Despite the fact that I'm an übergeek, I only recently installed foobar2000 on my primary desktop machine in my home office so I can listen to all the various audio files that I have stored on the terabytes of network storage shared between my home and studio. Up until then, I listened to music on my office stereo, a Nakamichi 3-head cassette deck feeding a Yamaha amp (silverface, of course), driving B&W bookshelf or Bang & Olufsen mini speakers, depending on which part of my office I was using. Or sometimes I'd turn off the speakers and go with Sennheiser Open-Aire headphones. All early- 80's vintage. (Hey, stop laughing!) Hi-fi collectors will realize that this is very much a midrange-centric system. I love midrange. Especially when I'm listening to music for enjoyment. So when I installed a TASCAM VL-S21 monitoring system on my desk to go with my foobar2000 software player, my ears were immediately comfortable.

TASCAM chose to use NXT Technology for the satellite speakers. For each satellite, a single flat panel is utilized instead of a set of conventional cones, resulting in a smooth sound devoid of the phase distortion introduced by crossovers or multi- driver setups. Of course, this statement applies for the satellites only, because the subwoofer-by design-houses its own separate driver and employs a crossover. Speaking of the subwoofer, the 5 Watt per channel amps that drive the satellites are housed in the sub as is the sub's 15 Watt amp. A single volume control (system-wide) is on the back, but I wish it were on the front. And the crossover frequency is high enough (I measured 250 Hz with about 50 Hz of overlap on each side) that careful placement of the sub is required or you'll end up with audible imbalance (in volume, phase, and stereo position). Unfortunately, there are no contour controls on the sub. I found that the sub was usable down to 40 Hz (yes, I measured this too)- surprisingly low for such a small unit.

After months of listening to the VL-S21 system, I'm still comfortable with its sound. With neither the smallness nor the harshness that many desktop speakers exhibit, the NXT-based speakers don't fatigue my ears, even when my eyes are shot from staring at the computer screen. And I'm constantly amazed at the size of the stereo spread the satellites can create. I've grown accustomed to putting the mixes I do in the studio onto my network and listening to them on the VL-S21 system at my office desk when I'm back home. Kick drums sound like kick drums. Cymbals sound like cymbals. And voices don't sound like they're coming out of tiny boxes. I'll admit that I haven't mixed any albums on them, but if I had to track and mix on desktop speakers, I'd seriously consider the VL-S21 system for that duty. They may look small, but they don't sound small at all. The ported sub is extremely efficient as are the NXT drivers, so everything can get plenty loud. At a street price of $100, they're an awesome deal. ($129 MSRP;

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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