If you’re looking for an inexpensive 2.1 speaker system for your Macintosh, the market is rife with choices from different manufacturers. Walk into any large electronics store and you’ll be bombarded with choices from different companies that incorporate two satellites and a subwoofer. Fortunately, there are some systems that stand apart from the rest. Level 9 Sound Designs’
brand is such an offering. Recently, the company began shipping their PlanarMedia 9 series, which retail for under $100.
Standing seven inches tall and measuring about four inches wide, the 19-watt speakers will easily fit on a desk. Their grey metallic finish and black construction of the speakers complements well the titanium, graphite or “QuickSilver” finish of most PowerBooks and recent Power Mac G4 offerings. The finish is also neutral enough to fit in with the white finishes of iBooks and iMacs too.
Measuring 11 x 8.5 x 8 inches, the 2×19 watt subwoofer incorporates a 6.5-inch dual voice coil cone driver and a felted semipress cone. It’s equipped with a large air vent in the bottom (what I call the “surprised cyclops look”) and it reproduces bass frequencies very effectively.
The satellites connect to the sub using hard-wired cables equipped with RCA jacks on the end, and the sub attaches to the Mac using a mini-to-mini input cable (no USB here). The cables are long enough to loop under your desk — where the sub belongs, both sonically and cosmetically. It isn’t as pretty as an iSub, I’ll admit, but it works very well.
The PlanarMedia 9 also includes the Control Center, which plugs into the back of the subwoofer via a chunky cable that terminates in an RS-422-style interface. The Control Center provides a green LED to indicate power (power is turned off and on from the back of the sub), along with a large dial that serves as volume control and a smaller bass dial that adjusts the volume for the subwoofer. The Control Center can sit out on your desk or can also rest fixed in the base of either of the satellites, thanks to a contoured design. You also get a mute button (which cuts the power LED too) for when the phone rings or you need to talk with someone without interruption. The Control Center also features a headphone jack for those times when your roommates or your co-workers tell you to turn it down.
Most speaker transducers come enclosed in a chunky cabinet of some type, but Monsoon’s Planar Ribbon transducers are different. They use a technology called Planar Focus Technology, or PFT — the first thing you notice about them is that they’re incredibly flat, measuring only about an inch thick. Cosmetically, it’s a design that works with Apple’s thin and angular PowerBook G4.
The PFT 100 Series transducers are dipole-radiating, which means that they project sound both forward and backward. Monsoon said the design of the transducers produces a deep soundstage. That’s true, but they’re more directional than some speakers I’ve used, which means that you have to experiment a lot with the angle to get the richest soundfield possible. It’s also a good idea to get them about a foot or so away from the back of your desk or wall to help prevent reflections, which Monsoon said can muddy the soundfield.
Once you have the speakers angled at your head properly, you’ll notice a deep soundfield, just like Monsoon promises. I’m of two minds about the playback. On one hand, I found the speakers to reproduce sound very crisply — this is ideal for 3D games or audio that emphasizes stereo separation. Spatial audio cues are a vital part of the gaming experience, and for that the PlanarMedia 9s shine. On the other hand, that “crispness” could also be interpreted as adding a certain metallic quality to DVD and audio playback. It wasn’t unpleasant, although it was an adjustment. In fact, the PlanarMedia 9s made me aware of samples and other audio cues in some of my music I actually hadn’t heard before.
And while the system’s “sweet spot” may be deep, it’s not terribly wide — moving away from, or to the left or the right, of the speakers I noticed that the sound gets flat quickly; the PlanarMedia 9s just didn’t fill the room. The 76 watts of power gave me enough juice to get the system loud enough to shake my fillings, however. And that subwoofer’s bass reproduction was superlative — it’s one of the best I’ve heard in this price range.
The bottom line here is that for $99 or so, you’ll get a unique speaker system that looks great with Apple’s recent offerings and offers up bucketloads of butt-thumping bass. The PlanarMedia 9s require a bit more massaging than the average set of speakers to get them sounding right, I’ll admit, but the net result is very interesting and appealing.