LaCie aims for the design crown in travel speakers. (November 6th, 2009)
LaCie is without a doubt best known for its hard drives and other storage solutions, many of which are often particularly good-looking. The company's new Sound2 Speakers could also be described in just such a way. Shaped by French designer Neil Poulton and engineered by Cabasse, a French loud speaker manufacturer, the design comes across as a French supermodel. But does that mean the design is strictly superficial?
Product Manufacturer: LaCie
- "Sexy," minimalist design.
- Can run entirely from USB.
- International power adapters in the box.
- Average sound quality; distortion at high volume.
- Setup issues with USB on (one) example system.
- Expensive for those who don't need the portability.
We'll take a moment to restate our introduction: the Sound2 Speakers are attractive. From the correct angle, they look like nothing more than speaker cones; in actuality, that's exactly their nature. The pair almost exactly matches the shape of what's inside with at most two cables attached at the back. Volume is controlled on the back of the master speaker that also houses the power, line-in, and USB connections.
The back of the speakers also carry a great and seldom thought-of design feature that allows the audio cables to be wrapped up to save space. In the box, you'll also find equally rare international power adapters that mate with the AC adapter. Even today, most portable speakers still assume the listener will stay in the country of origin, so it's nice to see consideration for travellers.
We initially attempted to test the Sound2 Speakers on a Dell notebook but ran into some setup issues that prevented them from installing properly. We never were able to get the USB connection to work but, as you would expect, did play audio properly through the line-in connection. We also used the speakers with an iPod touch through the line-in connection. We did manage to install LaCie's speakers smoothly on a Windows XP desktop, however, and we suspect most users will want USB as it saves the trouble of finding a wall outlet for a notebook.
Even so, we noticed the audio quality was severely lacking when the speakers were plugged in through the typical line-in jack. The volume was very low and the quality was poor. The speakers sounded much better when the audio came in via USB on the desktop, however. We're not entirely sure why this is -- USB typically provides much less power than a separate AC adapter -- but it's good to know the speakers' intended mode works well.
For testing we listened to a a very wide variety of music, from Michael Jackson to classical piano music to modern rock to dance tracks and even some country. Audio quality on the Sound2 Speakers was very consistent, but average. We did notice some distortion in the highs and lows of some songs when listening at normal volumes. The distortion was more noticeable on the more detailed rhythm and blues, dance and piano songs, especially at higher volumes. Without a subwoofer or particularly strong satellites, bass was present but not especially deep. Hiss and static were thankfully non-existent whenever the USB connection's all-digital signal was involved.
For a set of speakers rated at a mere 30W of power (peak, not continuous) we were fairly impressed. LaCie needs to eke more power and more bass response out of a speaker set at this price, however.
LaCie's attention to ergonomic design is hard to ignore, but does feel slightly deceptive: the sound is only good, not the really good one might hope for out of a designer set. The international power adapters and USB audio connection may be worth the investment for travellers, however. To really make this set worthwhile LaCie needs to look at a price cut or at adding discrete woofers for some added bass support. If looks and portability are more important than absolute fidelity, and we won't deny that these can be valuable, the Sound2 Speakers are a great choice. Conversely, audiophiles will want to keep looking, especially as $100 can net powerful 2.1-channel speakers in many cases.
It would appear that LaCie, Neil Poulton, and Cabasse have produced the French supermodel we warned about: beautiful and worthwhile for the right people, but lacking a certain amount of depth for others.