Paul White checks out what must be one of the smallest serious monitors ever.
When you're working within a desktop environment (as is usually the case when hard disk editing, composing for multimedia, or even MIDI sequencing), there's often no room for conventional monitors, and even regular nearfields are usually too bulky. The trouble is that most so‑called AV speakers are underpowered and wildly inaccurate, which leaves a problem just waiting to be solved. In fairness, compact speakers (such as JBL's Control Ones reviewed way back in SOS March '87) perform well in this role, but even they are designed to sound impressive rather than to be absolutely accurate.
Presence Audio, a British company, has identified a gap in the market for a compact, high‑performance monitor, and although there are inevitable compromises in building a speaker in a cabinet measuring 8.75 x 5.75 x 4.5 inches, the ZYP A2S monitors surprised me both in their general accuracy, and the amount of true bass end they projected. They are certainly equal to the task of MIDI programming and most aspects of digital editing, as well as monitoring in small studios.
Housed in mirror‑image, non‑parallel sided, black powder‑coated, cast aluminium cases, these two‑way passive monitors are surprisingly heavy, weighing in at 3.5 kilos each, or 4.0 kilos for the magnetically‑shielded A2ST versions. Adhesive damping panels are fitted inside the cabinets, which are also filled with long‑fibre wool. Both drivers are built in the UK: the tweeter is a 1‑inch, alloy‑domed unit, and the bass/mid driver features a solid alloy cone suspended in a soft rubber roll surround. The crossover frequency is at 3kHz, which is high enough to keep it away from the vulnerable vocal part of the spectrum. The overall frequency response is stated as extending from 80Hz to 20kHz, although as no indication is given as to how many dBs down the response is at these two extremes, the figures are pretty meaningless.
With a nominal impedance of 8Ω, the speakers can handle up to 50 Watts (again, there is no indication as to whether this is a continuous, peak, or average rating) and the published sensitivity is 87dB per Watt at 1m. What this translates to in practice is that with an amplifier rated at between 50 and 75 Watts per channel, adequate monitoring level is available providing the speakers
are set up in the near field, which, in the case of desktop operation, is unlikely to be more than three feet from the listener. Connection to the speakers is via rear panel binding posts.
I tested the monitors using an AVI 100 Watts per channel S2000 MI hi‑fi amplifier, largely because this has a reputation for exceptional accuracy. The source material came from a Marantz CD52, which, although not the most esoteric of players, does stack up well alongside more costly machines for playback quality. The speakers are optimised for use close to a wall so that the boundary effect comes into play to extend their bass performance, so I set them up on stands just a few inches from the wall and rummaged in my box of test CDs for some suitable material.
The first thing I noticed was the depth and punch behind the bass end — boxes this small have no business hitting you like that! Of course, to get such a high level of bass out of such a small box, the bass driver moves quite a long way, which is why the power handling is limited to 50 Watts, but there's still enough level for serious nearfield monitoring. As the system employs metal‑coned drivers, I was expecting a rather brash sound, but the bass/mid driver actually seems to be quite well damped, and even the tweeter sounds only marginally splashy — far less so than most of the metal‑domed systems I've heard. Overall, the sound is a touch hard, but its tightness, combined with the depth of bass, balances this out quite nicely and prevents it from becoming excessively fatiguing.
As you might expect from such small drivers, these monitors home in on every detail of the sound and deliver a very precise stereo image. The cabinets are apparently designed for horizontal use, but because the drivers are in such close proximity, this doesn't adversely affect the imaging, or restrict the optimum listening position to just one precise point in space. Even so, I still think I'd be inclined to stand the speakers vertically, even if it does mean the logo is sideways. Perhaps a rotating logo like the one on JBL's Control Ones would be a good idea?
The ZYP A2S's don't rival a good pair of conventional‑sized monitors for accuracy, but they come a lot closer than you might imagine. I don't think I've heard a better‑sounding speaker of this size, although the JBL Control Ones, which are only slightly deeper, have a higher power handling capability at the expense of a less impressive bass performance. In a desktop environment, the ZYP monitors come close to being ideal, but for use near a computer monitor, the shielded A2STs are recommended.
- Well‑balanced sound with impressive bass extension.
- Excellent stereo imaging.
- Magnetically shielded version available.
- Relatively costly.
High performance in a small package; ideal for situations where space is a problem.