The beauty of desktop speaker sets is that their universal connectivity (usually via a standard 3.5mm plug) makes them suitable for use with MP3 players and other audio devices in a pinch. Of course, many of the models on the market aren't exactly inspiring in the looks department. One exception to this rule is the JBL Duet II, a pair of "space-age" desktop speakers that retail for about $100. If you can get past the tangle of wires sprouting from the back, they're a solid option for your office, den, or dorm room listening needs.
We've always been rather fond of JBL's futuristic designs, and the Duet II speakers are no exception. The package contains a pair of drives that look rather like docked space shuttles. A circular base supports a tapered end that bulges out to form a cylinder that slightly tapers again at the top. The front of each speaker is wrapped in a silver clothe grille that is emblazoned with the JBL logo, while the back is encased in glossy black plastic. The Duet II is a bit on the large side for a desktop unit, with the base of each measuring 4 inches in diameter and the mini towers themselves standing 10.5 inches tall. Still, the overall tall-and-narrow shape works well for positioning on either side of a computer monitor.
Sprouting from the back of the JBL Duet II speakers are a variety of cables, which arouse our only design complaint. The wires give an overall messy look unless skillfully hidden among your desktop system and are a bit of an annoyance to deal with during setup. Coming off the left speaker alone, you have three cables: one for power, one to attach to the right speaker, and one for the audio source. The right tower features just one cable to connect it to the left. On the plus side, the overall length of 7.5 feet should be plenty for most setups. The audio source cable, which terminates in a silver-plated 3.5mm straight plug, measures 58 inches. You can control volume both from the source and via a knob on the top of the left speaker.
As with most desktop speakers, bass from the JBL Duet II is a bit anemic. Other than that, though, we were impressed by the overall audio quality during testing. Music sounds very clear and open with a good amount of detail coming through. Stereo separation is great: you can place the towers more than 7 feet from one another. Every genre of music we tested--alternative rock, techno, downtempo, new wave, hip-hop--sounded quite good, though you notice the relative lack of low-end a bit more with the rap and electronic music. As such, these may not be the best option for you if you listen mostly to those genres.