Stem Innovations: Tandem Speakers

| Just a Peek

There are those who really couldn’t care less about the sound coming out of their computer. For these folks, money spent on computer speakers may be better spent on socks, depilatory, or beer.

While I will agree that beer can take priority over most speakers, there are some sound makers that are just too good to pass up, even if it means sacrificing a month’s supply of Chimay Grande Reserve. (Yeah, they’d better be some serious speakers.)

I recently came across some speakers that purport to do a good job of reproducing sound using the latest technologies, including USB, DSP, TBR (tuned bass reflex), optimized headphone output and more. These Tandem Speakers, from Stem Innovations, are designed to compliment Apple hardware, matching the clean lines, aluminum color, and spartan design of MacBooks and iMacs.

Tandem Speaker

Stem Innovation’s Tandem Speakers

 

The interesting and extensive list of acronyms notwithstanding, do the Tandem speaker live up to the promise? Will they make me miss an opportunity to quaff a quart of Chimay?

As far as looks go, I think they may. The Tandem Speakers are silvered trapezoidal boxes, about the size of a box of elbow macaroni, with black cloth grills covering the single speakers on the front and small ports in the back to let the bass out (that’s the TBR part). They are not exactly portable, especially since they require AC power. There’s also a line-in jack in case you have audio source that doesn’t support USB.

A USB cable is used to connect one speaker to your computer, a switch lets you choose which side (left or right), and there’s an included cable to get sound to the other speaker and tie the whole system together.

There’s a volume control and earphone port on the right speaker. That’s about it. The only light, that lets you know the speakers are powered on, comes from the volume control buttons. On the back you’ll find the TBR ports on both speakers. The right speaker also has the USB and plug to connect to left speaker, a power switch, and aforementioned switch that lets you determine speaker orientation.

There are no shiny knobs, no pulsing lights, no gaudy adornments. Just clean lines and basic functions. This is a good thing if you are creating an environment that doesn’t distract. That doesn’t mean everyone will adore them, however. They have a squat, modern look that may not appeal to some. I like the way they look, and I like the way took with my iMac.

Tandem with Macbook

Macbook flanked by Tandem Speakers make a nice couple, …er, trio.

You buy a set of speakers because you want better sound from your computer, and the Tandem Speaker System provides that. Highs are sweet, not tinny, and the midrange is pleasant. You’ll want more bass though. Those TBR ports on the backs of the speakers just aren’t adequate to deliver much more that halfhearted bass reproduction. This can be improved somewhat by situating the speakers close to a wall to bounce the sound back at you. Unfortunately, my desk, where I’m testing them, stands away from any wall, so most of the bass is lost to me.

Which points out where I believe these speakers would likely work best. If your computer is in a small, cozy area, like a cubicle, or hutch, then the Tandem Speakers would be ideal. In such an environment you don’t want ear splitting volumes. You want to hear good sound at volumes loud enough to enjoy, and these Stem speakers will give you that. If, however, you are looking to fill anything larger than a small closet with heart stopping sound, look elsewhere. The Tandem Speakers are not for you.

When I write, as I am now, I like to listen to jazz. I fire up a Genius Mix and set to typing. Speakers provide the soundtrack to my musings. While you might think I wouldn’t pay much attention to the tunes playing, exactly the opposite is true. Listening while typing is one of the few exercises I can accomplish through multitasking, and jacked up sound reproduction can be as annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard.

Playing jazz and classic rock through the Stem Tandem Speakers is an enjoyable experience which could be greatly improved, in my opinion, with the addition of a decent subwoofer.

Bottom Line:
You can’t spit these days without hitting a speaker set aimed at computers, and there are many really good (and really bad) systems out there, so it’s hard to differentiate a product enough to stand out on its own. These Tandem Speakers are no different. They sound good as long you don’t expect a lot from the bass, but they are not great. They look good with Apple equipment, and that counts for something. They are ideal for close and personal spaces.

In fact, you can use them to created very nice bookshelf system centered on your iPod/iPhone/iPad. All you need is a dock/stand that has a line-out port and there ya go.

At a suggested retail price of US$79.95, they are a good, if not the best choice for speakers in that price range. Currently STEM has the Tandem Speaker on sale for far more wallet friendly US$49.95. And bargain hunters have to look no further than Amazon to practically steal these speakers for a paltry $24.49 (the price fluctuates)! That’s about the cost of two bottles of Chimay. I can handle that!

