Otone Audio is a new British company, based in Manchester, made up of people with years of experience in the audio industry, so you’d expect big things from their speakers. The company has created a range of desktop speakers, including 2.1 and 5.1, as well a number of 2.0 speaker systems, and we’ll be taking a look at the Afineo, the flagship of the company’s 2.0 range.
Priced at a not inconsiderable £79.99, the Afineo sits at the top end of the desktop speaker price range and for many people it will be hard to justify spending that sort of money on a mere 2.0 set up when for considerably less you could pick up a 2.1 or even 5.1 system, and that’s completely understandable. But, if you really enjoy your music and want to get the most out of it, a good 2.0 speaker system will always be superior to a 2.1 – of course, the inclusion of a sub with the 2.1 setup will mean an awful lot more bass, but the satellite speakers will struggle to reproduce a wide enough frequency range to do your music justice and as a result there will be a hole in your soundstage. By removing the sub but using a larger enclosure with larger drivers, a 2.0 set up might ultimately fall short on absolute bass but it will still pack a punch while delivering a level of involvement and clarity that a 2.1 system could never hope to match.
So, to the Afineo and the first thing that strikes you about these speakers is just how big they are – they measure 27.5cm tall and 12cm deep and they’re really substantial and weighty. While they look big in the hand and initially next to your monitor, they quickly blend into your desktop surroundings and the weight helps to add the to feel of quality. The Afineo is well built and the fit and finish of the enclosure are excellent. While the styling might be a bit dour, it’s a not unattractive looking speaker and I like the blend of matt and gloss surfaces, as well the flash of green within the downward firing bass port.
Lurking behind the large, wraparound grille you will find a single driver, which is located towards the lower portion of the speaker’s front end and considering the size of the enclosure it seems surprising that Otone has elected to use just a single driver. It doesn’t make for an especially impressive-looking speaker when you peer through the mesh and see that solitary driver tucked away and it feels like a bit of a waste of space. Otone has, however, used the size of the enclosure in order to boost the sound and bass produced by the speaker, so there’s science behind the styling.
Prior to sampling the Afineo, I had reservations about the touch panel controls, and while they are better than I had anticipated, I’m still not entirely convinced. They are responsive and I like that fact that turning the speakers on and off requires no more than a single tap of the power button. When it comes to making adjustments, a single tap will take the level up or down by one notch, while keeping your finger on either the plus or minus button will cause a rapid move of the level in your chosen direction. To alter either the bass or treble you simply tap one of them, which causes the display to flash, and you can then increase or lower the level, and if you leave the controls alone the display will flash again to let you know it is now back in volume mode. It’s fine but I would still much rather have some sort of visual reference point for the individual levels – there are 32 notches for the volume and 10 each for bass and treble levels. I know because I counted. The touch controls look and feel very modern, and Otone chose them specifically because of the current trend for touch control electronics, which is fine by me but I like to see what’s happening when I press a button and they just aren’t as tactile as some nicely damped rotary controls.
The connectors at the back of the speaker are also a little disappointing – they’re very ordinary and don’t look like any effort has gone into making them special in any way. Without naming names, other manufacturers offer gold-plated connectors at this price point and even below, and while the improvement in sound quality will be marginal, it does make you question why you should pay more to get less.
So, a mixed bag so far, but ultimately it’s the sound that’s most important and I threw a wide range of music at the Afineo to see how it performed. Otone Audio carried out some market research and found that UK consumers enjoy bass-heavy music and so the whole range has been designed to deliver plenty of bass and work particularly well with that sort of music, which makes perfect sense, but to be great, a speaker needs to be able to perform regardless of what sort of music you are asking it to reproduce and at this price point, I’d be expecting something special. Feed the Afineo the kind of music it’s been designed for and it shines – hip-hop is powerful, with plenty of deep bass, dance music is exciting and you can really feel that pounding bassline while metal has plenty of aggression to the sound and the Afineo is just as happy to pump out your favourite pop tunes, really bringing out the bass that might otherwise be hidden away. The Afineo delivers a very big, bombastic sound and it makes music exciting to listen to; it goes loud too, really loud, the bass really stands out, it’s very prominent and full-on and overall it’s a very enjoyable speaker to listen to and, sampled in isolation or moving up from a basic 2.1 system, you’d have nothing to complain about.
However, I consider myself to be something of an audiophile and I really want to listen to my music, really get into it and feel it, to be able to enjoy every layer of a song, every complex element of its structure, so I demand rather more from a speaker than most. Prior to testing the Afineo I spent some time listening to exactly the same tracks on my personal choice of desktop speakers, which sit at the same price point as the Afineo, and in this back to back testing the Afineo’s shortcomings become much more obvious. The problem lies in the use of just a single driver – Otone told us at The Gadget Show Live that this single driver is able to perform just as well as a separate driver/tweeter combo but I can’t agree. My desktop speakers feature separate woven glass-fibre cones and cloth-dome tweeters and the Afineo’s single, rather small-looking driver simply can’t match the performance of a dedicated high frequency and mid-low range driver combo. Play something complex and layered, and the Afineo sounds like it’s struggling to separate out all the different elements of the music, especially where the higher frequencies are concerned. The sound feels closed and stifled where you want to be broad and open and it’s just not as crisp as you want it to be, lacking the detail and clarity that I expect from a speaker like this, especially at this price point. And while there’s plenty of bass on offer, the Aineo can’t match the frequency range of my choice of speakers, its single driver not being able to go quite as low. Play a track with a continuous bassline that varies in pitch and you will see that while the Afineo is happy to throw all that bass in your face, it has no advantage in terms of depth and actually falls slightly short of the mark.
Having said all that, however, I still really like the Afineo and I think whether or not it’s for you depends on what sort of music you listen to and what you want from your speakers. I think it would make an excellent party speaker, thanks to its love of high volume and big basslines as well as being perfect for gaming and if your musical tastes are of the hip-hop and dance variety then the Afineo has plenty to offer you. It delivers a big, exciting sound and if you enjoy the sort of music that it’s been designed to work with, you’ll really enjoy listening to it. I want a bit more from my speakers, however, and so the Afineo doesn’t quite hit the mark for me on a personal level. In terms of aesthetics I’d like to see some visual indicators for the touch control levels, some better connectors and, most importantly, larger, and perhaps better quality separate drivers, which I think would make a huge difference to the sound. The Afineo could comfortably accommodate a twin driver/single tweeter arrangement, but even just adding a separate tweeter would open up the sound and make it a lot more capable and versatile.
If you’re looking for an exciting speaker that’s fun to listen to, will really give your music some punch and deliver a big sound then the Afineo comes highly recommended but if you’re looking for something a bit more refined that can add that extra level of clarity and detail and can really bring your music to life, you can do better for the money.