Batteries are a pain. For youngsters, they’re the things that make sure all the best toys are out of action on trips to friends’ houses. For boring grown-ups, they’re the things that keep us chained to our smartphone chargers, certain that if we don’t pay heed to the gods of AC, our phones’ screens will flick out of existence come 4:30pm. The Altec Lansing Orbit USB Stereo speakers will free you, in at least one small way, from this kind of socket-based subservience.
Tablets are trying desperately to nudge ultraportable laptops and netbooks into a kind of geriatric obscurity, but they remain more flexible than most tabs. They’ll usually play far more varied media, for one, but laptop speakers are usually terrible. The Altec Lansing Orbit USB Stereo speakers are here to make watching movies and TV episodes on your laptop a pleasure – to banish the tinny treble and beef-up that non-existent bass.
They don’t have a power source of their own, instead sucking a small amount of current from your desktop or laptop over a USB connection. They’ll lessen battery life slightly, but not much – USB ports can only supply 500mA of power. Using them is blissfully simple. Just plug them in and they’ll take over from any built-in speakers automatically. There’s no volume control on the speakers. You use your computer’s software controls as the volume knob instead.
Thanks to their size and limited power, the Altec Lansing Orbit USB Stereo are necessarily speakers of compromise, but they manage the balance between convenience and performance very well. They’re separate speakers, and so produce a great stereo image when placed to either side of your laptop, but also slot together securely to stash away in a bag or suitcase. Joined together like this, they make a fairly chunky column, but all wires are stashed away safely and all connections protected by the armour of the tough outer shells of the speakers.
Altec Lansing includes a material pouch for a little extra protection against scratches too. Fully trussed-up we can’t imagine much amiss happening to these speakers unless they get on the wrong side of a rhino’s foot. Sturdy metal stands rotate out from the front of each speaker to give that essential bit of lift – so the sound is pointing to your ears, or at least chest, rather than your tummy – and these flip back against the speaker bodies when in storage or transit.
Two cables snake out of the speakers – one for the USB connection and the other to plug the non-powered speaker into its “master”. Both cables coil away into a recess within each speaker. There’s no vacuum cleaner-style retracting action here though, so packing them away feels a little like cramming a little too much into a holiday suitcase. It does all fit though.