A couple of years ago Logitech brought out the Z-10s, an interesting set of PC speakers that featured USB connectivity and a digital readout on the front of one of the speakers. They looked good, sounded decent, and were cutting edge in their nod to visually incorporating digital music playback--though the touch-sensitive controls did cause issues for some users. Now the company is serving up the Z-5s, which don't feature the fancy digital readout but offer some intriguing design elements and the same USB connectivity.
The black Z-5s have a simple, clean, modern look, but aren't quite the knockouts that the Z-10s are. From afar, at least, the Z-5s look a little more luxurious than they really are. Pick them up and you'll notice that they feel a little light. They weigh in at 1.5 pounds for the left speaker and 1.66 pounds for the right, and measure 10 inches high, 3.3 inches wide, and 3.3 inches deep . The nonsubstantial weight is a tip-off that these are relatively inexpensive PC speakers (they carry a list price of $100, but you can find them online for closer to $80).
Except for their tops and bottoms, the Z-5s are clad entirely in speaker cloth. They're designed to be "omnidirectonal," radiating sound "more uniformly over a wide range of frequencies and angles," according to Logitech. You can't remove the cloth to expose the speaker, but you can see through it enough to notice that there's a single driver in the front, which appears to be mirrored on the back of the speaker. In fact, you can flip the speaker around (with the back facing forward) and you probably wouldn't notice a difference in the sound. There are no drivers on the sides of the speakers, but if you put your ear up to the side of the speaker from a foot or 2 away, it does seem as if the sound is coming right at your ear--as if there was a driver on the side of the speaker.
There is no volume control on the speakers themselves. Around the back of the right speaker, there's a connection for the left speaker and an audio input for portable audio devices--but that's it as far, as connectivity or buttons go. It's worth noting that if you do decide to connect a portable audio device (we hooked up an iPod), you'll have to control the volume from the source device; the Z-5's remote won't do you any good there.
As noted, to power the Z-5s you plug them into the USB port of your Windows or Mac desktop or laptop. The drawback to this setup is that you lose a USB port on your computer. But the bigger gain is losing the ungainly power supply. After you connect the USB cable, you then have to insert a CD-ROM into your machine and install some software.
The last thing you do is assign a music application to the musical note button on the remote. You can choose Windows Media, iTunes, or any other application you want. Once you make our selection, anytime you hit the musical note button, that application will launch (if it isn't launched already).
Unfortunately, however, you can't navigate though the application using the remote. It's only designed to skip tracks forward and back, pause/play tracks, and raise and lower volume. It's nice to be able to use the remote to do all this, just be warned that it's small and easily misplaced. Lose it and the only option you'll have for raising and lowering volume is the audio volume control on your computer.
The sound quality was pretty good, considering the speakers' price. We're not sure how much of a difference the whole omnidirectional effect makes (especially if you intend to have the speakers sitting on a desk pointing at you), but as we said, the sound does radiate as advertised, and it's kind of cool to listen as you walk around the speakers.
In our listening tests, we came away feeling that the Z-5s offered decent clarity but just not a ton of bass--which is to be expected from fairly compact speakers that don't feature a separate subwoofer. Broody ballads like Elbow's "Friend of Ours" sounded quite good, but stuff with heavier bass lines like Beck's "Soul of a Man" from his Modern Guilt album came across as a little thin. The speakers' biggest strength was the natural sound it evoked from vocals.
For games, the Z-5s will certainly service casual gamers just fine. You won't get that room-shaking bass during explosive moments, but these guys are much better than the speakers that shipped with your desktop computer.
At just 2 watts per channel, don't expect the Z-5s to play super loud. Cranking up the volume too much will begin distorting the sound, so don't envision them filling a space much bigger than an office or dorm room. Like most of the speakers in this price range, they'll sound best if you're sitting a few feet away from them.
All in all, there isn't too much to complain about. As you can tell, we weren't blown away by the sound, but it's certainly a big upgrade over the speakers that typically ship with desktop systems. The USB connectivity cuts down on the cable clutter and the little remote is another nice plus if you're looking to turn your computer into a stereo system that you can operate from a spot on the other side of the room--like your bed. In short, we have no problem recommending the Z-5s at their price point, but anybody who's a discriminating listener would be well advised to seek out the older Z-10s, and pay a bit more for their superior sound.