On the front panel, the four numbered buttons correspond to Internet radio presets. The setup process is simple: dial into your favorite Internet radio station using a compatible music player, hold down one of the four buttons, and it's saved. Simply pressing the button brings up the appropriate player and logs into the stream. We had no problem saving a bunch of streams from the Live365 network, although we were a little disappointed that we couldn't get track information from the stations.
The connectivity of the Z-10 speakers is highlighted by its USB connection, which is capable of sending both digital audio and track information from the computer, as well as receiving and sending commands. There's also a headphone jack and an analog minijack input, which we found convenient if we wanted to plug in our MP3 player in a pinch.
While the headphone jack may seem unneeded--most computers already have one--it's actually a nice bonus considering how the Z-10s work. If you're connecting the Z-10s with the USB connection, you are essentially bypassing the sound card on the computer and using the digital/analog converters in the Z-10s. This is good news if your computer has lackluster onboard sound capabilities, which is especially common in notebook computers. On the other hand, if you've gone out and spent big bucks on a nice sound card, you'll probably want to use the analog input.
Displaying artist and track information on the LCD screen while using the analog input is a little tricky, and isn't covered in the manual. You need to make both the USB connection and the analog connection, and then manually set the computer's sound card as the primary audio device in the control panel. The only downside to this setup is that the touch-sensitive controls for volume won't work. Although we got it working, we wish the process was a little simpler or covered in the manual.
To test the sound capabilities, we put on Beck's latest CD, The Information. Right off the bat it was obvious that the Z-10 speakers sounded a whole lot better than your average computer speakers--the sound was detailed, and there was an impressive amount of bass considering the speakers' size. In a perfect world, we'd like an option to add a subwoofer, as the Z-10s couldn't deliver quite as much oomph as we'd like. We had a few audio minisystems set up right next to the Z-10s in our labs, so we decided to see how they measured up on the same disc. Despite the fact that the minisystems had full speakers, the Z-10s held their own. We did notice that the Z-10s would break up a little when we pushed them hard, so audiophiles will still demand full-size speakers, especially if they like loud volume. But they certainly sound good for computer speakers.
We also tested the Z-10 speakers' soundtrack skills and watched a couple of DVDs. In a medium-sized room, sitting about eight feet back, we had to crank the Z-10s almost all the way to get enough home-theater kick--but we expect most people will be sitting much closer to the speakers, in a typical computer-user scenario where you're only about three feet away. The Z-10s performed admirably during The Interpreter, as dialogue was easily intelligible and the soundtrack was spacious enough that we forgot we were listening to computer speakers. While the Z-10s aren't tiny, they're small enough that we could see them being an excellent travel companion to bring high-quality audio on the go.