Perhaps the biggest new wave in personal audio is wireless streaming. From Apple’s AirPlayto Sonos systems, music sent to speakers through the air has captured consumers’ imaginations. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bluetooth is scooping up market share, since the technology has quietly slipped into almost every device over the last several years.
The bandwidth of Bluetooth hasn’t worked in its favor, requiring aggressive compression to make audio streaming practical. However, that’s old news. With the release of version 3.0+EDR, the wireless protocol bypassed its earlier limitations for data throughput and now delivers near-CD quality up to its distance limitations, another area that should expand with future releases.
The PreSonus Ceres C3.5BT 2-Way Powered Speakers with Bluetooth aim at a prosumer market niche. A very compact bookshelf-style speaker, the C3.5BT serves as both a compact studio monitor and consumer stereo system that accepts balanced ¼-inch, RCA and ⅛-inch inputs as well as its BT capability.
PreSonus has a solid reputation in the home recording field, having introduced a number of products that sound great and perform well. Its Eris line of studio monitors, reviewed here at Hear the Music, scored very well in the Eris E5 and E8 versions. The Eris E4.5 was less impressive, but only when regarded as a top-line studio monitor. For an entry level system, it was more than adequate.
The C3.5BT takes a full inch off woofer diameter, compared to the smallest Eris, and really targets a different user. This is an active speaker pair that seems intended to move PreSonus outside of a strict home recording image. The C3.5BT is a great option for desktops, laptops, home theater systems and, of course, wireless streaming. An entry level home studio on a budget could do worse.
There does seem to be a bit of concern with quality control, however, as noted in user reviews. The problems indicated there weren’t seen in testing, but be sure to test your own C3.5BTs after purchase and take corrective action immediately if a problem crops up.
The C3.5BT is roughly 8.5 inches high, 5.5 inches wide and 6.5 inches deep, a fairly compact package. Sold in pairs, the electronics are all in the left speaker, with standard twisted wire-type connection for the right speaker. PreSonus bills this as the home version of its studio monitors, suggesting use as a product for everyday listening that gives similar performance to its professional models with a price and footprint more in line with consumer needs.
Turn around the left speaker, though, and you have a wealth of connection options and sound adjustments, much more than you’d expect from a similar monitor intended for consumer use. While the ⅛-inch input is on the front face, convenient for wired connection to smartphone or personal MP3 player, everything else is on the back. Inputs include, as mentioned ¼-inch and RCA connectors. The ¼-inch jacks support balanced connections, so with an XLR-to-TRS adapter, any professional gear could hook up to the C3.5BT.
A ¼-inch jack also feeds a subwoofer, if added to the system. Where things drift away from consumer levels is the two acoustic tuning controls, to the side of the rear-firing port. Intended for fine-tuning the speakers to account for placement, they do the job as intended. When speakers get tucked into corners, bass response is artificially boosted by sound reflected from the wall. Backing off the Low control reduces the effect, restoring more normal response. This control can also help tune the C3.5BTs for use with a subwoofer.
The High control may help with bookshelf speakers actually placed on a bookshelf. Should the speakers seem a little dull surrounded by all that paper, a slight boost in the highs will overcome that absorption.
Bluetooth pairing is no different than any other device. Tested with an iPad Air, HP Chromebook and a Google Pixel smartphone, the C3.5BT worked fine with each, connecting quickly. The C3.5BT is easy to use, with much more flexibility than similarly priced consumer speakers.
I should disclose of the top that I’m generally not a fan of rear-firing ported speakers. Active systems with all the electronics on one side make me suspicious sometimes, going back to a cheap set with which the passive side had so little weight it sounded different than the active side and bounced around the desk at higher volumes. The C3.5BT seems to be a single 25-watt stereo amp, and I prefer bi-amped systems — separate amps for woofers and tweeters.
So odds are against me having anything good to say about the C3.5BT, until you consider that lately I’ve been recording at a post-production station recently added in my studio. Intended for synchronization work, it’s made from bits and pieces that were laying around. So instead of the thousand-dollar pro monitors on the main system, I’ve been using 35-year-old Radio Shack Minimus 7s, closed cabinet, 2.5-inch woofers, powered by a Peavey amp. So much for snobbery.
I don’t know if this system softened me up for the sound of the C3.5BTs, or if it’s the fact that PreSonus modelled the sound of the C3.5BTs after its Eris monitor line. Whatever the case, I really like the sound of these PreSonus speakers. Of course I prefer uncompressed audio delivered through a cable connection over MP3 over Bluetooth, but that’s when the engineer hat is on. My iPod and iPad share the same library that’s probably 90 percent MP3 files of various bit rates. In the days of vinyl (in which I still live), the cracks and pops of dust, scratches and static, never interfered with the enjoyment of an LP. Neither do the limitations of Bluetooth and reasonable audio compression.
Bottom end is surprisingly solid for such a small woofer, though I still detect a little softness that’s typical of rear-ported designs. The clarity is, in a word, very impressive. Okay, so that’s two words, but still, it applies. You’re not going to set any volume records with these, but volume levels are fine, clean right through the range. Those into EDM and other heavy bass genres won’t be overwhelmed, but for styles where special effects bass isn’t central, the C3.5BT is surprisingly effective.
These speakers look sharp — much more of an understated high-end appearance than you’d expect for the price. No weight specs are provided, but I’d guess these come in around 3 lbs. each, thinking about how heavy the packed box felt. I didn’t think to test the heft of each speaker during tests. Build quality is sometimes only obvious when it’s deficient. The C3.5BT is anything but deficient.
With about 100 user reviews, there are enough reviews complaining about noise from these speakers. In some cases, users traced the problem back to ground loops, while others described problems dependent on input source. Still others had issues with noise, returned the speakers and problem was gone. So it seems there may well be issues out there. Yet, a full 62 percent of the reviews are 5-star, raving about the quality, with many pointing out there is no noise issue.
Our tests found no issue with hum or other self-noise, even at maximum gain. Thus, the C3.5BT is capable of excellent performance. If your experience varies, contact PreSonus to correct the issue.
Compared with consumer speakers, the C3.5BT may be a little too “honest,” revealing sonic deficiencies in source material. While this is an excellent trait in a studio monitor, crossing over into pleasure listening may shake up some users.
However, as the user reviews demonstrate, this honesty is appreciated, particularly when it reveals details in the music that listeners previously missed. The PreSonus Ceres C3.5BT 2-Way Powered Speakers with Bluetooth make a serious system, no matter what the application, and does it at an amazing price. Highly recommended for home studios on a budget and recordists looking for a Bluetooth-capable extra pair of speakers.