Portable Speakers

I have no idea how I ended up with so many portable speakers. I'd have even more, but i tend to give them away, just like I do with pocket tools.

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Altec-Lansing
InMotion Speakers

A larger, but relatively flat, set of speakers which are permanently connected to the central amplifier unit. Each speaker unit has two drivers. They might just as well have built it as a single speaker, since you get virtually no stereo separation, but this is common to most portable speakers. Sound quality is good, achieving decent volume and reasonable bass. Tonal balance is good to very good. Level of sound output is relatively low compared to some other high-end speakers.

  • QUALITY: Quality of construction is excellent, but I do get a little nervous about the hinged speaker units hanging on the central amp unit like they do. They appear to pivot around a common rod or cylinder and do not lock in place, either opened or closed. I would be very nervous packing this in a suitcase or leaving it somewhere where weight could be placed on it. A little leverage in the wrong direction and it's all over.
  • PERFORMANCE: Tonal quality and volume are above-average, with substantial bass, but they are inferior to the JBL On Tour unit in clarity. There can be some distortion if you play low-level sources and try to open it up a bit. This is easily cured by increasing the level of the input signal from the MP3 player or other source and reducing the volume control on the InMotion.
  • PROS: Great overall sound quality, neat self-reeling audio cable, very attractive.
  • CONS: Single hinged point for each speaker may not endure much rough handling, battery life is only fair, bigger than most units (but flat), expensive.
  • VALUE: Good value for money, if the size and shape are acceptable.
  • OVERALL OPINION: I'd like to rate this a bit higher, but I just don't think the design is very practical to take with you on a trip, unless you have a hard-sided case for it. If you buy an InMotion, try to get a refurbished unit directly from the Altec-Lansing outlet and you will save substantially. If you don't need that little bit of extra bass or volume, consider the JBL On Tour instead, which is much more compact and sounds a little clearer.
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    CyberAcoustics CA-MP30 Travel Speakers

    This unit is a robust, heavier assembly with what appear to be three separate drivers. Each driver is protected by a metal grill, so it is very resistant to damage. There is a thumbwheel volume control and a sliding on-off switch on the front. The base is covered by a rubber pad so the unit stays where you put it. There are two separate battery compartments on the back, each taking two AA batteries. There is also a jack on the back that allows you to power it from a 9 VDC source. It does not come with a power source of this type, but they are readily available from Radio Shack or other sources. The sound quality is rather muted, without the clarity of the Panasonic SPT70 or the more expensive speakers. Bass performance is satisfactory, but nothing exceptional. Like virtually every other speaker here, a separate headphone amplifier greatly improves the sound of this speaker unit. Due to its weight and size, I prefer to use this unit in a fixed location, rather then travelling with it. It does come with a very nice carry case in soft fabric with Velcro closures.

  • QUALITY: Strong case with a good finish. This is a very substantial unit...I have no idea why it is so heavy. Speaker drivers are protected very well.
  • PERFORMANCE: Lacks clarity in the mid-range and highs. Volume is very good.
  • PROS: Very strong construction, nice carrying case, won't dance around on a hard surface, doesn't distort easily, comes with DC power supply.
  • CONS: Sound quality not as good as many others in its price class, heavier than many speakers of similar size.
  • VALUE: Well-made product for the money, but there are better-sounding speakers available for less.
  • OVERALL OPINION: I use this at a single location, due to its weight and shape. With this in mind, you could probably get a nicer speaker system with two or three speaker modules and an AC power supply for about the same price. The CA-MP30 either needs to be lighter or sound better to stand out.
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    JBL On Tour Speakers

    This is a rather unusual design, being shaped rather like a hip flask of about a pint capacity. The two speaker drivers are protected by a sliding cover that doubles as a stand to elevate the speakers slightly. The cover also turns the electronics off when it is closed. I understand that the amplifier is a Class D (digital) amp circuit, which may explain the above-average battery life I've experienced. This unit is only a little larger than the Sony SRS-T33, but sounds far superior.

