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TASCAM VL-S21 Monitors

Surprisingly accurate sound from an entry-level 2.1 system with a small footprint By Frank Moldstad

Welcome to 2.1 monitoring
TASCAM's VL-S21 speaker system (MSRP $129) uses two flat panel satellites and a 15-watt subwoofer to produce a a big sound from a small package. Measuring just 2.4 inches deep and 8.9 inches tall, the two 5-watt satellites employ NXT technology to disperse sound over a 180 degree listening area -- far wider than conventional cone speakers. Combined with the subwoofer's ample power, the system has plenty of volume to fill an average-sized room.

Since these are powered speakers, any sound source can be directly connected -- from DVD players to computer sound cards. Space-challenged apartment or dorm dwellers can even hang the satellites on the wall. They weigh little more than a pound and are equipped with hooks on the rear. The sub, measuring 6.3 inches wide, 9.2 inches tall and 3 inches deep, can be tucked neatly away under a table

Marketed as an entry-level monitoring system for home recordists, the system has a flatter response than computer or multimedia speakers that are voiced to hype the bass and punch up the treble for movie viewing. The NXT technology drivers are designed for wide dispersion, uniform  loudness and reduced room interaction. TASCAM says that a single NXT driver "covers a wider range than traditional drivers, reducing the phase distortion caused by using multiple drivers and crossovers."

Connections are easy. A stereo phono line out from the playback device goes to the subwoofer, and two mono cables (included) go from the sub to each satellite. The satellites look sharp with a sliver grille set in a black frame, and the sub has a mysterious glowing blue light for the front power switch. The system volume control is on the rear of the sub.

When I first hooked the system up I was unsure what to expect, so I turned the volume up about three quarters of the way. Big mistake. I almost leaped out of my chair for the volume control. If you think two 5-watt speakers and a 15-watt sub can't be loud, think again.

One of the first things you notice with these speakers is how wide the sweet spot is, especially if you extend the satellites to the end of their 10-foot cables. Because of that, you get a real sense of what's going on with panning in a mix. Although they don't have the imaging and depth of $5,000 professional monitors, they provide accurate feedback so that you can make good mixing decisions. To confirm this, I hooked them up to a DAW workstation and remixed the raw files from a recent session I had done. I was surprised how well the mix translated to a home stereo -- just like I had intended it to sound.

If you've never mixed with a subwoofer, it will take some adjustment at first. You'll hear a lot more low end information than you're used to, and you may be tempted to pull back on the bass. But with experimentation you can easily learn how to balance the relative levels, and the end result will be far superior to what you'd get by trying to guess what the bass is doing when monitoring on hyped-up home stereo speakers. One thing is for sure, you'll really hear the bass with this system. One caveat: if you're dealing with a lot of subsonic material, you won't hear anything below about 50Hz, because that's where the sub cuts out. But this is something mixers deal with all the time. For instance, one of the most popular professional monitoring systems (now discontinued) are Yamaha NS-10 speakers, which roll off at 60Hz. Many hit records have been mixed on those. It's all a matter of knowing how your speakers translate.

Considering the price and the performance, these speakers are an excellent value, and a good choice for your first real monitoring system. My only real quibble with them is that the master volume control is on the back of the sub, which is rather inconvenient. It would also be nice to have individual level controls for the sub and the satellites, but since the whole system is tuned to a good relative balance it's not really a problem.

If I was searching for entry-level monitors, I'd be happy to find the VL-S21 system. And I'd recommend it to anyone seeking accurate monitors for a budget price. They're available now through major pro audio retailers.

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Related Keywords:Tascam, VL-S21, Monitors, subwoofer, NXT, powered speakers

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  • TASCAM VL-S21 Monitors by DMN Editorial at May 05, 2005 6:16 pm gmt (Rec'd 12)

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