The baby of Quested's established V series provides quality monitoring even for those with limited space.
There's no getting away from it, the Quested V2104 is very small. Having reviewed quite a few monitors in recent times that approach the midfield niche in terms of size, low–frequency bandwidth and potential volume level, it was a pleasant change to set up a pair of truly diminutive speakers either side of the DAW. The story of how the V2104 came to be so tiny is apparently one of chance. A dimensional mistake in the construction of a studio for which Quested's slightly larger S6R model had been specified left the space reserved for the built-in monitors slightly too small. Rather than require the studio innards to be torn down and rebuilt, Quested simply developed a smaller monitor, and that became the V2104.
You'll appreciate from that story that Quested are not a huge corporate behemoth. If we were to go to one of the larger companies and say, "Really sorry but we've slightly messed up on our studio build and the monitors we had in mind won't fit, so can you design us a smaller one?" I think I know what the answer would be! The fact that Quested were able to offer a custom solution to a self-inflicted monitoring problem reveals the company to be a nimble and responsive one, but somewhat unusually for such manufacturers, Quested are also, in audio terms, very long established. Long–established audio companies tend either to have grown large and left their nimble years behind (much like Sound On Sound writers really), or to have ceased to exist before the 'long established' certificate arrives. Quested were formally born in 1985 when founder Roger Quested swapped his recording engineer and occasional monitor designer roles around. He'd designed the main monitors at London's DJM Studios, where he had also engineered for artists such as Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens and the Kinks, but when other London studios began to ask him to work similar magic on their monitoring, electro-acoustics took over from mics, desks and faders. Now based in deepest Devon on the South West corner of the UK, Quested manufacture a range of active and passive speakers designed for nearfield to main monitoring duties, along with speakers aimed at high-end custom–install home cinema.
To put some numbers on my earlier description of 'very small', it's 132mm wide, 232mm high and 160mm deep. See what I mean? The front panel real estate is not much more than half an A4 sheet, but even so, Quested found space for a 28mm soft–dome tweeter, an 80mm (100mm chassis) coated–paper–diaphragm bass/mid driver, a push-button illuminated power switch, and a 25mm–diameter flared reflex port. The volume level and bandwidth help that reflex loading provides is all but unavoidable for any monitor with so little internal enclosure volume and bass driver diaphragm to play with, so even though I've often made a case for the benefits of closed–box monitors, I can appreciate why, in the case of the V2104, that option wasn't really feasible. Furthermore, it's not so much the presence of a port that can play the monitoring role of Achilles' heal, it's the implementation. It'll be interesting to hear in practice how the V2104 plays the bass bandwidth/volume level/time domain trade-off. Before I get there though I'll finish describing the V2104 enclosure.
Said enclosure is traditionally constructed from MDF panels with gently softened edges and a black splatter-painted finish. Primarily thanks to its compact dimensions and consequently small panels, the enclosure feels extremely solid. I wouldn't expect much, if anything, in the way of obviously audible cabinet panel resonance. A grille, created in the traditional manner from fabric stretched over a routed MDF frame, completes the picture. I suspect that most users will run the V2104s with grilles removed, primarily because the power switch is otherwise inaccessible. I suspect also that most users will, after an appropriate period of time, entirely forget where they've put said grilles. If it wasn't for the relatively short review period I've little doubt I would have forgotten which box of 'useful stuff' I'd put them in. Speaking of boxes, I just have to mention the V2104 packaging. In unpacking quite a few nearfield monitors, I get to see a lot of environmentally unfortunate expanded polystyrene, and it always gives me pause for negative thought. Not so with the V2104. Its internal packaging is all easily recyclable cardboard and even its packing tape is paper based. Go to the top of the class, Quested.
It displays a satisfying subjective lack of any boxy enclosure colorations, and it sounds noticeably coherent and lacking in any obvious dispersion effects through the crossover region. It also reveals a very high level of mix detail that it presents in a well–focused stereo image.
Around the back of the V2104 is a brushed–aluminium heatsink and connection panel, anodised an attractive shade of blue, which carries an IEC cloverleaf–style mains power socket, a balanced XLR/jack 'combi' input socket, and a ±6dB stepped input sensitivity knob. You'll appreciate from that description that the V2104 is entirely analogue in nature with no internal DSP and no on-board EQ options. Despite the analogue signal path, however, the V2104 does incorporate some more contemporary technology in terms of its 70 Watt Class–D amplifiers. Class D, apart from often being a less expensive amplifier solution than traditional Class A/B, offers high power levels combined with extremely compact physical dimensions and minimal heatsink requirements. All three of these Class–D characteristics probably contribute significantly to making the V2104 possible. The V2104's 1.76kHz crossover frequency is surprisingly low considering the very small bass/mid driver. The low crossover frequency, and the fact that the acoustic centres of the two drivers are only 85mm apart, suggests that the V2104's vertical dispersion characteristics ought to be notably tidy.