    I find that these work amazingly well when I am doing a presentation for a group and I need to play audio from my laptop. These things will fill a good-sized room with surprisingly high-quality sound.

  • QUALITY: Extremely well-made, with a beautiful finish. There's a bit of play in the cover, but it opens and closes smoothly. The unit itself feels very solid. The screen over the speaker drivers provides protection against anything but moisture. The battery compartment door is slick and well-made. The unit has electronic volume control, with two buttons and two indicator lights.
  • PERFORMANCE: Excellent sound for its size. Overall sound quality is comparable to the InMotion (above), but with slightly less bass and at lower volumes.
  • PROS: Good tonal quality, very good volume for size, great battery life, comes with nice carrying case, audio cord, and AC power supply.
  • CONS: Expensive, glossy surface shows marks if handled roughly.
  • VALUE: Unlike the InMotion, I would not hesitate to take this unit in my carry-on bag or laptop case. It's not shaped like a brick, but it's built like one. I got mine refurbished from JBL, so it was less than $25, which makes it well worth the money. If you pay over $50, it's less of a good deal. But you should be able to find these just about anywhere for under $40. I prefer this to the Altec-Lansing InMotion unit (above).
  • OVERALL OPINION: A definite contender for the sub-$50 championship.
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    Panasonic RP-SPT70 Speakers

    This unit is a real "sleeper". It's a small folding speaker that feels pretty cheap, but sounds very good. The speakers are hinged to the sides and lock in the backwards position to create a light-weight, near-cubic block. There's a sliding on-off switch, but no volume adjustment. The audio cable is integrated and folds into a slot on the back of the unit.

  • QUALITY: The unit DOES feel like it looks...plastic. On the other hand, it's constructed pretty durably and you can tell that it will probably last many seasons just being tossed into a beach bag or the back of a car. Of the three I have, none of them has broken or failed in any respect.
  • PERFORMANCE: Clear and loud. Very efficient speaker drivers. A much better performer than the Sony SRS-T33, T55, or T88. These really benefit from putting the audio signal through a good headphone amplifier before feeding it to the speakers. You get much better volume and bass. (This is just another way of saying that the internal amplifier is a bit weak.)
  • PROS: Cheap, clear sound, lightweight.
  • CONS: Does not come with case or AC power supply.
  • VALUE: You can find these all over for less than $20 Unlike the JBL On Tour, you can toss this in your beach bag without cringing about it possibly getting scratched.
  • OVERALL OPINION: Probably the best buy for less than $50. Great for travel, and you won't cry if you accidentally leave it somewhere.
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    Philips BA-300 Speakers

    This is a rather specialized speaker system. It is capable of great stereo separation, since the speaker units connect to the main amplifier unit with cords and can be placed just about anywhere within reason. The speakers have spring clamps on the sides that allow them to be "attached" to the amplifier or clamped on the sides of a laptop computer display. The sound is very good, but the complexity of putting the whole thing together can be a bit overwhelming. Once you set it up somewhere, you probably don't want to pack it up again until you have to.

    To be honest, I hardly ever use these anymore, unless I'm out on my deck.

  • QUALITY: Above-average quality and finish. Design is neat, but cumbersome because of the cables. The clamps are weaker than they should be and the speakers can pop off the amplifier when you don't expect it. The unit has its own volume control. The padded carry case is really nice and does a great job of protection the speakers.
  • PERFORMANCE: Best stereo separation of all the speakers here (with little wonder). Volume and tonal quality are way above average.
  • PROS: Great sound, superior carrying case, and high-quality construction.
  • CONS: The cables can quickly become a tangled mess, spring clamps are weak.
  • VALUE: These originally sold for a little under $100. If you can get a pair for less than $50, and if you can put up with the cable mess you'll soon have, then they're a great choice.
  • OVERALL OPINION: If you want better sound from your laptop, the fact that these will mount to either side of the display may make them your best choice. They're also a good choice if you're going to be staying in a room for several days at a time. But if you're going to the beach or just need some speakers to toss into your laptop bag, these are probably not for you.
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    Radio Shack 40-1434
    Portable
    Folding Speakers

