I've been hunting for a nice desktop 2.0 system and thought this thread would be a great place to ask about the 'hiss' that I'm hearing on the 2 powered systems I've tried out so far. My first purchase was the B&W MM-1. Sounded very nice, I was a bit apprehensive about the 16-bit DAC (vs 24-bit) and bass-enhancing DSP but in the store where I auditioned them they sounded really nice, so I gave them a try.
Fed them from the USB on my Mac Mini, also tried the auxiliary input. Noticeable white / noise hissing from near-field position, my office room in the house is fairly quiet, and it was quite audible, even when playing music at very low volumes. Hiss is constant, a clean 'white noise' sound - that did not change with volume adjustments, etc. So I then went online and found plenty of other people who noticed the same thing. What actually disappointed me was that not one of the professional reviews picked up on this - or if they did, they omitted mentioning it. I decided to return the MM-1 speakers and try something else. While I found the SQ of the MM-1 to be very good, it was expensive at $500 and I did not really need the DAC or the headphone jack, since I have those already. Besides, the headphone jack was very inconveniently located on the rear of the unit - inconvenient enough to actually discourage me from giving it a good listen.
I then bought the Focal XS Book. Being fairly new, there aren't too many reviews out on this thing yet. Much bigger in size than the MM-1, and less features, having no DAC or headphone output or remote - a bit cheaper at $400, but that's still fairly pricey for a 2.0 computer system especially considering the lack of features. So I was hopeful these would be nice and quiet (no hiss) and maybe even sound a bit better than the MM-1s.
Well, the hiss is there on these also. Seems to be a little bit less present then it was on the MM-1, also, it seems to come from the tweeters mores than the small woofers. At the desk, about 2 feet away from the speakers, the hiss is audible when no music is playing or at minimal volume. More audible, of course, if I turn my head and actually point my ear toward the speakers. The hiss is there whenever the speakers are powered on (even when nothing else is powered on from the same outlet - and even from other outlets in the house), whether there are no audio input cables connected, or if there are connections, regardless - hiss is always there, constant, doesn't change with volume adjustment. It is the same type of constant clean 'white noise' sound, same as with the B&Ws. When music is played through these it sounds excellent, and I find the Focals to be better, more natural sounding and significantly more powerful than the MM-1. These can fill a good sized room with sound. Bass is not DSP boosted and goes unbelievably deep for the small ported enclosure drivers this has.
I do not believe this is a power or signal chain noise issue. I'm feeding the Focals from my Mac Mini through my DAC, the same signal chain when used into my headphone amplifier generates zero audible noise, it is dead quiet.
I've come to the conclusion that this is apparently normal for these types of powered speakers, which is really frustrating, because these are fairly expensive and for near field use the hiss is very hard to just 'live with'. I'm trying to avoid getting massive monitors for the desk. At a loss here, I love the way these sound, but two feet from my head the hiss is just impossible to accept.
Any recommendations - should I try the Audioengine 5+ or Airmotiv4? Will they have the same hiss? I'm confused by this whole thing, I cannot understand how very prestigious speaker companies like B&W and Focal would both make a product meant for close listening that has such a high noise floor. Is it possible that I missed something - that these would be quiet somehow if I do something like get a power conditioner? I'm willing to try but the part that doesn't make sense is how my headphone amps in the same chain are absolutely dead quiet... Anyone else having the same problem?