Arctic Sound S111 Portable Speakers and C1 Mobile USB Charger
(4.0 star rating)
Several months ago we took a look at the Arctic Sound E361 iPhone headset, one of the first releases from the new audio-oriented subsidiary of Switzerland-based computer components manufacturer Arctic Cooling. Despite some gripes with the sound quality of the Arctic Sound headset, we were impressed with its user-friendliness and the wholesome array of included accessories. Now, however, the company is tackling a market with inherently low sound quality expectations – portable notebook speakers.
Priced at under $20, the Arctic Sound S111 is meant to be a small and convenient replacement for the less-than-impressive built-in speakers found in most notebooks and netbooks. Coupled with the Arctic C1 Mobile solar-powered USB charger, the S111 can also be used as a set of iPod speakers while out and about. Is the Arctic Sound S111 the cheap-and-cheerful remedy for notebook audio blues? Let’s find out.
The design of the Arctic Sound S111 speakers is inherently simple – made out of a thick plastic and nearly cubical in shape, the speakers feel sturdy and solid. They are smaller than stock photos indicate at just under 3 inches (7.5cm) per side – not quite petite enough to fit in my laptop bag but not nearly large enough to negatively affect my desktop real estate - and weigh in at less than 18 ounces (500 g), cables and all.
On the subject of cables, it should be noted that the S111 are not desktop replacement speakers. All of the cords are just 3 feet in length, including the USB power cord, the 3.5mm stereo input cord, and the RCA cable connecting the two speakers. The latter is detachable for storage and transport but the USB and 3.5mm cables are permanently attached to the right speaker unit. The only external control found on the set is a large notched wheel on the rear of the right speaker, which can be used to adjust the volume.
Arctic Sound S111
- Frequency response: 50Hz - 25kHz
- Impedance: 4Ω
- Output power: 4W (2W x 2) RMS
- Dimensions: 70 L x 70 W x 70 H (mm)
- Weight: 494g
- Input solar panel: 5.5 V / 80 mA
- Input USB: 5 V / 300 mA
- Li-ion rechargeable battery: 4440 mAh
- Output: DC 5.5 V / 500 mA
- Dimensions: 110 (L) x 43 (B) x 12 (H) mm
- Weight : 52 g
Arctic C1 Mobile
|Front and Side View||Rear View|
Setup and Usage
The speakers come in a small cardboard box with recycled cardboard inserts. Inside you will find the unit itself as well as a short instruction manual, also available on the manufacturer’s website. Setup couldn’t be simpler: connect the two speakers using the RCA cable from the left speaker, plug the 3.5mm audio cable into any audio source, and connect the USB power. Power can be drawn from a computer, an A/C or car USB power adapter (not included), or the C1 Mobile portable USB Charger (sold separately). The speakers can be controlled using the volume of the source or the volume wheel on the rear of the right unit.
Recommended by Arctic Sound as ‘the perfect summertime companion’ to the S111 mobile speakers, the C1 Mobile USB Charger consists of a 4440 mWh Li-ion battery and a small (3” x 1.5”) solar panel. The unit also has a pair of USB ports - a standard type A for outgoing USB connections and a mini jack for charging the C1 itself. Three LEDs are positioned atop the unit and indicate functionality. The first and third LEDs indicate that the unit is charging via USB input or the solar panel, respectively. When the unit is discharging, the number of active lights indicates the internal battery level.
The internal battery of the C1 can be charged fully in 2-3 hours via USB. Using the solar panel takes quite a bit longer but the battery will reach full capacity if left out in the sun for an entire day. With the S111 portable speakers hooked up to my mp3 player, I managed to get a consistent 10-12 hours of playtime at reasonable volumes from a fully charged C1 in total darkness. The C1 can be used for more than just the S111 speakers – any device capable being charged via USB can be plugged in. In addition, the C1 comes with an interchangeable set of common mobile phone chargers, including connectors for most models from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, and Motorola. While the C1 is small, light, and very well-built, the included adapters feel cheap and might not last as long as the main unit. That said, the C1 Mobile is indeed a handy device for those who spend time in the sun or go on lengthy trips without their laptop to recharge USB-compatible gadgets.
|Arctic C1 Mobile Box||C1 Accessories|
Sound Quality Testing
Now that we’ve examined the various options for powering the speakers aside, how do they actually sound? Well, to me they sound like budget-oriented portable speakers. Though the specs say 50-25k Hz, the top end seems to start rolling off around 15k and the bottom end – around 250 Hz. As a result, the sub-bass rumble present in a lot of my headphones and higher-end speaker sets is completely absent with the S111. Due to the unit’s inability to produce extremely low tones, certain instruments lose body and fullness. As a result, the S111 tends to sound a tad thin compared to my 2.1 Logitech desktop speakers.
The midrange seems to be the focus of these speakers, coming across powerfully and cleanly. Vocals are smooth and clear and movie soundtracks separate cleanly from the voiceovers – a welcome change from my laptop’s integrated unit, which seems to emphasize gunshots above all else.
The treble is again rolled off at the very top but fairly competent otherwise. It lacks the sparkle and clarity one might get from a decent set of headphones or pricier speakers, but harshness and sibilance are absent as well. I struggle to call the speakers natural-sounding but they are, at the very least, rather neutral. Pricier sets might have some coloration or warmth whereas the S111 sounds rather bleak. However, the idea of these speakers is to replace the absolutely deplorable integrated ones found in most laptops and netbooks, and on that count they do an absolutely stellar job for the asking price.
|Size Comparison to 12oz. can||Overhead View of C1 Mobile|
Arctic Sound S111 Portable Speakers and C1 Mobile USB Charger
As with the Arctic Sound iPhone headset we have tester previously, the S111 Mobile Speakers deliver exactly what they promise – reasonably competent and very authoritative sound in a portable, easy-to-use package. They are well-built, handsome, and have a tiny footprint that takes up next to no room on my desk.
The Arctic C1 Mobile USB Charger with Solar Panel, an add-on recommended by Arctic themselves, makes the speakers even more versatile, severing their power dependency on a computer and giving them uncanny mobility. It is also a handy device to have around for any gadget freak and has now taken up a permanent spot in my laptop bag. If you just need a cheap substitute for the speakers integral to your notebook or netbook, the bare S111 unit will do fine. If you plan to take the speakers to the beach or otherwise use them on the move where USB power is not available, the C1 Mobile USB Charger is a very worthy add-on, albeit one with a heftier price tag. Supported by a 2-year warranty, both products make promise quite a bit of audio enjoyment for your hard-earned buck and if Arctic Sound can maintain their momentum, perhaps their future releases will wow us with sound quality as well.
Pros: Small and portable, easy to use, very reasonably-priced, plenty of volume overhead, 2-year warranty.
Cons: Expectedly mediocre sound quality.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5