Buying Guide: Select The Best Speakers For You (Part 1) - Logitech S120, Creative Inspire T10

11/23/2012 11:26:50 AM

Between graphics cards and monitors, it's fair to say that visuals get the bulk of the attention in the world of PC upgrades. However, the right multimedia systems can have a huge impact on how you perceive your PC. If you think it's only capable of tinny music, raspy dialogue and unconvincing in-game soundscapes, try buying a fresh pair of speakers. You might be surprised what your computer can do, given the right hardware. In this guide, we've picked over options at all price points to help you select the best speakers you can get for the money you want to spend

You're probably familiar with the basic terminology of computer speakers, but just in case there are any gaps, we'll quickly go over it one more time before we get to the goods themselves.

Description: Speakers

The main thing worth explaining is the numbering. Although it looks like a decimal system, the numbering of speakers refers to the configuration of unit types. The first digit tells you the number of satellite speakers, and the second tells you the number of subwoofers. The most popular systems use either a 2.0 or 2.1 setup, which means two speakers and a subwoofer (or not), although more advanced surround sound and home theatre systems might use 5.1 or even 7.1 setups.

2.0 systems tend to be simple, low-power and easily portable. However, the quality is often poor, maybe not even much better than a monitor's integrated speakers. 2.1 setups with a subwoofer enhance the bass, making them perfect all round solutions for PCs that play a lot of music, do a little gaming and get used for watching movies.

Any more than two satellite speakers and you enter surround-sound territory. These are enthusiast setups that should be the preserve of gamers and serious home theatre aficionados, and which see significant benefits from being paired with a proper sound card. However, you will pay a premium in both space requirements and cost, so make sure you'll appreciate having them around before you head off to buy a system.

Also, just to make sure you understand speaker terminology, subwoofers enhance bass, tweeters enhance treble, and drivers aren't the software kind, but the cones inside the speakers that produce audio!

Logitech S120


·         Configuration: 2.0

·         Price: $16

·         Power Output: 2.3w

Logitech excel in making low-cost peripherals for PCs of any stripe, and its S120 budget speaker system is a good example of that. Designed for use with laptops, the S120 speakers are as basic as they come: you get a pair of mains-wired speakers with a 3.5mm audio jack and combined volume/power control. On the front, there's a power indicator LED and on one side, a headphone port. And that's your lot.

Description: Logitech S120

Logitech S120

As you might have gathered from the description, they need a separate mains power supply to function, but the supplied cable is nice and long, meaning you're unlikely to be restricted in where and how you position them. If you're using a desk, they'll fit on it.

Although you won't get crystal clear acoustics and floor-shaking bass out of them, what you will get is sound superior to any unpowered laptop or monitor speakers. At only 7" high and less than 3" wide, they're quite small, but this is intentional; they're designed to be portable. Helpfully, they're also quite hardy. With a pleasingly solid plastic shell and sturdy metal grille over the speakers, they can take a fair few knocks and won't fly apart the first time you chuck them in your bag.

There's nothing to stop you using them on a desktop PC, of course, particularly if you're price-or space-conscious, but the truth is that you can get substantially better sound at only a slightly higher cost. If you're after a pair of portable speakers, or something to stick in the kitchen so you can listen to your MP3 player while cooking, you wouldn't want to spend any more, but for more concentrated personal use, a little extra cash will go a long way.

There are some actively negative points that might persuade you not to buy them: they're incredibly light, which is good for portability, but bad for not having them clatter across the room every time there's a gust of wind in their direction. The audio cable that joins the two speakers is also quite short, making it difficult to position them very far apart. If you have a particularly wide monitor, prepare to deal with obstructions! Headphones are also likely to emit a hissing sound, even though the speakers themselves are fine.

For the price, it's hard to complain too much. They may lack features, they may lack fidelity, but when you can pick them up for less than the price of a half-decent burger, they more than justify themselves.

Basic, but priced so well you won't be too bothered by that

Creative Inspire T10


·         Configuration: 2.0

·         Price: $49

·         Power Output: 10w

Although it's common for 2.0 speaker systems to be cheap and low-priced, that doesn't mean they have to be. As evidence, take Creative's Inspire T10 system. At $49, it's two or even three times the price of most other 2.0 systems (which are all unashamedly low-end), but the Creative name has been synonymous with quality computer sound for decades now. Has that experience translated into a pair of portable speakers it's worth your while owning?

Description: Creative Inspire T10

Creative Inspire T10

At first glance, there's something impressive about the look of the units. The glossy black exterior gives them a sleek, expensive appearance, and the grill-free drivers conveys an unmistakable impression of raw power. Inside each one, you get a 3" main cone as well as a separate 1" tweeter for clarity at high-frequencies, and so-called 'BasXPort' technology for deeper, bass sounds, even without a subwoofer.

Unlike cheaper units, you can control the bass output separately from volume, and the magnetic shielding prevents any interference from affecting the sound. You also get a headphone socket, which offers sound as clear as any speaker can. While sized for portability, they're also quite weighty, meaning that they sit reliably and comfortably without danger of being knocked over. Even better, you get a separate auxiliary port, which allows you to plug in an extra device (for example, an MP3 player) without the need to dismantle the setup.

The T10s are far beyond most 2.0 systems. The problem is that they are only a 2.0 system

Being a 2.0 system, one of the better points about the Creative Inspire T10 system is that it has excellent mid-range performance. A lot of emphasis tends to be placed on bass, but in the sort of situations where you might use portable speakers (for example, communal rooms and offices) then strong bass isn't necessarily desirable.

It's fair to say that the T10s are far beyond most 2.0 systems. The problem is that they are only a 2.0 system, and $49 is expensive for what they are. If you're an audiophile who simply must have good quality sound, then they'll certainly deliver that. If, however, you're more pragmatic in your approach to portable audio performance, there's very not a huge amount that can justify the $24 - $32 extra you'll have to pay over competing budget 2.0 systems.

Still, if you can afford to buy them, you won't be disappointed with the output. Choose to make them your main speakers and you'll find them far better suited (and priced).

Reasonably high quality, but proportionally priced

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