Desktop Sound That Satisfies
April 21st, 2010 -- by Chris Martens
Let me provide comparisons to two competing self-powered desktop systems: the Focal XS system and the Dynaudio MC15 system.
Quad 9L Active system vs. Focal XS system
- The Focal system ($600) is priced $200 below the Quad 9L Active system ($800).
- The Focal is a three-piece sat/sub system, where the working assumption is that the Focal subwoofer would be positioned beneath the desk. The 9L Active system is a two-piece desktop system. The tradeoff, here, is that the Focal sub may offer slightly deeper bass than the Quads can produce, but is also significantly more elaborate to set up.
- Both systems feature built-in USB DACs and analog inputs, and come with hand remote controls. The Focal system, however, incorporates an iPod dock whereas the Quad system does not.
- In terms of focus, resolution, imaging, and soundstaging, the Focal system is very good, but the Quad system is even better (albeit at a higher price).
- Stylistically, the Focal system is a perfect match for use with iMacs (the two products look as if they were made for one another), though the Quad’s are beautifully finished and—depending on your finish choice—potentially much more colorful (the Focal system is offered only in a two-tone silver-and-black finish).
Quad 9L Active system vs. Dynaudio MC 15
- The Dynaudio MC 15 ($1299) is considerably more expensive than the Quad 9L Active system.
- Though the two products initially seem conceptually similar, they are actually quite different. The Dynaudio is a quintessential self-powered professional monitor for desktop use. As such, it incorporates an elaborate set of EQ tuning controls designed to optimize flat frequency response for monitoring applications. Dynaudio also offers an optional matching powered subwoofer for those who wish to extend flat bass response down into the mid-20Hz range. In contrast, the Quad 9L Active package is intended more as a ready-to-use desktop audio system that incorporates “desktop friendly” voicing, which, while not truly flat in the way that a monitoring-type speaker would be, is nevertheless very engaging and listenable.
- The Quad 9L Active incorporates a remote control, a built-in USB DAC, and two analog inputs, where the Dynaudio does not.
- The Dynaudio comes standard with metal, tilt-back stands, where such stands are extra-cost options for the Quad system.
- Purists and those looking to use their speakers in true monitoring applications would, I think, gravitate more to the very accurate and revealing Dynaudio system. But that said, I am also aware that some guest listeners found the Dynaudio system to sound, at times, a bit “cold,” "analytical," or “unforgiving.” By contrast, the Quad system’s desktop friendly voicing trades away some measure of strict, textbook accuracy in order to deliver a somewhat warmer, more full-bodied, more forgiving, and more listenable sound overall. Music lovers, therefore, might potentially find the Quad’s admittedly more romantic sound more enjoyable overall than the strict purity of the Dynaudios.
The Quad 9L Active system stands as a beautifully made and quite versatile desktop-audio-system-in-a-box. The system’s voicing very specifically targets the perceived inadequacies of typical desktop systems, trading off a small degree of accuracy to achieve a warmer and more full-bodied sound overall—which is just what some listeners have been waiting for.
While the 9L Active might not be the ideal choice for purist monitoring applications, it makes a delightful vehicle for enjoying music at your desktop, while preserving many (though not all) of the virtues that have made Quad’s higher-end speakers famous. Considering its sound quality, versatility, and fit and finish, the system is also very well priced.