Audyssey Lower East Side Media Speakers
Welcome to the East Side
Audyssey Laboratories, Inc. (not to be confused with headphone maker Audeze) has been around for 10 years. Until recently their focus has always been on room correction and other acoustic optimizations. Home theater surround receivers from brands like Onkyo, Denon, NAD, and Marantz use licensed Audyssey technology for speaker setup and equalization, among other things. Now Audyssey appears to be expanding their offerings to include more InnerFidelity-appropriate products. I got a hold of the Lower East Side media speakers ($249 MSRP, easily available for $199) and ran them through their paces.
The LES is a fairly compact pair of speakers. Each measures 9 inches tall, about 5 inches wide, and just under 7 inches deep. An integrated wire-frame stand wraps around each speaker, performing the dual tasks of lifting it off the desk and angling it slightly upwards towards your ears. Each side contains a midwoofer and .75 inch tweeter along with a passive crossover---it is technically accurate to call these "powered" speakers rather than "active". The right speaker houses the electronics and connects to the left speaker via standard speaker wire (included). Audyssey does not disclose the power specs of the amplification being used. Notice how I didn't mention the size of the midwoofer? That's because I'm not quite sure. The Audyssey website lists them as 3 inch drivers while the LES box claims 3.5 inch. Since the grills are non-removable I can't measure for myself.
The right speaker holds the volume knob which doubles as a power button when pushed. Next to that is a 1/8th inch headphone jack which will automatically mute speaker output when used. Power is provided by a fairly large external brick that looks as if it could power a laptop. The overall design is rather fetching---I especially like the red accents and the subtle "Audyssey" logo in small text to one side of each speaker. But between the power supply and the left to right speaker cable connection I feel like I lost a little bit of the "cool looking desktop" factor that I had seen in the marketing pics. Inevitable, I suppose.
Along with the woofer and tweeter, each speaker has a 4 inch passive radiator taking up most of rear area of the cabinet. This is said to be a key ingredient to the impressive low frequency extension---more about that later. The right speaker gets a pair of always-active inputs---one is an optical digital connection, the other a 1/8th inch analog input. I'm assuming that optical was chosen over the more common (at least in audio circles) coaxial digital input due to its Apple friendliness. I successfully played a variety of file types from 16-bit/44.1kHz to 24-bit/96kHz via optical connection and the LES never once complained.
Without ruining my review sample by irreversibly prying it open (there are no visible screws) it seems clear to me what is happening inside. Much like the UFi UCubes which Tyll reviewed priviously, the LES has an integrated DSP and DAC built in. This allows it to apply the Audyssey magic in the digital domain before converting the signal to analog and amplifying it. The LES contains an unspecified variation of Audyssey EQ, BassXT, and Dynamic EQ, all of which is to say that Audyssey shapes the sound to hopefully achieve the best results possible from this configuration of drivers and enclosure. The flip side is that the 1/8th inch analog input requires analog to digital conversion to make it suitable for processing.
All Types of Uses ... Maybe
Audyssey bills the LES as a "media speaker". The premise is that one could pair them with something like an iPad or Squeezebox Touch for a compact audio solution. Or feed them from a Blu-ray player and upgrade your movie watching experience over the standard TV speakers. Or of course use them as computer speakers. Unfortunately there are some issues that keep the experience from being ideal in some of these situations.
As I'll discuss soon enough, the sound quality and volume is adequate to support use in a small bedroom system. The problem there is lack of remote control, which may or may not be an issue for some users. There's also the fact that the 1/8th inch input requires an additional ADC process. So while a smartphone or iPad could be used as a source, it won't be ideal, especially considering that most smartphones don't even have the option of a line-out connection. In those cases the headphone jack of the phone would be used for connectivity---definitely an imperfect situation.
A bigger problem is the automatic "power-saver" mode. The LES includes only a quick start guide covering the basics so there isn't any documentation of this "feature". I found that after approximately 30 minutes without a signal the LES will put itself into standbye mode, with no hope of powering back on when a signal returns. A manual push of the power/volume knob is required to turn the device back on. Combine this with the lack of remote and the non-adjustable upward tilt, and I just don't see these being a realistic option for TV watching.
The fact remains that they work well enough in a computer setting. So how do they sound?