Many of us are working in small studios with computer audio workstations. We need a monitor system that is compact, yet full-range and accurate. Designed for just that application is the Blue Sky MediaDesk 2.1 System.
Product Points
Applications: Studio, broadcast

Key Features: Satellite - four-inch woofer; one-inch fabric dome tweeter; magnetic shielding; subwoofer - eight-inch paper cone woofer; onboard amplifiers

Price: $599 (complete system); 5.1 upgrade is an additional $599

Contact: Blue Sky International at 516-249-1399, Web Site.

Plus

+ Smooth and realistic

+ Tight, full bass

+ High value

+ Good detail and sharp imaging

+ Compact

Minus:

- Extreme deep bass is weak.

- Slightly warm-sounding near surfaces (but this is easy to get used to).

- Distorts at high volume.

Features

The MediaDesk features two tiny satellite speakers, one eight-inch subwoofer and a bass management system (crossover). Power amps built into the subwoofer cabinet drive the satellites and sub.

You can easily upgrade to a 5.1 surround system by adding three more Blue Sky satellites, a three-channel amplifier module, and a remote calibration/volume control.

Blue Sky's design philosophy is to provide the most performance for the cost - the highest value. That philosophy applies to every speaker model in their line. This system is a professional monitoring solution for music, film, post, TV, video game content creation and home video editing.

Each satellite speaker is very compact and lightweight: just 9.5 inches x 6.25 inches x 6.25 inches (HWD) and 5 pounds. Finished in satin gray lacquer, the cabinet walls are made of 3/4-inch MDF with a one-inch front baffle. This baffle has rounded edges to reduce diffraction and smooth the response. I was impressed by the sleek, attractive styling and solid construction.

In each sealed-box satellite is a four-inch cast-frame hemispherical woofer, crossing over at 2 kHz to a one-inch fabric-dome tweeter. Both drivers are shielded and use neodymium magnets for high sensitivity. Each satellite works down to 110 Hz. On the back is an insert for attaching two BT Technologies BT-5 brackets. On the bottom is a insert for an OmniMount 10 Series mount.

Designed for use near computer workstations, each satellite can be mounted on a desktop, wall, mic stand or shelf. When mounted on a shelf, the speakers can be tilted five degrees up, straight ahead or five degrees down with the aid of the included Angle Adjustment Foot.

The subwoofer driver has a front-facing eight-inch coated paper cone with a foam surround. Also in the sub cabinet is an I/O panel and power amplifiers that provide 55 watts for each satellite and 65 watts for the sub. The unit measures 16 inches x 14 inches x 15 inches (HWD) including heatsink and grille, and weighs 45 pounds. Inserts on the bottom let you attach the included spiked isolation feet.

On the rear of the sub cabinet is an I/O panel with these features: XLR left and right analog inputs, RCA left and right analog inputs, system gain knob, sub gain knob, 2.1/5.1 mode switch, input attenuator switch for the XLR inputs, 115V/230VAC selector switch, power switch, fuse, gold-plated binding post outputs for the satellites and an XLR line level output for additional subs. The inputs connect to your mixer monitor outputs, audio interface outputs, or sound card line output (with an adapter cable, not included).

As for manufacturer's specs, the anechoic frequency response of the complete system is 35 Hz to 20 kHz ±3 dB. Short-term power output for the satellites, with two channels driven, is 55 watts per channel at <0.05% THD into 4 ohms at 1 kHz. Short-term power for the sub is 65 watts at < 0.05% THD into 4 ohms at 50 Hz. The bass management crossover features a 4th-order 110 Hz Linkwitz-Riley low-pass filter for the sub and a 2nd-order 110 Hz high-pass filter for the satellites. Maximum input level is +12/+24 dBu balanced (set by the input attenuator) or +14 dBu unbalanced.

The user manual is clear and thorough, offering tips on setup, signal connections and level settings, controls and connectors, mounting and placement, and specifications. It also helps the user calibrate the system with an SPL meter and Blue Sky's downloadable test signals (an 18 MB zip file from their website).

