Best Computer Speakers : Logitech Speaker System Z523


Product Description
 
Your music. Your movies. Your games. The high-performance Speaker System Z523 brings them all to life in room-filling 360-degree sound. Unlike traditional one-directional speaker systems, Logitech speakers project sound evenly in all directions. No dead spots. You get the full listening experience--not just in front of the speakers--but everywhere in the room. Two satellite speakers deliver rich mids and crisp highs. The down-firing subwoofer with 6.5-inch pressure driver produces deep bass you can feel. RCA and 3.5mm jacks let you easily connect your Logitech Squeezebox network music player, gaming console, iPod or DVD player. 40 watts (RMS) of power fills the room with crystal-clear sound. And convenient on-speaker controls put complete bass and volume control at your fingertips.

Feel the music and action in high-performance all-around sound

Feel the bass thumps. Hear the enemy creeping toward you. Experience every emotion in the villain's voice. The Speaker System Z523 floods your room with sound so real and detailed, you'll feel like you're right there in the middle of your music, games and movies. It's deep bass and dynamic sound you can feel. Walk across the room and your music stays rich and balanced, thanks to Logitech 360-degree sound technology. Plug in your iPod, game console or DVD player and bring your favorite music and entertainment to life in room-filling audio clarity. Then turn up the volume and treat yourself to 40 watts of pure, clean listening power. This is the way music, movies and games were meant to be heard—all the way around.
   
Technical Details

  • Model: 980-000319
  • Color Name: Black
  • Hardware Platform: PC
  • Item Package Quantity: 1
  • Height: 7.7 inches
  • Width: 3.4 inches
  • Weight: 11.8 pounds
  • Warranty: 2 years warranty
         
        Product Features

        • Room-Filling Logitech 360-degree sound for an immersive music, movie and game experience.
        • Down-firing subwoofer with 6.5-in pressure driver delivers ultra-deep bass without distortion.
        • Quick-connect inputs let you easily plug in your DVD player, game console, iPod and headphones.
        • 40 watts (RMS) of power for big, rich, detailed sound.
        • Convenient on-speaker controls put volume adjustment at your fingertips.
             
            Review

            The good: Good sound for the money; strong bass; good connectivity options; volume and bass controls.

            The bad: Though its sound quality doesn't eclipse more expensive PC speakers, the Logitech Z523 is one of the best speaker-plus-subwoofer systems in its price class.

            The bottom line: While it won't blow you away with its sound quality, if you're looking for an affordable PC speaker-plus-subwoofer system, the Z523 is one of the best speaker systems in its price class.

            Logitech's Z523 Speaker system is one of four models in the company's 2009-2010 PC-speaker line that features a separate subwoofer. While the Z523 carries a list price of $99, it sells online for $79, which makes it quite affordable--and a relatively good value.

            When it released its new line in 2009, Logitech went away from the modern, squarish design of its USB-powered Z5 omnidirectional speakers and shifted to a more traditional PC speaker design. We can't say the Z523 looks or feels incredibly snazzy, but it's attractive enough, and the 4-inch subwoofer isn't imposing and is small enough to be tucked under a desk without standing out too much.

            As far as dimensions and specs go, the satellites are 5.2 inches by 3.4 inches by 7.7 inches with 2-inch dome drivers on the front and the rear. The subwoofer, meanwhile, features a 4-inch down-firing subwoofer as well as a side-mounted 6.5-inch passive pressure driver. Logitech rates the system at 40 watts (it can play pretty loud) and touts the fact that the satellites offer omnidirectional or 360-degree sound, which means you hear them even if you're standing behind them (thanks to those rear-mounted drivers).

            While the rear of the speaker isn't as attractive as the front, you could have the backs facing you and still get the same sound. Like the Logitech Z320 speakers (which doesn't include a subwoofer), these guys are designed to be placed in the center of a room, though the majority of people will probably end up with the rear drivers reflecting sound off a wall since most people keep their speakers on a desk that faces a wall. 

            Aside from its affordable price tag, the Z523 has a couple of strengths. For starters, the compact sub does deliver a good amount of bass and we liked how you can adjust the bass levels with the knob on the right speaker (there's a volume control knob above it). On music, the Z523 delivers ample low-end, and explosions in games and movies certainly pack some punch.

            We also liked the connectivity options. Hard-wired into the back of the right speaker is a 3.5mm cord for connecting to your computer (or you could link directly to the headphone jack on your phone or music player). On top of that, you also get a headphone jack on the side of the right speaker and a 3.5mm audio input for hooking up other devices, such as an MP3 or DVD player. Finally, the sub has a set of RCA audio inputs for connecting additional devices, which could include a gaming system or a small TV (You could, for instance, run a PS3 to an HDTV via HDMI, then run composite audio cables from the TV's analog outputs to the Z523's composite inputs).

