Friday, 8 August 2014

a Black Box Approach (for HiFi and Cameras too)

I'm an engineering kind of guy and actually have a background in Sound Engineering; accordingly my choice in stereo has been influenced by a modular approach and the ability to tweak sounds (at the very least to match my room).

So it was quite a surprise to me when I bought these Bluetooth speakers at just how bloody good they were.

In fact they are so damn good that I when I left Finland (leaving many household items in storage) I posted these back to Australia because I wanted to side by side them with my "big" stereo to "see" if they were actually better (if lower power).

Well they are.

There is an accuracy and clarity of the bass reproduction which is genuinely amazing (for such sized drivers) and combined with an accuracy of high frequency rendition that left me surprised.

Yet these humble little speakers are as simple as you can possibly imagine. Use is simply a matter of plug them in, turn them on and pair your phone with it. Then your phone (or tablet) can then also act as your music center as well as all the other things it currently does.

The system has a minimal approach of having its amplifier built into the "main" speaker and then just connects to the other speaker with a cable (strangely to me via an RCA plug).

It has a tuned "reflex" port on the back to effect its low frequency responce ...

and you can see that it has only 3 (totally different thus not easily confused) connectors:
  • power
  • aux in
  • the left speaker output
On the top the controls are in keeping with the simple approach:

Indeed the only complexity is in the fact that the input button doubles as the on / off button.

That this system produces such quality sound is actually in my opinion related to the fact that the engineers could take total control of the system. They knew the amp, they knew the box, they knew drivers and thus they could tune the shitter out of it with Eq curves between the inputs and the drivers as well as tuned ports to match the entire thing perfectly.

And they have succeeded!

In fact this is not a first time for me to see this, decades ago in the 70's Phillips produced a similar system, which had integration of amps and speakers, you just jacked in your Tape, Phono and Tuner. Naturally it failed because back then HiFi was the realm of the fiddler (well and HiFi still is). However today more and more people just want simplicity and quality (the HiFi crowd poohoo this).

Perfect timing for this speaker system if you ask me.


Well unsurprisingly for my blog this leads me back into cameras (my other worldly enthusiasm) and the rumors of a micro43 fixed lens camera. WoW ... now that to me would be very interesting.

We already know how good such integrated black box (user can't alter the system) approach can be, cameras like the Sony RX1 are testimony on how by accepting a black box approach we can have the best of all worlds. I think that this image of a Leica M8 beside the Sony demonstrates ably the advantage of the philosophy.

Sure a 35mm f2 lens is not for everyone (and you can't change it) but its a really good general purpose size with enormous potential for image control. That its coupled in a compact yet full frame camera is stunning enough. However its clear that the quality of this camera system (the Sony) produces exceptional results.

Another example of this sort of "black box" synergy of tuned components exceeding the capacity of "system approach" of mix n match is found in the Sigma DP2.

Granted its not a camera for everyone, but if you take a moment to read this post (try Google translate if you need the words in English). To me that the Sigma DP2 is indeed so bloody close to a top range full frame camera, and a top range medium format camera is testimony on how effective this approach can be. Especially when you consider prices:
  • Sigma DP2 is about €860
  • Sony a7 is about €2000
  • Leica S is about €19,900
yet looking at the images presented there there is nothing like that level of difference in quality.

The same can be said of my speakers, as while they cost  far more than many Bluetooth speakers, they cost far less than even just my Amplifier.

Food for thought isn't it.

So, perhaps its time to consider the black box approach in your outfit too?


Since Steve asked a question I thought that for the sake of the interested I'd add some more information on the speakers.

The speakers are Pioneer XW-BTS5-W (I think the last W is related to White, as I see the black ones are -B). I'm not sure if they are still current models or if there is an equivalent as most Bluetooth stuff lately is expensive "single brick" style rubbish.

When I turn them off (with music playing) my phone pauses, to resume when I turn them back on again. Also when an incoming call occurs they turn off automatically and replace the music with the phone ring tones. They do not carry the phone call or have a mic (as some systems do) When the call is over it gently returns the volume to where it was.

If I leave my house (with the phone playing music) the phone pauses (when its worked out its lost signal) and if I return soon enough it reconnects and resumes playing. If I stay away too long the speakers 'shut down' in a standby mode and I have to turn them on again (whereupon the music resumes).

The speakers do not attempt to "carry" the phone call in any way, they have no mic on them to pickup my voice, so they are not (like some) a hands free alternative. I believe this is because the makers intended the speakers to be focused on delivering quality Audio around the room / apartment. My living room is 4 x 8 Meters and they provide a good music listening level but would not be suitable for "Rock the Roof" parties (where you're going to need way more Watts and much bigger bass drivers).



Steve Gillette said...

Hmmm. I am new to this blog, so perhaps I am ignorant of "the rules"...but you do not seem to name these remarkable speakers! And the photo showing the Brand is not sharp/large enough to make it out...Pioneer? I must be missing something...would love to hear these little marvels, though! :-)

obakesan said...

Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. There are no "rules" for this blog, the closest would be my philosophy.

In My View is not sponsored and there is no advertising, I don't really do "reviews" (in the sense that sites who are trying to get you to buy something do) rather (when I present a product) I present what I've seen about it and why its more important to me than other features. I also like to debunk much of the WangKing which goes on on many other sites.

The speakers are indeed Pioneer and I'm not sure if they are still current models, I bought mine over a year ago. The model is XW-BTS5-W.

If you were to click on the images they do load much larger, but again I'm not selling them.

Make no mistake, these are not going to fill a big room at a dance party but on my desk (back in Finland), or in my living room (here in Australia) they do very very well.

Best Wishes

Noons said...

Back in the 70's Phillips Europe used to sell speakers with inbuilt amplifiers. These had a sensor attached to the speaker cones that acted as a negative feedback loop for the audio stream. With the result that they were able to squeeze amazing bass and mid-range quality out of very small boxes indeed. They called them "Active speakers".
From a vague memory I recall they were also tuned bass-reflex designs.
My current speakers are 33 yr old Marantz tuned bass-reflex which have had their guts replaced with active crossovers and the best Jaycar Response speakers I could find. Not bad at all, particularly after I lined the inside with stapled sound absorbing material to avoid reflections and rattles.
But I do recall the active speaker sound and it was better!

Steve Gillette said...

Thank you, Obakesan, for the additional info. It seems possible that this exact model was not marketed in the US, although some links to purchase thru UK shops exist. I enjoyed your injunction regarding "roof top parties". Yes, I would think that to really annoy the neighbors, one would go for some much larger speakers! (Alas, our roof is too steeply pitched...)
;-) Thanks again!