Any casual music listener will thoroughly enjoy listening to tunes from the $99.99 Logitech Z-5 computer speakers while sitting at his or her desk. These speakers don't offer a ton of bass, but for the price the audio is clean and free of distortion in movies, games, and music. They're a pretty good bargain.
Setup and Design
The Logitech Z-5 omnidirectional speakers are beautiful and classy: a shiny black speaker mesh covers just about all of the 10.0 x 3.3 x 3.3-inch towers. Below the mesh there's a strip of silver, and then a piano black base with the Logitech logo. Each tower has two tweeters inside: one facing forward and one facing back. This alignment helps to create what Logitech dubs an omnidirectional, full-room sensation. There isn't a dedicated subwoofer, and the lack of bass was noticeable during our testing.
Setup was a bit different than other sets we're used to. The Z-5 uses a USB cable instead of an audio cable. That means you'll need to have an available, and dedicated, USB port. It also means that a small amount of software has to be installed, although it only took about 5 minutes to finish. Once we had the speakers plugged in, we launched the Logitech Z-5 configuration application, which prompted us to choose our default audio player. This isn't required for every application; we were able to play Far Cry 2 without prior setup. Note that you will need to designate these speakers as the primary audio source in your sound settings.
The set also comes with a small wireless remote control, which was very easy to use. You can use it to launch your media player, increase or decrease volume, or play/pause and skip tracks.
The Z-5 doen't get as loud as other sets, but that's to its advantage, because even at full volume these speakers were void of any distortion, unlike the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass speakers. However, while Dire Straits' "So Far Away" had good balance between vocals and instrumentals, it sounded bland without hearty bass. When we played Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," we heard one small clip during the song, and while the quieter parts of the track sounded good, the jam sessions sounded too crowded. The saxophone build-up sounded excellent, however, and was clearer and noticeably nearer than the background instruments. When we played Jay-Z's "Say Hello" at about 70 percent of full volume, we could hear light cackling in the background. On the other hand, since there wasn't much bass, it was very easy to make out every lyric, and voices came through extremely clear.
Movies and Streaming Video
The Z-5 set wasn't as good at balancing the background music with voices as was the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass; in the crowded marketplace scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the supporting music was mostly drowned out by the hum of the townsfolk. While the audio was clear, we missed the added bass that the Expressionist Bass set delivers (for a $30 premium).
When we streamed Saints and Soldiers from Hulu.com, the first thing we noticed was that the volume wasn't loud enough, even at full strength. Small popping was noticeable at the lower resolution; when we toggled into high-res 480p mode, the speakers were a bit louder, but still not enough. Music and footprints came through crystal clear, but again, the Logitech system lacked strong bass.
For our gaming test we used the Logitech Z-5 while playing Far Cry 2. An exploding car, while loud, sounded more like someone was crushing a soda can than an automobile blowing up. That said, the Z-5 produced other sounds excellently: voices were easy to understand and the cackling of a brushfire came through without distortion. Still, the lack of bass left us underwhelmed during fire fights.
While the Logitech Z-5 fell short of the full-room sound Logitech advertises, it's a solid set of speakers to leave on your desk for casual listening to tunes or online video clips. If you're willing to pay a bit more, however, the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass offers a better low-end for movies and gaming, along with more style.