In Use

I found the MediaDesk system easy to set up. Just plug your audio source outputs into the inputs on the sub, connect the satellites, and set levels. I placed the satellites on stands just behind my workstation desk, 2.5 feet from the rear of the speakers to an absorbent wall behind them. The satellites needed to be placed far from adjacent walls to avoid a mid-bass buildup. They were at ear height and toed-in to aim at me. I placed the sub under the desk and adjusted its level by ear until it sounded balanced with the satellites. Here are my impressions of the MediaDesk system reproducing some musical instruments:

Drums: Clear and smooth.

Kick drum: Tight. Good but not aggressive attack. A bass-drum roll is very audible, but is not ultra deep.

Cymbals and percussion: Smooth, delicate and sweet, with extended high frequencies.

Piano: Mostly uncolored. Slightly warm, not metallic or harsh. Clear and detailed note attacks.

Electric guitar: Rock electric guitar sound has both warmth and "bite". Jazz electric guitar sounds a little puffy in the midbass.

Electric bass: Fairly deep and tight. Full. Well balanced with the rest of the audio range. Uniform loudness of notes. Very deep notes are slightly weak (maybe with some frequency doubling). Slight midbass emphasis.

Acoustic bass: Full but not overwhelming. Tight and well controlled.

Acoustic guitar: Gentle and delicate. Very pretty.

Sax: Realistic. Pleasantly warm and mellow. Edge or breathiness is somewhat muted.

Strings, brass and woodwinds: Natural timbres. No harshness.

Flute: Natural, with a realistic amount of breathiness.

Voice: "Human" sounding. Not too much sibilance unless the voice was recorded with a high-frequency boost.

I did some mixes with the MediaDesk speakers. They were comfortable to work with and easy on the ears. Generally the mixes translated well to other speakers but sounded slightly harsh on some monitors.

Overall, these Blue Sky MediaDesk monitors sound very much like the Blue Sky ProDesk system reviewed a few months ago in PAR. Both models sound musical and pleasant. MediaDesk has slightly less resolution of reverb detail than Blue Sky's more expensive ProDesk. Imaging and depth are good. At high volume levels (above about 92 dB SPL, C-weighted, fast ballistics) the MediaDesk speakers start to sound grungy or distorted.

Bench Measurements

Figure 1 shows the anechoic frequency response of the Blue Sky MediaDesk 2.1 system. The satellites were measured in full space, while the sub was measured on the floor in half space. The system is nearly flat, ±3 dB from 45 Hz to 17 kHz. There's a small rise around 2.6 kHz, which was not audible in the listening tests. Note that the mid-bass response would increase if the satellites were measured near a large surface such as a table top or wall. For this reason, you might not want to place the satellites directly on a desktop.

Not shown is the response at 30 degrees off-axis. It is within 2.5 dB of the front response up to 11.5 kHz.

Figure 2 shows the Energy Time Curve of a satellite speaker. The direct-sound spike is sharp, and delayed vibrations are down 22 dB or more. This sharp transient response correlates with the system's fine sense of detail.

Figure 3 shows the Total Harmonic Distortion vs. frequency of the subwoofer (from 20 Hz to 100 Hz) and the satellite (from 120 Hz to 800 Hz). THD is inaudible except at 80 Hz and below.

Summary

The Blue Sky MediaDesk 2.1 monitors sound full-range and refined, like an audiophile speaker system. Measurements show a smooth response and very good transient response. At moderate listening levels, the system is clear and non-fatiguing. Resolution of detail is good. Near large surfaces, its sound becomes slightly warm in the upper bass but this is not judged to be a problem. Although the lowest bass notes lack weight, this might be an anomaly of my control room. Or it might be due to the harmonic distortion of the sub at very low frequencies.

Like many small speaker systems, the MediaDesk system strains when it plays loud. Distortion at high levels is a compromise of small drivers. The MediaDesk system starts to distort audibly above about 92 dB SPL. But as long as you don't push it too hard, it sounds fine.

These are not your usual multimedia speakers. Blue Sky's MediaDesk 2.1 monitors bring studio-quality sound to desktop audio production. And if you want to upgrade to a surround system in the future, their 5.1 upgrade kit makes it easy.

Review Setup

NHT Pro A20 monitors; Sony PCM-R300 DAT recorder; Alesis HD24XR multitrack recorder; Philips CD 910 compact disc player; Mackie 1604VLZ mixer; Echo Mia sound card; Goldline TEF-20 sound analyzer; Crown CM-150 measurement microphone.