Plenty of bargain-basement PC speakers litter the shelves of electronics stores, but the question is whether any are good enough for the price. The USB-powered GoGroove SonaVerse O2i ($39.99 direct) tries to deliver actual bass response in a portable design, thanks to dual passive radiators on the sides of each enclosure. Unfortunately, the main cone drivers just aren't high enough quality, and sound too harsh to listen to for extended periods of time.
The SonaVerse O2i consists of a pair of white plastic speakers with prominent blue LED lighting surrounding each front-facing black grille. Each enclosure measures 5.8 by 4.4 by 2.7 inches (HWD), and the set weighs 2.5 pounds. The black plastic grilles are roughly textured, and a single front-loaded 2-inch paper cone driver peaks out from behind each one. The passive radiators are also made of paper, but have some serious excursion, which hints at decent bass response. The left speaker has a GoGroove logo, while the right speaker has a SonaVerse O2i logo; at least it's easy to tell which is left and which is right.
A 5-foot combination USB and audio cable runs from the back of the left speaker; there's also a hardware volume knob on the back. The USB cable is a good idea, as it means you don't need a bulky AC adapter, and don't have to plug the system into a wall. If you don't want to lose a USB port on your laptop, you can always buy a USB-compatible AC adapter. That said, the USB port isn't a digital audio connection, like it is on more expensive speakers; in this case it's just for power. So you still need to plug in the 3.5mm wire. And if your laptop is like mine, the USB ports and headphone jack are on opposite sides, which looked pretty terrible once I plugged in the O2i's two cables.
The two speakers are connected by a thin, 3-foot cable with an inline hardware dial for the blue LED grille borders. At the beginning of the dial's travel, it turns on the LED lighting, which is bright and extremely noticeable, like you'd find on an inexpensive no-name PC case. The rest of the dial's travel does, well, nothing. You would think it's a brightness control, but it appears the dial is completely unnecessary and could have just been an on/off switch.
Sonically, I didn't expect much for 40 bucks; these speakers shouldn't compete with $100 and $200 models. Really, I was just hoping for something reasonably pleasant to listen to, maybe with a bit of kick and the ability to turn it up on occasion. The O2i delivers most of that, except the most crucial thing: The biggest issue with the O2i is its harsh-sounding treble. A single 2-inch paper cone driver isn't going to do all that well with high frequencies.
Tracks like Rage Against the Machine's "Fistful of Steel," which is very smoothly recorded for a hard rock/metal track, sounded tinny and brash. When I turned up the volume, I heard a reasonably punchy kick drum, but I winced at each and every cymbal hit. It's just not a pleasant sound. Warmer sounding recordings, like Depeche Mode's "Suffer Well," fared better, but just about any singer-songwriter, electronic, or rock track I tried was simply too harsh to listen to for long. Our standard bass test track, The Knife's "Silent Shout," threatened to obliterate the tiny drivers in the O2i; the distortion was palpable at medium volumes, and as I turned them up I feared for their lives.
The thing is, I wish I could recommend the O2i, because the world needs decent-quality, low-cost speakers. As laptops get smaller and smaller, there's less and less room for proper drivers, which means anemic bass response and tinny highs without an external boost of some kind. GoGroove's larger SonaVerse Ti system costs $5 less and is arguably more attractive, but that one doesn't sound all that great either. The Xmi X-Mini Max deliver clear, detailed sound for $20 more, and are much more portable, but their tiny size precludes any bass punch whatsoever. The Edifier Exclaim e10 remains our favorite low-cost stereo PC speaker system, but at $100 it's more than twice the price of the O2i. The problem is, even despite its low price and convenient design, the O2i simply isn't pleasant to listen to—regardless of how you may feel about the blue light rings.
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