    These are "clamshell" speakers intended for limited volume and fidelity. Radio Shack has an almost identical set of speakers with an internal amplifier, but I wouldn't bother with them. These un-amplified units sound almost as good (which isn't very) and, if you want to amplify them a bit more, you are a lot better off to use a separate headphone amplifier of some sort. The sound from these can best be described as "marginal". Volume is low and fidelity is severely limited. About the only thing positive I can say about them is that they appear to be durable and that they come with a little pouch for a carrying case. Even though they're not amplified, they're still about the same size as the Panasonic speakers (above).

    UPDATE: OK, I just found a decent use for these speakers. The rear-mounted speaker on my Magellan GPS is OK, but it faces the windshield or the A/C vent and a lot of the sound gets lost. If I plug this speaker into the headphone jack and position them correctly to face me, the set-up works very well and I get good volume with improved clarity. I especially like using these folding speakers because they don't use batteries and they are so low in cost that I don't really care if they disappear.

  • QUALITY: Pretty well-made for cheap speakers. They can stand being tossed in a drawer or a glove compartment, especially if they're in their pouch.
  • PERFORMANCE: Sound comes out, but it's similar to transistor radios of the 1960's. Volume is strictly limited.
  • PROS: Small, clamshell design protects interior, comes with pouch, doesn't require batteries.
  • CONS: Poor sound and volume.
  • VALUE: Probably a good value for free. I wouldn't take this anywhere if I had the option of taking the Panasonic or JBL units. The only exception would be if I needed to have a set of speakers stored somewhere without fear of the batteries going dead. That is probably the only advantage this unit has...it will work as long as you have a headphone/earphone/speaker output.
  • OVERALL OPINION: Sound is OK for listening to a sports event or to news, but frustrating for music. Strictly a last resort, or a unit to keep for emergencies. I have mine in the drawer with my battery-powered 2.5" TV for weather-related emergencies and power outages.
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    Radio Shack 40-155
    Portable Speakers (obsolete)

    You can't get these anymore, but it was (sort of) an OK idea. There are two very small speaker drivers in a single plastic enclosure. The base of the enclosure is molded to have a 1/8" mini-headphone plug extending from it for direct insertion into the headphone or speaker jack of a portable unit. There is no internal amplifier. Like the other Radio Shack unit, this is probably best saved for emergency use. It performs at some level, and is superior to the small internal speakers in battery-powered, handheld LCD TVs, but that's not saying much.

  • QUALITY: Not much to go wrong with this. It's basically a lump of plastic, with a plug on one side and a metal screen covering the drivers on another.
  • PERFORMANCE: Louder than the internal speaker on some small TVs, but that's about as generous as I can get. Again, a headphone amplifier will drive this significantly louder, but don't expect miracles.
  • PROS: Indestructible, base, requires no batteries, efficient.
  • CONS: Minimal sound and fidelity.
  • VALUE: Strictly for emergency use. If you find one, it's worth a few $$$ for that purpose alone.
  • OVERALL OPINION: This isn't saying much, but the Radio Shack 40-1434 (above) sounds good in comparison to this unit. If the one I have would ever die, I'd toss it out, but it just keeps working.
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    Sonic Impact SI-5
    Flat Panel Speakers

    What a joke! This generation of Sonic Impact speakers sounds horrible. I agree with many other reviewers that you can position these near corners and other cabinets to get better bass and tonal balance, but why bother? You can get speakers that are just as small (or smaller) that sound infinitely better no matter where you put them. Besides, I never got to experiment with these for more than a couple weeks because the amplifier unit just stopped working. No amount of fiddling would get it to work again.

