Hands-on review: Gravity Carbon 2.1 Subwoofer active audio system
Image credit: Speedlink
An active 2.1 audio speaker system upgrade for any digital device.
Advances in the sound quality of hi-fi components, coupled with the familiar outsourcing and overseas manufacture, has resulted in falling prices, delivering the perfect result for consumers. Where in previous decades ‘budget’ speakers meant ‘budget’ sound quality, now you can get a perfectly acceptable audio set-up - be it hi-fi separates, headphones, wireless earbuds, or personal Bluetooth speakers - for comparatively little money.
With price alone no longer a clear differentiator or indicator of quality, this technological shift does present a new challenge to brands. If all of your competitors’ products are made in the same Chinese factory as your own range (metaphorically speaking), exhibiting a strikingly similar feature set, styling cues and even sound, you’re going to need to clearly define your product’s USP (unique selling point).
For its latest product - the Gravity Carbon 2.1 Subwoofer active system - German audio brand Speedlink has decided that its USP is going to be a distinctive new look for a desktop speaker bundle that includes a subwoofer, creating a big, punchy 2.1 system that will dramatically improve the sonic experience of any desktop, notebook, tablet or smartphone, regardless of how good the device’s built-in speaker system may already be.
This is Speedlink’s latest entry in its rolling ‘Gravity’ series, the company having released computing/gaming products under the Gravity banner since 2006. The Carbon 2.1 Subwoofer System represents the company’s first product specifically intended for hi-fi audio use.
The three speakers comprising this system share a universal styling: ‘black carbon’, hence the name. This equates to ‘black, with a subtle all-over diamond pattern’. It does make for a visually more interesting system than just plain black, especially in conjunction with the signature crimson speaker cones. A sense of style and intentional good design - always welcome in a gadget prominently on display in the home.
Connection to your audio device can be made either via Bluetooth (the most likely scenario) or with a cable plugged into the 3.5mm auxiliary-in jack on the puck-sized desktop remote control - itself another neat USP for this system, providing a rotary dial for hands-on volume control.
There is a slightly odd physical disconnect between sitting back to admire the ‘tough’ look of the system overall and then picking up the two wood-enclosure desktop speakers, to be surprised at their lightness, as they weigh almost nothing. However, while they may not be made of reassuringly solid wood, and clearly have no ballast in them to weigh them down, as high-end hi-fi speakers often do, this doesn’t dramatically affect their performance. Wood is wood, at least, and it’s better than plastic.
Pairing with our test computer was quick and easy and we’ve subsequently left the system connected for the past few weeks and haven’t had a single problem - neither aurally nor connection-wise. The system intelligently powers down with its auto stand-by mode when not used for a prolonged period, but comes to life again in a heartbeat. The two small desktop speakers sat unobtrusively to either side of our computer monitor and we stashed the hefty subwoofer speaker block under the desk (where it also now doubles as a handy footrest).
The system’s output power is rated at 60W (RMS), 120W peak power, pumped through 2 x 3" drivers in the desktop speakers and the 6.5" speaker in the sub. This is bloody loud. For a physically modest system, the volume range on tap will easily be more than enough for anyone sitting at their computer and can also project into and fill a standard living room with sound - be it music, movie, or machine-gun game FX - should you choose to use this as your main multimedia sound system.
The sound is good and well-balanced across the audio spectrum. Another nice touch is that there are separate volume and bass controls on the sub, so you can boost or cut this as necessary. Given that the sensation of bass increases with volume, it is very handy to be able to control the low end in this way, adapting to listening conditions accordingly. Crank the system up and you might want to tone down the low end. Listening at a more personal level, a bump in the bass will help fill out the overall timbre.
Auditioning audio files from our computer, we fell into the happy reverie of many a hi-fi reviewer: sufficiently enjoying the aural experience produced by the device that we lost track of time, playing song after song, skipping from genre to genre, listening closely to parts of songs and specific instruments, in order to hear how the speakers reacted to different production styles. Current pop music, dub reggae, psychedelic rock, classic ’60s (stereo and mono), electronica and hip-hop (both old- and new- schools), the Gravity Carbon 2.1 did a credible job with them all. It’s a very ‘modern’ sound, solid and authoritative, but not brash or harsh, and pleasingly sympathetic to different tones and styles. Heavy passages were still detailed and well articulated, while delicate passages were not bludgeoned to death by sheer loudness.
Depending on the source, the desktop speakers did sometimes exhibit a brightness that audio engineers might describe as being “a bit toppy” - a certain sharpness in the upper treble range, with a hint of sibilance. To be fair to the Gravity system, this brightness was most pronounced whilst streaming media from the computer at lower bit-rates, the speakers revealing more about the quality of the stream itself than showing up any significant deficiencies in the speakers themselves.
There is no perfect speaker system: any speakers or headphones, whether cheap as chips or disturbingly expensive, can give the keen listener a fresh perspective on familiar material, revealing new information or exaggerating certain frequencies either by accident or design. It’s actually one of the curious delights in sampling audio equipment from across the price spectrum. As we said at the start of this review, it’s quite hard now to come across a genuinely bad system: decent-sounding audio gear is more readily available than ever before, even at ‘pocket-money’ prices.
What the Gravity Carbon 2.1 system offers is a powerful, full-range audio system, with quality subwoofer, that will serve any digital device you have very well indeed. If you’re looking to upgrade your home audio - whether as a primary, secondary or tertiary system around the home, depending on your needs - this should be on your list. There are a lot of multimedia speaker systems out there costing under €100, but the Gravity Carbon 2.1 Subwoofer system has the musical muscle and USP feature set to take on all-comers in its class.