At some point over the years there’s been a shift in what PC speakers look like. Many of you may remember plugging in a pair of small, often beige, units into the back of your PC (where the PCI sound card was) and pretending to enjoy the results. Over the years, built-in audio interfaces improved and external ones found their way to a more convenient location on our desks. This, in turn, led to a trend of bigger, creator-friendly, shelf-style speakers. But the rise of the home office has led to a renewed focus on streamlined workspaces, making compact speakers more appealing again.
Enter Drop, a company best known for mechanical keyboards and audiophile gear. With the announcement of its BMR1 desktop speakers, the company is hoping to re-invigorate the dedicated PC speakers category. At first glance, the BMR1 looks like it has more in common with the Logitech or Creative speakers of yore (they still make them, I know), but with the promise of the audio oomph usually reserved for larger “monitor” style speakers.
Given Drop’s credentials as a destination for audio enthusiasts, the company was unlikely to put together something you might find in the PC accessories section at Best Buy. Unsurprisingly, the BMR1 isn’t as cheap as those big box store options, either. At $129 they’re at the upper end of what more mainstream alternatives tend to cost.
That $129 gets you a pair of 15W Balanced Mode Radiation (BMR) speakers with either 3.5mm or Bluetooth input. That’s a respectable amount of audio power for this size. There’s no USB here though, as there’s no built-in interface — you’ll either use your PC’s headphone port or the outputs on a dedicated audio interface. As is the norm with this type of speaker, one is the “active” unit with the in/outputs and you simply connect the other with a (proprietary) cable for the left channel audio. Though I will say the included cable is a little on the short side and currently there’s no alternative.
Physically, the BMR1 is a minimalist affair. There are no dials for power, volume or EQ and the inputs and outputs are all hidden around the back. This will be an annoyance for those who prefer physical controls, especially if you have no alternative (such as a keyboard with a rotary or a programmable mouse). The housing is made of plastic and doesn't give the BMR1 a premium feel, which is in contrast to the company’s keyboards. The stands are also plastic which makes the speakers feel light and prone to moving about if a cable tugs on them, for example.
On front of the speakers are two drivers — one full-range BMR driver along with a passive radiator. One nice touch is that the BMR1s can be mounted either horizontally or vertically which makes them suitable for a variety of different setups, be that for your own aesthetic preference or out of necessity. The right side speaker has the BMR1’s lone button along the bottom edge for switching between 3.5mm, bluetooth and headphone modes.
Headphone mode might sound counterintuitive to have on a set of… speakers, but it’s a practical tool that passes through the audio from your PC to headphones without having to unplug the BMR1, which, depending on your setup, could be occupying the only output port on your PC. It’ll even work with microphones on compatible (TRRS/4-pole) headsets so you can take work calls without having to remove the speakers to free up that headset jack.
That’s a neat quality-of-life feature, but the main focus here is obviously those BMR drivers. In terms of volume, the 15W speakers are likely capable for most small to medium sized offices. My home office is somewhere north of 150 square feet and the BMR1 amply fills the space. They’re described as “near field” monitors, i.e. specifically designed for close proximity, but they are able to fill this room with sound without much struggle.
As for the quality of that sound, that’s a little more complicated. The BMR1s appear to perform best when their volume is set somewhere between 40 - 70 percent of the maximum. Above that, things start to sound a little strained, which isn’t unusual — especially for speakers this size. At the lower end, from mute to around 30 percent, the speakers are great with spoken word — ideal for podcasts, video viewing and voice calls. But at these lower volumes, music feels a little too muddled to my ears. It’s fine for having something on in the background, but it’s a slightly dense listening experience.
Nudge the volume up a bit, and things improve. Just north of the middle section of the volume curve is where the BMR1s do their best work. There’s still a slight lack on the low frequencies, meaning bass forward music can sometimes feel dried out. If you’re listening to rock, country, classical or any other genre where the action is more in the mid-frequencies, you can have a good time with the BMR1s, but if Hip-Hop or Drum & Bass are more your thing, then you might find yourself wanting at any volume.
The listening experience improves if you can have the speakers nearer to you. There’s definitely a sweet spot at around maybe 18 inches away. When they were about two feet away from me on my desk, Metallica’s Enter Sandman sounded fine, but a little thin on the low end, thus leaving the song’s splashy hi-hats and James Hetfield’s voice feeling a little over represented. If I leaned in a little, the rhythmic bassline and kick drums were notably more apparent.
Even with great placement, the sound from the BMR1 never quite felt as robust as I wanted it to be. I know these are PC speakers, but Drop’s pitch is that these are “ideal for movies and music” — specifically for the desktop. And while they do an acceptable job most of the time, there are definitely occasions where I notice they’re lacking, and more so than I was expecting.
It was a little surprising to see that the BMR1 only supports SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. Obviously, with a focus on PCs, the inclusion of AptX or LDAC might feel a little superfluous, but the Bluetooth functionality, to me, is more about making them compatible with your phone, too (rather than another input mode from a PC). As such, support for higher-quality codecs, even just regular ol’ AptX, feels like a bit of a miss here.
The BMR1 ships as a 2.0 (stereo) system, but it can also be used as a 2.1 with an external subwoofer. There’s a switch around the back that will shelf off the bass on the main speaker to balance things out, and this would certainly resolve the issue with weaker low frequencies. Alas, I don’t have a compatible sub, but some reports online indicate that the whole sound does present much more robustly in this configuration. The bigger issue there being, that this requires another separate spend, probably another thing to plug in and takes away from one of the BMR1’s primary appeals: a simple, compact setup.
This is something of a theme with the BMR1s: they slightly miss on some key areas. In certain, optimal, conditions, they’re really quite enjoyable. But that sweet spot is limited and not what you expect either from the brand or for the price. Some of the practical complaints like material choices, the proprietary cable and lack of physical controls feel like obvious misses. The sound profile is enjoyable but the bass is sometimes a bit lacking for certain styles of music. The price point isn’t egregious, but a shade over where it should be. And so on.
Making the BMR2 feels like a task Drop won’t need much assistance with. Most of the pre-order reviews on its own website list off similar minor annoyances. There was a lot to look forward to here, and the final product doesn’t land too far from its promises, but it does fall short enough that more demanding users — which are kinda Drop’s whole thing — could feel slightly underwhelmed.This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/drops-bmr1-pc-speakers-review-133039117.html?src=rss