My cheap desktop sound system has gained two new members!
I recently gave in to temptation and took a grand tour around the handful of antique malls and junk shops in and around Portland to get a general vibe on which ones I should keep an eye on in future. A few of them piqued my interest even though I didn’t wind up buying anything. One thing I did encounter more than a few times on my tour were old Realistic brand speakers, all for a bit more than I’d like to pay for them, especially untested as they were. Opportunity came-a-knocking though in the most unlikely of places however. Since my parents were in town we decided to take a long weekend up to Long Beach in Washington with my sister and the dog. I of course, being the type of person to relish being surrounded with junk, looked up every antique/junk store on the island. I found the motherlode!
The North Coast Antique Mall, such a place has only ever existed in my wildest fantasies, but now it exists! On the outside it looks to be a dilapidated warehouse and when you enter you aren’t treated to a much better impression. Mountains of what could liberally described as ‘stuff’ is arranged in a pseudo-labyrinth in a relatively unfinished part of the building before you get to the front door. It was here where I found The Boys. Upon entering the store however your opinion of the place will immediately change from one of apprehension to one of amazement.
A maze, an actual one this time, of antiques. At least 40,000 square feet encompassing floor, wall, and ceiling. It feels like a massive scavenger hunt, where anything goes and a flashlight is a necessity. Toys, clothes, movies, music, decorations, art, everything was there. Need a wall phone from 1898? They had three of them. Need a wind up phonograph that actually still works? They had one. Need a bartop touchscreen CRT casino arcade machine? Yup. A brassier from 1957, yup. At least 70 pairs of cowboy boot? Try a hundred. Everywhere you turn is a new nook to poke your head in, with at least four different flavors of dust to tickle your sinuses with and more, so much more.
You could spend at minimum four days picking through everything but I only had a couple hours, but boy did I make the most of them. Ultimately I only grabbed The Boys.
It was like they were following me, Realistic Minimus-7 speakers, at just about every store I went to. Relics from a bygone era when budget bookshelf speakers were made from solid metal, actually sounded good, and Radioshack was a major player in the tech industry. It was 10 dollars for the pair and at that price I couldn’t pass them up, all the other prices I’d seen were two to five times that price.
I’d only looked up reviews of the speakers after I’d bought them and only then realized what a following Realistic brand speakers from this time had. Rich and stalwart were the two words that seemed to describe these things best which was interesting since my Klipsch Satellites are very cold sounding, favoring the high end and giving a nice amount of sparkle to the treble. I was very excited to test The Boys out.
So how do they sound? Well, on their own they are indeed very rich sounding, to the point of getting a bit woofy on bassier tracks, which is a bit of a problem since I listen to predominately EDM music. The sound is by no means bad, the separation between instruments is quite good and the high end is fair, very warm speakers. But my stereo can output to two pairs of speakers at once at the expense of a bit of volume, and each pair specializes in opposite sides of the sound spectrum, the Klipsch’s on the high end and the Realistic’s on the low end. So how is it when they’re played together?
Well, words can describe the feeling I got the first time I listened to the two at the same time but it would be easier to say I just giggled and made an evil little smile. The soundscape is immense, with the low end bass seeming to blast from the center with the high end dancing around the edges of your hearing.
Here’s how they’re arranged on my desk, the deep, rich, Realistics are on either side of my monitor with the sparkly Klipsches placed higher up. On the rare occasion where I turn on my subwoofer it just feels like you’re enveloped in sound. I’ve used a few songs to test the overall sensation of just how these speakers sound and oh boy does it do them justice, even if they aren’t the highest quality tracks.
These are just a few of the songs I’ve used. You’ve definitely heard of some of them but a few might not be on your radar.
- One of the most varied songs I’ve used is Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’ and the separation is excellent. The hi-hats and underlying guitar riffs seem to be coming exclusively from the Klipsches while the piano and vocals seem to coming from the Realistics. The clapping potion in the middle of the song is amazing, it’s like you can actually point to where they’re coming from. Stellar.
