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Unpacking and Setup

I'm always amazed at how small a container can hold so much stuff. The 418's had wires and stands. And more stands. And more stands. No, I wasn't losing my mind, there are three sets of stands for three setup solutions. Catching my eye first was the tall, slightly "L" shaped stands. Not stands really, they provide an option I have thought of many times, the "winged" monitor option. Some OEM's like IBM and HP have the option to purchase fitted speakers; fitted to the monitor that is. Affixed with double sided sticky tape, this was the absolute coolest mounting option for anyone who doesn't mind a sticky monitor if you ever change your mind.

The next, most sensible mounting option is the flat surface adapters. These will place the satellites on any flat horizontal surface and tilt them back a few degrees too. I've listened to the panels for over 40 hours now using this configuration.

The last option was one that makes no sense; wall mounts. The engineers should be smacked for this one and here's the reason. Flat panels, by definition have significant output from the rear! Hence the term, "bipolar radiator." Turn them around and the loudness barely decreases. For flat panels to breathe properly, they must be given some room, not only in the back, but on the sides as well.

Flat panel speakers are nothing new. Back in the 1950's a British company by the name of Quad invented the first commercially successful electrostatic speakers. Giant, electrified flat screen door looking jobs, these babies had to be set several feet out into the listening room to sound their best. And even though the Labtec's panels are passive units, they exhibit similar characteristics. While not nearly as sensitive as the AM radio sounding AVBTech Sonix S-2000's, they still require some breathing room, especially in the rear.

The remaining wiring and sub placement was a no-brainer and in a few minutes I cranked up my usual variety of music and 3D gaming effects.

Subjective Results

Expecting nothing more than average bass from the small and lightweight sub, I thumbed the volume halfway up and put on some dance tunes. Bump, bump, boom, boom, BOOM, BOOOOOOOOM! Now, wait a minute. Who hid the 8" woofer around here? I couldn't believe my ears; deep, fast, solid, low bass, from a tiny driver. That's what prompted me to measure the magic boomer first.

Labtec has intentionally placed a moderately strong and narrow boost in the lower bass region, far below the vocal range. Voices and other critical midrange only instruments do not take on any extra thickness or "woofiness." The effect was so well executed that when I broke for lunch, I poked my head into the local Best Buy to hear the very same set. Yup, they sounded the same and that effect stood out in the crowd. Labtec will sell a lot of 418's just from the initial gee whiz boom EQ which they dub, "Real-Time Bass Equalization."

That being said, make sure that an intentional bass hump is what you want. Listeners of classical or jazz music may not be so impressed after an hour of pre-fattened timpani and exaggerated double string bass. With most dance, rock and pop music, the effect was mostly listenable and very entertaining.

Listenable describes the satellites even if they are missing the top 10-20KHz octave. Which makes sense, considering that 200Hz and up is being reproduced by a piece of plastic with brown material affixed directly to it. My usual diet of Altec Lansing ACS-48's didn't quite prepare me for the extremely different type of sound the 418's make.

If you took a blanket or thin piece of carpet and placed it over the ACS-48's, added small room reverb and EQ'ed the highs back in (except 10-20KHz), you would nail the Labtec's pretty closely. All hope is not lost, however as the panels get the midrange right with added coloration. I can't emphasize enough that the three piece setup is long-term listenable; a feat not previously attainable at TargetPC. All music gets a mandatory live hall effect which pushes the imaging back at least 12 inches from where it would be normally. I suppose that one problem might be that if you get too used to the effect, all other speakers will suddenly sound wrong.

Summation

Let there be no mistake, the Edge 418 flat panels are the first listenable panels I've encountered. If you don't mind the intentional sub boost and the inherent limitations and restrictions of flat panel technology, have no hesitation and get a set. You'll have a pleasant and headache free experience. However, flat panel technology has many milestones to reach before the overall sound quality can approach the traditional round, paper/polypropylene drivers that permeate the sub $100 market. If you must have the best sound at the $80 price point, check out Altec and Midiland's offerings as they are sans real-time equalization.

William Yaple
05/10/00





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