Published on October 24th, 2014 | by Greg0
Fostex: Small Gear Offers Plenty Of Promise
For many people, speakers evoke images of big black boxes, monolithic and fairly boring. And if you’ve ever purchased a pair for yourself, then you’ve probably had to come to grips with the basic format and layout- the traditional 2.0 system (with two speakers), a 2.1 system featuring an extra subwoofer component, or more complex sets like 5.1 or 7.1. It’s not that complicated, but the laws of physics continue to dictate that if you’re all about that bass, you need a subwoofer… and if you’re all about the space, then it’s a good idea to try and minimize that as much as possible.
It’s a fine line to walk, balancing size and heft, volume and output versus weight and mass. But Japanese company Fostex has learned plenty over their four decades in business, miniaturizing and creating ever-more compact setups that still can deliver solid sound. We’ve got three different pieces of the puzzle to talk about, starting with the heart of the system, the Fostex PM-SUBmini, A five-inch subwoofer that pairs well and plays well with others, it connects to your satellites and handles the lower frequencies. Featuring a 50W digital amplifier, just plug in your RCA line connections, and you’re all set. There are crossover frequency controls (between 60/150Hz) and a separate volume control allowing you to adjust the bass to your liking (and those of your neighbors). On it’s own, it’s just a fairly basic but impressively small sub- albeit one lacking porting, which does reduce the emphasis and presence of the sound. But when paired with it’s siblings, it kicks alive, offering a solid low-end that’s essential to your audio experience.
Adding in the Fostex PM0.3 is the most obvious combination. These three-inch two-way powered monitor speakers have a wooden enclosure (not plastic), and each includes 3/4″ silk dome tweeters and a 3″ fiberglass cone woofer. Take your regular minijack or RCA stereo input, pass it into these, and then use the line-out to connect to the PM-SUBmini. At six pounds and boasting 30 total watts of power, the PM0.3 looks classy, and has the same basic dimensions as the sub, meaning that it looks great on a shelf or desktop. And there’s a volume control on the rear of the primary speaker as well. We might have liked to see removable grill covers, but love that it’s available in three colors- black, grey, and white. The subwoofer, though, appears only available at the moment in black. In terms of sound quality, these sounded surprisingly rich and warm for their size, crisp and detailed on the highs, and just a little tense in the lower registers. At $99, it’s also a very inexpensive way to add some audio heft to your computer, and you can always add on the SUBmini later!
The Fostex PM0.1, by comparison, felt just a bit too much of a compromise. Definitely cute- and only available through the Japanese site at press time though coming soon to our shores- they’re smaller still and look to be available in a wide range of colors thanks to removable grills. It’s a playful touch we hope to see come here, though again, adding designer options for the subwoofer would nice. Set at a good listening angle, they are billed as a ‘personal active speaker system’, and are also powered, though only at 5W each. What was most surprising though was the lack of a mini-jack headphone-style input, meaning you’ll need an adapter to connect to your computer (though stereo systems and some other electronics output directly to RCA, computers do not). We tried a couple of adapters, including the one handily included in the box, but found these little guys a bit too noisy and tinny- there were audible cracks and pops on occasion and most music, especially vocals, lacked warmth. Plus, they lacked range or depth, though it’s hard to be too hard on them considering their value pricing ($80 or so).