In terms of description, there's little more to say about the V2104, so I'll move on to describe what I heard from a variety of familiar CDs and Pro Tools sessions. To begin with, the V2104 unmistakably has the aural signature of a small monitor. That, however, is not a negative observation. It's an accepted wisdom of speaker design that small ones are almost always easier to get right than big ones. With the larger drivers and enclosures that unavoidably accompany any search for extended low–frequency bandwidth and increased volume level come exponentially bigger problems. For example, bigger cabinet panels need bracing, larger bass/mid drivers can't operate very far into the mid–range, and the distance between drivers increases, which makes crossover functions trickier. As ambition increases, these factors bring difficulties that smaller monitors don't really suffer from to anything like the same degree. So, when I write that the V2104 sounds like a small monitor, I mean in particular that it displays a satisfying subjective lack of any boxy enclosure colorations, and it sounds noticeably coherent and lacking in any obvious dispersion effects through the crossover region. It also reveals a very high level of mix detail that it presents in a well–focused stereo image. I suspect that, in common with some other small speakers (the BBC LS3/5A and Yamaha NS‑10, for example), the absence of low bass on the V2104 means that upper bass and lower–mid information is left more exposed and more easily audible. It also means that low–frequency room modes are not so easily excited (and neighbours not so easily annoyed).
The underlying subjective quality of the V2104 drivers is clearly good too. The tweeter, sourced from Israeli manufacturer Morel, displays a notably smooth and undemonstrative way of presenting high–frequency detail that's reminiscent of classic BBC monitors. I don't mean to imply that the V2104 has a warm subjective balance — in fact its balance is impeccably neutral — more that it's not the kind of monitor likely to tire the ears after half an hour, which in my book is a very good thing. And the bass/mid driver? While it might look a little 'yesteryear', with its square chassis, external foam gasket, visible lead-out wire adhesion and paper cone, its subjective performance through the mid–range is impressive, with explicit clarity and a natural way with voices and acoustic instruments. However, you'll perhaps notice I wrote just 'mid–range' in that last sentence, and that's because the whole issue of how the V2104 deals with bass requires a paragraph or two on its own.
If music stopped at 100Hz we wouldn't really need nearfield monitors much bigger than the V2104. Sadly, there's not far off two octaves (some would say more) below 100Hz that can be musically significant, and the V2104 can't really play them. Quested's published low–frequency cutoff specification for the V2104 is -6dB at 88Hz. I measured the response (See Diagram 1) and got a figure slightly lower than Quested's, at around 80Hz (my measurement technique isn't hugely accurate but it's close enough for jazz). I measured the roll-off slope at 30dB/octave — the inherent roll-off of a port loaded speaker is 24dB/octave, so it looks as if the V2104 has an additional 6dB/octave high-pass filter implemented in its electronics. This all means that the fundamental of bottom E on a bass guitar, for example, will be around 30dB quieter than its second harmonic. Expressed in such raw numbers you might imagine there's no way the V2104 could work as a nearfield monitor, but of course things are not so clear–cut in practice, and even though low bass is absent on the V2104, there's still much that can be learned about a piece of a music or a mix from 80Hz upwards — not least because our brains do an extraordinary job of inferring bass fundamentals from the upper harmonics.
So in practice the V2104 doesn't really attempt to play much bass below 80Hz and to my way of thinking that was probably a wise design choice. The other option of a monitor that both runs out of power handling too soon and displays a more compromised low–frequency time-domain character (the V2104's low–frequency group delay is around 15ms, which is typical for small ported speakers) might have veered towards chocolate teapot territory. As it is, without trying too hard at low frequencies, the V2104 plays usefully loud before sounding unhappy.
Even so, there's no getting away from the fact that low bass is missing, so use of the V2104 for serious mix duties would I think demand that either a subwoofer is added (Quested have a matching subwoofer in development) or that good headphones are available to provide a sub–80Hz safety net. However, there was another option that I was intrigued to try, and that was to fire up Sonarworks Reference 4 and see what happens if the V2104 is bullied into playing more bass by the application of some significant low–frequency EQ. The screenshot illustrates the result. The light blue curve shows the Sonarworks measured response of the left channel V2104 in my room (the right channel is much the same as the left), the green curve shows the EQ calculated and applied by Sonarworks, and the purple curve shows the calculated response after EQ.
