AVB Sonix S-2000 Flat Panel Speakers
Where did AVB come from? Starting back in 1973 as Anko Electronic Company of Taiwan, they are more commonly known today as American Anko Company based in Santa Fe Springs, California. Most of AVB’s lineup includes gaming controllers like joysticks and racing wheels. As of last fall, they introduced the Sonix S-2000 flat panel speaker. This is a difficult to find setup because distribution isn’t wide spread just yet. You can find the S-2000’s at retailers like Micro Center and other resellers like Vanguard and Advantage Computer Co. Thanks to AVB for supplying the evaluation set for TargetPC’s review.
Flat panels are...well…flat. Having listened to the likes of Martin-Logan and Magneplanar, I could hardly be surprised at skinny speakers but actually removing these squashed "boxes" from the packaging cemented the idea that this was going to be a very different listening and setup experience. Of course, the satellites aren’t really "boxes" because they measure only ˝" thick. They are very impressive sitting next to your monitor. At 10 inches tall and 4-1/2 inches wide, not taking into account the mandatory stands, these seem rather imposing sitting around anything less than a 19 incher.
Lest we not forget the boomer box; the sub is an almost perfect cube with the port facing front—different. Its small size catches you off guard once again because it’s unusually heavy, about 9 pounds. Inside hides all the power supply circuitry, amplifiers and the 5-1/4 inch woofer. The rear of the sub has all the wires and plugs necessary for operation. The power plug is strangely short, about 4-1/2 feet. The other wires are much longer. The "puck" or "pickle" remotely controls the power, sub volume, and overall volume.
Inside is a new Philips amplifier chip that I’m not familiar with at all—the OM8384J. Surfing over to Philips Electronics NA, yielded a big fat zero so I have to assume that this chip is so new it’s not even in any manufacturer catalog just yet. I usually prefer to read through the data sheet for all the internal components to further gain insight as to the designer’s intent. It also lets me know how much the PR department is "fiddling" with various specifications (i.e. power output).
FYI, the satellites are rated at 6 watts each and the sub at 20 watts for a total of 32 watts RMS. The main power supply capacitor was a little small, just 6800uF @ 25V. This is somewhat offset by the large AC transformer. Rated for 24VAC output @ 1.5 amps, this multiplies out to 36 watts of input power. The entire system is spec’ed for 4 ohm operation, meaning that all three speakers have a 4 ohm impedance.
Some Assembly Required (Arrrrgh!)
Normally, all that one must do when setting up new speakers is rip open the box and place the new equipment wherever it’s gonna be used; not so with the Sonix. You have to put the stands together, otherwise you’ll have really "flat" speakers as they will be facing flat on your tabletop. So, I grabbed the two pieces each required to make them stand up and I pushed them together. A minute later, I squeezed some more. A few minutes later I was huffing and puffing still pushing the stand parts together. While they don’t have that re-assuring "snap" of other plastic parts, I wanted to be able to fit slot-a into socket-b as it were. "It’s a tight fit" is an understatement. Unless you can generate 50-100 lbs. of force, you’re not gonna be able to completely assemble these jewels.
Houston, We Have A Problem…
Within seconds of crankin’ the S-2000’s up, I was aware all was not well with the flat panels. Who stole the bass? For that matter who stole the highs? The bass was an easy (well, sort of) fix. What was so interesting was that there is absolutely no polarity marking on the satellite wires. No way for the assemblers to tell which is the positive lead and which is the negative lead. So I guess that they don’t. Hey, they’ll be right at least 50% of the time. The plug ends are RCA type plugs that fit into RCA type jacks, so you can’t merely flip the wires around—too bad, my life would have been made easier. But then, I couldn’t have whipped out my soldering gun. I wanted to see how the technology worked anyway and switching the input wires around gave me a great excuse to pop open the flat panels themselves.
What you see is a cloth covering two plastic panels sandwiched together via corrugation. A mechanical magnetic element sits at the rear center of the speaker and you’ll notice the two copper leads protruding from the bottom (look left). It’s the input wires that are soldered to the copper leads that are the culprit. As I mentioned earlier, with no markings on the wire, there is no way to tell which orientation is correct.
