Edifier S350DB Speaker Review

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 | by

Edifier S350DB Speaker SystemA lot of ‘retro’ products are all style and no substance, but occasionally a company creates a new product that feels instantly comfortable and reassuring in a way that carries on past the first impression. If you own a new Fiat 500 or a Shure 55SH you know what I’m talking about, and the Edifier S350DBs may be the speakers for you.

The S350DBs are a tri-amped (150W total) satellite-and-sub mini-system with titanium tweeters, 3-inch mids, and an 8-inch subwoofer. They feature digital connectivity including Bluetooth. Their tag-line reads “Old school style, modern sound,” and that hits pretty close to the mark. With their dark wood-grain cabinets and metallic silver dustcaps, these speakers have a decidedly Modernist feel. They would look right at home next to an Eames chair Eames chair in a converted loft space. Even the quality of their build seems like it is from another era. They are weighty and have a visual gravitas. And they do all this for $299.99.

Reading Edifier’s promotional material, the phrase “modern sound” worried me as I waited for the test speakers to arrive. I worried especially because Edifier does not try to hide the fact that these speakers use DSP to control frequency response and dynamics. When I think of “modern sound” tailored by EQ or DSP, I think about the rubbery compressed bass of the first-gen iPod shuffle, or the beguiling but ultimately frustrating sound of so many Bose products. But once they arrived, it was clear that the S350DBs avoid the usual pitfalls of “euphonic” audio.

Like other EQ’d or DSP-controlled audio products, the S350DBs sound engaging and satisfying right out of the box — but unlike others, their sonic character doesn’t begin to wear quickly. There is no sense (as there is with Bose in particular) of being able to hear the EQ working. There was no point at which I could hear the amplifier sweating (as it were) to push the woofer below its resonant frequency. And, with the efficiency and extended range of the S350DB’s 3/4-inch tweeters, there was no excessive high-frequency noise like I expect from a system trying to reach 20kHz through treble-boost. A/B testing versus my Bose Lifestyle powered speakers really made this clear. I also pitted them against my Alesis M1Active monitors (also powered speakers with a 3-inch driver, 3/4-inch tweeter, and onboard DAC). They sounded remarkably similar. In fact, while the Alesis speakers sound slightly colored around the port frequency, the Edifiers do not -– although masking from the sub may have something to do with that. If I could pair the M1Actives with the S350DB’s sub, I think they would be hard to tell apart.

So, what about the claim that they sound “modern?” I would argue that they sound quite a bit better than what I think of as “modern.” In fact, they sound like an old friend. If you are old enough to remember the Realistic/Optimus micro-monitors in cast metal boxes , these speakers will sound very familiar –- except that unlike the limited-bandwidth Realistics, the S350DBs produce all the frequencies you can hear, and some you probably can’t.

Another modern pitfall the S350DBs avoid is drivers selected for trendy form factor rather than their ability to reproduce sound accurately. Honestly, if you want wacky flat-panel micro-speakers, Edifier makes those too (although even those sound far better than I would have expected). The S350DBs do it right. The 3-inch mid-driver is small enough that it does not “beam” at the frequencies it is required to reproduce, so dispersion is wide and uniform. The 3/4-inch titanium tweeter is also narrow enough that it avoids off-axis cancellations –- so unlike the ubiquitous 1-inch dome, it has a chance to actually go up to 20kHz instead of rolling off at 17k. The 8-inch subwoofer is large enough to reproduce sub-bass with minimal help from the DSP, and yet small enough to sound fast and coherent. My only quibble with the woofer is that as long as Edifier is correcting frequency response with DSP, I would have preferred a sealed sub. Both the sub and the satellites are ported, and have a very slight but audible port chuffing at high volume -– certainly no more so than any other ported system in the world (and less than many, due to their single-flared port tubes). I had hoped to see a reassuring puff of polyfill in the ports… I didn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t there. I had also hoped as I waited for the speakers to arrive that the conical domes on the drivers would be real aluminum phase plugs. They aren’t, but at this price point that is par for the course. That is the only tick in the “fake retro” box, and sonically the system doesn’t suffer for it. In fact, there is a very pleasant clarity and coherence in the S350DB system. I would not be surprised if there were some amount of DSP time-alignment going on, because neither the aforementioned coherence nor the apparent frequency response seems to change if the listener moves up and down on the vertical axis. I also tried laying the satellites on their sides, but this obscures the volume, bass and treble knobs on the side of the right satellite Edifier S350DB tone and volume controls. Incidentally, the knobs feel smooth and high quality, and the bass and treble controls sound like they add maybe +/-6dB of EQ — a classy touch that shows that these speakers are not made for frat-boys and philistines.

That brings me to my next point of contention with Edifier’s copy writers. The S350DBs are described as having an “8 Inch Booming Subwoofer.” To my great relief, there was no “booming” to be heard. The sub may not be as hermetically pure as a sealed unit, but this is where the DSP really shines. Unlike most ported subs, the S350DB’s never loses its composure. The excessive cone excursion and loss of control which I expect to hear from a single, ported 8-inch woofer trying to reproduce two channels worth of sub-bass was almost non-existent. The fact that this was achieved with DSP compression made me feel a little uneasy, but not as uneasy as I feel while listening to a woofer trying to shoot its voice coil across the room.

As an amateur recording engineer, I do not like the idea of any kind of signal modification between me and the original recording, but listening to the Edifiers made me realize that material-engineering issues like speakers with uncontrolled excursion, poor dispersion, poor time alignment, and phase shift from speaker-level crossovers all add up to a pretty heinous level of signal modification in their own right. DSP compression, time correction and EQ may technically be distortions, but they are less audible than the old mechanical distortions. These days, dynamic processing with DSP is incorporated into many very expensive powered studio monitors.

Edifier notes that the DSP provides both compression and expansion. Dynamic range expansion could be a really unpleasant feature, but in practice I could not hear a bit of it. If used judiciously (the way Neumann’s monitors do it, for instance), it can reduce intermodulation distortion. I don’t know if the Edifiers are that advanced, but given how much I like them, I’m going to tell myself that they are.

Modern electronics also mean modern compatibility. The S350DBs have optical and coaxial digital inputs, standard RCA inputs, and Bluetooth. Input switching and volume can be controlled with the included remote. The lack of USB input is disappointing, but their Bluetooth connectivity and fidelity make up for it. Being able to play music from my phone with very good sound quality and no setup or extra gear was a treat.

As someone who regularly modifies speakers, swaps components and tries all the snake oil, I was pretty surprised that these speakers made me happy. They just don’t do anything wrong. You pull them out of the box, pair them with Bluetooth on your device of choice, and you have great audio. Are they perfect? Maybe not, but they are made so well that spending extra money for upgrades or modifying them would bring you immediately to the point of diminishing returns, and in my book that means that the S350DBs are very, very good at what they do.

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