Between, say, 100 and 500 Hz, Sonarworks is primarily correcting for the room-borne frequency response anomalies. Above 500Hz Sonarworks is beginning to correct what it sees as monitor response anomalies (a curmudgeonly old speaker designer might say this is undoing all the fine efforts put into voicing the monitor). But below 100Hz Sonarworks is saying, "Whoa! This monitor has no bass, we'd better add some!" This explains the 12dB of EQ gain centred around 75Hz. The subjective result was fascinating. The V2104 undoubtedly gained some significant low–frequency bandwidth that it previously didn't possess, and in some circumstances I can imagine the result would be a useful thing to have in the monitoring toolbox.
There were, however, two major issues. Firstly, adding 12dB of gain at low frequencies when the bass driver diaphragm and port are only 80mm and 25mm in diameter respectively means that maximum volume level is compromised. So unless you're happy monitoring at decidedly low volume levels it's not going to work. The bass driver will quickly run out of cone displacement and the port will soon morph, like Jekyll to Hyde, from a carefully tuned resonance into a noisy leak. The V2104 bass/mid amplifier will also soon run out of headroom. These phenomena were audibly apparent with any attempt to play the Sonarworks EQ'd V2104 above relatively low levels with material that contained any low bass. The second issue is that I actually preferred the V2104 unequalised. With full-fat Sonarworks EQ applied, the V2104 seemed to lose some of its mid–range clarity (quite possibly a rise in distortion from driving the bass/mid unit so hard was to blame) and to my ears it actually became a less useful monitoring tool. Having said that, my investigation of Sonarworks and the V2104 was not as exhaustive as it could have been and there are many tweaks within the software that would be interesting to investigate. Employing something like Sonarworks has potential, but it can't turn a small monitor into a big one.
Along with measuring the V2104's low–frequency characteristics I also used FuzzMeasure to investigate its basic frequency response, its vertical off-axis characteristics and the presence or absence of undesirable organ-pipe port resonance. Diagram 2 illustrates the V2104's 300Hz to 20kHz axial frequency response, along with its response curves taken with the mic 15–degrees above and below axis. The axial curve is suitably flat between ±1.5dB, all the way to 20kHz, and the ±15-degree curves, as expected given the low crossover frequency and tight driver spacing, are pretty tidy. The 15-degrees above curve is particularly good. As part of measuring the basic frequency response I also checked the V2104 pair matching. It was exemplary: within a ±0.5dB window throughout the entire band.
Finally, Diagram 3 shows a frequency response curve taken with the measuring mic right at the mouth of the V2104 port. Such a measurement reveals the port tuning frequency but will also typically expose any organ pipe resonances. In the case of the V2104, the port tuning frequency is around 80Hz and, in terms of any undesirable resonance higher up the band, it's completely clean, which is both decidedly unusual and decidedly laudable. Generally, measurements reveal the V2104 to be a very well-sorted example of traditional electro-acoustic design.
Who'd have thought such a small speaker with so little bandwidth below 100Hz could work as an effective nearfield monitor? But it does work, thanks primarily to the great quality it offers above 100Hz. I can see two obvious applications for the V2104: really tight studio spaces, where not only will the V2104 fit but it will also be kinder to traditionally difficult small-room acoustics, and mobile recording rigs that need quick and easy compact monitoring (a V2104 weighs about 3.3kg). But more than that, if you accept its low–frequency limitations and have alternative wide-band monitoring available (which could well be headphones), I can't really see any reason why the V2104 shouldn't be in the running for general nearfield monitoring duties in pretty much any context. There are of course other, more high-tech solutions to really compact nearfield monitoring available, and I've mentioned a couple of them in the Alternatives box, but if a more traditional, artisan approach appeals, the V2104 is a great option. If there's any justice it ought to keep Quested busy.
The V2104 is of course not the only sub-compact active nearfield monitor out there. Products such as the Genelec 8320A, the Neumann KH80 DSP and IK Multimedia iLoud MTM would also be worth considering.
- It will fit almost anywhere.
- Very high–quality mid–range and high–frequency performance.
- Splendid traditional electro-acoustics and fine build quality.
- Absence of deep bass.
- Nothing else.
The V2104 is a rewarding example of the traditional electro-acoustic arts in a truly tiny package. Its success is all about understanding what makes a good compact monitor work, and then thoughtfully bringing together the right components to make it happen. I could easily imagine a world in which the V2104 becomes an indispensable niche tool of the audio engineering trade.
£1920 per pair including VAT.
Sound Network +44 (0)20 3008 7530
$2820 per pair.