Grovemade is a company that specializes in tech accessories made from wood and leather, and generally speaking, everything it makes is beautiful. We’ve seen design companies delve into the audio realm before with mixed results, so despite the undeniable beauty of the Grovemade Walnut Speakers & Amp, we went in unsure what to expect. From a design standpoint, the wood-carved speakers are simply stunning. But at $599, the speakers fall somewhat short in the audio department—they don’t sound bad by any means, but they also don’t offer much in the way of bass response, and lack the ability to add a subwoofer to remedy this issue. If you’re enamored with the way these speakers look, you’re not alone, but know that the audio performance is not on the same level as the design itself.
Are these the prettiest speakers we’ve ever tested? They’re certainly in the running. Made in conjunction with industrial designer Joey Roth, each speaker measures 8.8 by 3.5 by 7.5 inches (HWD), and is shaped almost like a large sea shell, with the dramatic ridged opening in the wood serving as a horn designed to reinforce the lower frequencies. The idea behind the ridges is to create a concert hall-like surface that eliminates standing waves by sending the sound exiting the horn in multiple directions. Below the horn is a Fountek FR58EX driver, which projects audio through perforations in an L-shaped stainless steel piece that serves as both grille and built-in stand for each speaker. The drivers also funnel sound into the back-loaded tunnel that feeds the horns internally, visible in the cross-section image below. Interestingly, the forward-facing, outer panel of the stand is clad in thin, dark vegetable-tanned leather.
On the rear panels, the connections allow for standard RCA speaker cables (if you have a set you’d rather use), but they’re designed for the banana plug-style cables that are included with the system. The cables have a braided, red cloth exterior that adds another touch of drama to the overall look of the system.
The cables connect to the included amplifier, which sits flat on a surface or desktop nearby—the cables have a decent amount of slack to them, so you can achieve quite a bit of separation for the speakers if you have the space. Along the back panel, you have the connections for each speaker, as well as the left/right RCA input for your audio source (a cable that terminates in a 3.5mm connection for mobile devices and computers is included). The amp delivers 25 watts per channel at 8 Ohms.
The top of the 1.8-by-6.8-by-3.8-inch amp, also made of walnut with a cork-padded base, houses a large stainless steel volume dial that has a good range—it takes some time to turn it all the way up or down, and it moves quite smoothly. Your source’s volume works independently of this control, so blasting your source volume will require keeping the dial at more moderate settings to avoid distortion.
The issue we have with the speaker design has nothing to do with aesthetics, but layout. The drivers are positioned lower than the bass ports, and they are not angled upward in the slightest. This means all the crisp treble you could be enjoying is being fired at your torso if you have these on your desktop. Setting the speakers on top of books or stands of equal height can help remedy this a bit, but it’s a bummer they aren’t simply angled upward, which would’ve eliminated the issue without compromising the beautiful design. As it stands, you have highly directional high frequency waves being fired nowhere near the ears, while less directional lower frequencies come out the top portion of the speakers—though to be fair, the horns are not in line with the ears, either.
Before we get too far discussing the audio, it should be noted that Grovemade offers a maple version of the system for $499. It’s identical in terms of specs and dimensions, but it’s possible that the maple wood could have a slightly different effect on audio performance than the walnut. Since we’ve only tested the walnut version, the specific audio performance section here refers to the walnut system.
On tracks with powerful sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Walnut speakers deliver a minimal amount of bass. These are mids-focused full-range drivers that can’t really reach down and reproduce the truly deep lows on this track. At top volumes on both the sound source and the amp, the speakers distort pretty heavily, and it takes some dialing back to get rid of it. The overall sound is fairly crisp and clear, with only moderate low-end presence at normal listening levels, but the crispness will increase or decrease noticeably depending on whether your ears are aligned (or close to aligned) with the drivers, which will only happen if you bow your head dramatically or put the speakers on stands.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, doesn’t run into distortion issues at top volumes, but the drums sound thinner than they should. Callahan’s baritone vocals receive a nice, lush warmth in the lows and low-mids, accompanied by plenty of high-mid presence to give them a crisp treble edge and also bring out the attack of the strumming guitar.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop’s attack gets plenty of high-mid presence to accentuate its sharp edge, but its sustain lacks the lower frequency thump we expect, and the loop can sound a bit thin as a result. The sub-bass synth hits are more implied than delivered—we get their raspy top notes and little of their ominous low frequency presence. The vocals are clear and bright, if occasionally a bit more sibilant than necessary.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound crisp, with a focus on the higher register strings, brass, and vocals. The lower register instrumentation isn’t lost in the mix, but it’s dialed back a bit, and in the few instances when some sub-bass comes into play, it’s more or less lost.
The Grovemade Walnut Speakers & Amp don’t sound bad—they’re crisp and clear, especially when aligned with your ears—but they lack any true low frequency presence. A subwoofer dialed in to very modest settings would do great things for this system, but that’s not part of the design, and there’s no sub out. Our favorite high-end PC speakers that can also double as design pieces include the less expensive Polk Audio Hampden, the Definitive Technology Incline, the Edifier Spinnaker, and the Audioengine 2+. But Grovemade’s might be the most beautiful speakers we’ve tested in years, and that alone could be worth it for design-minded buyers.