The £49 Philips SoundBar SPA5210B is as straightforward as its name suggests. It clips on to the top of a laptop screen and can be secured in place using a clamp. Inside the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B is a pair of small speakers, powered by a Class D amplifier module, with a 16-bit digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) connected via USB. There's no provision to use an analogue audio input.
The Philips SoundBar SPA5210B fits most laptops. A black knob on its reverse side allows you to adjust the grip. However, we encountered a slight issue when using it with a 17in widescreen model as the retaining clips for the screen were positioned just where the SoundBar's two clips needed to go.
Placing the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B clips dead-centre of the screen meant that the display powered off as if the laptop was closed up out of use. It wasn't a big problem, though: we simply positioned the speaker off to one side, being careful not to interfere with the laptop's built-in webcam.
The Philips SoundBar SPA5210B speaker comes with a wraparound USB cable that is hidden from sight when not in use. The main unit is an attractive shiny black plastic with a metallic silver speaker grille. The connecting cable is white, which seems odd. This and the lack of physical volume control on the speaker are our only really criticisms, however.
We tested the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B speaker with a range of audio sources. First, we did a straight comparison between the tinny and exceptionally quiet speakers in our Rock gaming laptop. Despite being an entertainment laptop, its standard audio output was very poor and we certainly wouldn't choose to play our iTunes library through them.
Plugging in the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B via its single USB connection made a remarkable difference, transforming our enjoyment immensely. The haunting melody of a Debussy flute solo became uplifting and joyful whereas before it had been flat.
Similar effects were discovered when we logged in to a Spotify account and ran through a range of musical genres from 80s synth pop (Pet Shop Boys and Prince) and the Naughties update (Lady Gaga, who sounded less than stellar) to some proper blues courtesy of The Band.
With no dedicated bass or tweeters, we hardly expected the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B to be able to pump out thumping tunes that could fill a room, but we were impressed with how far we were able to turn up the volume on our laptop without any noticeable distortion. But with stereo speakers sited so close together inside the bar, there is very little impression of stereo depth, the overall effect being more mono-like.
Next, we took up the suggestion proposed by the swing tag on the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B's clear plastic packaging to 'Watch videos with me!' A quick visit to YouTube turned up a fresh-faced Jedward still wringing as much as they can from what we can only hope is a soon to be extinguished flame of notoriety.
While the above content may not be to everyone's taste, the sound through the speaker was fine. It also helped the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B's case having the sound delivered from higher up than usual. Issues of vibration against a desk are deftly avoided and audio is delivered more closely to ear level.
Finally, a note on the design and utility of the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B speaker. We really liked the SPA5210B's unflashy retro metallic grille. We've seen far too many speakers that shout 'look at me', rather than letting the music doing the talking. We also admired the simplicity of the setup involving a single USB connection with no need for any batteries either.
A further plus is the fact the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B sits snugly and unobtrusively atop the laptop screen, rather than taking up valuable desk space.
Should you prefer not to have the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B assume pride of place aloft your laptop display, its pair of feet and counterbalanced clamp device allow you to place it on a flat surface instead, should you wish. Being broad and slim, it feels as though the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B should topple over. Instead, the rubber-clad clamp dial acts as a sort of backstop or skate brake.
While £49 is a lot to pay for a near-mono speaker, the Philips SoundBar SPA5210B is well thought out and stylishly executed. You’ll love or loathe the idea of balancing a metal bar on your laptop screen and we do think some form of volume control would be a useful addition. For our part, we found the Philips SoundBar a great addition to our laptop setup and relished not having the additional desk clutter add-on speakers usually involve.