, and I never got the sounds of the sats and sub to seamlessly integrate -- but I struck an enjoyable overall balance when I shelved down the bass by “-2.”

Edifier

I did the rest of my listening with the speakers in my living room, having perched the satellites on speaker stands about 8’ apart, with the sub just inside the right-channel stand; I streamed Tidal from my iPhone via the system’s Bluetooth input. No, this won’t be a likely setup for most readers, but I wanted to hear if the Edifier system could approximate the sound of a true hi-fi system for a lot less money. Yes, it could. Kind of.

Listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as hauntingly sung by Jeff Buckley on Grace (16/44.1 FLAC, Tidal), I heard unmistakable resolution and delicacy through the upper midrange and treble. Similar to Paradigm’s passive Monitor SE Atom ($298/pair), which I was reviewing at the same time, there was a real hi-fi flavor that the Edifiers didn’t merely hint at but actually delivered. Buckley’s softly strummed steel guitar strings had a metallic zest, yet didn’t turn zingy. They sounded natural, with plenty of smooth, extended reverb. Nor could I make out any high-frequency harshness. Buckley’s voice did turn a touch hard as he ascended his range, but not objectionably so. He also sounded a bit more lightweight than he does through my main system (ca. $10,000). But overall, this little 2.1 system pretty much nailed the all-important midrange -- and for the money, that 0.75” titanium tweeter was faultless. The soundstage had commendable width, filling the 8’ between the sats with a coherent soundscape, while also offering real depth. No, it wasn’t as deep as the Paradigm Atoms could muster, but those speakers require amplification and other electronics to get going; the Edifier system plays right out of the box, needing only a signal source.

Edifier

“Redbone,” from Childish Gambino’s (aka Donald Glover) “Awaken, My Love!” (24/96 MQA, Glassnote/Tidal), was a different proposition. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t keep the S350DB subwoofer in line. With the bass at “-2,” I lost the track’s punchiness -- the bass was too low in level -- but I was able to find some semblance of balance of lower midrange and upper bass. Pushing the bass to “-1” or “0” gave me the drive and impact I’d been missing, but added muddiness and boom in the upper bass. Still, the sounds of Donald Glover’s voice and the tinkling xylophone in the background were delightful.

To hear how the Edifier system would cope with a full orchestra and properly deep bass, as a final torture test I threw on “I’m Not a Hero,” from Hans Zimmer’s original soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight (16/44.1 FLAC, Warner Bros./Tidal). When I cranked up the volume, the satellites had no trouble keeping up, the sweeping strings sounding clean and composed. The sub, however, began to cry out with a fair bit of port noise -- that 8” woofer was moving a lot of air -- and the midbass turned a bit woolly. At moderate volume, though, I was impressed by how deeply the sub could dig. It filled out the bottom of the track nicely, with a touch of genuine slam to boot.

Edifier

Competition

I haven’t reviewed Audioengine’s A2+ ($249/pair), but I’m intimately familiar with their older A2 loudspeaker, which lacked a built-in DAC but was otherwise identical to the A2+. The S350DB system costs only $50 more than two A2+ loudspeakers, and it’s shocking how much more you get. Like the Edifier satellites, the A2+ has a 0.75” tweeter but a smaller (2.75”) midrange-woofer. The Audioengine also has an analog input and, unlike the Edifier, a USB input for easy mating with a computer. But that’s it. There’s no sub, no optical or Bluetooth input, no remote. Moreover, the Edifier system sounds far better than the small Audioengines. The S350DB system is more precise in the midrange, notably more extended in the treble, and has real, honest bass extension. The Audioengine sounds softer and warmer through the mids, with an abbreviated top end, and its “bass” falls off a cliff at around 100Hz. At the end of the day, Audioengine’s A2+ is a pretty good but very limited computer speaker. Edifier’s S350DB is a far more flexible product with greater audiophile aspirations.

Conclusion

Edifier’s S350DB is a killer little system. I held it to a high sonic standard in my testing because to classify it as a simple 2.1-channel Bluetooth rig would do a disservice to a system that sounds as good as it did. The satellites are fantastic for the money, with a vibrant and engaging midrange and excellent treble extension. The 8” subwoofer, meanwhile, has legitimate extension down to 40Hz, even if its overall low-frequency control and integration with the satellites’ sound aren’t the best. But given how well-built, user-friendly, and pretty these speakers are, that’s hardly a deal breaker. For $299.99, I’m not sure how you can ask for anything more.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- KEF LS50 and R700, Technics SB-G90
  • Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
  • Integrated amplifier -- Hegel Music Systems H360
  • Digital-to-analog converter -- Hegel Music Systems HD30
  • DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
  • Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro running Tidal and iTunes; Apple iPad Air 2; Apple iPhone 7
  • Speaker cables -- DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
  • Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow RCA, Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR
  • Digital link -- DH Labs Silversonic USB
  • Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2

Edifier S350DB Loudspeaker System
Price: $299.99 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

Edifier USA
428 Hemphill Street
Fort Worth, TX 76104
Phone: (844) 368-3631

Website: www.edifier.com