Hailing from the south of Germany, ESI Audio makes a wide variety of audio-related products, including audio interfaces, microphones and headphones. They also have a line of powered speakers and in this review, I’m checking out the ESI Audio uniK 05+ 2-way studio monitor. The uniK 05+ features a 5-inch woven Kevlar woofer and a magnetostatic ribbon tweeter, along with a sound character adjustment knob for making easy room adjustments. Let’s take a closer look.
Disclaimer:This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
ESI Audio uniK 05+ Review
One-dial sound character adjustment
Speed and accuracy of magnetostatic tweeter
Room correction controls
Great build quality
Smooth, analogue-sounding midrange
Striking visual appearance
Sub-bass extension due to compact size
Design and Functionality
Standing at 265mm in height, the uniK 05+ is the perfect size for desktop use. The rear-ported cabinet has a black vinyl wrap and rounded edges, giving it a modern feel. The front baffle is made of a very sturdy matte acrylic material and has chamfered edges.
At the top is the vertically-aligned 49 x 26 mm flat-ribbon magnetostatic tweeter. Just under that is an ESI logo that glows when the monitors are powered on. When in standby mode, the logo glows in a subdued red colour and when the speakers are active, the logo glows a coppery orange colour.
Arguably the standout visual feature of the uniK 05+ is its 5-inch woofer. The cone is made from a woven Kevlar composite and is a stunning coppery orange colour. The colour really pops and gives the monitors a real dash of style, not unlike the KEF LS50.
On the base of the speakers are four domed rubber feet. These feet serve 2 purposes. One is to provide better isolation and reduce surface vibration. In addition, both the rear and front feet are height adjustable so the speakers can tilt up or down to achieve the best listening position.
The uniK 05+ is a bi-amped monitor, with 2 Class-D amplifiers feeding 40 W to each driver and a crossover frequency of 3.2 kHz. The uniK 05+ has a frequency response of 49Hz-25kHz and 101dB SPL.
What’s On the Rear Panel?
Like the Kali Audio LP-8 we reviewed recently, the uniK 05+ has tuning options on the rear panel for making room adjustments. These are adjusted using a flat-head screwdriver which ESI has thoughtfully provided in the box.
There are 4 adjustment dials in total, including a precision gain attenuator, character, low and high dials. The first is a one-knob dial to adjust the sound character between smooth and bright. Next, the gain trim control allows up to ±14 dB of adjustment. Furthermore, there are traditional LF and HF controls allowing ±5 dB.
There is a ground lift button to reduce or eliminate ground-related noise arising from ground loops. For energy-conscious users, there is a Standby On/Off button which when enabled, puts the monitors into power-saving mode when no audio signal is detected for a certain amount of time. I found the standby mode to work well but would like to see a slightly longer delay before the speakers ‘go to sleep’. There is also an audible pop whenever power-saving is activated which can be a little distracting but of course, if it bothers you, you can simply turn off standby mode.
Included with the uniK 05+ are foam port bungs which can be used to seal the bass port. This is particularly useful if the speakers are flush against the wall or in a confined shelf area. Closing the port can attenuate unwanted bass resonance or ‘boom’ and having the option to plug the port is really convenient.
Setup and Placement
Positioning the uniK 05+ is quite simple thanks to their small footprint. I placed them on my desktop about 1.5 meters apart and toed-in to the listening position. The speakers were about 40cm from the wall so I felt there was no need to bung the rear port.
I used the Topping DX7 Pro DAC/Amp as the preamp to the uniK 05+ via balanced XLR output. The DX7 Pro was connected to my PC via USB.
General Sound Impressions
It’s a speaker that sounds quite impressive right from the get-go. For such a small speaker the uniK 05+ can put out a big sound and it has enough power to easily fill a small to medium room. I found the sound to be slightly coloured with the default settings. There seems to be a lift in the midrange that adds some extra presence and energy to female vocals and certain instruments. However, the built-in tuning options make any necessary corrections quick and easy to implement.
These are musical monitors, leaning slightly on the warmer side of neutral. According to ESI Audio, they have “true analog vintage sound processing with LC-like gyrator technology for a stressless and silky sound.” They have a strong centre image with good vocal density and vivid imaging. The uniK 05+ is a competent near-field speaker for content creation and I feel confident using them for mixing and editing.
The bass is fast, tight and nimble. Mid-bass is punchy and the speakers make it easy to distinguish between bass guitars and kick drums. One of the limitations of a small speaker like this is the sub-bass extension and that’s evident with the uniK 05+. If you’re working with a lot of deep, sub-bass notes you’ll probably find that adding a subwoofer into the mix is necessary.
For everything else though, the bass is addictive and brimming with texture. UniK 05+ excels on tracks like Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster’s “Tokyo Rose” . The heavy bass guitar is easily separated from the drums and both are a delight for the ears.
The mids are a strong area for this monitor too. They’re very clean and have excellent separation. Midrange notes are slightly rounded with the default settings giving them a musical presentation rather than an analytical one. There’s no hint of muddiness anywhere though and the midrange clarity is outstanding.
Even Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers” sounds articulated and clean, making the vocals easy to separate from the din of guitar grinding.
As expected, the magnetostatic ribbon tweeter performs like a track star. To say the transients are fast would be an understatement. The uniK 05+ treble is precise and exceptionally clean. What you hear is exactly what’s on the recording. Thankfully even my treble-sensitive ears never experienced any fatigue from the monitors, even when listening to hotly recorded music.
Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” is easily dissected by the uniK 05+. Each of the percussion instruments is easily distinguishable from the others. The ribbon tweeter’s clean attack and agility make the treble accurate yet easy on the listener.
Kali Audio LP-8 ($249 ea)
The Kali Audio LP-8 (review here) is another great budget monitor. I know it’s not really an apples to apples comparison (5-inch vs 8-inch) but it is close in price. Let’s start with the physical differences. Obviously the LP-8 is bigger and beefier with its 8-inch woofer. The build and finish doesn’t feel quite as premium as the uniK 05+ which has rounded cabinet edges and woven Kevlar woofer.
In terms of sound, there are some key differences. The first is bass, as you might expect. The LP-8’s larger driver and enclosure deliver sub-bass with an effortless authority the smaller uniK 05+ cannot physically match. With the Kali Audio, there isn’t any need to add an external subwoofer into the setup but I would argue that it’s necessary for certain types of music with the ESI Audio.
Another thing I noticed was that the LP-8 has superior micro-dynamics and I was able to pick up certain details that weren’t audible on the uniK 05+ (in its default tuning configuration). But I’m only talking about the most minute details that a lot of speakers and even headphones don’t pick up. Where the uniK 05+ shines in comparison is in its richer midrange, small footprint and eye-pleasing aesthetics.
The ESI Audio uniK 05+ is a little monitor with a big amount of charm. Not only does it look awesome (in my opinion) with its coppery orange highlights and glowing logo but it has a sound that will leave you impressed too.
If you’re looking for a small, affordable desktop monitor with loads of features and customization options, the uniK 05+ represents excellent value. It’s great for producing, mixing and just listening. With its excellent audio quality and tuning options, the sleek looks and small footprint are just icing on the already delicious cake.
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