We haven’t auditioned many cheap speaker systems lately. Why? Well, let’s just say we don’t enjoy subjecting our ears to the sonic equivalent of waterboarding. But Logitech has a knack for packing big sound into inexpensive boxes, so we agreed to review its new two-channel Z520 system.
You’ll have to decide for yourself if the Z520 system’s $130 price tag really puts it in the “cheap” category, and we imagine the folks at Logitech will cringe to hear us describe them as such; but you can cut only so many corners before we begin to ask, “Why bother?” Judging by these speakers’ performance, Logitech’s engineers know just how low they can go.
When we see small speakers, we usually pigeon-hole them as near-field monitors: short-throw speakers that produce a small stereo soundstage that collapses as soon as you move more than three feet away from the cabinets. There’s nothing inherently wrong with near-fields, especially in a PC environment, but they have their limitations. So we were surprised to hear Logitech boast that the Z520 could provide a “great listening experience throughout the room.” We decided to put that claim to the test as soon as we took the speakers out of the box.
An auxilary input on the side of the right cabinet can accommodate an MP3 player; there's a headphone output there, too.
We connected the set to Asus’s kick-ass two-channel soundcard, the Xonar Essence STX, which meant we had to find an adapter to convert the speakers’ six-foot hardwired cable. The cable ends in a 1/8-inch stereo plug, but the soundcard’s jacks are stereo RCA. The six-foot cable connecting the left speaker cabinet to the right, which houses the amp, is hardwired to the left cabinet. We realize that renders setup fairly idiot-proof, but it also limits where you can put the speakers.
We played a number of tracks that we’d ripped from CD and encoded in FLAC, starting with an old favorite: Joe Jackson’s “Rant and Rave” from his Blaze of Glory release. We expected the speakers to be bright, since there’s no subwoofer (and no way to add one), but we were pleasantly surprised with their range and definition. Listen to a song like this on most inexpensive speaker systems and the acoustic piano, horns, and vocals will peel your ear drums. The Z520 produced the congas, acoustic piano, trumpet, and vocal as thoroughly distinct elements. The system even delivered respectable bass response from its three-inch woofers, without having to resort to devices such as reflex ports and passive radiators. The cabinets are fabricated from thick plastic and flare out with a wide bottom that renders them very stable. There’s not enough bass here to satisfy hardcore gamers or movie buffs; but for the price, we think most music listeners will be satisfied.
The Z520’s integrated amp produces just 26 watts per channel, so don’t expect it to fill a large room with sound, especially if you’re throwing a party. With the volume control knob turned about three-quarters full, however, it did manage to fill our 14x8-foot home office. But the speaker’s ability to present a stereo image almost anywhere in the room is what really impressed us; in fact, the soundstage didn’t begin to decay until we were standing at a nearly 90-degree angle to the speakers. Remarkable.
Logitech Speaker System Z520
Great sound for the money; very wide soundstage; attractive industrial design.
Not enough bass punch for games or movies; hard-wired cables.