The USB speakers offer a great sounding set of drivers producing very dynamic sound that sets itself apart from the competition, but come just a bit short in terms of streamlining the user experience.
With notebooks and other mobile computing platforms rising to popularity, many peripheral manufacturers cashed in by introducing ultra-portable speakers for those devices. In the USB portable speaker category, there are no more than a plethora of choices from many different manufacturers. Altec Lansing Orbit brings their prowess to this market. Priced very competitively at $49.95, will these speakers offer enough bang for the buck? Read on to find out.
Out of the box, the Orbit looks very reminiscent of the Z305 from Logitech, sharing the same sound-bar design. However, these speakers are much more than meets the eye, as a simple twist separates the two speakers and reveal the cabling needed for connectivity. Thankfully, Altec Lansing remembered to include metal foldable stands on each of the speaker, and have small rubber grommets to ensure stability. However, on the slightly negative side, that is pretty much the only parts of theses speakers that is metal. Although the plastic housing is made out of very thick and durable ABS, they are styled to look metallic. I would have preferred it to be actual metal for a better sense of solidarity, but for the asking price I can't be too picky.
Attached together, the Orbit is similar in size to two stacked 355 ml pop cans together. In comparison with the Z305, it is considerably stubbier, but only weighs a tid bit more. This warrants great portability as it can be stuffed into a backpack without any problems, and the weight shouldn't be more noticeable than a bottle of water.
Here's a pile of cables. And Orbit has no retractable cables.
After separating the two speaker units, the USB connector and 3.5mm interconnection cable can be found wrapped in storage compartments in the right and left speaker housings respectively. This is a superb configuration to bring to a pair of highly portable speakers, as the left and right units can be replaced independently if lost or broken. However, this does reveal a flaw in the functionality of the Orbit, as it lacks the diverse functionality found on the Z305. While the Logitech features headphone out and on-unit volume controls, the Altec Lansing is restricted to its only function as to being USB speakers. It also means you won't be able to connect the speakers to an iPod or any other sources with 3.5mm headphone jack. Now, let's see how they perform.
Sporting 40mm drivers, twice as big as the ones found in the Z305, the Orbit certainly has the capabilities to produce some great sound. The biggest difference between these two speakers is that while the Logitech has a fixed speaker layout, the Altec Lansing's left and right channels are adjustable to eliminate the veiled sound produced by the former. The end result with the combination of the speakers and audio sweetspot, the Oribt USB speakers are incredible performers for the money.
Lupe Fiasco - The Show Goes On (FLAC)
The speakers perform admirably with this song as the details of this song are presented clearly. The highs are crisp with a good amount of sparkle, and the mid-bass punch is very evident. However the vocals of this song felt a bit recessed and overshadowed by the treble above, which creates a slightly muffled feeling to the sound.
ATB with Dash Berlin - Apollo Road (320kbps MP3)
This track mainly tests the dimensionality of the speakers, and the Orbit performed well here as well. Although it's not as good in terms of offering the soundstage as the Z305, it sacrifices no detail or punch to the music in sound production, which is something I would much rather prefer in this price category. The music though, did sound a fair bit congested during the crescendo, but for the price of these speakers, they were fantastic.
The Orbit did great with music, and it performs almost equally well with movies. The epic battle in the start of the film was rendered very well by the speakers. However my only complaint was the presence of the sound, which felt slightly muffled as the epic soundtrack played in the background. This could be due to the reverberations within the housing, or it could be a limitation of the drivers.
In terms of power, the Altec Lansing speakers are just as loud as the Logitech Z305, and does so without distorting the sound quality greatly. However one thing to mention is that the Orbit actually responds well to volume controls. Unlike the Z305, which essentially sounds equally loud from 20 to 80% using Windows volume adjustor, the Orbit scales very well, and each percentage is noticeable to allow fine tuning of the volume to suit each environment. Lastly, these speakers are by no means shy on volume either. They can easily fill a room with great sound, although the quality may vary as you move from the audio sweetspot.
Very well built
Very good sound quality in general
Easy to deploy
Difficult to clean up
Slightly congested sound
Limited to being USB speakers
Looking back at the Orbit speakers, they have a great deal to offer in terms of sound quality over the competition, and for a very reasonable price. With a few minor regrets, Altec Lansing managed to create a pair of speakers offering superb portability and build quality. In the price bracket that the Orbit USB occupies, I cannot really criticize too much in terms of sound quality as it does offer a superb bang for buck. Going against the Logitech offering, the Altec Lansing certainly proved itself to be a lot better in the role of speakers. However, as a functional package, it does shy away from the ease of use presented by the Z305.
The only thing I wish for in future Altec Lansing is to really fine tune the user experience like Logitech does. Using the speakers fully deployed, I noticed a messy pile of cables, and packing up these speakers were no easy task as they do not offer any retractable cables, or guides. Once these slight oversights are fixed though, I believe that the Oribt could become the perfect set of portable speakers in $50 price range.