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.