Review: Sierra Sound iN Studio 5.0
At a Glance
It appears that when a set of powered, bookshelf speakers—approximately 10 by 7 by 7.75 inches, with 5-inch woofers and 20mm silk-dome tweeters—is dropped at our doorstep, I’m the guy to review them. How else can you explain last year’s review of Audioengine USA’s Audioengine 5 speakers and this evaluation of the boy-do-they-look-similar-at-first-glance Sierra Sound iN Studio 5.0 speakers?
And as it turns out, I’m glad I had the chance to test the iN Studio 5.0, it’s hardly identical to the 5. Although both sets of bookshelf speakers are designed for a mid-sized room environment rather than the desktop, they differ in the inputs they offer (most importantly, the existence of a dock connector on the iN Studio 5s) and the character of their sound.
But because these two systems use such similar designs—and because we’ve received questions from readers asking for a detailed comparison—I’m going to forego our usual review style in favor of one that addresses such questions more directly. For starters, here’s what the iN Studio 5.0 has in common with the Audioengine 5:
On the other hand, despite their visual and functional similarities, the iN Studio 5.0 system has quite a few differences from the Audioengine 5:
Much as I like the Audioengine 5 speakers, I missed the convenience of a built-in dock, even though I could use one of my own docks with Apple’s iPod cable strung between the Audioengine’s USB port and the dock’s dock-connector port to power the iPod. A built-in dock is a definite plus here.
Unfortunately, the current iN Studio 5 does not support video output with the new iPod classic and 3G iPod nano, thanks to changes Apple made in the video circuitry of these iPods. Sierra Sound will be incorporating the necessary component in an updated version of the iN Studio 5s, which the company says will be released before the holidays.
And, of course, the other difference is...
Tone and sound quality While I appreciate the many extras offered by the iN Studio speakers, when I compared the two systems directly, I preferred the sound of the Audioengine 5. As similar as the two sets of speakers appear in design, the Audioengine 5 reaches a little deeper to produce a bass that’s richer to my ears. With the iN Studio speakers I hear more lower-mids that, with certain tones (a high-pitched bass drum, for example), I found distracting in A/B listening tests.
That said, I also put the Audioengines aside, set up the iN Studios about 10 feet away and six feet apart, and just lived with them for awhile, listening in my usual, non-critical way. Playing a variety of music from my iPod and from my iTunes library via an AirPort Express, I found the sound to be enjoyable. The lower-mids didn’t leap out at me, lows weren’t conspicuously absent, and, like the Audioengine 5s, the top end was crisp and well-defined.
As should be pretty clear, for critical listening the Audioengine 5 speakers rock my boat a little harder than the iN Studio 5. But outside the confines of my A/B listening tests, I found the iN Studio speakers to be musical and plenty loud. I also appreciate the many configuration and control options offered by Sierra Sound’s speakers. And, like Audioengine, Sierra Sound is happy to give you 30 days to audition the speakers. If you don’t care for them, you’re welcome to return the speakers for a refund.
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