Good sound, simple design and, now, a great price makes it easy for me to Highly Recommend* these STEM Tandem Speakers.

Review Item Tandem Speakers
Manufacturer STEM Innovation

List Price


Street Price

US$79.95

US$24.49 (Amazon)

Minimum Requirements

Any Mac with USB or audio line-out

* Note: My rating system goes like this;

  • Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
  • Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
  • Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
  • So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
  • Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.

 

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7 Comments Leave Your Own

Lee Dronick

While I will agree that beer can take priority over most speakers

Well if there is such a thing as beer goggles then there is probably such as thing as beer speakers. smile

Anyway, the street price for these things look very good for what you get.

exAppl088

Thanks for the nice review, but you left out
the one critical evaluation point for desktop
speakers used directly facing a working user!

Do these speakers emit any decernible 60/120
cycle hummm, when no audio is being delivered
by the Mac or when the USB cable/ audio cable
is not connected???

My very old MidiLand MLi-431 $30 3-speaker set
is overdue for an upgrade, but even with magnetic
shielding they still emit hum audible in an
entirely silent room, but the pwr button is on the
front so i can disable them when i want silence.

Vern Seward

Do these speakers emit any decernible 60/120
cycle hummm,

@exAppl088: Believe me, if I had heard a hum, even at max volume, I would not be recommending these speakers. There’s no reason for any modern speaker set to hum. A hum means poor grounding, and anyone attempting to sell speakers for $80 had better be able to ground the speakers properly.

So, no hum.

Vern Seward

exAppl088

Thanks for answering my humm question.

Actually hum is more commonly the result
of a lack of proper filtering in the low cost
power supplies used by this type of speakers,
and as i could see from the product pics on
amazon, this set, like most, uses a 2 prong
wall plug transformer with a 2 conductor
plug, and so the speakers are not connected
to the 3 wire grounding pin in modern home
electrical systems.

Thus it can easily introduce hum from the
pwr supply to the amp electronics if they cheap
out on the power filtering components.

IF the pwr brick is actually a small switching
pwr supply that delivers DC to the speakers it is
less likely a problem, but most are just an AC
step down transformer, so the component
quality really matters. 

The fact that these are USB speakers implies that
high quality 5+V DC power is required for the USB
interface, but you never know for sure.

I am going to order a set.  Thanks again.

Vern Seward

@exAppl088

While you can filter hum, the cause of 60 cycle hum is poor grounding and shielding, in speakers at least. Hum in amps can be caused by a variety of things, because amps are “active”, whereas most speakers are passive. Even today’s speaker employ few analog components, which tended to introduce hum. And even these are usually shielded.

I think you’ll like them. Can’t beat the price.

Vern

haineux

All small speakers cannot produce accurate bass sound at anything approaching the loudness of the rest of their audio spectrum.

This seems to be a law of physics, but I’ll leave the door open for some earth-shattering discovery.

There are several hacks to work around this problem: either by creating an over-emphasized low-midrange (which listeners interpret as bass, but sounds “boomy” and often rattles), or by doing fancy digital signal processing, which adds new signals that can trick the user into thinking they are hearing bass, and which produces strange audible “artifacts” and causes headaches.

Subwoofers have their own problems, of course, because they are often a different distance away from the listener, bouncing off different surfaces, and they introduce more distortions due to the way that the sound gets split up, amplified, etc.

If you want really really good sound, get a pair of “bookshelf sized” professional audio monitors used in music studios. Often you can get an older pair, and a good amplifier, for well under $500. On the down side, this takes up a lot more room. On the up side, it’ll double as a room-sized stereo.

Or get really good headphones (some great ones start at around $150, and many do not need special amplifiers unless your computer has really, really bad audio).

haineux

My very old MidiLand MLi-431 $30 3-speaker set
is overdue for an upgrade, but even with magnetic
shielding they still emit hum audible in an
entirely silent room, but the pwr button is on the
front so i can disable them when i want silence.

Hum could be that the computer is putting out crappy audio. Since you have a quiet room, just about any headphones can be used to determine if the hum is from the speakers (and their built-in amps) or the computer.

If the computer is at fault, you can purchase an external USB->Audio converter (often called a “sound card”). Hint: The ones that cost $30 are either crap, or you are scoring a too-good-to-be-true bargain.

You’d be better off spending $100-150.

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