The Ion Desk Rocker USB speaker system makes short work of getting impressive sound both in and out of your computer. It's not the most attractive or best-sounding system we've tested, but at an affordable $99, the Desk Rocker delivers big sound with an extensive set of features.
The Ion Desk Rocker system comes with two speakers, a power adapter, a standard USB cable, a detachable speaker link, and a CD of bundled recording software. Since each speaker measures 7.5 inches tall by 5 inches wide by 6 inches deep, the system isn't low profile, and neither is its sound. Each speaker includes a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter, and both are covered with a sturdy metal grille and are powered by 10 watts per channel.
The Desk Rocker's recording inputs and bundled audio software distinguish it from conventional PC speaker systems such as the Creative GigaWorks T40. Built-in universal hardware drivers allowed our Mac and PC computers to treat the Desk Rocker as a USB sound card, and within minutes we were playing back music from iTunes and making digital recordings from our old, beat-up cassette deck.
During informal recording quality testing, the Desk Rocker captured clean, distortion-free recordings, without any hiccups or dropouts. We were disappointed to see that the Desk Rocker lacks a grounding jack for connecting older turntables, though, and a recording input gain control knob would have been handy. The default recording resolution of the Desk Rocker is 16-bit, 44.1kHz (CD quality); however, a maximum resolution of 16-bit, 48kHz is possible using the included Audacity recording software.
Just because the Desk Rocker includes a USB input doesn't mean it has to be used with a computer. In fact, the easiest way to set up the Desk Rocker is to simply run an external audio source such as an MP3 player, game console, or pro-audio mixer directly into the 3.5mm or RCA inputs located on the back of the system. If the audio source connected to the Desk Rocker lacks volume control, the front panel's headphone jack and volume knob can help keep things quiet.
The Desk Rocker's sound won't fuel your next house party, but it's far from wimpy. With the volume cranked on both our PC and the speakers, the Desk Rocker's built-in amplifier was obscenely loud for its size, reminding us of the Griffin Amplifi. At full blast, we did experience a noticeable amount of low-frequency distortion, and the Desk Rocker's lack of isolating rubber feet made our desk rattle at times.
While listening to The Doors "L.A. Woman," bass guitar and vocals took a front seat, and the fuzzed-out guitar and ride cymbal felt rounded off and dull. But the overdriven drum machines and synthesizers of The Faint's "Glass Danse" were a perfect match for the Desk Rocker's punchy, bass-heavy sound. However, we noticed that classical and acoustic rock songs lacked high-frequency detail.
Overall, the Ion Desk Rocker USB speaker system's affordable price and loud, bass-heavy performance make it ideal for dorm rooms and PC gamers. Its USB recording feature is an attractive option for aspiring music producers and turntablists. For an extra $25 to $50, though, there are several PC speaker systems that trump the Ion Desk Rocker's design and sound quality.