Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Creative SBS A40 review - 2.0 desktop speakers on an extreme budget

These promise to offer a decent improvement over the poor quality inbuilt computer speakers. At a really low price of S$15, what remains to be seen is how much they deliver in terms of audio quality.
The creative SBS A40
The speaker packaging.

Pros: extremely cheap, decent detail, warm, mellow and non-invasive (not harsh) sound

Cons: heavy distortion even at moderate listening levels, some treble detail is hidden and bass is heavily lacking in definition or low end fullness. Bass port is mostly a gimmick.

Looking at these speakers, what immediately comes to mind is how plain these speakers look. They are completely black in colour with an equally black cloth stretched over the sturdy plastic speaker grill. The speakers are made out of hard plastics that do not feel particularly sturdy or rigid, but are pretty decent for the price. Nothing else to see here, let’s move on.

These are USB powered, so they can be conveniently connected to your computer’s USB port and powered right up. However, as these are USB powered, they lack the overall loudness and power of a speaker which is connected to its own power supply e.g. to a nearby wall socket. The volume control knob and on/off button are both located on top of the right speaker, with a green LED light (also on top of the right speaker) indicating whether the speaker is on or not.

Moving on to sound quality, these are actually not bad for the price. Music plays in decent quality, but with bass heavy music, the bass has a thudding quality to it due to the lack of bass extension, and it also lacks in fullnesss and richness. Some treble details disappeared completely due to the not that well extended treble. Mids are pretty decent, being played out a little warmly, and vocals are also quite lively.  When I listened to a few piano sonatas, the low notes became dull thuds and the higher notes had a tinkling quality similar to that of wind chimes. It is also quite obvious the grandiose presentation and wide dynamics of piano sonatas cannot be fully represented. Frequency response is stated as being from 100Hz-15kHz, so the lack of bass and treble extension can be easily explained.

Adding on to these speakers faults though, is that there is heavy distortion even at moderate listening levels. The bass port is also mostly a gimmick, as the bass is not extended through it. Covering the bass ports on both speakers with my hands and then removing my hands, I could only perceive a very slight widening of the sound but no added bass. I also taped cardboard to the back of the speakers so that I could listen to more songs at one go with the bass ports covered and upon uncovering the bass ports, The bass was also perceived to not be extended more when I played the same songs. There was only a slight widening of the sound.

At this price, I am nitpicking quite a bit, as they do improve on the poor fidelity of computer speakers. However, for the same price, you can pick up the extremely cute SonicGear Tatoo 101 2.0 desktop speakers which have much better bass extension and more realistic bass presentation, much more extended treble and a lot less distortion. In the end though, my opinion is that you spend a decent amount to get a better 2.0  or 2.1 desktop speaker system to satisfy you more. At S$59 is the Creative Inspire T10, a 2.0 desktop speaker system and at S$69 is the Creative Inspire T3300 which is a 2.1 desktop speaker system. Both of these will give you infinitely better audio enjoyment and I recommend you spend more for speakers around the prices of the T10 and T3300.

Don't they look so cute? These literally palm-sized SonicGear Tatoo 101 speakers can actually be found for less than S$10 and are the way to go if you are on a really tight budget and want something much better than the SBS A40.

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