Big, small, noisy, or clean, the market is flooded with choices for external computer speakers. Unfortunately, even a great set of computer speakers will often have about as much design flare as an office pencil sharpener. The Swans S3W HiVi speaker system didn't blow us out of our seat with rich, powerful sound, but it did turn plenty of heads with its googly-eyed speakers and oversize retro hi-fi volume knob. If you're looking for a computer or MP3 player speaker system that packs a decent sound into a fun and unique design, the Swans S3W HiVi might be just the ticket.
The Swans S3W HiVi speaker system comes in two pieces: the speakers and the amplifier. The round speakers are encased in a hard, glossy white plastic and stand about 4 inches high. A black metal grille is permanently fixed on the front of each speaker, concealing 3-inch white-cone speakers. The two speakers are hardwired together, both terminating into a shared three-ring minijack connection that is separated from the speakers by about 3 feet of cable. Technically, the manufacturer rates the speakers as being capable of delivering a frequency response between 65Hz and 20kHz, but we found the low end to be noticeably lacking compared to similar products such as the Logitech Z-10, or Creative GigaWorks T20.
The amplifier used by the Swans S3W HiVi system is just as unique as the speakers. Housed inside a round, brushed-aluminum base, the amplifier uses a very clean and efficient Class-T amplifier (Tripath) chip. The amp is capable of getting loud enough to shout over, but unfortunately there's no easy way to pair the amp with anything but the included speakers, due to the unique three-ring minijack output connection. If Swans had opted for a standard RCA output connection (maybe even with a subwoofer output), the result would have been a less elegant, but far more flexible system. Stacked on top of the amp is a luxuriously oversize aluminum knob used for volume control and powering the system on and off. The back of the base hides connections for the power adapter, line input, speaker output, and a separate MP3 player input that, when connected, silences the main input and gives preference to the MP3 player. One last tidbit about the amplifier base is that the very bottom is illuminated by a diffuse blue LED light, lending an easy comparison to the Griffin PowerMate.
Aside from the speakers being somewhat thin on bass, there were a few other elements we feel Swans could have improved upon. We think it's unfortunate that Swans hardwired the amplifier's audio input to a 5-foot white cable, instead of allowing the presumably style-conscious target consumer the opportunity to use whatever length and color of cable that best suits his or her situation. Between the white speaker cables, white power cable, and white input cable, this system is a real jumble--in spite of the refined design of its components. If the S3W HiVi could have combined power and PC audio input into a single USB connection, the system would appear much tidier and Swans could have saved the world from another power adapter. As it is, the Swans S3W HiVi is a uniquely styled system that delivers "good enough" sound quality for general use.