Date: July 24, 2007
Author(s): Rory Buszka
Here’s a look at a nifty speaker system that looks like it jumped off the pages of a Sharper Image catalog. Edifier’s MP300 is one of the smallest speaker systems we’ve ever seen, but can it deliver a rewarding sonic experience despite its size?
Whenever I get dragged to the mall, I often wander into stores like Brookstone and The Sharper Image, which are filled with novel gadgetry of questionable necessity and utility. These stores exist to peddle a variety of gifts for the tech-heads in people’s lives, or anyone else on your gift list who appreciates nifty tech toys. When I received the MP300 speaker system from Edifier, I had a flashback to walking the aisles of superfluous gizmos at the Sharper Image store in my local mall.
But let me back up a bit first. The story of the speaker manufacturer Edifier is a decidedly uncommon one. Edifier’s engineering and design facilities are located in Canada, while their manufacturing is located in China. Edifier doesn’t simply select models from the catalog of a Chinese speaker manufacturer and then apply their own brand name â€“ they take an active role in the design of each product, which gives them the ability to produce products that are a cut above the typical poorly-designed Chinese product that is found in the lower end of the price spectrum, and the result is a product line that offers significantly better value.
The MP300 is a more recent model from Edifier, styled as a portable speaker system for the traveling user who longs for better sound than that provided by a laptop’s built-in speakers. It’s a three-piece system that has two spherical satellites and a tubular “super woofer” whose enclosure is actually made of aluminum. The satellites sit to either side of your laptop, while the super woofer sits behind. And when it’s time to pack it up and go, Edifier even offers a padded carrying case.
Those of you who are familiar with the workings of loudspeaker technology know that small size can be a major limitation on performance. There are reasons why high-end home theater systems use large floorstanding “tower” speakers â€“ size definitely does matter, because it affects the speaker’s ability to move air. Despite the attractive styling of the Edifier MP300 system, its size could put it at a distinct disadvantage when compared to larger three-piece systems. Let’s take a closer look at the MP300 system, and see if it can serve up a satisfying performance.
The packaging of the Edifier MP300 speaker system makes a delightful first impression. It’s colorful, bright, and bilingual. Since Edifier is a Canadian company, the box is labeled both in English and in French. The quality of the carton is also impressive, with a glossy finish and sturdy construction. Chinese cardboard can sometimes be flimsy, and easily damaged in transit, but the materials quality in the packaging makes it evident that we’re not simply dealing with a product of marginal quality. Under the lid of the product box, connection and operating instructions are provided.
Inside the box sits the padded carrying case, which is tasteful and rugged-feeling. The Edifier logo is subtly stamped in the center of one side of the case. (A note: be careful not to place this case next to Velcro. I damaged the fabric surface of the case that way.) Inside the padded case are the system components, riding securely in custom-cut open-cell foam.
The MP300 system includes the two satellite speakers (joined together at the connector), the super woofer, a 12VDC power adapter, and two cables with 3.5mm stereo plugs for connecting the MP300 speakers to your audio source. The short cable is useful for keeping a tidy setup when the laptop’s audio jack is on the side or rear of the laptop. The longer cable is useful for connecting an MP3 player or a laptop whose audio jack is on the front of the laptop. The instruction manual is also enclosed.
As first impressions go, the MP300 system doesn’t make a bad one. Next, let’s look at the features of the system.
