The Blue Sky EXO 2.1 Configuration lets you mix in subwoofer level and control overall gain with a handy remote-control preamp box.
Blue Sky's EXO 2.1 Configuration ($399) is a stereo monitoring system that consists of a subwoofer and two satellites with a preamp breakout box that allows you to control the system's overall gain, including the subwoofer level. The setup interfaces easily with mixers or computer-only DAWs and delivers very high-quality sound at a fairly astounding price.
The satellite speakers have a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. The sub contains an 8-inch driver and the amps for the entire system: 90W for the subwoofer and 35W for each satellite, for a total system output of 160W. The sub cabinet has conical plastic feet that can be removed, and the satellites sit at about a 22-degree angle, great for desktop placement.
The preamp box, which Blue Sky refers to as a desktop remote hub, lets you plug in a computer, an external MP3 player or other device, and your mixer at the same time. Two large knobs labeled Gain and Sub occupy most of the box's front panel. In the left corner of the unit is a 3.5 mm minijack with an icon that resembles an iPod. In the right corner is a 3.5 mm mini headphone jack. A blue LED between the two knobs indicates that the system is powered on.
OLD AND NEW
The EXO system sets up easily, although it uses some old-school techniques. For starters, because all of the system's amps are in the subwoofer cabinet, you connect the passive satellites to the sub with provided stripped-lead speaker wires. You feed the wires into dual binding posts on the sub and each satellite.
After the satellites are hooked up, you connect the preamp to the subwoofer cabinet with a cable that is hardwired to the preamp on one end and hosts a 6-pin connector on the other. Blue Sky urges you to keep the system powered off until all connections are made, and the company even covers the preamp cable receptacle on the sub with a reminder sticker. Plugging in the preamp cable with the system powered up could cause damage.
After the preamp is safely connected, plug in the sub cabinet's power cable and connect either your mixer's stereo output using XLR or TRS cables at the box's combo connectors, or your computer's output using the supplied adapter cable (stereo miniplug on one end, RCA phono plugs on the other). Slide switches next to the combo inputs let you choose either 0 dB or -12 dB, the latter being for high-output sources at the XLR connection.
I was struck by some harshness in the satellites when I first ran a mix through them. As I suspected, the Sub knob on the preamp was all the way down. As I raised the knob, the low end filled out beautifully. Marks on the Gain and Sub knobs give useful starting points for finding a good balance for your room. The built-in crossover is set to 140 Hz, and I found that I needed the sub to radiate fairly directly to my listening position to hear low mids below the crossover point. The EXO manual provides lots of good advice on experimenting with sub placement.
Although the system always sounded good with the sub mixed in, I perceived a slight low-mid scoop, common to home stereo speakers, that can sometimes make you add unnecessary low mids to your mix. The mids and highs were very crisp and detailed, and stereo imaging was excellent on the satellites.
I loved the convenience of the Sub knob, which mixes the sub signal into the overall level controlled by the Gain knob. (You can't isolate the sub without disconnecting the satellites.) The Sub knob is great for quickly getting an approximation of how a mix might sound in a club, and the indicator marks help you quickly reset the sub level for a more accurate mixing environment.
How accurately the EXO system reproduces mixes in your room may depend on how much flexibility you have for experimenting with subwoofer location and how precise you need to be. Although the manual gives detailed instructions on optimizing the sound using an SPL meter and a real-time analyzer, the system is short on sound-shaping controls. (You may find that a -octave stereo graphic equalizer is a good add-on for the EXO.)
If you're looking for monitors in this price range, you'll be pleasantly surprised when you hook up the EXO 2.1 Configuration, turn it on, and hear the excellent sound.
Value (1 through 5): 4
Blue Sky International