Blue Sky does it again.
Musicans and producers already familiar with Blue Sky's tradition of packing extraordinary performance into compact packages might well wonder how the eXo2 monitoring system could possibly be an honest heir to this tradition. It is, after all, the smallest and lowest-priced monitor they have ever offered. Surely the compromises of going smaller and cheaper must take result in a steep decline in performance when getting down to this size and price point. So, when I ordered these babies for my overseas studio (because of the cost of freighting anything larger), I worried about potentially boxy or tinny sound from the satellites, and perhaps a boomy mid-bass to compensate for the lack of solid low-end performance.
When I arrived in New Zealand, and unpacked the units, I was impressed with the professional, rugged finishes on the cabinets and simple functional design of the system's features. Clearly no compromises here. The single subwoofer cube contains the two amplifiers that drive the system. One, for the satellites, and one for the single 8 inch subwoofer. Using a single stereo amplifier for the satellites midrange and tweeters is clearly one of the economy measures. The nerve center is the HUB, essentially a simple preamp control unit you can easily hold in your hand. The HUB that takes the analog audio output from a digital audio interface, or microphone preamp and directs the incoming signal to the subwoofer and satellite amplifier deep inside the cube. The HUB's two front knobs allow smooth and continuous adjustment. One knob acts as a volume control for the whole system. The other controls the relative gain of the woofer which crosses over at 140 Hz, enabling adjustment of bass output the unit to various room placements. Blue Sky even provides two generous-length speaker wires more than adequate for most small room placements. The HUB also has a mini-stereo input jack for connection for listening to an iPod or laptop audio card, as well as a headphone output. Another plus for me was that a simple red switch next to the IEC 320 power plug on the subwoofer enables the system to to be used on either a 115 or 230 volt line (used in many overseas countries).
So, does the sound qualify this small, relatively inexpensive system live up to the Blue Sky reputation? I should also say I am used to the much more expensive and larger 2.1 Blue Sky System in my home studio in the USA, but did not do a direct A/B side by side comparison. I tested the eXo2 on acoustic jazz, electronic and classical ensembles from solo piano to full orchestra. I was very impressed with the clarity and unstrained quality of the midrange sounds, and the detailed extended high end of these units. Never did the sound seem strained or harsh. Every detail in the recordings was revealed with a natural transparency and openness that defied the small speaker dimensions in front of me. As with any good speaker, the sound was neutral, reflecting the timbre and character of the instruments, rather than the speakers themselves. The bass response made a taut, seamless integration of the lower range of any instrument; whether voice, guitar, piano or cello. Even deep bass did not seem to strain this system at low to mid volumes. In a word, this system is so impressive because it delivers the signature performance goals of Blue Sky at a bargain price. In the interest of full disclosure, I am using this system in a small room, about 1200 cubic feet in volume. And, I do not listen at high volumes to rock the rest of the house. Someone who needs to do monitoring at high volumes will likely run into limitations with this system that I have yet to discover. But for someone doing monitoring for smaller acoustic ensembles, or prefers to do editing at sound levels which allow the ear to do its most discriminating work, this system is an unbeatable value. Blue Sky has once again defied convention and set a new standard of performance-to-price ratio for compact desk-top monitoring systems.