|Model||MP300||Edifierâ€™s MP series are compact speakers for portable use. The series is also populated by the MP210 and MP220.|
|System Type||2.1 Channel (two satellites and “super-woofer” LF module)||The low-frequency reproduction for this system is handled by the tubular “super woofer”, a term likely chosen because such a small bass speaker couldnâ€™t be called a subwoofer.|
|Frequency Response||75Hz-20kHz||These numbers seem more than a little optimistic, given the small size of the MP300 system, but the proof will be in the pudding.|
|Power Output||2x 2.5W RMS for satellites, 1x 9W RMS for subwoofer||14W RMS isnâ€™t a bad number for a system this small â€“ and small speakers with plenty of power can overcome many limitations otherwise imposed on them by their size.|
|Signal-to-Noise Ratio||85dB (Greater than or equal to)||The amplifier shouldnâ€™t be a source of appreciable noise infiltration.|
|Input Port||3.5mm Stereo|
|This is still the most compatible and widely-used way to connect audio devices to speaker systems in this category.|
|LF Driver||2″ magnetically shielded woofer with neodymium magnet||This is a very small driver to be considered a â€˜wooferâ€™ in any capacity, though the bandpass-type enclosure could make the difference by boosting output through its range.|
|Satellite Speaker Drivers||1.5″ magnetically shielded driver with neodymium magnet||These are also very small drivers, but the high-strength neodymium magnet systems can improve their efficiency and overall output.|
|Exterior Dimensions||151mm W x 223mm H x 245mm D (super-woofer), 92mm W x 115mm H x 90mm D (satellite speakers);||When I converted these dimensions to inches, they seem like they belong to another product. Perhaps Edifier missed this detail on their site.|
The Edifier MP300 is the smallest speaker system I’ve encountered (even smaller than the JBL Creature system), and one of the better looking as well. Let’s take a look at the features of the MP300 system.
The satellite speakers each employ a single 1.5″ speaker driver with a coated paper cone and Neodymium-Iron-Boron magnet. Wherever you see “Neodymium” magnets on a product’s feature list, the actual composition of the magnetic material contains mostly iron, with smaller amounts of boron and the rare-earth element Neodymium, which produces magnets that have approximately ten times as much field strength for their weight as the more common ferrite ceramic magnets found in the majority of speaker drivers today. Both the drivers in the satellite speakers and the super-woofer module use neodymium magnets, which improves their efficiency. The right satellite speaker has two buttons for volume control. These work similarly to the controls of the JBL Creature system; pressing and holding both buttons causes the system to turn on or shut off.
The super-woofer speaker is rated to provide output to 75 Hz, which is excellent bass extension when you consider that the super-woofer driver is only 2″ in diameter. It’s mounted mid-way between the two halves of the tubular aluminum enclosure, which also serves as a heatsink for the system’s amplifier, housed in the black enclosure beneath the tube. The super woofer also has a blue LED that indicates the operational status of the system. While the system is switched off, the LED slowly pulsates instead of being steadily illuminated. The rear of the super woofer contains all the connection jacks for the system.
The super-woofer enclosure is a “bandpass” configuration, which means that the enclosure incorporates two chambers, with the bass driver being mounted to a baffle between the two chambers. One of the chambers is vented to the outside, while the other is sealed, and the vented enclosure acoustically filters out higher frequencies that are outside the woofer’s intended “passband” â€“ the range of frequencies that the acoustic filter is designed to pass to the exterior. Because bandpass enclosures use acoustic filtering, they are inherently more efficient over their frequency range, and produce additional output through resonance magnification. Only one of the chambers is vented; the vent flare at the opposite end is simply a dummy for aesthetic appeal.
The system’s amplifier has a feature called E.I.D.C., or “Electronic Intelligent Distortion Control”. This is essentially an intelligent limiter feature that prevents the speakers from playing louder than they can do so cleanly, and the result is a system that’s very stable at higher volumes, instead of launching into ugly distortion. The amplifier itself supplies 2.5W RMS to each satellite speaker, and 9 watts RMS to the super woofer, for a total of 14 watts. This doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but when you consider the system’s size, it’s actually quite a bit of power.
For testing the Edifier MP300 speaker system, I connected the speakers to my reference machine, which employs a Razer Barracuda AC-1 sound card based on the C-Media CMI8788 OxygenHD chipset. I placed the MP300 system’s satellites on either side of my monitor, with the super woofer directly in the center. I tested the MP300s with a variety of tracks from my extensive collection of 192kbps WMA files, as well as a couple of favorite albums from my CD collection.
