Review: Logitech Z-10 speakers sweeten the PC music feed

Playing music on a PC is like using a Swiss army knife to carve a steak. Nonetheless, millions do it, so the need for decent multimedia speakers is as real as that pain in your wrist. Logitech steps up to the plate with the Z-10 Interactive Speaker System.

The Z-10 works with your PC but also declares independence from it. First, it uses a USB connection to bypass your commodity-priced computer's piece-of-junk soundcard, substituting its own digital-to-analog circuit. And — your wrist will like this — it supplements your music software's controls with touch-sensitive buttons set into a backlit amber liquid-crystal display.

Two Speakers, No Sub, No Hassle
What we've got here is a stereo system with two small powered speakers and no subwoofer. Thick, sturdy, hardwired cables connect the right speaker to the left and the left speaker to a power outlet. Install the Logitech LCD Manager software (Windows XP only, sorry), connect the supplied USB cable, and you're good to go. Patch a portable player into the minijack if you're so inclined.

Build quality is extraordinary for a $149 device. The polystyrene surface, painted on the back, looks like black glass. Drivers, behind dark aluminum grilles, include a 1-inch tweeter and a 3-inch high-excursion woofer, the latter with a large magnet to move it back and forth, allowing surprisingly good bass response for the size. Biamplification gives each driver its own slice of power output, the system totaling 30 watts average or 60 peak. Power supply is in the left speaker — there is no stupid wall wart.

Touch-sensitive controls are on the right speaker's 160 x 42-pixel LCD. As you can see from the photo, they include play/pause, forward, reverse, volume up/down, mute, power, and four Internet radio presets. The level button accesses volume, bass, and treble adjustments. The display button cycles among the now-playing screen, a countdown/stopwatch feature, clock dial and date, and bar graphs showing the PC's CPU and RAM usage. Tres chic.

Haul in the Usual Suspects
The system sucks music out of your PC via the usual suspects: iTunes, Windows Media Player, MusicMatch, Winamp, etc. Start a phat playlist from the library and then you needn't touch the software for hours. Instead, use the Z-10's buttons to pause, skip tracks, mute, or adjust volume. The buttons seem balky at first — until your fingertip acquires the right touch, a hybrid of tapping and wiping. After that, no problems.

Midrange is as uncolored as plastic-housed speakers ever get. There's some real treble extension and even enough mid (as opposed to low) bass to keep music coherent. With their slight backward tilt, the speakers aim straight at your face, generating a detailed soundstage with precise positioning of every instrument. The biggest sonic flaw may be the noise from your PC fan.

What the system gives up, in exchange for this relative accuracy, is dynamics. It plays more than loud enough when you're sitting at your desk, but if you move across the room, it supports only moderate volume levels. Even then, you might be satisfied as long as your music has no soft-to-loud range (an increasingly common affliction). But if you start, say, a well-recorded piano concerto at a high enough level to hear the quiet bits from a dozen feet away, extra-loud passages with billowing orchestra and heavy keyboard pounding begin to break up.

At the End of the Day…
Even so, blasting dynamically demanding material from a distance is not how the Z-10 was designed to be used. Its mission is to make your desktop listening life as fulfilling as possible — for a hundred and forty-nine bucks — and by that standard, it succeeds handsomely. So I'm going to give it a straight A.