Whether for work, home schooling or recording the next how i’m feeling now (opens in new tab), many of us are spending a lot more time at our home computers than we were this time last year.
Given this new normal, the time has probably never been better to upgrade the system you’re using while sat at your desk. And for many, that might begin with some aspirational browsing of nearfield desktop speakers.
Potential budgets might also have changed, what with all that added use, so products such as these Airpulse A80 active speakers don’t seem so far out of reach.
Not that these hi-res-certified speakers are restricted to your computer – their aux, RCA, USB and optical inputs, along with Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX connectivity, mean you can really play just about any source with minimal fuss – but their diminutive stature does make them ideal for the desktop.
That hi-res sticker on the front of the A80 speakers isn’t the only nod to Airpulse’s high-fidelity ambitions here: the horn-loaded ribbon tweeter is a surprising feature on speakers such as these, and goes some way to explaining the price. Airpulse is also part of the Edifier group of brands, which may also explain the presence of such technology here.
The tweeter is paired with an 11.5cm mid/bass driver, with a hard-adonised aluminium alloy cone suspended in a heavy, ultra-rigid cast magnesium alloy frame and 30mm-diameter voice coil. A subwoofer output caters for those who covet more bass than is available from speakers of this size, too.
Inside is an amplification system with Class D power from Texas Instruments and Xmos processing that promises to deliver low output jitter and ultra-low distortion.
Power output (treble) 10W+10W
Power output (woofer) 40W+40W
Frequency range 50Hz-40KHz
Dimensions (hwd) 25 x 14 x 22cm
Weight 9.3kg (pair)
Everything is handled by the right-hand side speaker, which is connected to its passive partner by an included cable. This is also where you’ll find controls for volume, bass and treble response should you feel the need to tweak those.
There is a remote control bundled with the Airpulse A80, though this is far less representative of the speakers' asking price. It’s a lightweight plastic unit that we spend the first half hour of testing trying to open with various tools in order to insert the battery. Having been impressed by the spec sheet and general build quality of the speakers, it’s a shame our enthusiasm is tempered so soon after getting them out of the box.
Airpulse has also included a pair of acoustic isolation pads for desktop use, with an 8-degree elevation to angle the drivers toward the listener. It’s a nice touch, though shouldn’t be used too long in lieu of some proper speaker support.
Despite our frustrations with the remote, we are still relatively optimistic before sitting down to give the Airpulse A80 a proper listen, especially having heard an easy-going and generally polite temperament while they were running in.
By the time we are testing with real purpose, the treble has opened up a little but there are still no rough or prickly edges to complain about; certainly, in a sense of being obtrusive, this pair of speakers is easy to listen to.
Resolution is acceptable, too. We aren’t talking incredible levels of insight, and nothing that would rival the best active speakers, but these are no budget wireless option. Paired with an entry-level CD player, for example, the Airpulse A80 would have little trouble digging up the detail they are offered.
There is something not quite right about the balance, however. Apart from the treble and mid frequencies not being quite as rich as you’d hope from a ribbon tweeter and midrange driver such as these, there is something rather detached about them too. Highs don’t seem particularly wedded to the mids, and the tubby bass frequencies don’t pay much heed to either.
It isn’t the worst presentation we’ve heard in this regard, but it doesn’t leave the Airpulse A80 in particularly good stead when it comes to organisation. Apart from that sense of detachment, rhythmically and organisationally these speakers are a bit of a mess. Straightforward beats are slightly off-kilter, while it is something of a gamble to play anything approaching complexity.
It’s not helped by the limited dynamic expression, either, or a lack of punch that has certain tracks labouring towards a finish rather than keeping us at the computer to hear a little something more. Musically, it just isn’t happening; even at half the price, this would struggle to impress.
If you want a really entertaining pair of nearfield desktop speakers, there aren’t many out there. But there are plenty of cheaper speakers that are more enjoyable than the Airpulse A80. And plenty more studio monitors that are better balanced and more transparent.
We like a lot about what Airpulse has tried to do here, but these are not the speakers to brighten up these tough times spent at home.
- Sound 3
- Compatibility 4
- Build 4
Read our guide to the best desktop computer speakers
Read our feature on how to make your computer sound better