Train’s Drops of Jupiter album is a well-recorded album that’s a great test for audio systems. The album’s wildly-popular title track contains a variety of instrumental sounds, and is an excellent test for a speaker system’s ability to render subtlety in the background. The MP300 speakers had some trouble reproducing this track in all its clarity, due to a â€˜cupped’ coloration in the midrange, and the highs sounded somewhat rolled-off. The latter phenomenon is likely caused by the protective plastic shield over the front of each satellite speaker, which blocks some direct radiation of high frequencies, and causes some of the high frequency energy to be reflected back into the cone driver before being reflected again into the room. This caused the MP300’s satellites to sound smeared. The super woofer hung in there, and added a surprising amount of fullness and “thump” to the sound. Kick drum hits caused a tiny hurricane of air to come rushing from the flared port on the end of the super woofer.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s album The Dirty Boogie is a fine example of old people refusing to let the past die. The album contains Setzer’s signature enjoyable rip-roaring interpretations of big-band rock favorites of yesteryear, and also has several characteristics that can reveal a sub-par speaker system. Unfortunately, this album didn’t do the MP300s any favors, either, reproducing both Setzer’s distorted guitar tone and the Orchestra’s horn section with an unsettling amount of upper-midrange hash. The performance was significantly better than my Gateway laptop’s marginal built-in speakers, however. The MP300 speakers are also impressively crankable, and retain consistent sound even at maximum volume.
I also tested the system with some sinewave test tones, and found that the super woofer indeed delivered on its 75Hz low frequency extension rating, with useful output even as far down as 50 Hz. The test tone sweep also revealed that the tuning frequency of the bandpass tube enclosure is somewhere between 95 and 100 hz, since sine wave tones in this vicinity produced such enthusiastic air movement from the vent that nearby papers began to levitate on my desk, accompanied by wind turbulence noise from the vent. I spent nearly a half hour experimenting with this phenomenon.
This is a good place to mention a couple of other “nice” features of the MP300 system. When you mute the system (by pressing both buttons on top of the right satellite speaker), the volume fades out. When you bring the system back from a muted state, the volume slowly fades back to its original volume slowly instead of abruptly. The system also remembers your most recent volume setting when coming back from a muted state. These are nice touches that I wouldn’t expect to find on an inexpensive system like the MP300.
There are plenty of good reasons why you might choose a speaker system like Edifier’s MP300. If you do a lot of mobile presentations, or if you’re looking for a minimalist speaker system for your laptop, the MP300 would be an excellent fit. For their size, the MP300 speakers try exceptionally hard, as evidenced by the torrents of air rushing through the super woofer’s vent while playing music at loud volumes. The MP300 speakers are also user-friendly enough that your mom could use them. And, of course, they boast artful styling worthy of The Sharper Image.
The small size of the Edifier MP300 speakers worked against them, however. The super woofer impressed me with the amount of thump and fullness that it could add to the tiny satellites’ sound. If you need any proof of this, simply jam your finger into the bass port on the side of the super woofer so that only the satellite speakers are audible. Still, truly deep bass remains out of reach with the MP300 system. I’d consider it to be on the same level as a larger two-piece speaker system having only a pair of speakers and no subwoofer, like the Bose Companion 2 or the Klipsch Groove PM20 speakers. The visual impact of the Edifier system is a lot smaller by comparison, however, which some may appreciate. Because of the small size of the satellites, though, the sound was somewhat lacking in warmth, a common problem with systems that employ small satellite speakers.
Some of the MP300 system’s sonic shortcomings didn’t have anything to do with their size, however. The satellite speakers suffered from “TV Speaker Syndrome”, in which the sound has a distinct â€˜cupped’ coloration that may be caused by sympathetic vibration of the speaker’s enclosure itself. The slight smearing in the high end that I noticed is likely caused by the plastic shields that protect the satellite drivers from damage. Both of these things, I feel, could have been easily improved upon by modifying their design.
In the end, the Edifier speakers didn’t shatter my expectations of what a small speaker system in its price range should be capable of. The MP300 speakers aren’t high-fidelity, though they do offer a huge improvement when compared to the built-in speakers of many laptops, and for that application I can recommend them, with reservations. There are better alternatives if you’re looking for speakers for your desktop, such as the aforementioned Klipsch Groove PM20 and Bose Companion 2 speakers (which would likely offer less distortion and better overall sound quality), but these other systems aren’t designed with the same focus on portability as the MP300 system, and the included carrying case is just more evidence of that.
The Edifier speakers earn a Techgage score of â€˜7′, because while they’re well-designed, and don’t sound bad, you can do better without spending all that much more. Don’t let this give you the wrong idea of Edifier’s product line as a whole, however â€“ some of their larger products for the desktop audio market are widely reputed to be an excellent value, and very well reviewed by other sources. We hope to review more Edifier products in the future.
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