||Insignia NS-B2111 6.5'' Bookshelf Speaker Review
August 09, 2006
Summary: Speaker reviews are tough to write. Specifications don't tell you much about the way a speaker sounds. Frequency response graphs aren't much better in telling you how a speaker actually sounds with music. Written reviews aren't much better. It seems like every reviewer writes that a speaker sounds as good as those that are "twice the price." The $50 Insignia NS-B2111's we're looking at today are stunning and sound better than many speakers costing several times the price. :)
A few years ago, Best Buy got into the consumer electronics market with their in-house brand Insignia. Like Wal-Mart’s “Sam’s” brand or Costco’s “Kirkland” brand, Best Buy hoped to find contract manufacturers in Asia to develop value priced electronics. Their mission was to offer the lowest priced product in its price range while still offering significant value. Most of Insignia’s product line has been lackluster – not because they’re actually bad, but because most of us would rather spend a little extra money to get something with more premium features.
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 5 )|
This about to change with the Insignia NS-B2111 6.5” Bookshelf Speaker.
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The other interesting design feature is that the NS-B2111 adopts a time coherent coaxial design. At first glance, it looks like the NS-B2111 just has a single speaker driver. Even then, it's a cool 6.5" woven carbon-fiber driver. Look a little closer, and you'll see that there's a 1" silk-dome tweeter in the center of the speaker. The theory behind this design is that it's easier to generate a time-coherent design in which the high frequency and low frequency audio reaches your ear at the same time. Again, this isn't the only design that achieves this result – a well designed crossover can do the same thing. Nonetheless, it is a cosmetic bonus in having a speaker that can be the focus of discussion among techie friends.
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The enclosures are made from MDF although the enclosure is still resonant and could be stiffer. Even the binding posts show significant attention to detail with a WBT-like design. You can use bare-wire, pins, spades, or banana plugs. From a cosmetic stand-point, the 12-lb Insignia NS-B2111 is superb. If any corners were cut to make this speaker $50, it certainly wasn't in the exterior appearance.
Setup and Use
The Insignia is a passive bookshelf speaker, so you’ll need a receiver or integrated amplifier to power them. Any receiver will do since these are 8 ohm speakers (easy to drive) although a good budget model is the $30 Sonic Impact 15Wx2 amplifier.
The first sign of cost-cutting measures comes when you set up the speaker. The NS-B2111 is not magnetically shielded. It turns out that this isn't such a bad feature. You only need magnetically shielded speakers if you're planning to place the speakers close to a conventional CRT monitor or television. Magnetic shielding isn't important for LCD flat panels or DLP/LCD rear-projection TVs… In addition, if you were serious about video shielding these speakers, there are some options that are available… but more on that later.
| Audio performance||Page:: ( 2 / 5 )|
Insignia NS-B2111 6.5" Bookshelf Speaker
Jamo AVR-793 7.1 Surround Receiver
Monster Power MP-HTS1000 MKII Power Conditioner
Belden 1585a speaker cable
Burr Brown-Japan PCM2702 USB DAC
Monster Cable THX analog interconnect
Reference System A
Polk LSi 9 (Series 2)
Standesign speaker stands
Denon AVR-4802R THX Ultra2 Receiver
Panamax MAX 5410 Pro Signature Power Conditioner
Custom silver-plated copper, Teflon-dielectric speaker cable (bi-wired)
Custom silver-plated copper, Teflon-dielectric flat topology interconnect
DC-powered Burr Brown PCM1704-K/DF1704 external DAC
Envy24HT (S/PDIF out)
However, keeping a wide soundstage and maintaining appropriate focus and imaging is tough. That is, you'd like the experience the effect that the sound is coming from somewhere beyond the physical speaker, but you'd also like to be able to be able to feel like you can pinpoint that the singer is standing 5 feet in front of you, and the bass guitarist is 6.5 feet away.
Detail and resolution was also very good. Two of my favorite test tracks to test for detail comes from audiophile sampler CDs. The first is a gimmicky test from Shefield Labs/XLO Test & Burn-in CD. Doug Sax stands 6 feet behind a microphone, and Roger Skoff stands 14-feet behind him. Then they start talking in unison. The idea is that with a high-quality sound system, you can actually hear what both of them are saying. This is a deceptively simple test that most "under $300 retail" speakers fail. Even audiophile budget favorites such as the JBL HLS-610, Paradigm Atom, and NHT SuperZero's fail this test. Surprisingly, the Insignia NS-B2111 does very well in this test of midrange purity. Another good test is Spanish Harlem by Rebecca Pidgeon (Chesky Records).
