Hands-On With the Philips Sound Bar: Big Sound, Small Package

Outside of the occasional desktop replacement, speaker fidelity doesn't tend to be the best on most notebooks. Unless you invest in a model with decent speakers, audio playback is usually plagued by low volume or poor quality. However, for anyone who wants to improve their notebook's sound quality on the cheap, Phillips' new notebook sound bar (the SPA5210) manages to be a respectable alternative.

Physically, the sound bar is built for portability as it's only around 10.5 inches wide and fits on top of the notebook via its adjustable plastic clips. Tightening up the rear one secures the speaker, and the rubberized surface on all three clips ensures that it'll stay in place. At 0.25 pounds, it's certainly lightweight; however, on smaller notebooks it can make the screen top-heavy. We tested the sound bar on a 13.3-inch MacBook and at around a 35-degree angle, the screen started to dip backwards.

Setup is also a breeze, since the speaker is plug and play and only requires a free USB port and no extra software downloads. Plus, the USB cable fits into a groove that runs along the speaker's body, so it's easy to wrap it up and slip into the included carrying pouch.

Despite being a laptop sound bar, this speaker's sound quality is still surprisingly decent. It was significantly louder than the stock hardware on our MacBook without losing fidelity, though the documentation does recommend keeping the volume down as the speaker tends to become distorted at high levels.

High-end and midrange details came through clearly, but the low-end leaves something to be desired. We ran the sound bar through bass-heavy songs like LCD Soundsystem's "Us v Them" and the Black Keys' "Tighten Up." Without adjusting any equalizer settings it was difficult to hear the lower-end details in the mix.

Still, for the sound bar's intended audience, this speaker gets enough right that it's hard not to recommend it, despite its imperfect audio fidelity. Audiophiles might want to stick to their headphones, but the combination of decent sound quality and excellent usability makes it a good deal for anyone looking to switch out their laptop's speakers for something better.

The Philips SPA5210 sound bar costs $39.99 and is currently available from Amazon.com.