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Peter Kun Frary, Professor of Music University of Hawaii, Leeward
Appearance & Construction
The design of SoundSticks II hearken back to the late 1990s iMac look, appearing more like glass than plastic. They're foxy but definitely old school if you worship the brushed Mac Pro or iMac aluminum vibe. Plus, the fit and finish of this unit are excellent.
The ported subwoofer unit (really a 6" woofer) contains three power amplifiers: a 20 watts RMS sub amp and two 10 watts RMS satellite amps. The sub emits a blue neon glow at all times. The light would make more sense if it glowed only during operation. Some may find it a dandy night light, but it's too bright for my taste.
The ported satellites sport an unusual four-driver design--Harman Kardon Odyssey transducers--and appear to be wired in series-parallel. The tiny drivers are 1 inch in diameter, smaller than most tweeters. Somehow the combined surface area produces surprising midrange and treble while keeping a slim profile. The footprint of each satellite is tiny and securely planted with a rubberized blue sparkle donut base. Each satellite may be independently adjusted for tilt.
There are only two controls: subwoofer volume and system volume, so you'll have to rely on software controls if you need to tweak balance or EQ. However, I found default EQ and balance fine (Harman claims to have computer optimized multi-band parametric EQ). The system volume consists of two tiny chrome touch pads on the right satellite, so it's easy to miss. The minimalist manual neglects labeling of controls. Moreover, there are no labels for left and right channels either (the satellite with the volume pads is right). There is no power switch.
I found setting the system and sub volume half way and using the computer keyboard volume and mute keys the most convenient mode of control.
Everything needed to connect to a computer or personal audio component is included: wallwart, power cord and stereo mini jack audio cable. There is only one input, so forget about multiple sources. The left and right satellites use different connectors, so it's impossible to mix up the channels, although you're on your own for placement (no left or right channel labels). A breakout box or inputs for connection of other audio components would have been a nice touch.
I auditioned the SoundSticks using iTunes 4.9 on a Mac G4 Dual. Most tracks were 224 Kbps AAC or MP3 files. I also spun a few CDs.
The sound was amazingly good: tight and full bass, rich mids, and vivid highs without a hint of harshness. The crisp, sparkling high frequencies seem slightly enhanced but nonetheless pleasing, especially for treble rich pop music. Sitting in front of the computer, I found the sound stage was surprisingly vivid, with distinct sonic placement of instruments and voices. Jazz, classical and pop all sound clear and balanced. There probably isn't enough bass for the bloated boom-boom of hip-hop. I can listen for extended periods without fatigue. I have to open my eyes and remind myself I'm listening to computer speakers and not a stereo system.
SoundSticks II are near-field monitors, i.e., they sound best when you sit near and directly in front of them. From 2 feet away I could hear amazing headphone-like sonic detail. However, unlike standard stereo speakers, delicate details and soundstage placement begin to fade beyond 5 or 6 feet, especially highs like rainsticks cymbals or bells. Normally you listen in front of the computer, so no problem. To maintain the soundstage at greater listening distances, you'd have to place the speakers too far apart for normal computer use.
I also listened to the SoundSticks in a casual side by side comparison with JBL Creatures ($100) and Klipsch ProMedia GMX A 2.1 ($150) at an Apple store. I thought the 'Sticks sounded much better, especially the highs.
I live in downtown Honolulu, a high RFI (radio frequency interference) area. Poorly shielded telephones, guitar pickups, audio gear, etc., are plagued with RFI, usually a classic rock station. Well shielded pro-gear, e.g., Mackie mixing boards, are dead silent. Of all the computer speakers I have owned, only one, my Apple ProSpeakers (for G4 and iMac) were RFI free. My old Yamaha YST-M10 speakers suffered slightly. My Altec Lansings were terrible: RFI, a classic rock station, was as loud as system beeps!
How did the SoundSticks fare? Not great, but decent (B-). If I crank the 'Sticks wide open, they have a little RFI static but no classic rock station (thank you Jesus!). With no music playing, RFI is inaudible from 2 feet away when cranked 50%, plenty loud for music listening or system beeps. With music playing, I can floor the 'Sticks and RFI is inaudible. Unfortunately, most consumer audio gear isn't shielded well enough but the SoundSticks are above average in this respect. Most of the world's population lives in RFI infested cities. Wouldn't it make sense to fully shield all audio gear?
One year warranty.
These are the best computer speakers I have owned. Yes, you can get better computer speakers for $400 or $500. Yes, I wish they had better RFI shielding. However, these puppies easily whip my old Apple, Yamaha and Altec Lansing monitors cold. They put my iPod earphones to shame and make my boombox sound like a barking dog. No, they didn't blow away my home stereo, but certainly surpassed my expectations for modestly priced computer speakers. Highly recommended.
Postscript • October 1, 2012
It's been over 7 years of daily use and the the Soundsticks are still going strong!
Sound Quality: A • Construction: A • Ease of Use: A • Features: B • Bang for Buck: A
Frequency range: 44Hz-20kHz
Power Consumption: 4 W idle, 65 Watts maximum
Interface: Analog (3.5mm mini stereo jack)
(1) 6 - inch woofer
Amplifier Output Power: 20 Watts RMS
Dimensions: 9.15" (232 mm) diam. x 10.16" (258 mm)
Weight: 4.93 pounds = 2.24 kg
Transducers: (4) 1 inch Odyssey Transducers
Amplifier output power: 10 Watts RMS per channel
Dimensions: 2" (50.8 mm) diam. x 10" (254 mm)
Weight: 1.47 pounds = 0.67 k
PRICE: $200 MSRP ($170 street)
©Copyright 2005 by Peter Kun Frary All Rights Reserved
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