With a true audiophile-grade setup, each shake of the shaker will sound slightly different. The Insignia wasn't able to resolve this level of micro-detail. Depending on your source and associated equipment, this could lead to "listening fatigue." The vocals also had a slightly chesty and reverberant sound (the effect that you'd get if you cupped your hands around your mouth to amplifier).
For a 6.5" bookshelf speaker, the Insignias have superb bass. It's not the bone-thumping bass you'll want for movies (you'll need a subwoofer for that), but it's deeper than most and has a very natural roll-off. The speakers are somewhat over-enthusiastically rated at 50Hz – but in-room response should go down to about 60Hz or so. Even for R&B and percussion, you won't need a separate subwoofer.
| Impressions (cont’d)||Page:: ( 3 / 5 )|
The Insignia NS-B2111 Community
Let’s start with the enclosure. It looks nice, has the curved non-parallel rear wall, and even has surprisingly good binding posts. It’s 12 lbs! If you were to do it yourself, the labor would be way more than $50. There are some people who’ll buy the NS-B2111, replace the driver with a 6.5” woofer out and add a tweeter on top. Others say that the co-axial driver is pretty good, and the trick is to strengthen the enclosure to improve the sound. You can plug the port to make the bas more taut, add more polyfill into the enclosure, or reinforce it with Dynamat or other like materials.
There are some enthusiasts who are buying the speakers just to gut out the co-axial driver. The 0.8” silk tweeter and 6.5” woven carbon-fiber woofer are pretty good. You can buy several bookshelf speakers and make a line-source array of these for better performance. With regular speakers, the volume decreases at a rate of 1/(r-squared) where r is the distance from the speaker – with line source speakers, it’s only 1/r. Other enthusiasts have redesigned the crossover to improve the quality of the sound as well.
All it takes a trip to the DIYAudio.com forums or AudioAsylum.com forums to see how exciting the NS-B2111 is. Some modifications such as magnetically video shielding the speakers can be done for about $20/speaker, while replacing the crossover with GR-Research’s kit (http://www.gr-research.com/insignia.htm) can cost you an additional $100. At $50+100=$150, there’s much more competition (i.e. Onix x-ls) but it then becomes a question of how you want to balance detail, imaging, bass, and aesthetic of the speaker.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 4 / 5 )|
Excellent soundstage/imaging: The speakers disappear when you close your eyes. You won’t find anything for $50 that’s as good. Better than any PC speaker we’ve reviewed at FiringSquad (including the VideoLogic DigiTheatre DTS from several years back).
Very good sound quality: If you move up into the $100-200/pair price range, you might find speakers that are a bit more detailed, a bit smoother on the treble, but at the end of the day, the Insignia’s have such a great “overall” sonic presentation, that you really are forced to move to the $200/pair range to get something that sounds better.
Amazing fit/finish: Once you move up to the $200 price point, you’ll start to get speakers that sound better than the Insignia NS-B2111. You’ll still have to keep spending money if you want to get something that looks as nice though…
Amazing value: The more you mod the speaker, the less bang for the buck you’re getting. But at $50, it’s impossible to beat. You can buy 3 boxes of Insignia’s to setup a 6-channel surround sound receiver and still be spending less than the cheapest “next-best speaker.”
None when considering the price. Sure, the vocals sound a bit congested, there’s lack of detail in the treble, and the speakers aren’t magnetically shielded.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 5 / 5 )|
Ask someone with a $10,000 audio setup what kind of music they listen to and they'll likely include a mix of jazz, classical, and classic/contemporary rock. These genres of music have a) real musical instruments and b) unprocessed vocals. When a piano, double bass, or voice doesn't sound just right, you'll be able to hear the difference.
On the other hand, if you look at the Billboard Top 40 you won't find the need to have quite as much detail/resolution. There's no doubt that McFly's "Don't Stop Me Now", Rihanna's "Unfaithful", and Chris Brown's "Gimme That" sounds much better on a high-end audiophile system that can more accurately resolve the detail and texture of the vocals. However, songs like Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie", the Pussycat Dolls' "Buttonz", or Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man" have been processed so much that more expensive speakers don't buy you too much. With these music tracks, the only benefit you get from a high-end audiophile system is the improved soundstage and imaging, and what do you know… that's exactly the Insignia NS-B2111's strong point.
Give it a try. See what you think.