Setup and Installation
There are no drivers and no real installation involved. The M-Audio Studiophile AV 20 comes packaged with a standard RCA audio cable and this plugs into the back of the left speaker. On the other end of this cable is a conventional 3.5mm audio connection and this gets plugged into the headphone jack on your laptop.
Because of the RCA connection, these speakers are really compatible with just about anything. You can use them as part of your home stereo, for example, or even as a speaker system for your iPod. The 3.5mm plug makes the connection very easy.
To complete the setup, two other cables are involved. There is a power cord that you plug into the wall; this is one disadvantage over the smaller desktop speakers that come with your computer. The second cable is standard speaker wire (+/-) that you use to connect the left speaker with the right speaker. This is the only connection coming out of the right speaker.
I personally found that most of these cables were too short. The power cord is probably only six feet, as is the speaker wire that connects the two speakers. I would have liked a little extra length for added versatility.
Sound Quality and Performance
Each speaker has two separate drivers. There is a one-inch ferrofluid-cooled Mylar balanced-dome tweeter near the top of the speaker and a two-inch composite paper/fiberglass woofer near the middle. Around the back is a port for added airflow, providing you with more thumping and bumping. There's also magnetic shielding to prevent any sort of interference with your desktop peripherals.
Below the woofer on the left speaker is a volume knob which also turns the speaker system on and off. Behind the knob is a glowing blue light that makes for quite the attractive appearance. In terms of sound quality, it was reasonably crisp and tight for the low to mid-volumes, but when I cranked it up a little higher, there was significant distortion. I'd recommend keeping the volume at about the 40-50% range.
Sound production is also quite a bit better than the integrated speakers on most laptops and significantly better than the cheap plastic pack-in speakers for most desktops. You get 10 watts per channel for a total of 20 watts of sound production. This is roughly equivalent to small boomboxes and other stereo systems.
In the end, I found performance to be adequate, but not anything that I'd write home about. It's a step up from bargain speakers, but I wouldn't exactly call the M-Audio AV 20 Portable Desktop Speaker System a "studio quality" unit. Speaking of portable, without any concessions for batteries, they aren't THAT portable though with the selectable voltage, I guess you could take them with you if you get ousted from North America.
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