            In terms of shortcomings, the Z523 just doesn't offer all that much in the way of detail (i.e., clarity). In other words, this little system sounds good for the money--and delivers ample bass--but don't expect high-end acoustics.

            All in all, if you're looking for an affordable PC speaker system--and don't mind having to deal with placing a subwoofer on the floor--the Z523 makes for a good choice and is one of the better speaker systems in its price class (Altec Lansing's Expressionist Plus would be a close competitor). In case you're comparing it to the lower-priced Z320, this model offers significantly more oomph, but that's to be expected from a 2.1 system that features a separate subwoofer.

            Reviewed by Tim Gideon and Edited By John P. Falcone (CNET Editor)

            Best Computer Speakers : Creative Inspire S2 Wireless


            Product Description
             
            With the Creative Inspire S2 Wireless speaker system featuring Bluetooth® wireless technology you will experience a whole new realm of audio freedom . You can now stream music from any Bluetooth-enabled wireless device from anywhere in the room, simply plug in the included USB Bluetooth transmitter to your computer's USB port and enjoy wireless audio through the speaker system.. Enjoy crystal clear audio from its two petite yet high-performance satellite speakers and the highly efficient Creative DIRECT-THROW subwoofer, which delivers dynamic mid bass - bringing your music to life instantly! Ideal for notebooks, simply connect the bundled USB Bluetooth transmitter and turn your computer into a wireless entertainment station! With instant connectivity at your fingertips, take control of the music now with the Inspire S2 Wireless speakers. Box Contents: Two satellite speakers, One subwoofer, USB Bluetooth transmitter, Universal Power adapter, Quick Start Guide, Warranty/Technical Support leaflet.
             
            Technical Details

            • Brand Name: Creative
            • Model: 51MF0390AA003
            • Color Name: Black
            • Speaker Type: Wireless PC multimedia speaker system
            • Speaker Amplification Type: Active
            • Speakers Response Bandwidth: 40 - 20000 Hz
            • Speaker Connectivity: Wireless
            • Weight: 8.50 pounds
                 
                Product Features

                • USB Bluetooth technology for wireless audio transmission.
                • Palm sized speaker design to optimize space on your desktop.
                • Creative DIRECT-THROW subwoofer ? delivers dynamic midbass for your musical enjoyment.
                • Convenient easy to reach power and volume control.
                • Energy Star qualified product.
                   
                  Review

                  The good: Integrated Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming; tiny satellite speakers sound bigger than they look; subwoofer is compact but delivers decent amount of bass; good connectivity options; Bluetooth dongle included for laptop and desktop PCs and Macs.

                  The bad: Some distortion at higher volumes; Bluetooth connection isn't very reliable; setup isn't totally wireless.

                  The bottom line: Creative's diminutive Bluetooth PC speaker system delivers impressive sound for such a compact package.

                  Over the years, we've seen a handful of Bluetooth speakers make their way into our office for testing, but the category has never taken off despite the appealing nature of wireless audio streaming.

                  Part of the problem is that Bluetooth speakers tend to cost more than your typical powered PC speakers do. Costing about $150, Creative's Inspire S2 Bluetooth speaker system isn't cheap but it is fairly affordable. It's also very small, especially for a 2.1 speaker package that includes a separate subwoofer.

                  As far as exact measurements go, the Inspire S2's cube-shaped sub is 9 inches tall by 8 inches wide by 7 inches deep and can be easily hidden under a desk. The sub is black; the tiny satellites are white with black cloth grille covers. They're so small you'll barely notice them sitting on a desk.
                  On the right speaker, you get a headphone and an auxiliary input for connecting other audio devices such as music phones or portable video players. There's also a power button and volume controls that double as the Bluetooth pairing buttons: you hold down the volume up button for a few seconds to put the speakers in pairing mode.

                  The Bluetooth moniker conjures up images of a totally wireless experience, but--like nearly all "cordless" experiences--there are plenty of wires here. The speaker cables--about 6 feet long each--are hard-wired into the two satellites and connect to dedicated ports on the sub, where you'll find a knob for controlling the bass levels. And, of course, you have the power cord running to the subwoofer.

                  The idea here is that you'd place the speakers in a fixed location (most probably on a desk or shelf) and then have the freedom to move your laptop around the room and not worry about being tethered to a set of speakers to get your sound. Alternately, you should be able to stream any A2DP-compatible Bluetooth audio source to these speakers. The list includes newer iPhone and iPod Touch models, and most media-savvy cell phones.

                  The Inspire S2 comes with a USB dongle that you connect via a USB port on your computer and the drivers automatically install themselves; the dongle is compatible with both Windows and Mac PCs. In your audio settings menu, you then have to tell your computer to output sound through the Bluetooth connection. Note that the A2DP wireless stereo Bluetooth and AVRCP Bluetooth remote control profiles are supported at a range of 30 feet. Once that's set up, the dongle should automatically connect to the speakers.

