Desktop Speaker Test - Rockin’ 9 to 5 (Part 2) : Bose Companion 20, Epoz Aktimate Micro

7/18/2013 5:57:47 PM

Bose Companion 20

Price: $300

Rating: 4/5

While smaller brands battle to get their voices heard in an increasingly crowded market for desktop speakers, Bose is a name with plenty of resonance and pedigree in the category. Speakers such as the portable and wireless Bose Soundlink have seen the company try to appeal to a younger, mass market audience, so the Companion 20 desktop speakers are very much on home turf.

Bose Companion 20

Bose Companion 20

Alongside inevitably dinky and wall-mountable home cinema speaker systems and noise-cancelling headphones, desktop speakers are where Bose has earned its stripes. And we’d suggest the Companion 20 speakers are a perfect example.

They look smart and functional. Reliable. The silver finish is typical ‘executive office’ Bose, while the wired ‘control pod’ adds a touch of flair and function, thanks to integrated headphone and 3.5mm inputs and a premium feel to an affordable product. The speakers look much more affordable up close and personal, but look the part either side of a computer screen.

The ‘master’ speaker connects to mains power, the pod remote control and to the other, ‘slave’, and speaker. There’s a 3.5mm input on the back of the main speaker as well as on the remote control unit. The remote feels great in the hand, though being hard-wired means there’s an extra cable and only so much extra flexibility in terms of placement.

A dial on top of the unit allows you to adjust the volume (it’s quite sensitive) and the top of the remote itself is a touch control for turning the speakers on and off (again, it’s sensitive – and it’s quite easy to press it accidentally when adjusting the volume). There’s no wireless connectivity or hidden features, just a simple desktop speaker system.

The Bose speakers look superb, sound good and exude a feeling of class

The Bose speakers look superb, sound good and exude a feeling of class

Impressively room-filling sound

Wild nothing’s brand of dreamy pop music seems to suit the Bose Companion 20 speakers down to the ground. Ethereal vocals are given an open, spacious presentation with plenty of detail revealed. Turn up the volume and they will fill a room no problem, sounding more powerful and dynamic than we might have guessed.

There’s certainly no shortage of bass. Listening to The xx, the sparse vocals and guitar sounds have plenty of room to breathe – but introduce some deep bass and we have issues with both the quantity – a little too much and quality a little loose around the edges. Still, we’d certainly take that over a thin, unassuming presentation.

Calvin Harris’s Feel So Close requires a little more energy, and while the bass and scale gets you half the way there, the Companion 20 speakers don’t quite have the timing prowess required to make the track really hit home. They are at the affordable end of this price group, though, so this is no disgrace.

Wild nothing’s brand of dreamy pop music seems to suit the Bose Companion 20 speakers down to the ground

Wild nothing’s brand of dreamy pop music seems to suit the Bose Companion 20 speakers down to the ground

Low on frills but high on reliable, solid sound, the Bose Companion 20 speakers are, in a way, exactly what we expected from a company with so many heritages. If you’re on a tight budget and want to keep things simple, this set of desktop speakers could be the answer.

Rating: 4/5

For: Easy to accommodate; simple set-up; clear vocals, good detail, and plenty of bass

Against: Bass can at times be over-egged; not last word in excitement

Verdict: Solid sound, smart looks and simple set-up make the Bose easy to recommend

Bose Companion 20 specs

·         Power: 25W

·         3.5mm input: Yes

·         Charging: No

·         Radio: No

·         Subwoofer out: No

·         Headphone out: Yes

·         Remote control: Yes

·         Detachable speakers: Yes

·         Battery: Yes

·         Finishes: One

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 22 x 9 x 12cm

Epoz Aktimate Micro

Price: $375

Rating: 5/5

Epoz arrived on the desktop speaker scene after collaboration between Epos, a well-known speaker brand in the UK, and an Australian distributor. Hence the Epoz brand name. Dare we say the speakers have clearly had a little more thought devoted to them than the name? A succession of desktop offerings has won us over with simple functionality and brilliant sound quality.

The Epoz Aktimate Micro is the company’s best offering yet. The speakers come in the form of a powered ‘master’ speaker and a passive ‘slave’. The former connects to mains power and then to its partner using standard speaker cable (supplied). You’ll find a 3.5mm mini-jack input on the back of the main speaker for connecting any music source, while there’s also a USB input for connecting directly from a computer.

Epoz Aktimate Micro

Epoz Aktimate Micro

On the front of the speaker you’ll find two control knobs, one for power, and one for volume. And there’s a trick up the Micro’s sleeve, or more accurately, atop one of the units: an iPod dock. Folding out of sight neatly when not in use, the cabinet opens up to reveal a standard 30-pin Apple dock: fine for all previous generation iPhone and iPod Touch devices, but for the latest-gen (iPhone 5 et al) you’ll need the $37.5 Lightning adapter or settle for the 3.5mm input.

Despite the name, the Aktimate Micro speakers are the biggest in this test, and at the limits of what we’d call “desktop”. (Although, despite their size, they walked off with our Award for the best desktop speakers last year.) They may not offer much by way of design frills, looking every bit a standard pair of speakers, but the finish is good and the bright red color (black or white are also available) makes them stand out from the crowd.

Largest cabinets here and sound it

If you want a pair of desktop speakers on a budget to get the party started, then look no further. The larger cabinets ensure there isn’t another product here that can match the Micros for scale, dynamics or absolute volume. There are bags of good quality, punchy bass, yet treble details and voices are clean and clear. The larger drivers find it easy to deliver scale alongside subtlety.

It’s timing where the Aktimate Micros really score. When it comes to a musical, involving performance, they have no equal in this group. Foals’ Inhaler is an upbeat, dynamic track, and it sounds more entertaining and more articulate here than on any rival: detailed drums and jangly guitars skip along merrily.

They’re big, but that size means superb sound – and a handy dock for Apple devices

They’re big, but that size means superb sound and a handy dock for Apple devices

The dock sounds every bit as good, provided your device isn’t restricted by lower-quality music files. Neatly integrated, it holds any compatible Apple device and works without fuss.

So what’s the catch? Well, there isn’t one really. If you want a pair of speakers to sit either side of your laptop, these are a brilliant performance-per-pound option and the best-sounding here. That said, they are on the big side, so won’t be for everyone, while there’s no added flexibility of wireless connectivity. But, provided that doesn’t matter, the Epoz Aktimate Micro speakers need to be near the top of your shortlist.

Rating: 5/5

For: Simple, functional design; good build; big, entertaining, class-leading sound

Against: Larger than average for a desktop proposition; no wireless connectivity

Verdict: If you’re comfortable with the size, then there’s no arguing with the sound

Epoz Aktimate Micro specs

·         Power: 40W

·         3.5mm input: Yes

·         Charging: Yes

·         Radio: No

·         Subwoofer out: No

·         Headphone out: No

·         Remote control: No

·         Detachable speakers: Yes

·         Battery: No

·         Finishes: Three

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 24 x 15 x 20cm

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