Multimedia speakers that can be conveniently plugged into a USB port.
By TAN KIT HOONG
USB speakers have been around for awhile now; these devices basically take advantage of Windows XP's (and later operating systems') ability to output audio via the USB port rather than the traditional 3.5mm stereo audio component.
As such, most of these speakers are powered by the computer's USB slot, which means they tend to be quite low-powered and consequently, the volume levels and audio quality aren't all that great.
The Edifier M20-USB seeks to change all that - it's one of the few USB speakers I've seen that has its own power supply, which means there's more power to drive a pair of more powerful cones.
Externally, the Edifier M20-USB looks like a pair of regular white multimedia speakers; the speaker cabinet is solid and each speaker unit has a weighty feel to it.
On the back, the M20-USB has an external power in, 3.5mm stereo audio input, and four USB ports - or rather, three USB ports for plugging in USB devices and one USB port meant for audio input only.
Rounding off the controls is a rocker switch for controlling the speaker volume.
Setting up the M20-USB is simple. You connect the two speakers together using the single RCA cable, then connect the power supply to the speaker, and plug the supplied USB cable to an available USB port on your desktop PC or notebook.
If you're running Windows XP or better, or even Mac OS X, the speaker should be automatically recognised by the operating system and will work. Although, with the MacBook Pro I plugged them into, I had to go into the system settings and select the audio output device from the list of available devices.
Of course, if you don't have a device with a USB port, you can opt to connect using a regular 3.5mm stereo jack.
It's about the sound
When connected via a USB port, the M20-USB's sound quality varies quite a bit, depending on what PC you have connected it to and how powerful it is.
You see, since it utilises the USB interface, the speed of which is affected by how much your CPU is being utilised at any given time, sound quality can get a little choppy if your CPU is busy doing something else simultaneously, such as playing a game.
In my rather dated office machine (Whatever are you hinting at? - The Ed), for example, I had my audio often skipping or breaking up as my CPU utilisation went up.
But on a more powerful, more modern machine and on a MacBook Pro 15in, the audio quality was good.
Generally though, if you are having problems with USB audio output, I recommend using the 3.5mm stereo jack instead, which should never give you any problems.
So how is audio quality, connection issues aside? Well not too bad at all actually.
For a pair of small speakers, I got pretty okay bass and mid-range.
Of course, for a pair of speakers this size, you don't expect really deep bass and you certainly won't get it with the M20-USB, but taking that into consideration, it's not bad at all, especially if you don't try to push the volume up to crazy levels. Try it and you will notice that the sound starts to break up.
How does the M20-USB stack up as a speaker system? IMHO, this set does well price wise and gives you decent, if not outstanding, audio quality.
Not sure how well the USB connection will go down with most users, though. Unless your computer doesn't have an audio output built-in, why would you waste a precious USB port for speakers?
While I can understand some people carrying small, USB speakers to get better audio from their notebooks, the M20-USB with its myriad of cables and separate power supply, isn't all that small or very portable.
So my take on this is, if you want to get this set for your desktop PC, it's not too expensive and audio quality is good, but connect it using the 3.5mm stereo jack instead. You'll need the USB port for more important peripehrals.
Pros: Small pair of speakers; audio quality is good; price is attractive.
Cons: USB audio output sometimes has issues when CPU utilisation is high.
USB stereo speakers
SPEAKERS: 2 x 5-watts RMS
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 35Hz to 20kHz
SIGNAL-TO-NOISE RATIO: More than 90dBA
PORTS: More than 90dBA Four-port USB hub (one uplink, three downlink), 3.5mm mini jack input
OTHER FEATURES: Volume adjustment; magnetic shielding
RATING: 3.5 stars
Review unit courtesy of Inter-Asia Technology Sdn Bhd, (03) 7880-4001