Ken Tomita and his crew of craftsmen at Grovemade don’t sit still. From bamboo iPhone cases to pocket knives and now real wood desk accessories, they’re always pushing to create something beautifully unique. And the perfect compliment to any wood-bedecked desktop was obvious: wood speakers!
The only problem was, nobody at Grovemade had any experience in audio, and as you can see from Grovemade’s product portfolio, the company doesn’t do “off the shelf.” Fortunately for Tomita, industrial designer and speaker maker Joey Roth shares Grovemade’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, and was only too happy to collaborate. The two got together, made a speaker baby, and the Grovemade Wood Speakers & Amp was born.
Available in solid Maple ($500) and Walnut ($600), Grovemade’s new speakers look as interesting as they sound, and the way they’re made is equally fascinating. Here’s what makes the Wood Speakers & Amp special, along with our take on whether you should invest in a pair.
It’s the wood that makes it good
The speakers in this system are hard not to marvel at, and after watching how they are made and understanding how they work, we can say with confidence they truly are a marvel. In a happy confluence of form and function, the reason the speakers look so good is also the reason they sound very good.
The nautilus-looking hole up top is not just decoration, it’s actually the business end of what audio engineers call a back-loaded (or rear-loaded) horn design. This is not a new concept, but you don’t see it very often any more. The idea is to extend bass presence and depth by reinforcing the low frequencies coming from the back of a smaller driver like the 2-inch full range driver at use here. The bass is passed through a long channel built inside the cabinet, and emerges deeper and louder.
The use of a 2-inch full-range driver, rather than a midwoofer-tweeter combination, is also very deliberate. Not only does it keep the speakers smaller, but a full-range driver doesn’t need a crossover, which tends to suck energy out at an easily audible part of the frequency spectrum, creating a sort of dip in the sound. A single point-source of sound also avoids some tricky acoustical problems inherent in speakers with more than one driver. The result — in theory anyway – is a speaker with really good stereo effects and imaging properties.
Finishing off the speakers is a leather-clad strip of stainless steel, which serves as both the speaker’s stand and its grill. On the back of the speakers, you’ll see two high-quality binding posts for connection to the included amplifier.
The Amp portion of this system uses a 25-watt per channel digital amplifier, and is outfitted with only one set of analog RCA inputs. Modified binding posts link to the speakers thanks to included cloth-covered speaker cables. A 3.5 mm to stereo RCA cable is included so the speakers can be hooked up to any number of laptops or PCs, turntables, tablets, phone … anything with an analog output, really.
Oh, and the volume knob? It feels awesome to turn. Grovemade considered aluminum, but ultimately chose to go with stainless steel instead, and that was a very smart move from a touch perspective. The potentiometer the knob controls is also high-quality, offering smooth volume adjustment.
As warm as they look
To be sure, the Wood Speakers & Amp sound unlike any other so-called computer speakers we’ve heard before. Typically, computer speakers are very inexpensive, sound flimsy and tinny up top, and are either anemic in the bass because of their size, or booming due to a cheaply-built separate subwoofer – you get what you pay for. There are some exceptions: Edifier’s E25 Luna Eclipse remain some of the best-sounding computer speakers we’ve reviewed, especially at the price.
The Wood Speakers & Amp sound unlike any other computer speakers we’ve heard before.
On the other end of the spectrum you have professional studio speakers, which are also designed for near-field listening and produce outstanding bass, but they are large and expensive.
The Wood Speakers & Amp by Grovemade fit somewhere in the middle of the price spectrum, very low on the size spectrum, and, especially considering their size, above average on the sound quality spectrum. But it’s the speakers’ sound signature – their sonic character – that really sets them apart.
Unlike their tinny, brash brethren, these are very laid back, “warm” sounding speakers. The bass response has far more punch and depth than any speaker system using two 2-inch drivers has a right to sound. It’s not that faked “one-note” bass, either. The tonality is spot on, with upright bass notes that were strong, resonant, and full of well-defined, woody tone.
The midrange is pleasantly un-colored, yielding vocals that sound authentic and natural. We listened to vocalists varying from Keb’ Mo to Inara George of The Bird and the Bee, and we always felt like we heard the same vocal timbres we got from high-quality headphones and much larger speakers.
It was in the treble, though, that we found ourselves wanting for more, and that’s odd because we usually end up having to criticize for being too aggressive in the treble. It’s not that the Wood Speakers lack treble entirely — there’s enough for sibilants to be heard — and there’s still some edge to brass instrument. But where cymbals should shimmer and sizzle, we felt there was a distinct lack of sizzle. It’s the “air” of the sound that we miss a little. But we were surprised to note that the more we listened, the less we missed that aspect of the sound. The Wood Speakers have a rich, luxurious appeal when listened to up close that we found infectious.
And the Wood Speakers really do sound best when you are up close to them, with the speakers as close to ear level as you can get them. That’s what near-field listening is all about: intimacy. And the Wood Speakers pull this off really well, with perfectly contiguous imaging, a surprisingly deep sound stage with instruments sounding both close and far away, and perhaps best of all, pinpoint center imaging that’s so real you will swear that voices are coming out of your computer’s monitor (or whatever else you have between them).
The DT Accessory Pack
The included Amp is no slouch, either. It delivers plenty of power to the Wood Speakers to support sound that is free of obvious distortion at high volumes. And at low volumes, the speakers perform remarkably well, with plenty of bass support sticking around.
The Wood Speakers & Amp are among the sexiest desktop sound systems we’ve seen yet. Fortunately, they also sound as good as they look, so long as you aren’t into acerbic treble (and, hey, some folks are). Good luck stopping with the speakers, though. If you choose to make the investment for your desk, you’ll want to get the rest of the awesome stuff Grovemade makes to go with them. Regardless, the addition of these speakers to your space will instantly class it up, and most certainly get your friends’ attention.