Sunday, November 24, 2013

iMicro USB Digital Speakers

iMicro USB 2.0 Digital Speakers - packaging is rather cheap looking and purely functional

Motivation for USB digital speakers

For replacing my desktop computer with my new MacBook Pro, I wanted to be able to switch in-and-out quickly between "mobile mode" and "desktop mode" (monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, headphones, CF card reader, USB HDD, etc).  And while MacBook Pro has a great set of speakers - it really does - they can't really work that well while it's closed.  I also did not want to plug in a 3.5mm audio jack when I went from my desktop mode to mobile mode, and vice versa.  So, I began searching for a set of USB speakers.

I always liked the idea of digital speakers as it eliminates another source of noise (A/D conversion).  I suppose cheap digital speakers may do a poor job of converting the digital signal into solenoid motion, ultimately resulting in poor sound reproduction.  It is probably also true that speaker manufactures have been doing what's humanly possible to produce best sound out of analog signals for the last 100 years or so, and yes it's probably true you aren't likely to find "high-end digital speakers".  With that said, I'm not one of those audiophiles insisting on being able to hear the tiniest artifacts and distortions, so my experience with iMicro USB 2.0 Digital Speakers may or may not be what you expect.

USB Speaker Choices

While researching my options, I was really surprised how few choices you have when it comes to USB speakers.  I remember buying a USB Plantronics headset back in 2007, and that's when USB audio was a couple of years old.  Fast forward 6 years, when it comes to USB digital audio devices, what I find most is "USB powered" speakers, mostly intended for notebook computers; they still require a 3.5mm connection.

So, you basically have two choices: iMicro USB 2.0 Digital Speakers (~$10) or Logitech S150 (~$15).  Honestly, I think the iMicro speaker look pretty ugly.  Fortunately it's at least black so it blends in against my dark desktop.  While I did think the Logitech S150 looked 1000% nicer, I saw lots of Amazon reviewers stating how terrible its sound is, not to mention its tiny sound.  On the other hand, everyone seems to love the iMicro USB 2.0 Digital Speakers for its rich and loud sound, so I decided to give it a shot instead.

Out of its box, they still don't look that great... ok looks pretty "cheap" altogether

So how well does it work?

As you can see in the photo above, the build quality of speakers is pretty low.  They are constructed with a fairly low-grade plastic, and it's really not a high quality craftsmanship or anywhere near it.

Fortunately, that's where its downsides end.  Of course, installation is dead simple, with the USB being the only interface requirement (i.e. no AC adapter or 3.5mm jack!).  By the way, this is plugged into a USB 3.0, which is backward compatible with USB 1.0 and 2.0 devices.  While this model is labeled "USB 2.0", I imagine it would also work without issues on USB 1.0 ports.

When plugged in, both Windows 7 and OS X (Mavericks) recognized it instantly, without a need for driver installation.  And in terms of sound quality, I am very satisfied with its music and movie playback.  There is a surprising amount of bass tone, and high frequency sounds seem very clear too.  By any standard, and for $10, this speaker is well worth it!

iMicro USB 2.0 Digital Speakers, while may not appeal to those with high sense of aesthetics, it is a good choice for those looking for USB digital speakers.  Functionally, it's been so far flawless, and it overall delivers good quality sound.  For those who are looking want an external, alternative speaker solution over notebook's built-in speakers, this is one product I can recommend at $10 price range... and frankly there aren't that many choices.  I would love to see more higher-end USB digital speakers in the market, and I'll grab one and review when one becomes available.  In the meanwhile, let me know if you have any questions on this model.


Disclosure: While I am not paid by anyone to write this review, I may be compensated if you purchase products through links on my blog.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My review of Twelve South BookArc - Vertical stand for 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display

Twelve South BookArc
Twelve South BookArc
Twelve South BookArc is a vertical laptop stand designed to prop up a MacBook Pro.  After having purchased a new 15-inch Haswell MacBook Pro with Retina display last week (my review is here), I decided to get a vertical stand to save some desktop space.

Vertical Stands for MacBook Pro

When it comes to Retina MacBook Pro vertical stands, there are only handful choices available:  Rain Design mTower, Cooler Master Clutch, Just Mobile AluBase, and Twelve South BookArc.  All of them cost about $50, which is quite insane given what they are: a chunk of aluminum with silicone insert!  But I do love my new computer, so I decide not to go cheap now... but I digress.

Since I decided to get a hard-cover case for my new MacBook Pro, I had to ensure that the stand would be able to accommodate the notebook with the cover on.  As it turned out, only Just Mobile AluBase and Twelve South BookArc would provide different inserts to accommodate a Retina MacBook Pro or the thicker non-MacBook Pro.  I decided to go with BookArc; its design seemed more elegant - I'm spending almost $50 on a stand, so it might as well look good!

Box Content

For $50, you also get a very nice box
For $50, you also get a very nice box
Inside the box, you will find the aluminum base, two silicone inserts, some stickers and instruction.  The aluminum frame feels very high quality, essentially having the same "finish" as Apple, and it looks like it's made for the MacBook.

The Stand

Out of box, the BookArc frame has the non-Retina MacBook Pro silicone mold installed.  When I switched it with the narrower Retina MacBook Pro insert, it looks like this with my naked (i.e. no case/cover) Retina MacBook Pro:

Twelve South BookArc with a naked 15-inch Haswell MacBook Pro with Retina Display
It has very snug fit, and it felt secure and steady.

But does it work with a case?

Along with many accessories I got for my new Retina MacBook Pro, I wanted to provide some anti-scratch protection; so I got a iPearl mCover case, which fits very well.  With the cover on, I couldn't use the narrower silicone insert; it was just way too tight and I would be really forcing it.  However, with the wider silicone insert, the Twelve South BookArc stand is able to accommodate my protected Retina MacBook Pro.

Twelve South BookArc with a 15-inch Haswell MacBook Pro with Retina Display in iPearl mCover case
Now, there is a bit of gap but it is still tight enough to hold the notebook in place.  Yes it does lean on one side, however it won't tip over - far from it.

Leaning ever so slightly


If you are looking for a vertical notebook stand for your new 15-inch Haswell MacBook Pro with Retina DisplayTwelve South BookArc is a good solution.  It looks great and you also have the option of using it while having a hard cover on.  The only down side really is the price - $50 is pretty steep for what it is.  But if you decide to keep it, you will appreciate it whenever you use it.  :)

Disclosure: While I am not paid by anyone to write this review, I may be compensated if you purchase products through links on my blog.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My review of Seagate Wireless Plus - Family entertainment on the go

My review of Seagate Wireless Plus is here.  It's great for taking a large amount of entertainment on the go!