    UPDATE: I've given this some additional thought and decided that I may not have properly conveyed how awful these are. These are absolutely terrible speakers.

  • QUALITY: These look, feel, and smell cheap. The amplifier unit crapped out on me after only a few weeks. The speaker drivers are actually made of a corrugated plastic, cut in a square and attached to some mechanical driver.
  • PERFORMANCE: Terrible sound. Not as bad as the Radio Shack speakers described previously, but these are supposed to be mainline amplified speakers suitable for use with MP3 players.
  • PROS: None I can think of...wait a minute, the cords that came with it worked and I kept them.
  • CONS: Bad sound, flimsy construction, amplifier failed, coiled audio cords are a hassle.
  • VALUE: Very poor.
  • OVERALL OPINION: Not worth taking home as a gift from someone. Totally unacceptable...given the chance, I would trade a set of these for one of the Radio Shack un-amplified speakers in a heartbeat.
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    Sony SRS-T33 Speakers

    It's worth looking at this unit just because it's shaped like a hot dog. If your TS33 doesn't sound very good, at least you can laugh at it. Just kidding...these actually work OK and are useful, but they're not worth the $$$ Sony wanted for them. (I think that they're obsolete now.) These cute little units have a built-in amplifier and a compartment to store the integrated audio cable, as well as a stand that folds out the back. Due to their shape, they're almost indestructible...if you squeeze them or try to crush them, they shoot out of your grasp or out of danger in your bag. They don't have a volume control and they can only be powered by batteries.

  • QUALITY: Typical Sony construction and quality.
  • PERFORMANCE: Sound is OK, but not on a par with the price. Again, a separate headphone amplifier helps these a lot, since the internal amplifier is a bit weak. Tonal balance is non-existent, but you do get some "suggestion" of a little mid-bass,
  • PROS: Durable, cute package, speakers are built solidly into unit, cable is hidden in back, volume is OK for most personal use.
  • CONS: Tonal balance typical for small drivers, limited volume, no DC input jack.
  • VALUE: Not a good deal for the $$$, based on what Sony charges. The Panasonic speakers are usually much cheaper and sound much, much better.
  • OVERALL OPINION: A choice only if priced very low or you just have to have something cute.
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    Sony SRS-T55 Speakers

    These folding speakers are very similar to the later Sony Model T57, both in appearance and sound, but many users seem to prefer the sound of the T55 to its successor. Like the Panasonic RS-SPT70, the speaker modules on the T55 fold back around the amplifier/battery holder section. There is no volume control, though there is a connection for an external DC power supply. The T55 does not come with a case. The T55 is usually more expensive than the SPT70, often nearly twice the price, but it does not sound any better. While it is a decent performer, it falls short of the clarity of the SPT70. It also does not begin to produce the bass that the more expensive InMotion and On Tour units can. If you have access to these speakers or find a pair for sale cheap, go ahead and pick them up and use them. But the SPT70 is usually a better buy.

  • QUALITY: Typical plastic construction, but the design is not quite as clever as the SPT70. The speaker modules do not stay secured in their folded position very well. On my unit, the battery compartment is also a problem...it keeps popping open.
  • PERFORMANCE: Decent sound for a small folding unit, but not quite as good as the SPT70. Battery life is decent, but not outstanding. As usual, a headphone amp makes these perform at a much higher level.
  • PROS: Compact, connector for external DC source, good sound, uses AA batteries instead of 9-volt.
  • CONS: Does not come with external power supply or case, speaker modules don't stay securely folded back.
  • VALUE: If these sold for about $35, then they would be a much better deal. Unfortunately, they usually sell for closer to $50. I got a brand-new T57 the other day on eBay for only $6 (plus $6 shipping), so you can find these at a bargain if you look.
  • OVERALL OPINION: I know I sound like a broken record, but you will pretty much have your "lightweight folding plastic speakers" needs covered if you get the Panasonic RS-SPT70 instead.
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