At first sight, the SoundScience QSB speaker set makes quite an impression. They come wrapped securely in a smart black padded case with an eye catching deep red stripe. The pleasing design touches carry on when you unearth the speakers themselves, which are fitted out with handsome black plastic surrounds and matte black grilles. The glossy plastic does attract its share of fingerprints, which rather spoils the aesthetics, but a quick wipe can deal with that issue.
The weight is solid and reassuring, without being bulky or difficult to handle. Carrying this set around in a shoulder bag all day, we certainly noticed the added heft. Thin and light obsessives and netbook owners should certainly consider whether they can put up with added mass spoiling their sleek setups, before investing in a discrete speaker solution.
Make sure to set up the speakers on a stable base, as while they are nice and stable, the cables are a little short. Moving your laptop without thinking could easily lead to tumbles, and although the QSBs are pretty hard wearing, dropping them onto concrete doesn't come recommended.
The speakers connect through only through USB, which makes hooking them up to any device without the requisite ports impossible. So that’s no iPod, smartphone or most tablets. These speakers are designed from the ground up for use with desktop or laptop PCs, where the simplicity of just plugging in one cable to the source makes for very easy setup.
There’s one thing that matters above all else to anyone considering picking up a new pair of speakers: the sound reproduction. While price, design, build quality and portability can all enhance a product, if it produces tinny and muffled sound, it’s a bust.
We believe that sound quality is an inherently subjective thing, so our preferred test methodology is a roundup of our impressions from playback of various tracks of different genre and audio characteristics. Each track is a high-bitrate or lossless file, played from through Winamp on a Windows PC with no processing or equalisation applied. Several playthroughs are averaged out to produce our impression.
Drop in a thunderous dubstep track (my personal poison is a little Foreign Beggars, check out the Bar9 remix of Seven Figure Swagger) and the QSBs stand up admirably for a pair of laptop speakers without a discrete subwoofer. Midtones and vocals are tight, and show little evidence of distortion, even at maximum volume. Low end is a different story, with the less than stellar bass lending the track a slightly muted aspect. Drum hits are at least tight, and not muddy.
The same story is played out in the hip-hop tests. A concentrated listen to tracks from the Fugees’ classic The Score reveals well-formed vocals, let down by a certain weakness apparent in the bass lines. This is less of a problem than in the dubstep test however, and listening to the outstandingly crisp duelling vocals on How Many Mics, I am minded to be more forgiving.
Slightly more sedate, acoustic music really plays to this unit’s strengths. Joanna Newsom’s outstanding The Milk-Eyed Mender really swells out in a wonderful profusion of harmonies and impressively well-rendered streams of harp. The counterpoint vocals are strong and clear, and the sound felt a lot less constrained.
A spot of symphonic post-rock from Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven bears out the previous conclusions. The swelling strings and scratchy static are strong and clear, and not effaced by the rhythm section. The tiny speakers managed a creditable job of filling a mid-sized (for London) living room, and even overcoming rush hour traffic noise through an open window.
Amplification in general is better than I would have expected for a set of speakers powered only from the USB output, but don’t expect miracles. SoundScience claim a 30W output. While I don’t like to doubt the manufacturer, subjectively that seems to be a little on the optimistic side.
Compared side by side with my similarly powerful home mains-attached Wharfedale 2.1 system, the QSBs are undeniably quieter. But on the other hand, lugging around a mains powered system with a separate subwoofer isn’t really an option, and the lack of extra cabling counts in the smaller speakers’ favour.
While not quite an audiophile’s dream, these stylish little speakers do an excellent job. If you’re moving on up from the integrated speakers in your laptop, you’ll be more than satisfied with the SoundScience QSBs. On the other hand, if you love your bass-heavy tunes or require absolute precision in your sound reproduction, perhaps they aren’t for you.
The QSBs are selling for around £90, and at that price are an extremely tempting proposition if you can’t stretch to a fully featured home audio system, or absolutely have to retain portability.