Traditional hi-fi speaker company’s slumming in the murky waters of desktop audio pays off in aesthetically and audibly pleasing sound emitters.
AS MUCH AS it pains me to say it, the hottest product categories in modern audio are those dealing with the portable and computer markets. These segments are pungent with the cash of millions of product-hungry punters, all wanting their own slice of the hippest audio brands. Realistically, there are far more potential clients at this end of the game than the traditional hi-fi market will ever have, which explains why so many conventional audio brands now also make headphones, earphones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices and computer speaker systems.
Mission Loudspeakers is another audio company that’s been unable to resist the allure of the desktop speaker category, and the Pulse speakers being reviewed here are the firm’s current top-of-the-range take on the subject.
Features & Construction
Unlike many slab sided, square box speakers, the Pulse’s are nicely proportioned units, with an understated look – the silver metal bodies and black surrounds really look the part and will easily slot into the most upmarket of desktop environments without taking up too much space. There’s also no need to have a subwoofer lurking under the desk somewhere, because this is a sub-free 2.0 speaker system.
When it comes to drivers, the Pulse’s are quite a departure from the norm because there aren’t any conventional drivers along the lines of a small mid/woofer or a tweeter in these cabinets. Rather, Mission has implemented an NXT-like 3-inch honeycomb flat panel driver, which covers the full frequency range, augmented by a pair of unpowered 3-inch honeycomb flat panel bass radiators to add some depth and weight to the bottom end. The speakers are powered by a 30-watt Class D amplifier module housed in the right speaker (a cable connects the two units, carrying both power and signal). Power comes from a laptop-style PSU with enough cable length to make speaker positioning trouble-free.
Connections include a plain-old 3.5mm analogue input, but the real attraction here is a USB input feeding the Pulse’s built-in USB DAC. This allows the computer’s own DAC to be bypassed in favour of the no-doubt higher quality unit in the Pulse. A LED on the right speaker indicates system status. The 3.5mm and USB cables are supplied and they feed into recesses under the speakers along with the power cable, which keeps the presence on the desktop relatively clutter free. A small remote control is included, which is very handy if you want to place the speakers at the far corners of a big desk, but there’s also a power button on top of the right speaker along with touch-sensitive source select and volume controls on its side, so it’s easy enough to just reach over and adjust levels as required if the speakers are close enough.
These speakers do a very good job of bringing quality audio to the desktop, and well they should considering the price tag (which is about right for high-end desktop speakers). The Pulse’s are quick, punchy and fairly detailed with a wide soundstage and good imaging – aided of course by the fact that they’re located in the nearfield environment.
Despite the absence of a tweeter, the top end is extended with no sense of a huge roll off, but there’s not quite the same amount of detailing and energy available through the treble range. This isn’t a major problem because the midrange is a real strength, sounding wonderfully smooth and cohesive – this is after all effectively a single driver system, and sonically, it does come across as being totally seamless and “all of a piece”. The Pulse’s manage to go pretty loud; certainly loud enough for any of my purposes, filling a small room without trouble, but they’re not going to crank the life into a small-scale party in the way that some powered desktop speakers can.
I spent plenty of time feeding the Missions from the 3.5mm output of my iPhone listening to Pandora and Shoutcast streams, and they excelled as small bedroom speakers, but were at their best with higher quality files from a computer. Running from my MacBook Pro via the USB input, the Pulse’s had no trouble differentiating and highlighting the different production values on the tracks on 10CC’s Greatest Hits And More CD – some of the recordings are definitely better than others, but as long as the music was playing, the Pulse’s made it sound fun. The USB input did sound better than the 3.5mm from my Mac, offering a more resolved sound with increased dynamics and detailing.
Bass levels are very reasonable for such small cabinets, helped to a degree by reinforcement from the desk surface – Mission claims a frequency response of 85Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3db), so these boxes don’t go seriously low, but what’s there is commendably fast and carries a lot of tonal information – it’s not just a muted “doof doof” by any means. Playing ‘The Watcher’ from Dr. Dre’s 2001 album proved that the Pulse’s could make a bass heavy rap track entirely enjoyable. While I didn’t miss a subwoofer at all, some will of course want more weight at the bottom and to hear more of the lower octaves, but then you need much bigger cabinets (as in mini hi-fi sized) or you need a sub under a desk, and those solutions have their own share of problems. The bottom end quality found on the Pulse’s is certainly preferable to the waffle and boom that is often part of the deal with 2.1 desktop speaker systems. Mission could have chosen to go for a 2.1 solution, but the cost of the subwoofer’s housing, driver and crossover components and the amplification would have meant that it would have been impossible to maintain the build and sonic quality at a similar price point.
Mission’s Pulse speakers offer a fine balance between looks, form factor and sound quality. There are bigger options out there that’ll deliver more in terms of bass extension and a more detailed “hi-fi” sound but the elegant styling, compact size and easy to use touch-sensitive controls of these silver stunners will go a long way to winning over the hearts and minds of buyers. Fortunately, they won’t be disappointed with the sound when they get their new transducers home, especially when the USB DAC is in use. These premium speakers are well worth an audition if you’re looking for a discreet, high-quality desktop audio package, and if you’re into your music, then you probably should be. These speakers make computer music sound better, it’s as simple as that. ASHLEY KRAMER