Arctic Sound S111 Portable Speakers Review

Posted Sep 15, 2010
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When we think of portable music today, the first thing that pops in our minds are the iPods. Sure they are excellent music players but the can’t really output audio now can they? That’s why they come with a bundled headset. But headsets are only good if you want to listen to music alone. What if you wanted to share those tunes with your friends as well? While you were out on a picnic? You’d need portable speakers of course – and that’s exactly what I’m going to review today.

Arctic Sound S111 by Artic Cooling are compact, portable speakers which you can easily carry along when you go out on trips. Since they come with a 3.5mm jack for input, they are compatible with just about any music player out there in the world, including laptops, cellphones and desktop PCs. What’s even better is that these speakers are powered by the standard USB port meaning you can easily plug them into your computer for power, or a USB wall charger if you have one. Want to go even greener? Then you’d be excited to know that Arctic Cooling markets the Arctic C1 Mobile charger (which I reviewed yesterday) as a portable power source for the S111.

But with all these portability features, are the speakers powerful enough to satisfy the music aficionados? Well that’s what we’re going to find out in our today’s review.

Specifications

Physical Attributes

Frequency Response

50Hz – 25kHz

Impedance

4 ohms

Output Power

4W (2W x 2) RMS

Cable

1m long with 3.5mm stereo jack

Power Source

USB Cable

Dimensions

70 (L) x 70 (W) x 70 (D) mm

Weight

494 g

Warranty

2 Years

A quick glance on the specifications sheet shows a rather promising frequency response – a claim we would like to test. Also the 2W per speaker output power doesn’t sound much as well, but keep in mind that these speakers are really compact in size.

Packaging and Design

The Arctic Sound S111 come in a small cardboard box. The sides of the box list the features of the speakers as well as the specifications. There’s also some sort of rating on one side of the box which tries to tell how the speakers would perform. One thing that I found interesting was the way Arctic Cooling was promoting the Arctic C1 Mobile charger on the box, and then giving an invalid URL to order one.

Opening the box, you’d find the two speakers and a user guide. The speakers are perfect cubes with rounded corners, with a slightly chiseled front. The gray plastic doesn’t feel cheap to hold and the speakers have a quite satisfying weight to them.

The right speaker has a large volume control knob on its back, along with an input for the left speaker adapter. It also houses the 3.5mm output cable as well as the USB cable for power.

There are only two drivers – one per speaker – measures a little over 2 inches in diameter, so reproducing both ends of the dynamic range might be a problem here. There also isn’t any protection for the diaphragm which can easily be damaged by applying moderate amounts of pressure. That’s a bit disappointing given the rather superb aesthetics and build quality.

Performance

I used audio synthesizing software like FL Studio 9 for testing frequency response of the speakers. For general audio quality, I used my iPod Nano as well as my PC to play back my music collection (MP3 encoded at 320kbps) consisting of a varying degree of music ranging from Rock and Hip-Hop to Country. While connected to the computer, the S111 was powered by the PC USB ports. When used with the iPod Nano, they were powered by the Arctic C1 Mobile solar charger.

Now Arctic claims a balanced vocals and sound for a natural sound response in these speakers – something which I had trouble understanding. It means they are either pulling up/down low and high frequency input or just chopping it off. During testing, I found that while the speakers could handle the high and mid frequency ranges, it had trouble reproducing lower ones – meaning that it struggled with producing a satisfying level of bass.

The low frequency input sounded like it was being chopped, and the level of detail in the mid frequency range was also quite considerably less than what I get in my Arctic Sound P531 headset. Another issue I had was that the volume levels were too low. To get clear output, I had to turn the volume all they way up, and that too was in a quiet room. I tried the speakers in a park, and they were hardly audible a few feet away.

And obviously, because of the said issues, listening to music on the Arctic Sound S111 wasn’t a very satisfying experience. Most of the sounds sounded strange like they were being passed through various filters – which I’m assuming the balanced vocals and sound feature was at play. There was also a bit of tearing when low and high frequency components came together.

But one thing the speakers did really well was being portable. I didn’t have any issue carrying them around and hooking up to any device I had. And since they required USB power input, I could easily power them with my solar charger and use green energy.

Conclusion

The market segment which the Arctic Sound S111 aim to address is very limited. You’d occasionally need a portable speaker system while you are on the go and that too only when you are looking to party with your friends in the outdoors. And in these kinds of scenarios, the ambient noise is usually enough to swallow the sound from even normal sized speakers – a small and compact audio system would have a tough time reproducing satisfying levels of sound. And this is the issue which hampers the Arctic Sound S111 speaker system.

The small near 2 inch drivers are just too small to deliver a satisfying music experience and the frequency response sounds rather over processed and normalized which a lot of music lovers don’t like. And then there is the occasional tearing when listening to music from the likes of Linkin Park. So while the S111 strikes all the right chords when it comes to portability and design aesthetics, they don’t seem to produce the same results when it comes to audio output.

Having used other audio solutions from Arctic Sound, I’m sure this isn’t the company’s best attempt at a good music system. With that said, I’m really looking forward to more portable speakers from Arctic as well as a full blown 5.1 or 7.1 system because they know how to design some beautiful and quality hardware.

Pros

  • Attractive Design
  • Compact Size
  • Powered by USB

Cons

  • Don’t deliver a good sound experience

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