Dorm music etiquette: If you've got it, flaunt it.
I remember walking down the hall to my friend David's room and drooling over his fancy Polk speakers as they blasted Tool through the halls of Libby. He had bookshelf speakers and a decent digital receiver, but the memory that sticks out was my impression of the bass. It was LOUD!
In those dorms built with cinder block walls, two things were happening sonically. First, because a wall made of cinder blocks is massive and thick, bass waves actually do bounce back and stay in the room. Normally the stud-and-drywall approach is not massive or thick enough, and the bass just passes through like a ghost. So some speakers are voiced to give a little more oomph down low when used in normal environments.
Second, because so much extra energy was staying and building up in the room, when he opened the door you could feel the bass in your eyeballs even a few doors down. Bass energy has to go somewhere, and Tool was definitely bringing the bass.
In my last column, I listed a few local places to check for used stereo equipment. Now I want to highlight some new audio options that could bring the dance party to your neck of the woods, Field of Dreams style.
There are two ways to set up a nice desktop system, and the difference really just has to do with the location of the amplifier. Powered speakers, like the Audioengine A2+ ($249) have the amp built into the speakers themselves. When you have the amp built into the speakers, the sound can be tailored to the needs of the speaker, so you usually get a good result. And these little guys will surprise you with the amount of bass coming from their diminutive drivers. Pair the Audioengines with a cheap Chromecast dongle, and you've got a full wireless system for less than 300 bucks.
The second way to build it is piece by piece. You buy an amp or an amp/DAC (digital-to-analog converter), and then you look for "passive" speakers. And don't forget the speaker wires! One of my favorite sets of passive speakers overall right now, and not just for the price, is the ELAC B6 bookshelf speakers ($279). They were designed by a guy whose portfolio includes speakers costing six figures.
Add an amp to those like the Grace Digital GDI-BTAR512N ($145) and you've got both big sound and Bluetooth control.
In the super budget range, the Micca MB42s are very popular, though I haven't heard them personally. At $59 for a pair though, if they're half as good as advertised, they sound like a hell of a deal. These are a good option if you want to save on the speaker side to spend on the amplifier side. Create a little dorm neighbor envy of your own by adding tube glow to the mix with the Qinpu A-6500 ($249) tube amplifier. It's not just a pretty face — this amp sounds as sweet as it looks.