Kevin Hunt: Edifier's dramatic design, sound of Spinnaker multimedia speakers




Edifier's new Spinnaker e30 multimedia speakers make a statement even when they aren't making a sound.

Luckily, the name gives a clue to its unconventional shape, like a yacht's three-cornered sail bloated with air. ("Dunce Cap," though equally fitting, apparently was not an option.)

The Spinnaker instantly adds drama and some objet d'art elegance to any desktop, but so do a lot of seductive electronics that quickly disappoint as soon as the owner presses the "on" button. Some, actually, are the complete package.

The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air, the dirigible-shaped speaker dock, is one. Harman Kardon's three-piece, see-through SoundSticks multimedia speakers with subwoofer, part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is another.

The $349 Spinnaker belongs in this class of looks-good, sounds-good electronics. Even the remote is Apple-like in its design uniqueness, a silver mini-dome topped by a black button. Pressing and twisting the pivoting dome one way or another adjusts volume or shifts the track to next or previous. The button puts the Spinnaker in standby mode, disconnects a Bluetooth connection or mutes the sound.

An LED at the Spinnaker's tip shines blue for Bluetooth, red for auxiliary input and green for an optical (digital) connection. There's not a single word, or control button, visible with a frontward glance at the entire system.

Behind the black (or optional red) grilles is a serious commitment to premium sound. Each speaker has a silk-dome tweeter and a 2.75-inch driver in the top compartment and a 4-inch driver, facing downward, for the lower frequencies. Each driver has its own amplifier with sound — so it doesn't warble, quack or distort at higher volumes — shaped by digital signal processing. An aluminum frame and internal bracing further reduce distortion, creating sound with punch.

The Spinnaker's operation, however, doesn't match its physical beauty and clean design. All connections, hidden from view, are crammed beneath the left speaker through tiny cable tracks. That's four cables, including one linked to the other speaker. It's so tight that the optical and auxiliary connections share a port, so they can't be used at the same time. It took multiples tries before I could get the optical to even fit into the tiny port.

The bass from the Spinnaker's 5.5-inch base, potent for a speaker only 16 inches tall at its pointy peak, actually rattled my desktop. In some setups, it might need some softer cushioning.

The remote changes inputs so awkwardly that's it's almost certain to confuse users. Is it press twice, then hold the little black button or is it press, hold and say "Spinnaker" three times fast to get from an analog audio source to Bluetooth? The only way to know for sure is that little LED. The remote charges, via a micro-USB port, when connected to a computer or plug-in charger but not directly by the powered speaker.

Edifier, a Hong Kong company, also makes a vague reference in the manual to one speaker not functioning when playing a CD spinning on a computer's optical drive. Edifier somehow blames the computer's optical drive. Though I couldn't duplicate the phenomenon, the pre-emptive finger-pointing is puzzling. So what exactly is the Spinnaker? Bluetooth usually suggests a mobile speaker best suited for mobile devices. The Spinnaker, despite the sail theme, is not likely to go anywhere. Edifier chose two Bluetooth profiles (A2DP and AVRCP) ill-suited to high-quality sound worth of the Spinnaker.

The Spinnaker sounds best with the digital optical connection, either connected to a computer with an updated digital-to-analog converter or via an Airport Express connected to a home network and a music library of CD-quality music files. That's why I'd prefer the Spinnaker with Airplay, Apple's wireless technology that connects directly to a home network and a computer's music library. It would handle the CD-quality files and also connect wirelessly to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, but exclude non-Apple mobile devices.

There's the ideal Spinnaker. This one, though, already has the full-sail sound and looks.

khunt@tribune.com

What: Edifier Spinnaker e30 Stereo Speaker

Price: $350, edifier-international.com

Hot: Dramatic, conversation-piece looks; excellent sound.

Not: Tight underspeaker connections. Adorable but awkward remote.

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