PROS: turn your netbook into a boom box, compact and easy to carry, universal compatibility, attractive price
CONS: makes netbook top heavy, must be removed when closed, requires USB power
One of the problems engineers face when designing netbook and ultrabook speakers is overcoming the laws of physics. Good speakers demand size, yet incorporating that into the uber-thin form factor of today's gadgets more often than not results in a harsh compromise in audio performance. Diminutive speakers just don't have the ability to push sound waves at a sound pressure level as larger drivers can with bigger magnets and longer cone travel. As a result, frequency response takes a severe hit, volume is limited, and distortion becomes present as decibel output increases - definitely not the experience an audiophile or music lover would look forward to.
Priced at just $40, the Logitech Z305 seemed inexpensive enough to give a try and take it through it's paces. Even with the acceptable sound I've enjoyed from my netbook, the Z305 takes audio enjoyment to a much higher level.
The unique shape of the Z305 may appear strange on first impression, but actually makes perfect sense once you understand how it all fits together. You'll find the speaker units themselves at the end of the unit, but rather than face forward, they point outward sideways at opposite directions. For one thing, it will work for notebooks where the lid actually covers the Z305, but it will also aim your sound outwards rather than at you. This has the effect of creating a 360 degree sound field, making the Z305 quite capable of filling an entire room with audio. More noticeable is that it enhances channel separation to create a true stereo effect, a boon when listening to quality source material. It also effectively puts all other built-in two-speaker notebook solutions to shame.
The long shape combined with the speaker placement also allows the Z305 to create a larger box behind the drivers. The drivers themselves are a full 1 inch in diameter and circular shaped with synthetic rubber surrounds, very similar to the harman/kardon drivers on my Toshiba X305. While I haven't taken the Z305 apart to examine it in detail, there appears to be at least 20mm of unimpeded room behind the drivers until the first screw placement used to secure the unit together (it's possible the cavity extends further inside). That provides for a quite large speaker box, much more than what a netbook or ultrabook form factor would allow.
The Z305, however, is more than just a simple speaker. Being that it connects over USB, it is recognized as an audio device. That means Logitech also provides the hardware on board to produce the sound, including the amplifier and dedicated volume control. When plugged in, the Z305 will in effect bypass all your on-board sound hardware to produce a clean signal. That's great when many netbook and ultrabook solutions actually modify the frequency curve using proprietary software in an attempt to overcome the characteristics of their poor built-in speakers.
|Attaches securely to your LCD|
|Built-in 3.5mm line-in jack|
The Z305 can also just as easily work with a slate, assuming it has a full-size USB port available to provide power and a 3.5mm jack for audio. Using my XP8000 battery pack, I could probably also use the Z305 stand-alone with my smartphone, and turn my smartphone into a boom box too. The possibilities are numerous.
Need to make an audio or video presentation to a group of people in a conference room? The Z305 will do a much better job filling that room with sound and let people in the back hear what's going on as well.
How is the actual sound quality you ask? Trebles are clear and well defined, the mid tones aren't overpowering, while bass is present without sounding totally lacking. Overall the Z305 provides a very balanced audio experience, with excellent volume that you can crank up distortion free. Saying that the Z305 could be more bass-heavy becomes subjective. For a one-piece 2.0 speaker configuration, this is impressive.
My particular reason for liking the Z305, interestingly, is how much better I am enjoying my movies. I've already got the HD eye-candy thanks to a 1366x768 display and 1080p/720p playback courtesy of a Broadcom Cyrstal HD video accelerator. I watch a lot of video on my netbook, and using the Z305 speakers takes that enjoyment up a big way, without having me grab for my headphones in order to appreciate a good movie soundtrack. Even stuff from Hulu and YouTube sounds better on the Z305 than with my netbook's built-in speakers.
|Works great on your desk too|
Being that it attaches to the lid, it also means that you cannot close your netbook properly with the Z305 fitted. You will need to remove the speaker if you want to move around with your netbook closed. That shouldn't be too big a deal if you can toss the Z305 in a gear bag with you, and it does come with it's own pouch for storage. Just bear in mind you will be carrying an additional device.
USB ports are rather precious features on a netbook, and using the Z305 means it will take up one of those. As I already use a Logitech M570 trackball with my netbook as well, that leaves me with one last USB port available. You may have to weigh your options when deciding what you want plugged in, or be content swapping devices depending on what you want to use.
Because the Z305 has it's speakers firing sideways, you might also want to be mindful of those sitting around you, as they will actually hear what you're listening to a lot louder than you do. I didn't immediately become aware of this. Of course, if you want to actually annoy those around you, rather than plug in a set of headphones, you can do that too!
Finally, I was disappointed to not find any specs listed by Logitech for the Z305 audio performance. Any reputable audio manufacturer will include details such as speaker dimensions, frequency response and power output. Even if these details are less than desirable, it would give audiophiles and serious music lovers a baseline for comparison. Given that the Z305 is a very decent two-speaker solution, the total lack of any audio specifications by Logitech is a rather obvious omission.
All netbooks have lame speakers, that's pretty much fact. But grab a Logitech Z305 and you can turn even the most horrendous-sounding netbook into a portable boom-box with sound that will fill an entire room. It plays loud, it plays clear, and you can easily take it with you wherever you take your netbook.
But netbooks aren't the only candidates where the Z305 will prove itself useful. Many ultrabooks in the 11.6 and 13 inch category will also benefit from a better set of speakers, especially ultra-thin models that compromise on audio. I can also see the Z305 being used on larger notebooks that simply have poor speakers, or you've inadvertently blown a driver and lost your sound. It's 3.5mm line-in jack will be welcome for smartphone users especially.
In my particular case, I love the improvement it brings to HD movie watching, and find it nice that I don't need to plug in my high-end cans if I want to listen to better quality sound. It's an impressive little accessory that I'm enjoying more and more as I use it.