Far from high fidelity, the AVLabs AVL314A USB-powered speakers are still a big improvement over most notebook speakers, and cost almost nothing.
The AVLabs AVL314A USB-powered speakers are separate left and right units with built-in desk stands. Their ends are shiny black plastic, while the speakers are covered by clothe grilles. They are clearly lightweight in construction. The speaker without the additional electronics weighed just 152 grams. Each speaker contains a 25mm driver behind its removable grille.
All the wiring is fixed, with four cables going into one of the speakers, one of them connecting to the other.
The instructions inside the box only vaguely referred to the actual speakers, with some of them seemingly related to a totally different system.
The signal is input as analog via the 3.3mm stereo socket. The unit also has a 3.5mm headphone output and, surprisingly, a 3.5mm microphone input. This last is simply an extension, since a cable at the back of the speaker can connect this to the computer's regular microphone input.
Set-up is obviously simple: just add in two cables for audio playback. I'd skip the microphone connection and your mic plug right into the computer. Microphone signal levels are so low that all in-line variables should be eliminated if at all possible.
When it comes to telling left from right, ignore the picture above. In the absence of left/right markings on the speakers, I ran a simple test signal to determine that the unit with the volume knob and most of the cables is the right-hand speaker.
The power button seems to be a conventional hard-wired unit, so when switched off the system should draw no power from your computer. Likewise, the volume knob felt like an old-fashioned analog unit.
While set-up is easy, taking these speakers with you will involve lots of winding of wires. This system would be best left sitting on your desk for a quick plug-in when you get home.
At the low price of this system I wasn't expecting high-fidelity performance, but what it did deliver was a clear improvement over the built-in speakers of the notebook computer. This was primarily represented by a reasonable tonal balance across the mid-range.
Don't get me wrong, by Hi-Fi standards the sound was terribly coloured, due in large part to various peaks and troughs in the speakers' frequency response. But basically the speakers managed to reproduce from about 250 hertz to about 11,000 hertz within a reasonable output level. So the net result didn't sound especially harsh. It was a bit light on bass with normal full-range music, but with a classical guitar solo track it was reasonably clean.
The podcast test delivered reasonably clear and coherent audio. But I'd be a bit concerned about content with too low in level. I maxed out the volume to get within one decibel of the calibration level. It wasn't a matter of power, so much as gain from the signal level provided by the computer. With content using the full dynamic space in the digital scale this isn't a problem, but some stuff is simply recorded at too low a level.
My measurements showed bass level maintained down to 500 hertz , with a roll off below that to about 225 hertz, at which point the response plummeted. Don't expect any real bass, but there is enough lower mid-range to offer a semblance of balance.
Oh, and don't use the headphone socket on the speakers. Take the trouble to plug your headphones directly into the computer. I thought the headphone signal might be straight through from the computer, but in fact they seem to run the signal through the built-in amplifier. This doesn't produce any noticeable noise from the speakers, but the hiss levels are quite distracting through the headphones, and they also seem to pick-up and turn any noise into stray EMF in the vicinity. All this noise is independent of the volume level setting. They also added a nasty buzz to the upper register of the male voice.
The AVLabs AVL314A speakers make a cheap way to significantly improve the sound of your notebook, but they're really best for your desk, and don't waste your time on the extra connections.