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If you’re looking to buy audio bolt-ons for your Mac, first ask yourself what kind of Mac owner you are. Be honest, now. Are you pathologically compelled to style-coordinate your peripherals and system, and damn the cost? If yes, then don’t even bother reading this. Get online and spend £140 (inc VAT) on the ultra-cool SoundSticks (reviewed, September 2000) – because you know you will in the end anyway. If, however, aesthetics take a back seat to value for money, then read on – because it’s unlikely you’ll find a better deal than the Cambridge SoundWorks Slim500 three-piece speaker system.
Not that the Slim500 is ugly: it’s a slightly out-of-prime Diana Dors to the SoundSticks’ sex-kitten Bridget Bardo, if you will. This is no bad thing, considering some of the pug-ugly PC sound-systems out there.
The Slim500 consists of two ultra-slim (hence the name) 6W satellite speakers and a 17W subwoofer. The 40mm-high satellites are magnetically protected, so you don’t have to worry about performance being affected by where they are placed. Plonk them on top of the monitor if you want. You can hang them on the wall, too, as they come with a detachable stand as well as a wall-mounting socket.
Alone, these matt-silver satellites are way too weedy to meet your desktop-audio needs – which is why they come draped on the tattooed arm of a subwoofer brutish enough to quiver your liver. The sub, says Creative Labs, is “electronically contoured” to give a “deep and resounding bass”. I’ve no idea what the techie jargon means, but the company’s sound-quality claims are certainly justified. The sub has a frequency range that starts at 38Hz, which is 6Hz lower than harmon kardon’s high-performance iSub (reviewed, May 2000).
To test the system, a colleague ran-up a CD compilation that spanned the musical divide – from acid jazz to the Sound of Music. The subwoofer will handle anything thrown at it, always adding as much depth as it does volume. My only quibble is that, with certain sounds, the satellites can sound reedy and flat by comparison.
Volume is controlled via a “knob on a wire” – and we’re not talking Billy Smart’s Circus. This little sound-control unit even has a sticky strip, allowing for it to be adhered to a convenient spot. This handiness, though, is undone by the fact that the bass volume-control knob remains on the back of the subwoofer, meaning one still has to clamber under the desk to make adjustments. Why not have dual-controls on the wire? The SoundWorks Slim500 also comes with a two-year warranty.
My benchmark for the Slim500 is the speaker set-up I have at home: an iSub and two built-in in harman kardon speakers on my iMac DV. There’s no comparison – the Slim500 wins hands down – and for just £10 more than the iSub costs on its own. A victory for content over style.