Not all portable computers are created equal, and in the mad-dash race to create the lowest-priced laptop or netbook computer, we’ve come to expect that certain luxuries must be sacrificed for the cause. Of these, a solid sound-system is usually one of the first to go, as most manufacturers assume (and rightfully so) than most […]
Not all portable computers are created equal, and in the mad-dash race to create the lowest-priced laptop or netbook computer, we’ve come to expect that certain luxuries must be sacrificed for the cause. Of these, a solid sound-system is usually one of the first to go, as most manufacturers assume (and rightfully so) than most users will simply opt for a pair of headphones if they need superior sound from their music, games, or applications. But there is that subset of users who actually prefer to listen to their media unobstructed with extra cables and little things sticking into their ears. Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives for those portable audiophiles that won’t have them lugging around actual speakers and unnecessary power strips, and those looking for an inexpensive and quality alternative Insignia’s USB Sound Bar delivers, for the most part.
Insignia’s latest gadget delivers exactly what its name implies right out of the bar, a USB-powered sound bar, and nothing else. Magnetically shielded stereo speakers are protected by a familiar plastic gating, and the standard Insignia matte finish means you won’t find smudges or fingerprints dirtying up its look. As you’d expect from an accessory designed for compact computers, the Sound Bar is small, but not as small as you might think. Measuring 9” across and 2” tell, it’s not the slimmest portable speaker on the market, but its unified design and simple plug ‘n play approach practically guarantee that getting it up and running won’t be that difficult for most people.
One thing that’s immediately noticeable is its solid build, which feels heftier than you might think and features reinforced hard plastic. No doubt this thing will stand up to a few drops and the occasional toss (it happens), and I was pleased to see its clips coated with thick rubber to cut back on scratching your display’s panels. Speaking of panels, its clamps have been designed to fit snugly onto tops no thicker than 1″, which should satisfy most major makes and models out there. A two-foot cable is more than enough length to easily connect the Bar to your system, and again, I was pleased with the choice of sturdier plastic coating, and a handy Velcro twist-strap helps keep things bunched and tidy. While it’s a tight little package, its length won’t stop you from eyeballing those collapsible (and foldable) competitors with more than an envious glance.
But how’s it sound, you may be asking? About as well as you’d expect from a budget-priced portable speaker, which is to say ‘pretty good’. How you’ll react to the sound quality the Bar brings depends on what your system currently pumps out, which means the level of improvement can range from merely OK to outstanding. If your current speakers sound like rusty tin cans than get ready for Prime Time, as you may have to exercise caution with the volume controls (i.e. its loud). Those with less-than-stellar, but somewhat adequate sound, may find only marginal improvements, as the Bar has a maximum 4W output, with nary a hint of bass. It’s treble all the way, and it wasn’t uncommon for sounds to become tinny and shrill-like at the highest volume settings.
It’s not all good news, however, as using the Sound Bar isn’t as intuitive or as satisfying as it could have been. There’s no volume, mute, or any such buttons to be found anywhere on the Bar. In fact, apart from the USB cable protruding from its rear right-hand side, there’s nothing more to the Bar than the Bar itself; all control is handled directly from your system’s volume control setting menu. Not only does this make for cumbersome readjustments, but the USB cable doesn’t feature a pass-through slot, which means using the Sound Bar means using the Sound Bar – and nothing else. Also, as it’s entirely powered through said USB adapter, better make sure you’ve got your system plugged in and charging, as the unit’s 4W power will quickly help make short work of your battery’s charge.
Laptop and netbook users saddled with whisper-quiet internal speakers will probably like what they hear with Insignia’s USB Sound Bar as it amplifies things significantly with relatively crisp, if tinny, stereo sound. Its sturdy build was obviously engineered to stand up to the inevitable drops that come with travel, and reinforced rubber grips ensure your display panel won’t show the telltale signs of needing a little help in the audio department. Having a direct USB connection – its biggest asset – also proves to be one of its biggest downfalls, however, as the cost of having improved sound is the loss of free slot that may have serviced a necessary mouse, memory stick, and whose power will quickly kill your battery’s charge. A pass-through cable in the next model would kick things up nicely.