                  We didn't have a problem pairing our computer with the speakers and setting up a wireless connection. Things were just as simple when we went to pair an iPhone 3GS with the system, but we did have a little trouble reconnecting--sometimes it took a few tries. Alas, Bluetooth remains a little finicky, but that experience is par for the Bluetooth course--not a knock that's specific to the Creative Inspire S2.

                  Though we were generally pleased with the setup side of things, what ultimately impressed us about the Inspire S2 package was how good it sounded for its size. Of course, we've heard better sound from larger systems that retail for around the same price. But the key here is that the Creative speakers offered a reasonable amount of bass and good detail. They played fairly loud, too, though they strained themselves when we pushed the volume to the highest levels.

                  If you're looking for a wired 2.1 system that costs less than $100, Altec Lansing's Expressionist Plus offers similar sound to the Inspire S2. However, if Bluetooth is what you're after, and you like the compact qualities of the S2, we have no problem recommending it, especially for smaller rooms (such as a dorm room or a bedroom). It may not blow you away with its sound quality, but it certainly surprises you with how much bigger it plays than its size would otherwise indicate.

                  Reviewed by Tim Gideon and Edited By John P. Falcone (CNET Editor)

                  Best Computer Speakers : B&W MM-1 Multimedia Speakers


                  Product Description
                   
                  Calling upon years of superior audio advancement, Bowers & Wilkins designed the MM-1 in such a way as to rethink the concept of "computer speakers" Rather than starting small and trying to improve the sound, they took top-notch hi-fi technology and shrunk it down to something that will fit on your desk. You'll never believe how good your computer can sound with these incredible speakers.
                   
                  Technical Details

                  • Superb compact desktop speakers with big sound.
                  • Nautilus drive unit technology for accurate sound.
                  • DSP tuning keeps bass effects powerful.
                  • Rich, detailed music no matter how loud you play it.
                  • USB connection to your computer.

                  Review

                  The good: Slick, modernist design; well-balanced, detailed sound; punchy bass; remote control included; digital connection via USB to computer.

                  The bad: Extraordinarily expensive; audio quality isn't as good when you move out of the sweet spot (three feet away from speakers); sound is so detailed it makes MP3s and streaming audio of already iffy quality sound worse.

                  The bottom line: We found a lot to like about the B&W MM-1 multimedia speakers, but their $500 price tag gives us pause.

                  In recent years, Bowers & Wilkins, one of the legendary names in British hi-fi audio, has been branching out beyond its high-end speakers that have long appealed to audiophiles. It has created a line of uniquely styled Zeppelin iPod speaker systems and now it is offering the P5, a $300 pair of headphones as well as the $500 MM-1 multimedia speakers.

                  The first thing you're probably saying to yourself is: wow, $500 for a pair of PC speakers. What do I get for that?

                  For starters, these speakers are slick-looking with black cloth grilles and brush metal trim. For relatively compact speakers--they measure 6.7 inches high by 3.9 inches wide by 3.9 inches deep and have a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter--the MM1s have a nice heft to them. The right speaker--which houses four 18-watt Class D amplifiers, two of which power the left speaker--weighs 2.1 pounds, while the left speaker comes in at 1.9 pounds. The amplifiers make the aluminum top on the right speaker warm to the point where we became concerned--maybe it's not quite warm enough to keep a cup of coffee hot, but pretty warm nevertheless. That said, the speakers worked fine during our tests--we left them on for a few hours straight without any problems.

                  In terms of setup, you connect the MM-1s to your computer via USB and it installs the drivers install automatically on Macs and Windows PCs. According to B&W, the USB connection is fed to an "audiophile" quality digital-to-analog converter that incorporates equalization to increase the 3-inch woofers bass output. Around the back of the right speaker is an auxiliary input for iPods and other audio devices as well as a headphone input. Both the USB and power cords plug into the bottom of that speaker, and some slots for cable management help keep everything aligned and hidden properly. The speakers come with a shiny black-and-chrome oval-shaped remote control that looks similar to the one B&W includes with its Zeppelin and Zeppelin Mini iPod speaker systems. The remote control--which is a fingerprint magnet and easy to misplace--controls the the speaker's power and volume, as well as play, pause, next, and previous track selection for iTunes. If you misplace the remote, there's a volume control on the side right speaker as well as a power button. The left speaker's blue LED flashes when you raise or lower the volume and turns red when you power off the speakers.

                  When CNET contributor Steve Guttenberg wrote his impressions of the MM-1s, he talked about how he didn't agree with B&W's claim that there was "no need to add a subwoofer" to these speakers. He pointed out that larger, less expensive systems such as Altec Lansing's Expressionist Ultra MX6021 PC speaker-subwoofer system ($200) "can produce dramatically more and very high-quality bass." While that's true, the MM-1 produces deep, punchy bass for a 2.0 speaker system and it offers very detailed, well-balanced sound.

