Hello… I am ready to replace/upgrade my 1st Generation Harman Kardon SoundSticks. I am curious what others are using and enjoying. I am open to recommendations. I listen mostly to Jazz and Classical music from CDs, Internet radio and Music (Apple Music application). I am looking for the best sound quality and above average bass. Willing to consider spending $100-$300.
Currently on my radar are:
Harman Kardon SoundSticks III 2.1 Speaker System
Mackie Studio Monitor, Black w/green trim, 3-inch (CR3)
Audioengine A2+ Wireless 60W Powered Desktop Speakers w/ Built-in 16Bit DAC and Amplifier
What are the performance differences between using USB or 3.5mm stereo output jack?
What are pros and cons to using a DAC?
Please share product recommendations and other factors I need to consider.
In 2017 I replaced my 1st gen SoundSticks with a pair of black Audioengine A2 powered monitors. They have their own DACs built in, so all you have to do is plug them into a USB port and select them as the Output source in System Preferences > Sound. They’re tiny and the sound is great, better mids and highs than the SoundSticks, and I don’t really miss the lessened bass compared to the HK’s subwoofer unit.
The units have since been upgraded to the A2+ model ($269) which also integrates BlueTooth audio, so you could use them connected to your Mac as well as stream from any other audio device - or you could just make them wireless for the Mac as well. (Since Bluetooth audio is of lesser quality than connected or AirPlay, I’d recommend connecting them to the Mac.)
They come in black, white or red, and can be purchased from them directly or from shops like Amazon, B&H, Crutchfield, etc.
Hello and thanks for sharing your experiences @bowline. I’m most concerned about that bass loss. What kind of music do you listen to? What do you notice with the lower register?
It’s a typical 2-speaker setup. Anything without a subwoofer will have less bass, period. I listen to everything, including bass-heavy r&b and reggae. But since I’m sitting 28" away from my monitors I tend not to blast anything anyway. And I customize all my output with Rogue Amoeba’s SoundSource menubar app, so I tweak my browsers (which tend to play spoken word in video) for mids and I tweak Apple Music for bass.
Like I said, I feel like I get better sound overall and the lack of bass rumble from a subwoofer doesn’t bother me.
I have a pair of Totem Acoustic Kin Minis with the subwoofer that sound fantastic. The product I have seems to have evolved into the even more versatile Kin Play Mini that has Bluetooth and is also powered. They do include their own amplification and DAC, but will also accept both phono and line-in signals from any other source you may have. (As well as optical in and 3.5 mm line-in)
DACs come in a lot of price ranges, and buying one that is matched to the gear or at least, optimized for music should improve the sound as compared to the DAC built in to your Mac. It will also affect what type of streams you can decode (PCM, DSD, MQA etc). PCM is the baseline, so anything should work for your CDs. I am listening to PCM 44.1/16 for 99% of the time, and it’s absolutely good enough IMO.
An alternative could possibly be to consider a pair of high-end open back headphones, paired with a nice headphone amp. I prefer this personally for maximum enjoyment of all details in the performances.
I bought a set of the original Soundsticks with a Quicksilver G4 back in 2002. I just retired them to kitchen duty last year.
If audio quality is what you’re after, I wouldn’t get the new Soundsticks. They plug into the headphone jack on computers. I imagine that just about any DAC into powered speakers will sound better.
I pulled my old M-Audio studio monitors out of the closet and plugged them into an even older Ego-Sys USB DAC. That’s what led to the Soundsticks getting retired. I just couldn’t go back to them.