Note: This review was first published on 2 July 2021.
Speakers are becoming smarter. There are speakers now that tell you the weather, start your laundry, and turn the lights on and off for you, but I’m not interested in that kind of smarts. The kind of smarts that gets my juices going is the art of sounding good.
The proliferation of digital signal processing (DSP) must surely be one of the biggest trends in the world of speakers. This used to be exclusive to higher-end speakers but we are seeing this technology trickling down to more affordable speakers. And leading this movement is Chinese speaker manufacturer Hivi Swanspeaker – more commonly referred to simply as Swans. A name that will surely be familiar to speaker enthusiasts.
The benefits of DSP are numerous. Mainly, they are used in place of traditional analogue crossovers to optimise frequency and phase response. Compared to their analogue counterparts, DSP systems are generally easier to implement, have far better tolerances, and deliver superior clarity and imaging than your average analogue crossover. I’m oversimplifying things. But in short, DSP makes it easier to get speakers to sound good.
Incredibly, this technology is present even in Swans’ most affordable speakers, and this includes the D100 that has been sitting on my desk for the past two or so months. This is the baby of Swan’s D series of speakers and it is priced at S$219, which is amazing when you consider its features and sound quality.
The Swans D100 are medium-sized speakers. They are not as compact as, say, the Audioengine A2+ but they aren’t so monstrous that they look out of place on desks.
The D100 features a 4-inch Kevlar driver and an isodynamic ribbon (planar) tweeter. At this price, the wood finish that you see is obviously a veneer but it looks and feels adequate. The unusual angles on the front of the speakers are actually waveguides to help direct sound to your ears. I’ll leave you to make up your mind about how it looks but I think these are rather handsome speakers. Certainly, they lean towards the advant-garde rather than the classic.
On the side of the right speakers are three knobs. One controls the volume while the other two lets users tweak the bass and treble up to a maximum of plus minus 3dB. Round the back, you’d find the non-removable power cable and the speaker’s various inputs. There's no headphone jack.
Though the D100 is advertised for near-field listening (a fancy way of saying for desktop use), USB input is curiously missing. Instead, what we have are RCA, optical, and coaxial. Because this speaker has DSP, I’d recommend using either the optical or coaxial inputs. Using the RCA input would require the speakers to re-digitise the signal and that could affect audio quality.
The D100 supports Bluetooth too so you can connect your system wirelessly if you want to create a wire-free setup. But this comes at the cost of audio fidelity Over Bluetooth, the D100 sounded compressed, flatter, and less lively. Unless you absolutely can’t stand wires, I recommend using the optical or coaxial inputs.
Using a wired connection unleashes the D100’s full potential and it sounds mighty impressive for a speaker that’s just a bit over S$200. Apart from sounding powerful and authoritative, the D100 has coherence, a level of detail retrieval, and a sense of naturalness and realism that belies its positioning in Swans’ speaker lineup. I don't detect any haziness in the sound and the driver and tweeter work together beautifully to produce a full-bodied homogenous sound. If their entry-level speaker sounds this good, what about those higher up the hierarchy?
The bass is punchy but clean while the mids are smooth and life-like. Treble can appear a little hot at times but that could just be me being sensitive. At any rate, you can use the knobs at the side of the speakers to tweak the sound to your taste. The D100 also projects a wide and precise soundstage so those unusual-looking waveguides must be doing their magic.
As impressive as the D100 sounds, you can pick holes in its performance. Perhaps its most apparent weakness is that it can’t produce deep bass. DSP is marvellous but it can’t overcome the laws of physics. According to Swans, the D100’s 4-inch driver gets down to 60Hz so the D100 can’t produce the deepest of bass notes. And because there’s no subwoofer out, you are pretty much stuck. Still, I didn’t find the D100 to be too unsatisfying insofar as the bass is concerned. If you think you need a more extended and articulated low-end, there's the larger D200 and D300 to check out.
It’s not very often that I’m floored by a product but the Swans D100 is one of the standout products I’ve experienced this year. It’s not perfect: there’s no USB input, it can’t quite produce sub-bass, and it doesn’t have a subwoofer out to help it. But, for S$219, the performance to price ratio is off the charts. Regardless of what speakers you have your eye on, you would be doing yourself – and your wallet – a great disservice if you don’t audition the D100 first. What you hear might amaze you.
You can set up an appointment to audition these speakers with their distributor, Tech Dynamic, here. '
You can also purchase the Hivi Swanspeakers D100 from Tech Dynamic on Lazada.