                  What's interesting about these speakers is that they're truly optimized for a near-field listening experience and they sound their best when you're sitting about 3 feet away from them with the speakers spread about 30 inches to 36 inches apart. Not coincidentally, that distance equates to where you'd be in relation to your computer--and computer speakers--when sitting at a desk.

                  At that distance, these are some of the best-sounding computer speakers we've listened to--their strength lies in the amount of clarity they deliver. As such, they do better with well recorded and higher bit rate tracks (B&W encouraged us to test the speakers with lossless digital music or CDs). As Guttenberg noted, the "MM-1s all too clearly revealed marginal sounding MP3's shortcomings." Translation: If you put garbage in, it will sound like garbage coming out; there's no masking it.

                  Like Guttenberg, we also have a pair of Audioengine 2 speakers ($200) on hand for comparison, and we agree that the MM-1s offer clearer audio with more potent sound and better-defined bass. They are definitely a step up, particularly for those looking for a high-resolution computer speaker. But the Audioengine 2s cost less than half the price of the MM-1 and they are more laid back, so they don't make poorer-quality MP3s or streaming audio sound so harsh. They also are more flexible in terms of listening distance--you don't have to listen to them from 3 feet away to maximize your listening enjoyment.

                  Comparing the MM-1s with the larger Audioengine 5s, which cost $350, isn't really fair since the 5s are bigger, bulkier, and far less sexy-looking speakers. That said, you're going to get better, bigger sound from the 5s since they can really fill a medium-size room. The MM-1s start to sound a little strained at higher volumes and really aren't designed to be muscular "party" speakers. They have a more refined quality to them.

                  As you can probably tell from our comments, we like the MM-1s a lot; however, we have some misgivings. We think that $500 computer speakers should offer more listening flexibility and shouldn't be so optimized for a near-field audio experience--they sound good from farther back, just not as good as they should for $500. But if you're someone who likes to kick back at your desk chair in your den or home office and listen to music, you are getting a great-looking and -sounding set of computer speakers.

                  Reviewed by David Carnoy and edited by John P. Falcone (CNET Editor)
                  Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.

                  Best Computer Speakers : Harman/Kardon SoundSticks II


                  Product Description
                   
                  Harman Kardon’s 40-watt SoundSticks II three-piece speaker system produces high-quality stereo sound for music, MP3’s, movies and gaming experiences. The mini stereo jack connection allows you to enjoy awesome audio from a variety of devices such as digital music players, computers (all platforms), stereos and portable listening devices. Touch Volume Control – Just a touch increases or decreases the volume. Just a touch mutes or un-mutes the system. SoundSticks II also remembers your last volume setting. The SoundSticks II audio system utilizes a straightforward interconnect technology, which provides an effortless user interface with minimum desktop wiring. The powerful subwoofer provides clean, low bass. The treble and subwoofer level controls are located on the back of the subwoofer.
                   
                  Technical Details 

                  • Model Name: Harman/kardon SoundSticks
                  • Model: SoundSticks II
                  • Color Name: Clear
                  • Hardware Platform: PC
                  • Item Package Quantity: 1
                  • Height: 15.50 inches
                  • Width: 11.25 inches
                  • Weight: 11.15 pounds

                  Product Features

                  • 3-piece plug and play multimedia speaker system.
                  • Stunning, original design with great sound.
                  • Features computer-optimized multi-band parametric equalization.
                  • Capacitance touch control buttons provide direct access to volume control.
                  • 20 Watts RMS subwoofer power output.
                   
                  Review

                  The good: Ultraclear sound quality; unique design; platform-neutral minijack connector.

                  The bad: No headphone jack; no visual indicator of volume level.

                  The bottom line: The Harman Kardon SoundSticks II match performance with attractive visual design, a combination that always makes our hearts beat a little faster. They're nearly perfect, save for a few design flaws.

                  Updating the unique, 2000-issue Apple-only SoundSticks, Harman Kardon has given the $200 2.1-channel SoundSticks II an equally aesthetically pleasing design. But in a diplomatic move, Harman Kardon bridges the platform gap, allowing anyone with a 1/8-inch minijack input to take advantage of the SoundSticks II and their fantastic output. The transparent, 10-watt speakers, each equipped with four 1-inch drivers, rest on sturdy, adjustable bases. Accompanying the speakers, the 20-watt subwoofer features a blue internal power indicator and a bubblelike contour, creating an appearance that's more like that of an exotic jellyfish than an audio component.

