Examine the speaker ranges of most companies and you’ll find big ones and small ones in a variety of finishes, perhaps including snazzy white gloss or custom colour finishes, but predominantly normal box-shaped speakers. When we visited Edifier Australia’s website to look up these R1700BT Bluetooth speakers, we found ourselves scrolling past the most extraordinary variety of speaker models — tusk shapes and tubes, eggs and zig-zags, until further down we found the R17000BT speakers among designs that at least partly more conventional.
These are small little standmounters around 25cm high, ported at the front and leaning back about 10 degrees to fire upward, a useful lift if you’re using them on a desktop or a low TV bench. The fascia and centre section are black vinyl-wrapped MDF, but the end checks have an attractive vinyl finished described as walnut but rather redder and darker than most walnuts.
They receive via Bluetooth but also have two pairs of analogue RCA inputs on the right speaker, wired together so that both inputs will play at once if presented with simultaneous signals. You connect the right to the left speaker with a provided cable. Although there must be a DAC in there to handle the Bluetooth signal, there are no digital inputs provided.
The drivers in each speaker are a 19mm silk-dome tweeter described as an ‘eagle-eye’, and a four-inch bass driver; there’s a total of 33W per channel quoted at 0.5% distortion. You get a tiny remote to switch inputs and control volume and mute, but there are also three knobs inset on the right side of the right speaker to tweak bass, treble and volume — a very Chinese touch which we saw recently on a pair of Microlab speakers, though happily here the tone knobs didn’t introduce the buzzing we experienced with the Microlabs.
Clearly there will be limits at this price and size. We had swapped out a pair of AktiMate Minis to put the Edifiers on TV and music duties, and the missus immediately pronounced them ‘tinny’ compared with the power to which she has become accustomed, and she’s right in identifying an slightly over-insistent treble as these speaker’s main failing. But hey, the AktiMates are upwards of $700, with far more grunt and superior circuitry, so the comparison is not like with like. What is remarkable is how much the R1700BTs do get right at such a low price, though they are a little too bright, a little light on bass — frequency response was anything but flat in the lower octaves, with little delivered below about 60Hz, then a big artificial push from 70 to 90Hz and rather less from 100-200Hz.
The uneven bass could strip some tracks of support. Dion’s ‘I Read It (in the Rolling Stone)’ lost balance to emerge thin and hard, the bassline on the second half of Roberta Flack’s cover of ‘In My Life’ ebbed and flowed in level as it moved between octaves, and the low bass content of Neil Young’s ‘Walk With Me’ was entirely lost (though it seemed still to suck power from the rest of the spectrum for a strangely sucked-out result).
But they don’t not suffer the artificial processed sound of so many budget ‘computer monitor’ speakers. For most material the R1700BTs sounded musical and enjoyable, and were able to play moderately high without breaking up in distress. The bulk of test tracks held together well — Leonard Cohen’s vocal was maintained as a singularity, not separated into constituent bass and treble zones, and the zingy treble gave great detail to kd lang’s ‘The Air That I Breathe’. We kept the speaker grilles on, to tame that insistent treble a fraction, and we didn’t use the tone controls much, not finding quite the right balance — the obvious solution of bass up and treble down could bring an emphasised boom to the sound.
We would advise you to spend more if you can, but certainly these Edifiers are a good find at the price, far above the bulk of nasty computer speakers, especially the routinely awful sub-sat pairings in this market. Edifier clearly knows how to make some good cost-versus-sound decisions, and must benefit from the scaling costs available to a Chinese company which at one point had a staggering 50%-plus of the Chinese loudspeaker market. Add the fact that it also owns the impeccable earspeaker brand Stax, and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find a little bargain sitting in its ranks. As Chinese companies begin delivering ever better electronics (just watch them take over the TV market in the next few years), perhaps the better-known hi-fi speaker brands had better hope Edifier doesn’t start setting their sights on the higher price brackets.
Edifier R1700BT Bluetooth speakers
Quoted power: 15W×2 + 18W×2
Drivers: 19mm-silk dome tweeter, 116mm mid-bass