As you've probably all noticed, when I review books, music or films on this blog, I link to the items at Amazon using an affiliate link. This means that if anyone uses the link to click through to Amazon and makes a purchase, I get a tiny cut of the sale. It's not vastly profitable by any means: I choose to get 'paid' in Amazon gift vouchers because that has a lower minimum threshold for payout (£10), but even so, it takes a good year before I accumulate enough to get given a gift certificate. This isn't a problem, of course, because it's money for nothing as far as I'm concerned, so any sum is a delight. I see it as 'fun money' to spend on something completely frivolous.
This time when my gift voucher came in, I decided to go for something other than my usual choice of books or CDs. When I work in the office at home, I often like to listen to music, but that means hearing my iTunes library filtered through the speakers on my laptop. If I say that a couple of empty baked bean cans with a bit of taut string joining them would sound clean and crisp in comparison, it gives you some idea of their audio qualities. They are truly awful, and for me, it drains all enjoyment out of listening to my music. I could use headphones, but I like to move around, and risk dragging the laptop off the table. So when I spotted an ultra-cheap set of Logitech X-230 speakers on Amazon, I decided that I'd found something voucher-worthy.
Amazingly, the speakers (a pair of satellites with two drivers each and a sub-woofer) are only £23.99 on Amazon, so I was a bit skeptical that they would be any good. However, they got great reviews from customers, and since the area on the graph of audio quality to the left of the laptop speakers is almost microscopic, I felt that it was unlikely they'd be worse than what I've got now.
For such a cheap product, they have pretty good build quality. All the units are a smart black, and have some nice touches. There's a very fine, almost invisible fabric mesh over the satellites to prevent inquisitive cats shoving their noses into delicate drivers, and the speakers come mostly pre-wired (admittedly, this might be a problem if you needed a longer run of cable than that provided). All you need to do is plonk the satellites on the table, plug a 9 pin D-sub cable into the sub-woofer, plug the mini-jack into the headphone port of the laptop, then plug the whole lot to the mains. The sub has a volume control on the back to set the relative volume of the sub-woofer (which you probably need to set only once), and the right-hand speaker has a master volume control, headphone socket and power button.
I checked all the connections, fired up iTunes and sat back to admire the sound, only to feel my face falling with disappointment as a horrible, distorted sound with blarty, flabby base came out of the speakers. Urk. Could it be that Amazon reviewers all have tin ears? Thankfully, I remembered just in time that -- in a feeble attempt to improve the audio quality of the built-in speakers -- I'd set a pre-set on the graphic equaliser in iTunes. Turning that off revealed a lovely, crisp, balanced sound, just as I'd hoped. The speakers really are impressive. The sub-woofer is a bit over the top, so unless you want to loosen a few fillings, it's best to set the sub-woofer volume to a fairly low setting. The satellites are clear and reasonably detailed, and coped with a wide range of music from acoustic world music to grungy electronica. The sub-woofer provides a nice weight at the bottom end without being too flabby, and the satellites generate a remarkably wide and clean stereo image, considering how small they are.
Of course, they're not Martin Logans, so the sound isn't as detailed, integrated or spacious as you'd get with a pair of high end speakers. But then these cost a grand total of £24, not two orders of magnitude more. They'll do very nicely, I think.