                  If you believe their technical specifications, the Harman Kardon SoundSticks II speakers don't look as good on paper as similar systems such as the Creative I-Trigue L3450s. With a rated frequency-response range of 44Hz to 20KHz, the SoundSticks II should strike out compared to the I-Trigue 3450s and their allegedly wider-range 30Hz low end. But that's not what we heard. On Spoon's "Everything Hits at Once" (an MP3), the drums and the bass sounded glorious. A round low end accompanied the crisp definition in the low mids and high mids to deliver some of the best sound we've heard through a 2.1 computer setup. Occasionally, the overall mix sounded a bit too bright and the vocals a bit too sibilant, but it is always better to err on the side of clarity, and you certainly can't describe the SoundSticks II's output as muddy.

                  The SoundSticks II speakers were similarly successful when we tested them on the Spider-Man DVD's scene 18. Although the low-end rumble during the scene's main explosion could have been more powerful, the subwoofer sounded fantastic on the Green Goblin's punches, plus the dialogue was clear, and we heard absolutely no distortion at the maximum volume level. As for gaming, when we tested the speakers on Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, the story was the same: overall, excellent definition but occasionally lacking in the heavy low-end rumble that many would expect from a subwoofer.

                  Although we were impressed as much by their audio quality as we were by their design, we do have some usability gripes with the SoundSticks II--minor complaints normally, but they are amplified by the $200 price tag. The SoundSticks II features two "capacitance touch" volume control buttons on the right satellite--interesting, but hardly any easier than turning a knob, and the absence of a visual display for the volume level--easily provided by a knob--is slightly annoying. And those who like to rock out in the office will also be disappointed by the lack of a headphone jack.

                  If you can overlook a few missing details, you should find the Harman Kardon SoundSticks II speakers attractive, versatile, and accurate. Prepare to pay a bit more than you normally would for a 2.1 set, but the audio quality is definitely worth the price.

                  Reviewed by Tim Gideon and Edited By Rich Brown (CNET Editor)

                  Best Computer Speakers : Altec Lansing Expressionist Ultra MX6021


                  Product Description
                   
                  The Expressionist Ultra puts you in the heart of a sonic tsunami. Exhilarating waves of sound flow at you from five digital amplifiers powering five separate drivers. The long-throw 6-1/2-inch subwoofer pumps out seismic bass and the precisionmatched mid-range and high-frequency neodymium speaker drivers deliver exceptionally accurate, full-spectrum sound. This uniquely designed 3-piece, 200 Watt powerhouse is one serious audio system that will take your music, movies and games to a whole new listening level. Enjoy earth shaking sound from your MP3 player, TV, game console, DVD player or other audio device.
                   
                  Technical Details

                  • Model: MX6021
                  • Color Name: Black
                  • Item Package Quantity: 1
                  • Weight: 24.00 pounds

                      Product Features  

                      • 200 Watt powerhouse, separate amplifiers for bass, midrange, and treble provide exceptionally clean, power for listening at any volume.
                      • Seriously deep bass low-frequency bass you can feel from the 6 1/2 front-firing, long-throw woofer.
                      • Full, accurate sound Each speaker delivers clear, full-spectrum sound from a 3 midrange driver and a 1 inch neodymium tweeter.
                      • Fingertip control Full-function Power, Volume, Treble and Bass controls.


                          Review


                          The good: Impressive sound for the money; stylish design; very strong bass; good connectivity options; desktop controller for power, volume, bass, and treble.

                          The bad: The speaker cables--which can't be extended because they use proprietary connections--are a little on the short side, so you lose some flexibility on where to place the speakers.

                          The bottom line: The Altec Lansing Expressionist Ultra MX6021 PC speaker system is a superior combination of design and performance available at a fairly affordable price.

                          Altec Lansing's Expressionist Ultra MX6021 currently sits at the top of the company's line of stylish "expressionist" PC speaker systems, which also includes the Expressionist Classic, Expressionist Bass, and Expressionist Plus. Of the four models, the Ultra is the only one of the bunch that Altec truly designates as a "gaming" PC speaker on its Web site. The Ultra earns that designation for being a brawny 2.1 system that features a 6.5-inch, front-firing subwoofer and 200 watts of sound.

                          In keeping with the Expressionist design, the Ultra has a modern look: the subwoofer (measuring 15.8 tall by 15.1 inches wide by 10.2 inches deep) is shaped like a flat-topped pyramid, and the cylindrical satellite speakers are set into translucent smoked plastic stands. The satellites sport 3-inch midrange drivers and 1-inch inch neodymium tweeters.

                          The two satellite speakers connect directly to the sub (the cables are thick) along with a separate desktop controller that lets you turn the system on and off, as well as adjust volume, bass, and treble levels. If there's a shortcoming to the system, it's that the speaker cords are a little on the short side and that they use a proprietary connector, so you can't go by extension cords at a retail store. As a result, you lose some flexibility on where to place the speakers. However, it you're someone who expects to stick the sub under a desk or table and have the satellites on either side of your monitor, the Ultra will work fine for you. 

