A new approach to sound

Keeping up with the guy in the next cubicle is more difficult than ever, especially when selecting state-of-the-art sound. I tested the latest in avant-garde computer audio technology, Benwin’s BW2000 flat panel speaker system.

Flat panel speakers aren’t new—I remember seeing them in a stereo store more than a decade ago. However, flat panel speakers for computers haven’t been around as long. The BW2000 speaker system consists of two flat panel satellite speakers measuring 5.11" x 6.89" x .86", a subwoofer measuring 4.72" x 4.96" x 6.69", cabling, and a hefty AC adapter. The satellite speakers weigh only .59 pound a piece (including the cable), and the subwoofer weighs 2.2 pounds.

Despite the satellite speakers’ svelte dimensions, Benwin didn’t design these components to be wall mounted. Rather, each satellite speaker sits atop a molded plastic stand with a 3"-diameter base. In other words, the speakers occupy the same amount of desktop real estate as a standard pair of speakers, but they look a lot better.

So just how good do the speakers look? A shimmering silver material stretches across the front of each satellite speaker, and plastic stands gracefully arch to position these speakers so the sound hits you in the face. The subwoofer is elegantly sculpted and makes the speaker trio look like a piece of modern art.

But How Does It Sound?
Put to the test, the BW2000 flat panel speaker system sounds good—crisp, clear, and surprisingly loud given its dimensions. When I played a CD-ROM titled "Classical Masterpieces," the symphonies were truly symphonic. Benwin explains that standard piston-driven, or pistonic motion, speakers beam sound at higher frequencies and that the company’s flat-panel design solves this conundrum.

The literature on Benwin’s Web site explains that as frequency continues to rise, the wavelength in air reduces and becomes comparable with the dimensions of the pistonic motion diaphragm, consequently restricting the diaphragm’s acoustic output to ever narrower solid angles. In fact, the problem is so bad that actual acoustic output falls at the rate of 12 decibels per octave.

To alleviate the inherent physiological limitations of inferior pistonic speaker design, Benwin sought to develop an unconventional diaphragm that vibrated randomly across its surface rather than coherently across the diaphragm of standard pistonic speakers. To create these random vibrations, the company created NXT technology, which is based on another inhouse technology known as distributed-mode operation. In practice, NXT technology involves delivering power to "the mechanical resistance of the panel, which is constant with frequency." As far as I can discern, this explanation means the company is delivering power directly to the frame of the speakers.

According to Benwin, this design lets the diaphragm produce a maximum number of bending resonances that the speaker evenly distributes across the sound frequency. The result is a vibration that is sufficiently complex as to approximate random motion. Benwin illustrates the concept by comparing it to "an array of very small drive units, each radiating a different uncorrelated signal but summing to produce the desired output." Rest assured that these speakers sound a lot better in person than they sound in print.

Benwin has tacked the title of loudspeaker on to this system; however, each satellite speaker has a maximum power rating of only 3 watts, and the subwoofer has a maximum power rating of only 6 watts. These ratings can’t compete with my boom box, which has a power rating of 45 watts per channel. You can’t get a set of speakers to perform on a volume scale without providing some serious power. Throwing some serious wattage at the speakers would leave you with just so much confetti in the aftermath. If you’re considering purchasing these speakers and you want quality sound from good speakers, you’ve come to the right place. If you want air-sucking, ear-bleeding speakers, look elsewhere.

Gaining Valuable Real Estate
What the BW2000 flat panel speaker system needs most is a new way to mount the satellite speakers. Get the speakers off the desktop and take advantage of the thin, lightweight form factor that the flat panel design affords. Moreover, the appeal of this speaker system jumps exponentially for me if it came with adjustable brackets so you could mount the satellite speakers on either side of a monitor. After all, if I’m going to forgo having a booming speaker system and use a flat panel design in its place, I should at least get the benefit (i.e., a roomier desk) of the trimmed-down form factor.

BW2000 Speaker System
Benwin * 626-935-8888
Web: http://www.benwin.com
Price: $99.00
System Requirements: Sound card