Prosumer. The term has been well-seated in the lexicon of audio gear for over a decade. To some, it connotes knock-offs of serious hardware and carefully worded spec sheets; to others, it represents a sweet spot on the price/feature spectrum, just the right place for the project-level enthusiast to start. The EXO2 is Blue Sky’s newest offering for desktop monitoring, and it walks that pro/consumer line very cleverly.

Anybody used to full-range nearfield monitoring set-ups with only the LFE channel or the very bottom of the bass routed to the sub should be prepared for a surprise. A 2.1 satellite system with a fixed 140 Hz crossover is a very different experience, ergonomically as much as sonically, and it takes a bit of getting used to. Having said that, once I found the right placement and levels, I was surprised at how good it could sound.

At ear-level, the system features a pair of pint-sized two-way speakers housing 1″ and 3″ drivers and passive crossovers at 2 kHz. The subwoofer unit is compact and stylish, a near-perfect cube of brushed aluminum with a removable grille over the 8″ driver mounted on one side. It houses its own power amp, those for the satellites, and the power converter. I found myself wishing that the satellites could feature the same heavy-duty construction as the sub, but it’s conceivable that this wouldn’t afford much acoustic benefit.

All of the system’s I/O and controls are housed in the small and unthreatening preamp box that sits neatly on the desktop. It connects to the sub by a single mini-DIN cable, which has the dual purpose of sending the signal to the power amps and drawing power for the line and headphone preamps from the converter in the sub unit – a clever bit of design. The front panel is sparse: a pair of knobs for overall gain and sub level and a pair of mini jacks for headphone out and iPod in. The back panel has combo XLR/TRS and RCA inputs. All three stereo inputs can be plugged in at once, and all are mixed together, without independent gain controls. Like other elements of the EXO2’s design, this seems like an odd choice at first, but is actually a quite useful feature. Not only are users guaranteed to be able to plug in any analog source without adapters; they can also put off the purchase of a mixer as long as their three devices have output level controls. It’s worth noting that, while they’re handy, these two knobs aren’t really for regular adjustment; I had better results adjusting them to the rest of my system and controlling level at the sound card level. The exception to this was when using the headphone jack, which conveniently mutes the main output and is controlled by the gain knob.

Make no mistake – this is a Blue Sky product and worthy of the company’s reputation, but for professional critical listening applications, it’s no replacement for higher-end, larger monitoring systems. Powered full-range speakers also offer the advantage of being easily upgraded to surround by simply buying two or three more speakers. Because the EXO2’s satellites are dependent on the sub for amplification and its bass management can’t be controlled by the user, this system can’t be easily expanded.

When A/Bing them with a pair of Alesis M1s, I noticed a bit of a hump around 4 kHz. Vocals cut through better than on the Alesis pair, but transients’ details were less immediate. In spite of this, when I used the EXO2 to complete a mix that I’d started on the other monitors, my finished result translated nicely when played back on other systems. And used as room speakers for music listening, it’s worth noting that these outclass any bookshelf speakers I’ve ever heard.

There are many good reasons to go for a satellite system instead of monitoring full-range, the most obvious being space and budget limitations. So where does this intriguing product fit in? For any nascent electronic project studio centered around a computer and a $500 budget, this is the best first step to take – not a big screen, not a 14-channel FireWire interface, not a pricey new set of cans. I’ve seen too many project studios that have their signal chains fed into dusty hi-fi speakers powered by ancient stereo receivers. With a product like the EXO2, there’s no longer any excuse – Blue Sky has delivered on the promise of prosumerism.

Ian Ratzer is an independent sound designer/programmer and keyboardist in Montreal-based pop band First You Get the Sugar.