                          As for the controller, it has a premium look and feel to it. While it took a little fiddling to get used to the control mechanism, we got the hang of it after a few minutes and were able to set bass and treble levels to our liking (we ended up leaving the bass at a mid setting but turned down the treble). 

                          Integrated into the controller you'll find a 3.5mm auxiliary input to connect other devices such as an MP3 player, DVD player, or TV, along with a 3.5mm headphone input. The sub also has a 3.5mm input--that's where most folks will plug in their PC--so you're pretty well covered on the connectivity front. We appreciate that the Ultra ships with a cord for connecting your devices to the system. The cord has 3.5mm jacks at each end, but you also get an RCA adapter for connecting TVs and game consoles via a set of basic red/white composite cables (not included). 

                          As for sound, the Ultra generally delivered on its promise of being a "powerhouse" system. Not only were we impressed with the big, relatively tight bass from the Ultra, but we also thought the system offered good clarity, and is well balanced overall. We listened to our usual assortment of test music that included Elvis Costello, Dan Auerbach, Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas, and some classical tracks, and came away feeling the Ultra acquitted itself quite well for a system that costs about $170 online (its list price is $199). 

                          While this isn't a 5.1 surround system like Altec's FX5051, the system delivers ample visceral punch for gaming and movie watching. To be clear, you shouldn't expect the world from a $170 PC speaker system, but relatively speaking, the Ultra offers very good bang for the buck. 

                          Of course, if you're concerned about the idea of placing a pretty beefy sub in your room--yes, it's hard to conceal--this probably isn't the system for you. You should also be forewarned that if you live in close proximity to others--such as in apartment building or dorm room-- at high volume the sub pumps out enough bass to rattle some walls and floors. However, for many, that will be an appealing trait. 

                          If you're looking for an even more affordable priced 2.1 PC speaker system, you could step down to Altec Lansing's Expressionist Plus or Logitech's Z523. However, simply put, the Ultra sounds better and offers significantly more oomph than those systems. 

                          Reviewed by David Carnoy and Edited By John P. Falcone (CNET Editor)

                          Best Computer Speakers : Audioengine 2 (White)


                          Product Description
                           
                          Creating powered multimedia speakers to follow the Audioengine 5 was a challenge, but we feel we've managed to duplicate the signature sound of the Audioengine 5's in a much smaller package perfectly suited for your desktop or a smaller space in your home or office. The Audioengine 2 is a great introduction to high-quality audio and the perfect upgrade for your computer or iPod. 
                           
                          Technical Details

                          Model: 2
                           
                          Product Features
                           
                          2 audio inputs (RCA and mini-jack)
                          Built-in power amps (left speaker)
                          Kevlar woofers for super low end, Silk tweeters for smooth highs
                          Auto-sleep power-saving mode
                          Hand-built cabinets with high-gloss finish
                           
                          Review

                          The good: These compact powered speakers deliver phenomenal sound for their size. They offer simple, attractive styling, and two audio inputs.

                          The bad: The speakers lack a remote control, and the volume control is inconveniently located on the backside, and there's no way to toggle between inputs. The Audioengines are also a bit pricey compared with less refined PC speakers.

                          The bottom line: Though they're not cheap, the Audioengine 2 speakers are an ideal combination of compact size and good looks, delivering great sound for their size.
                          We've been a little tardy in reviewing Audioengine's PC speakers, but we're glad we finally got our hands on both the 2 series ($199) reviewed here and the step-up Audioengine 5 series (about $325 online) because they really are quite impressive.

                          The key thing to note about both sets of speakers is that they are bookshelf-style speakers masquerading as PC or "multimedia" speakers (as these things are apt to be labeled). But unlike classic bookshelf speakers, these Audioengine models are powered (via a standard AC plug); there's no need for a separate receiver or amplifier, so you can use them with any audio source. The smaller 2 series is more stylish-looking (and looks less like a monitor speaker) and comes in both black and white, as do the 5s.

                          The Audioengine 2 speakers measure 6 inches high by 4 inches wide by 5.25 inches deep. They each have a 2.75-inch Kevlar woofer and a 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter. Because the left speaker houses the amplifier (15 watts per channel), it's heavier than the right speaker. What's kind of interesting is that they're ported on the front--there's a slit at the bottom, below the driver--and when you're listening to movies, music, or games, you can feel plenty of air moving through that slit.

                          It's worth noting that both the 2 and 5 series Audioengine speakers come nicely packaged, with cloth covers over the speakers and cables. The two speakers connect to each other with "real" speaker wire (included) and you also get an input cable that allows you to connect your PC to the 3.5mm aux input on the back of the left speaker. The use of standard cables means that--unlike some speakers with proprietary connections and cables--you can invest in custom-length cables that are as long or short as you'd like. The left speaker also has a set of red/white RCA inputs to connect other devices, such as a game system, iPod or iPhone, or even a TV.

