Reviewer: Bill Armstrong
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Mark Levinson No.390S CD, Audio Analogue Maestro Settanta CD
Preamplifier: Mark Levinson No.326S
Integrated amplifiers: Audio Analogue Maestro Settanta, Krell S-550i
Loudspeakers: ATC SCM50 ASL Anniversary, Esoteric MG10
Cables: Complete loom JPS SC3, Complete loom Crystal Cable Micro, 1xJPS Digital, 1xJPS AC Power, 1xJPS Kaptovator   
Power delivery: Vertex Taga Distribution Block
Supports: Grand Prix Audio Monaco 3-Shelf, Track Audio Precision Speaker stands, IsoAcoustic Aperta desktop supports
Review component retail in UK (inc. VAT): £649/pair

That's a buzzword many of you will be familiar with. It's shorthand for myriad new ways of doing business: fresh approaches that often provoke a ‘Doh! Why didn't any of us geniuses think of this before?' Think Google, Amazon, the iPod, Skype, Uber… Devialet. All of them decided to break the mould rather than keep playing nice within existing boundaries. And soon after beginning my latest assignment, I wondered whether the modest little Fostex PX-5HS speakers I was testing might just fall into this ‘stir-‘em-up' category. But first a little background. Following on from my recent review of the company's excellent little GX100 Ltd, I had been contacted by the UK distributor and asked if I might want to look at something a little more ‘real-world' from the Japanese maker. If nothing else, this served as a reminder that it is easy at times to forget that outside the enchanted borders of Hifireviewland, even £2k speakers exist in rarefied out-of-reach territory for many. So that's how the far more modestly priced active 2-way PX-5HS (£649) duly sped their way to my door.

Technical specs. A ‘home-tuned' version of the company's popular PX-5 pro monitors, they have been optimized to work well in modestly sized listening spaces with the listener seated five to six feet away; as well as in the nearfield environment. A small knob located on the reassuringly sturdy metal back plate is surrounded by a rainbow of LEDs and doubles as both a 44-step volume control as well as tone control that offers high-frequency adjustment of ±3dB in 0.3dB steps; and +/- 20 step LF roll-off. What's not on offer however is any USB, Bluetooth or AirPlay connectivity. No internal DAC either. Not a major loss to me but with the direction the market is continuing to speed in, I wouldn't be surprised to see these features offered on a Mk.II iteration further down the line. But for the meantime, what the company would like you to drop between your PC and the PX5-HS is their flagship 32-bit HP-A8C DAC/headphone amp (£799); or for the more budget-conscious, the HP-A4 (£259) or HP-A3 (£179) models.

What is included however are 35 watts (LF) & 18 watts (HF) of on-board digital amplification. And since I've been using ATC SCM50ASL loudspeakers myself for almost a decade now, I don't need convincing on the merits of the active approach. No driver, no matter how meticulously conceived, can give back what a passive crossover network strips from the original signal. So apart from increased domestic affability—i.e. no hosepipe speaker cables required—active speakers have some very real technical advantages. From the outset, amplifiers and speaker drivers can be directly coupled to work optimally as a single system. The designer is able to link the two using a digital crossover/dividing network (here a FIR Finite Infinite Response type). The results? Signal paths free from a bunch of transparency-sapping passive components. And note ‘active' and ‘powered' speakers are not the same thing. Powered speakers utilise external crossovers. (A very thorough analysis of the relative merits of active and passive speakers can be found here).

Weighing in at 5kg apiece, sporting two small bass ports on the front baffle and measuring 28x18x21cm HxWxD, the drivers consist of a 5.2"/13.2cm aramid fibre woofer and a 1"/2.54cm urethane film-laminated polyester-fibre dome tweeter. Together they cover a frequency range of 50Hz-40kHz with a 2.5kHz crossover point. Often used for aerospace and military applications, Kevlar body armour being one example, aramid (a portmanteau of aromatic polyamide) is a man-made polymer. It's high in strength but low in density and specifically designed to transfer mechanical stress as efficiently as possible.