Click for full Group Test
 
Tiny. Conventional, but tiny. Yes, some of the other speakers in our group (click above for the full group test) are small, but the System Audio Saxo 1 Active speakers are the smallest that look like conventional speakers. But they turn out to be able to produce a remarkable amount of quality sound from their diminutive confines.
 
System Audio Saxo 1 ActiveEquipment
Each box stands just 260mm tall and only 130mm wide and 200mm deep. Should you be of the declining breed of audio lover who likes their speakers to be visually imposing, forget about it. (Acoustically imposing? Now that’s a different matter.) They are standard rectangular boxes with a 25mm soft-dome tweeter at the top, a 104mm woofer at the bottom, a bass reflex port at the back and a removable black grille, just like a big speaker. Our review pair were in a high gloss white, while black is also available.
 
The left-channel speaker holds the amplifiers and electronics, which is why it weighs 3.6 kilograms, rather than the 2.9kg of the right speaker which is entirely passive. A 2.5-metre speaker cable is provided to link the two. Rather than separate amps for each driver, a 50W amp is shared between each set of tweeter and woofer.
 
There are two analogue stereo inputs, two optical digital audio inputs and a subwoofer output. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity. The Android-friendly aptX codec is supported. The Apple-friendly AAC codec isn’t, so iDevices will have to fall back on the lesser SBC codec.
 
Also at the rear is a USB socket, which is there principally to provide power (up to 500mA) for portable devices that may need it. The manual prattles on for a couple of paragraphs about how this switches off when the unit is in standby mode, and how you can make it provide power even in that case. Except that it doesn’t switch off when the unit is in standby! So you can ignore all that.
 
There are few controls on the speaker except for the volume knob, strangely hidden under the grille on the active speaker. Perhaps this is a hint that one should listen without the grilles in place. There’s also a ten-key remote control which performs the usual functions.
 
System Audio Saxo 1 Active
 
Performance
Connecting this system up was simple. Power, input and wire between the two boxes. The remote worked well at input selection and volume control from a reasonable range. Bluetooth pairing was equally effective and sounded quite respectable, even when using an Apple device and thus relying on SBC.
 
But I did virtually all my listening with audio fed into the speaker via optical from a Denon streamer. And I confess I spent way too much time planted in front of these little speakers, because it turns out that they’re little beauties.
 
They have one obvious weakness: quite limited bass. That’s inevitable given the small enclosure and driver, but I don’t want to overstate it, because on most music there was good upper bass and sufficient mid-bass for solid musical enjoyment. But the deep stuff was simply not there. Of course.
 
System Audio Saxo 1 ActiveThe optical input supported all my signals up to 24 bits and 192kHz sampling (which is not to say it necessarily uses all that data — it may simply take every second sample). As it happens, I have a late 1960s Aretha Franklin album in just that format, and it made for a rather interesting listen through these speakers. Normally it sounds surprisingly modern. I tend to think of the early 1970s as the point where recording quality started to become about as good as it gets, but this album had a certain smoothness about it that seemed almost anachronistic — with many speakers.
 
The little Saxo speakers, though, were quite revealing. A bit ruthless, truth be told, revealing the technical limitations in the miking that would have remained unnoticed in the 1960s.
With more modern stuff, that same revealing nature of these speakers simply showed the detail within the music, and they proved to be particularly strong at fine imaging. Stupid Girls by Pink is a busy little thing with overlaid vocals from different participants sneaking in on each other, partially overlaying something, then being overlaid themselves. Thanks to the precision of imaging from the Saxos it was easy for the ear to pull out what was going on where.
 
Moving to more refined material, Pieter Wispelwey’s cello in Saint-Saens first cello concerto was so smooth in tone and so tangible in location as to seem as though one could walk right over to the cello. Indeed, there was a certain silkiness in all the strings, including violins, in the various classical selections I played. But again and again, it was the beautiful sound-stage that most attracted me.
 
These little speakers also went surprisingly loud, although one should not expect them to fill a very large room. The volume was adjustable with both the remote and the knob in 1dB increments.
 
System Audio Saxo 1 Active
 
Conclusion
Space-saving little marvels, then, these little Danish-designed active speakers — not, with these dimensions, delving deep, but making their mark with excellent soundstaging precision. 
 
System Audio Saxo 1 Active
Price: $999

+  Very good imaging
+  Very revealing
+  Very musical

-  Limited deep bass, given their size

Connectivity: Stereo analogue audio, optical digital audio, Bluetooth
Dimensions: 260 x 130 x 200mm
Internal power: 2 x 50W
Quoted frequency response: 
60Hz-25,000Hz ±3dB