                          Note that you can't toggle between inputs; both are always active. That's either going to be a feature (say, the ability to listen to music from an iPod while being able to hear the bleeping and blooping from your PC) or a bug (the constant need to mute one audio source while listening to the other), depending on your point of view. Speaking of controls: no remote is included and we should point out that the volume control button is on the back of the right speaker (as opposed to the front, where it would be slightly easier to access). Another small drawback: the power adapter is kind of beefy.

                          Audioengine makes some accessories, including the S8 subwoofer and a couple of wireless adapters (the W1 and W2) for its speaker line. The subwoofer would obviously allow you to get significantly more bass and richer sound, but the downside is that the sub is actually pretty pricey ($350) and bringing in that extra speaker somewhat diminishes the sleek, minimalist effect these speakers offer (for Apple systems like the iMac, the white version of the 2 series tends to match up better than the black does).

                          Luckily, the appeal of these speakers is that you do without the sub. For their size, Audioengine 2s deliver deep, tight bass, and offer excellent detail and relatively big sound, even though they're so compact. True, the Audioengine 5s deliver a richer, fuller experience, but for many, the step-up model will just seem too bulky to leave sitting on a desk (they truly are bookshelf speakers with a more industrial, monitor flair to them).

                          As we said, we liked what we heard from these guys and so did Steve Guttenberg, who writes the Audiophiliac blog and reviews home theater speakers for CNET. He, too, praised the bass and noted that "the midrange and treble refinement are exceptional." You can crank the volume on the 2s but he, like this reviewer, thought they sounded better at more moderate volume levels.

                          Because they deliver such good sound for their size, we were tempted to give the Audioengines Series 2 speakers an Editors' Choice award, but ultimately we felt the higher-end 5s were more worthy, mainly because they offer even better sound and such niceties as a USB port for charging devices like iPods and iPhones, an extra 3.5mm input on the top of the speaker, and even a power outlet on the back of the speaker for plugging in additional audio sources, such as the Apple Airport Express. (Alas, the 5s don't include a remote either, which is too bad.)

                          In the final analysis, if you're looking for a set of compact, good-looking PC speakers that deliver great sound for their size, look no further. We should also mention that the Audioengine 2s perform better than most of the iPod speaker docks in this price range. Of course, it helps that you can separate the speakers to your liking, which allows for much better stereo imaging.

                          Reviewed by David Carnoy and Edited By John P. Falcone (CNET Editor)

                          Best Computer Speakers : Audioengine A5B (Black)


                          Product Description

                          Audioengine 5 is a full-size speaker system in a bookshelf-sized package. Internal power amps eliminate the need to connect the Audioengine 5 to a bulky stereo receiver or power amplifier. And with built-in subwoofer ports, the Audioengine 5 adds incredible low-end bass without the need for an external subwoofer.

                          Technical Details

                          • Brand Name: Audioengine
                          • Model: 5
                          • Color Name: Black
                          • Speaker Type: PC multimedia speakers
                          • Speaker Amplification Type: Active
                          • Speakers Response Bandwidth: 50 - 22000 Hz
                          • Speaker Connectivity: Wired
                          • Depth: 7.8 inches
                          • Height: 10 inches
                          • Width: 7 inches
                          • Warranty: 3 years warranty 

                          Product Features

                          •   iPod power charging port (Combo Port)
                          • 2 audio inputs
                          • Built-in power amplifier, no receiver/amp needed
                          • Power outlet for Airport Express
                          • Front panel volume control

                            Review

                            The good: The powered Audioengine 5 speakers deliver phenomenal sound and offer simple, attractive styling. They feature two audio inputs and two integrated charging options (one USB port, one AC plug). Speaker wire connections mean that you can optimize stereo separation.

                            The bad: The speakers aren't cheap, and many will find them to be too large and bulky compared with PC speakers. There's no remote control, and no way to toggle between inputs.

                            The bottom line: You'd be hard-pressed to find a pair of powered stereo speakers at this price point that sounds better--and offer more flexibility--than the Audioengine 5s.

                            We've been a little tardy in reviewing Audioengine's PC speakers, but we're glad we finally got our hands on both the 5 series ($325) reviewed here and the step-down Audioengine 2 series ($199) because they really are quite impressive.

                            The key thing to note about both sets of speakers is that they are bookshelf-style speakers masquerading as PC or "multimedia" speakers (as these things are apt to be labeled). But unlike classic bookshelf speakers, these Audioengine models are powered (via a standard AC plug); there's no need for a separate receiver or amplifier, so you can use them with any audio source. The larger 5 series is the more industrial-looking (read: less stylish) of the two models and appears to share some heritage with monitor speakers you'd find in a recording studio. It's available in either black or white, as are the 2s. There's also a bamboo version of the 5 series that costs $449.

