Q: I want to play music from my laptop and phones. The room is small to medium-sized, and I'm trying to get the most bang for my buck under $500. I have been offered a Yamaha RX-V850 receiver and could buy bookshelf speakers to go with it, or I could get a powered speaker system. What would be better?
A: This is a very easy one to answer. Get bookshelf speakers and use them with the receiver. While single-piece Bluetooth speakers or powered speakers may offer good sound with modern convenience, they don't compare to high-quality speakers placed 6 feet apart and driven by a good receiver or amplifier.
I think it is remarkable that although there are new products being introduced all the time, many of the old ways tend to be best and, over time, people migrate back to them, at least in part.
When the compact disc was introduced, many pundits said it was the death knell for vinyl records and turntables. Now, more than 30 years later, there are more makes and models of turntables available than in 1983. Soundbars provide convenience and good sound, but a surround system with a receiver and separate speakers is still king. And although zoom lenses have become very popular and get better every year, fixed-focal-length lenses still make the sharpest pictures. Even vacuum-tube amplifiers are still around and have recently entered the mainstream, with models available for less than $150.
Bookshelf speakers should really be called stand-mounted speakers, so plan on getting speaker stands, as well. I suggest you check out the M2 v4 speakers from Canada's Axiom Audio (axiomaudio.com). When I first tested the Axiom M2 speakers 10 years ago, I said that they were my favorite $300 speakers and that I kept pulling out my favorite CDs and records to hear how they sounded on them.
The M2 has gone through several revisions since then and is now the M 2v4, selling for $440 per pair (including tax and shipping). They are handmade in many custom finishes, and Axiom provides a 30-day home trial with a full refund if not satisfied.
Given the price increase (even accounting for 10-plus years of inflation), I was a little bit concerned about the value equation. It did not take long to realize my worries were unfounded. Although the M2 v4 price may have gone up 50 percent, the speakers are at least twice as good, and the sound is very noticeably improved. The M2 v4 is competitive with much more expensive speakers of similar size, and when you listen, you will never feel like you were purchasing to a price point. In a word, they sound expensive.
The sound is crisp yet smooth, with remarkably precise definition, excellent resolution and detail and satisfying fullness for a small speaker. They are not warm sounding, but neither are they cold and clinical. In addition to their fine technical performance, they successfully convey the emotion of music. I found myself pulling out my favorite records and CDs to see how they sounded, and then I had a definite sense of history repeating itself.
While I am discussing the M2 v4 and reminiscing about the past, the M2 v4 is part of one of my all-time favorite home theater speaker systems, the Axiom Epic Midi. I love the way it matches with Pioneer surround receivers. Connect the speakers to the receiver, activate the Pioneer's MCACC automatic setup system and prepare for sonic nirvana with a perfectly tuned home theater.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.