Even though this shot is on the dark side, you can still see the plastic corrugation that keeps the front and rear panels apart.
Very carefully, I had to cut through the goop holding the incorrectly assembled mess together. After re-striping the wires and cleaning up, I was ready to hear my handiwork.
I snapped the left speaker back together and viola’—in phase speakers! The bass was back but the highs were still a problem. You can tell severe high frequency roll-off when you crank the volume all the way up and you still don’t hear any hiss.
Ok, so the phase is now fixed and the bass thief has left the building, but what’s the deal with the highs? I was acutely aware of a roll-off of about 6dB per octave starting in the 6-8Khz range. This would put 20Khz down about 12dB, which explains the lack of hiss when the volume is wide open. While cymbals and human sibilance (ch and sh sounds) weren’t totally removed, they were hard to hear and gave the sound an AM radio type quality. Notice that I only messed with the left speaker, not the right and both units sound very well matched to each other. Mmmmmm…
Then it struck me; these are flat-panel bi-polar speakers. Sound comes out the front but a portion of the sound also deliberately comes out the rear. Turning these puppies around looks stupid, but illustrates the point. Nearly full volume emanates from the rear. How can bi-polar speakers sound good near anything? The bottom line is they can’t and they never were designed to. In all my high-end listening, all bi-polar setups needed several feet of breathing room around each speaker to sound their best. Any large object placed between the radiating pair was an absolute no-no. So I experimented further.
I moved the speakers so that each satellite had a 1-foot diameter of free space. Tada! Now, along with much-improved imaging, some high frequencies returned and that mid-rangy nasal AM radio quality completely disappeared. But wait a minute. These are marketed as computer speakers, not home stereo speakers—what gives? Basically, the very design precludes any flat panel speaker from sounding it’s best in a PC arrangement. The need for sound to radiate in the front and rear directions, in a figure eight shape, makes their use impractical. Of course, you certainly couldn’t affix these panels to a wall because the rear reflective sound would "beat up" the exposed driver material and cause output cancellation. Simple physics taking place here.
The Good Stuff
Actually, the subwoofer is an amazing piece. While not very large, it can really pump out the lows, with 50Hz not being out of reach. At a distance of two feet, I measured an output of 103-104dB SPL. Combined with the satellites, this translated into a useable sustained output of 100dB for the typical user. I commend AVB in managing this much undistorted volume from approximately 32 square inches of exposed plastic. The puck has a good feel and the controls "oozed" as if they were made of much sterner stuff.
Listing for $84.95 and selling for as little as $79.95, the AVB Sonix S-2000 is a frustrating product. Not really meant for your desktop, they can have a certain wow factor in a small home theater setup as the satellites and subwoofer is fully shielded. Because this price range is incredibly competitive, the S-2000’s face off against such giants as the Altec Lansing ACS-45.1’s and even my long time favorite, the ACS-48’s. While not a completely bad speaker, the overall sound quality and usability seems to point to pricing these in the 40 to 50 buck range rather than near the three figure mark. Therefore, I’m not recommending the Sonix S-2000’s at this time.
The above reflects S-2000 set #1. After contacting AVB, I was asked to ship the first set back and they were shipping me a new set. The first set was dated as 1999, week #9 and the second set is dated as 1999, week #38. Installation was much easier, not requiring nearly as much force to push and snap the stands together. The moment came to power them on and listen. What a bummer; they were out of phase too. All other sound aspects were exactly the same save one. There was an additional hum in the satellites. Placing my ear next to the sub enclosure, I heard no hum at all so I have to conclude that the problem lies in the satellite amp or capacitive filter housed inside. The high frequencies were noticeably rolled off and the bass still needs an extra 3-4dB of loudness to give the full "slam" effect.
What transpired next caught me slightly off guard. I sent word to Santa Fe Springs that all was not well with the second sample. After a few hours a received a phone call from the chief tester! He wanted to confirm the problem existed and talk about solutions. Well whatdya know, a company that cares—how ‘bout that! Steps are being taken to remedy all my rants and I must say I’m quite impressed. AVB appears to be committed to quality and I can’t wait to see what develops in the coming weeks.