                            The Audioengine 5 speakers measure 10 inches high by 7 inches wide by 7.9 inches deep. They each have a 5-inch Kevlar woofer and a 20mm silk dome tweeter. Because the left speaker houses the amplifier (50 watts per channel), it's heavier than the right speaker. Unlike the 2s, which are ported on the front, the 5s are ported on the rear.

                            It's worth noting that both the 2 and 5 series Audioengine speakers come nicely packaged, with cloth covers over the speakers and cables. The left and right speakers connect to each other with "real" speaker wire (included) and you also get an input cable that allows you to connect your PC to the 3.5mm aux input on the back of the left speaker. The use of standard cables means that--unlike some speakers with proprietary connections and cables--you can invest in custom-length cables that are as long or as short as you'd like.

                            What's most unique about the Audioengine 5 speakers is the 3.5mm aux input on top of the left speaker that sits next to a USB port. To be clear, the USB port is only for power, not for reading audio files; it also doesn't allow pass-through syncing to PCs. But that combination of USB power-plus-audio input allows you to charge your iPod/iPhone with a USB cable while you're listening to your music. And though the cables make it a bit less appealing to the eye than a standard iPod dock, the combo is far more universal in its compatibility: you can charge 'n' play any USB-powered audio device, including a wide array of non-Apple music phones and media players.

                            It gets even better: the second 3.5mm input on the left speaker's backside is located near a full-on AC power jack. Audioengine touts the fact that you can plug an Apple AirPort Express directly into the outlet, turning the speakers into an iTunes streamer (via Apple's AirTunes functionality). Of course, that outlet can also power any other audio source--anything from a Sonos or Squeezebox streamer to a CD player.

                            Note that you can't toggle between inputs; both are always active. That's either going to be a feature (say, the ability to listen to music from an iPod while being able to hear the bleeping and blooping from your PC) or a bug (the constant need to mute one audio source while listening to the other), depending on your point of view.

                            Speaking of controls: no remote is included, and we should point out that the volume control button is on the front of the left speaker. Unlike with the 2s, that volume knob doesn't double as the power switch; there's a separate power toggle on the back of the speaker. However, Audioengine has equipped the 5s with an autosleep power-save mode that kicks in after about 10 minutes when no audio passes through the speakers. That said, some people have complained that the speakers make a sound when the power-save mode kicks in--and it can be fairly loud if you have your volume up high--which you may find annoying. 

                            Also of note: though the Audioengines aren't technically "certified for iPhone," they are magnetically shielded. We didn't experience any GSM interference from the iPhone (those annoying clicks and buzzes that can afflict nonshielded speakers), even when we left it directly on top. 

                            Audioengine sells some accessories, including the S8 subwoofer ($350) and a couple of wireless adapters (the W1 and W2) for its speaker line. The subwoofer connects via the red/white RCA stereo outputs on the left speaker's backside. It would obviously allow you to get more bass and even richer sound, but the appeal of these speakers is that you can really do without the sub.

                            It's hard to quantify just how much better the Audioengine 5s sound than the Audioengine 2s, but they definitely deliver bigger, richer sound with deep, tight bass, and excellent clarity--and they play very loud. With higher-end PC speakers you just get fuller, smoother sound that has that much more detail, and when you listen to these guys, you start to hear stuff (i.e., individual instruments) in your music that you weren't aware was there. They easily best more-expensive iPod speakers out there, including those from Bose and B&W, which retail in some cases for twice as much. 

                            When we review PC speakers, we like to throw an eclectic mix of music at them, as well as a couple of action movie and games (usually a first-person shooter or two). We also like to do a little jury testing, and for this review, we pulled in Steve Guttenberg, who reviews home theater speakers for CNET and had previously praised the Audioengine 2s and the Audioengine P4s (unpowered, passive bookshelf speakers) in his Audiophiliac blog. Steve thought the Audioengine 5s sounded great and were clearly superior to the 2s, but he liked the 2s for their smaller footprint, sleeker look, and more affordable price tag. 

                            It's true: For some, this model will just seem too bulky to leave sitting on a desk. They truly are bookshelf speakers with--as we said--a more industrial, monitor flair to them. However, the bottom line here is that you're going to be hard-pressed to find a 2.0 system that sounds better, particularly at this price point, and that has the 5s' connectivity options. Yes, we could quibble about there not being an integrated iPod dock and remote, but in the end, the extra input and USB port on top of the speaker, combined with the speakers' exceptional sound, make the Audioengine 5s worthy of an Editors' Choice award.

                            Reviewed by David Carnoy and Edited By John P. Falcone (CNET Editor)