If you're thinking about upgrading from the speakers that came with your computer and small size and high style rank among your biggest concerns, you're probably the ideal customer for the Bose Computer MusicMonitor stereo multimedia speaker system. Its minimalistic design severely reduces clutter, eliminating the need to mess around with a lot of wires and a subwoofer.
The system features a pair of speakers that stand just 4.8 inches high and weigh a little more than 1 pound apiece. We found the speakers metallic gray finish quite handsome and the aluminum cabinets had a quality feel to them. The minimalist styling is a refreshing alternative to some of the more garish PC speakers on the market. But the small size comes at a trade-off: The little guys manage to create a surprisingly big sound, with some semblance of bass. On the other hand, the performance limitations here are obvious when music, movies, or games demand to be played louder than the MusicMonitor speakers are capable of delivering. Given the $400 price of the speakers, you need to be sure that you're willing to pay a hefty premium for the small size and sleek styling.
The Bose Computer MusicMonitor speakers were designed to consume the absolute minimum amount of desk real estate. You get two speakers and all of the necessary connecting cables required to hook up the MusicMonitor speakers to a computer. (As with any "PC speakers," the MusicMonitors can also be connected to anything with a headphone jack or auxiliary line-out port--an iPod, MP3 player, or DVD player, for instance.) The fronts of the gray speakers are canted back to project sound up, toward the listener.
The MusicMonitor's left and right speakers look almost identical, but they're not. The right speaker houses the connection jacks (on the rear) and--stealthily located on the left side--you'll find the volume controls and power button. You can also use the included credit card-style remote control to adjust the volume, which causes the right speaker's indicator light to blink while you change it. It will blink twice once the volume has reached its highest or lowest setting. The remote can also turn the system power on or off.
The only real connection is a single 3.5mm stereo input. There's also a connector for the small external power supply, and a jack to connect the wire that's hardwired into the left speaker. Annoyingly, there's no headphone jack.
The MusicMonitor speakers utilize two small passive radiators in each speaker, which are aligned to cancel out each other's vibrations and enhance the bass, despite the system's small size. Indeed, you can see them through the vertical slots that run straight through the rear of each speaker from side to side.
We connected the Bose Computer MusicMonitors to our desktop PC and put them through the wringer on music, movies, and games. The Buena Vista Social Club CD sounded pretty sweet and the Cuban rhythms had a nice feel. The music's big bass came through with more gusto than we expected. Even better, the stereo imaging was good enough to make us forget about the speaker's tiny size. Sticking with the Cuban theme, next we tried Marc Ribot's Y Los Cubanos Postizos CD for its more electric, harder edged flavor. The MusicMonitor speakers held their own, so we compared them with the much larger yet far cheaper Creative GigaWorks T40 speakers. The bigger speaker didn't produce that much more bass, but the definition was better, treble detail was superior, and it could even play a bit louder. Whether it was because of the side-vented passive radiators, the ability to have both speakers set as far as six feet apart (the length of the hardwired connecting cord), or a combination of the two, stereo imaging seemed impressively wide.
Moving onto DVDs with Serenity, the larger speaker gained ground. When we turned down the speakers to a late-night listening volume, the MusicMonitor sounded fine. However, nudging the volume up, the sound felt cramped and harsh. Here, the GigaWorks T40's size advantage was more obvious. On the gaming front--we fired up Unreal Tournament 3-- the MusicMonitor did a little better, but it still lacked the overall power of the larger speakers.
If you're sold on Bose but want some alternatives, check out the bargain Bose Companion 2 Series II ($100) or the company's two 2.1 (subwoofer included) offerings: the $400 Bose Companion 5 and the $249 Bose Companion 3 Series II.
Editors' Note: This review has been changed from its original version to correct several details relating to the features of the MusicMonitor, which were originally--and incorrectly--confused with that of the entry-level Bose PC speaker, the Companion 2 Series II.