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Blue Sky Pro Desk 2.1

Active Monitoring System
By Paul White

Blue Sky provide their innovative speaker technology, first seen in the Sky System One, in a new and more compact system.

Blue Sky Pro DeskPhoto: Mike Cameron

The Blue Sky Pro Desk system belongs to the same family as the somewhat larger Sky System One reviewed back in SOS February 2003, the obvious difference being its lower power rating. The Pro Desk 2.1 stereo system under review here comprises a pair of two-way satellite speakers (model Sat 5) plus a single subwoofer/bass unit (model Sub 8). A Pro Desk 5.1 system is also available for surround applications, and owners of 2.1 systems can upgrade their systems for 5.1 use at a later date if they wish.

Blue Sky's approach differs from that of other manufacturers insomuch as the sub is not an add-on to extend the low end, but rather handles all the low end for the system in much the same way as the bass driver in a conventional three-way system would. The satellite speaker drivers are fed an 80Hz, 24dB/octave high-pass filtered signal via integral active filters and so behave exactly like the mid-range and high-frequency drivers in a three-way system.

Blue Sky Pro Desk 2.1 £999
pros
  • Easy to install.
  • Well-integrated bass end with deep bass extension.
cons
  • High end wasn't quite as smooth as I'd have liked, but many users might actually prefer this to absolute neutrality.
summary
A practical and affordable full-range monitoring system that should fit the space and budget of many a project studio.

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Sub 8 Subwoofer

Both satellite speakers and the subwoofer have IEC mains sockets to provide the necessary power, while conventional balanced XLR cables (not supplied) are used to connect the satellites to the sub. All the subwoofer's connections and controls are on the rear panel, along with the power amplifier's heat sink. The audio feed enters the sub on a pair of balanced XLRs and there are two more XLRs providing an input to, and an output from, the sub for integration into other systems or for driving an additional subwoofer. A gain knob controls the level of the subwoofer, with a calibrated reference position, and a computer-style connector allows an optional remote volume control (called the Functional Volume Control) to be connected, a feature that will be particularly welcomed by anyone trying to set up a computer-based system without a mixer.

Overall, the subwoofer cabinet measures a modest 13 x 16 x 15.76 inches and it sits on four screw-in conical feet. It's pretty heavy at 22kg, not least because it is built from 0.75-inch MDF with an inch-thick baffle. It is powered by a single eight-inch, long-throw driver with a two-inch voice coil and, unusually, this has an aluminium cone. The amplifier, a discrete bipolar device, is rated at 100W and in a typical room it covers the 20-200Hz part of the audio spectrum. A fabric grille covers the front of the unit.

Sat 5 Satellite Speaker

Because the satellite speakers only have to handle from 80Hz upwards, they are relatively compact at 10.88 x 6.62 x 10.23 inches, but again they're heavier than they look (11kg), because of their heavy MDF construction and integral power amplifiers. Their bases are fitted with threaded inserts that are compatible with industry-standard Omnimount stands and brackets. The tweeter has a curious nipple-like profile, described by Blue Sky as dual concentric and is, like so many of the best nipples, of Swedish origin! Its ferrite magnetic assembly is magnetically shielded, and the design utilises a soft diaphragm 0.75 inches in diameter within an integral waveguide.

Blue Sky Pro DeskPhoto: Mike Cameron

Like the subwoofer, the 5.25-inch mid-range driver has a concave aluminium cone, this time driven by a 1.5-inch voice coil. This driver is also magnetically shielded, and is driven by a 60W amplifier with an electronic crossover, though no details of the crossover characteristics are offered. Each satellite has a rotary gain control with a reference position, and the quoted frequency response extends from 200Hz to 20kHz (±3dB). When set up with the sub, that means it's possible to achieve a system response of 20Hz to 20kHz, though the exact figure depends on the room characteristics to some extent. A switch on the rear panel allows the 80Hz high-pass filter to be bypassed, allowing the speakers to be used in different systems where the bass/mid-range crossover is placed before the speakers in the signal path.

Performance

I set up the system with all the gains in their calibrated positions, and in my room this produced the best overall tonal balance. It didn't take long to find a location for the sub box that gave a nice even bass on all notes, after which it was just a matter of selecting material and listening. The first thing you notice about this system is that it has tremendous bass extension, though the bass doesn't sound deliberately hyped — it's just that everything has so much depth. Dance music engineers and producers should appreciate this especially, as it provides some insight into how the bass balance will hold up on a big club sound system. What's more, the bass end doesn't feel detached from the rest of the spectrum, a failing I've noticed in some other systems that use a sub.

Higher up the spectrum, the sound is clear and very well-defined, though perhaps just a trifle bright for my own taste. However, it's nothing too serious, and I imagine the speakers were voiced this way because a lot of people like to work with this kind of sound. The stereo imaging also holds up well and, even if you place the sub box right over to one side, there's still no sense of anything being out of place.

The Blue Sky Pro Desk provides a compact and sensibly priced solution for anyone in the UK wanting full-range monitoring in a project studio where there isn't room for conventional full-range monitors. This system behaves like a physically much larger installation and it can play loud as well as deep. You could also do worse than use the system as the front half of a home cinema surround system — I tried this for a few days and was well impressed. Because this isn't a 'two baby full-range speakers plus a sub' system, but rather a three-way system where the bass speaker just happens to be in a separate box, there is none of that lower mid-range boxiness you sometimes get from other small speakers and a great deal more bass extension than you get from most sensibly sized full-range monitors. What the speakers lack in high-end smoothness, they more than make up for with solid, dependable bass end, and the bottom line is that the sound you get is very much a sound you can work with.

 Second Opinion 
 Having reviewed the larger Blue Sky Sky System One, I was intrigued to see how its younger and smaller sibling stacked up. I found Sky System One a mildly frustrating product back in those dark winter days — the classic curate's egg. Really good in parts, especially its bass performance, but let down partly by being balanced a little too far on the bright side of neutral and mostly by displaying a distinctive and not particularly pleasant mid-range coloration. It was a shame, because the level of engineering competence and value for money in System One was impressive. I particularly liked the decision to go for closed-box loading for both sat and sub, the choice of tweeter, and the design of the bass/mid-range unit.

Pro Desk still features closed-box loading, with all the time-domain and dynamic advantages the technique potentially offers over reflex loading. It still incorporates some impressive driver technology, including the recently launched 19mm version of Vifa's ring radiator tweeter, and it's still dead easy to install and use. However, I liked it much more than System One, and if I were in the market for a compact active satellite and subwoofer monitor system I'd find it a hard proposition to turn down. Pro Desk shows no sign of the characterful mid-range that tainted System One. It's still a little on the bright side, but is open sounding and uncoloured in a way that the bigger brother could only hint at. And with bass performance and sub-woofer integration that seems even better the second time around, Pro Desk is a very competitive product — frighteningly so, I'd have thought, if you're one of the competitors!
Phil Ward

 
information
infop.gif Pro Desk 2.1 system £999; Pro Desk 5.1 system £2460; Functional Volume Control £82.25. Prices including VAT.
infow.gif abluesky.com
Published July 2003