- Another song is called ‘Quasi Motion’ from Kevin Macleod. It’s a bouncy instrumental with a handful of instruments, predominately percussion, with a guitar and bass keeping a background riff going and a high pitched woodwind instrument carrying the melody. The instrument separation is again excellent. The percussion is wonderfully layered not staying exclusively in the center of the soundstage which for the percussion interlude in the middle of the song simply enhances it more. A very catchy song and definitely my favorite from Macleod.
- ‘All Along the Watchtower’, specifically the Hendrix version. It becomes ascended. The stereo mix, though annoying to listen to with headphones, truly shines here. The three portions of the music, left, right, and center, all mix together and give a feeling of surround sound. Crisp, clear, catchy, a classic!
- Here’s an odd one, ‘Mantra’ from the group Material. It starts as a very atmospheric song, with low drones but quickly morphs into a calming experimental rock song with distant percussion a clear central bassline and some jazzy saxophone and clarinet running circles around you. A smooth, calming, song with just the barest hint of malice hanging around in the background sounds and drones.
- ‘Assassin’ by Bill Laswell. A chunky and percussive song that evokes images of the desert. The droning strings feel as if they’re echoing from the back of the room while the bassline feels like its right in your face. So many elements dance across the speakers that you get an excellent surround sensation. The percussion break in this song is otherworldly.
So long instrumentals, we’re talking EDM now.
- One of my favorite EDM tracks to listen to is from a niche genre of hardcore EDM known at Frenchcore. ‘Up & Down’ by Boro Szypcioro hangs out an unusual amount in the high end for a song of this genre which normally is meant to flatten the waveform with the amount of sub bass present. The lyrics and frantic piano stay remarkably separate from the chunk monster bassline keeping the song from getting muddy.
- ‘Voodoo’ by Noisia. I’ve only just recently heard of these guys but oh man is their stuff phenomenal. These guys make the EDM equivalent of Death Metal and it’s pretty much a love or hate affair. This song is dark, it’s low, and it’s chunky, with gobs upon gobs of rough bass dominating the center. That doesn’t mean the high end is ignored, actually there’s plenty of representation, in the percussion of all things. The hi-hats and distant bass warbles just tickle your ears and really complete the experience.
- ‘MDMA’, specifically the Remix by Australian DJ S3RL. This rave song flits between spats of low end and high end with some elements juggling themselves between the inside and outside of the soundstage. The addition of the vocals make the song poppy and almost hypnotic. This is without a doubt my favorite song from S3RL and he’s got some serious bangers if you’re a fan of rave music.
- Coming out of left field a bit is ‘Ukigumo’ from Japanese musician Hige Driver. Ukigumo is a fast paced chiptune track with an unexpectedly epic melody and a real sense of scale. The instrumentation chosen is original sounding and lives rent-free in my head at all times. The separation is lesser with this song than with the previous two since much of the song lives in the mid-range and low end, but the arpeggios dance wonderfully from either side of the soundstage. This song is actually my go-to to test the quality of speakers as the arpeggios and higher end portions of the song are absent on weaker/cheaper speakers.
- Another Aussie DJ, SCNDL, is here as well with his song ‘Tombstone’. This percussive and gloomy EDM track has a catchy melody that initially takes you a bit off guard. Coupled with the thunderous yet smooth beat and ¾ timing it is a very unique song that I’ve listened to hundreds of times over. The soundstage, especially with the echoing slightly plucked melody, really make this song a treat to the ears.
- A veteran of the electronic music scene The Crystal Method has to make an appearance with their song ‘Weapons of Mass Distortion’. This song is a blend of electronic and heavy metal rock with a driving bassline and heavy percussion all set beneath a distorted guitar that just seems to come from everywhere. The amount of energy this song generates is immense evoking apocalyptic and dystopian imagery.
- And lastly, even though I could keep going of forever, is a little ditty known as ‘The Flute Tune’ by J-Cut. This goofy song’s main melody is a really catchy flute tune, hence the name, with incredibly aggressive drum and bass tracks underneath it. It really is a song best to experienced first hand if only for how strange it is, but goddamn if that melody isn’t an earworm.