Date: May 31, 2007
Author(s): Rory Buszka
When Logitechâ€™s X-540 5.1 speaker system came out, it set new standards of performance for the $99 price category. With their new X-240 2.1-channel system, Logitech once again aims to surpass the status quo. With its integrated stand for portable music players and its intelligent electronics, can Logitech manage the same feat again with the X-240?
At the 2007 CES, one product announcement set the PC audio industry on its ear. That announcement was made by Razer, who demonstrated an intriguing, oddly-styled 2.1 powered speaker system co-developed with THX, Ltd and touting a host of innovative technologies as well as THX certification. Another PC audio product launch at the 2007 CES that received comparatively less fanfare, and generated a lesser amount of industry buzz, was Logitech’s new X-240 speaker system.
Of course, for a 2.1 loudspeaker setup that can be had for less than $50, there’s usually not that much to be excited about. What makes the Logitech product announcement of special interest, however, is the fact that the new model belongs to Logitech’s X-series speakers, known for exceeding the status quo in price-to-performance ratio with the $99 X-540 5.1 speaker system. Could the new X-240 speakers be able to manage the same feat in the $50 price category?
What really sets the X-240 speakers apart from the competition in the $50 price bracket is a special design for the speakers’ wired remote which integrates a nifty little stand that can accommodate several types of portable music players, including Apple’s iPod. Because of this feature, the X-240 are called “Music Center” speakers, though they’re still primarily intended as speakers for your PC.
A few weeks ago, Logitech was kind enough to send a sample of the new X-240 system for evaluation. What follows is an in-depth look at the system’s features and design, and we’ll also see if Logitech can manage the same status-quo-shattering performance from this low-priced 2.1 system.
Since Logitech maintains a large retail presence, having an attractive product box is important. The X-240’s product box is consistent in its styling with the other X-series and Z-series loudspeaker products. Logitech’s graphic designers know how to design a clear and attractive carton â€“ photos are big and bright, and no spelling errors could be found.
The package contains the subwoofer, the wired remote, two satellite speakers, the instruction manual, a short cable that leads from the wired remote to whatever music player rests in its cradle, and a pair of inserts that fit into the player cradle for accommodating iPod variations whose headphone connections are on the bottom instead of at the top. These inserts can also accommodate the iPod’s USB cable, for charging while the iPod is playing.
My first impression of the X-240 speakers is of a simple, elegant design that’s also compact. The construction of the subwoofer is reassuringly hefty, but the satellite speakers are a bit lighter. Still, I prefer the taller, slimmer aesthetic design of these speakers over most other speakers in the $50 price range. The satellite speakers also have a small footprint â€“ you won’t likely have problems finding enough space to place them on your desk.
|Frequency Response||40Hz-20kHz (-10dB)||The X-240 speakers would appear to have most of the audible range well in hand, though that low-frequency limit seems a bit optimistic after our listening tests.|
|System Power||25W RMS @ 1%THD||These measurements are made in accordance with FTC guidelines for accuracy. RMS power levels are the only levels weâ€™re really interested in, because they provide the best picture the systemâ€™s performance.?|
|Subwoofer Power||15W RMS @ 1%THD||This sub doesnâ€™t have enough power to shake the walls, though it might anger the neighbors if you live in an apartment.|
|Satellite Power||5W RMS @ 1%THD||This is still enough power to achieve very loud listening levels, though the possibility of hearing damage is still relatively unlikely with these speakers.|
|One 2” high-excursion driver||These small drivers have an extended range of linear travel, in order to enable a richer mid-bass sound.p|
|Subwoofer Driver||One 4” Long-Throw Woofer||This is about par for the course when weâ€™re talking about systems that cost less than $50. The vented enclosure helps some, however, as well as intelligent electronics in the amplifier.|
|Controls||Wired Control Pod with Integrated Music Player Shelf||The X-240 speaker systemâ€™s wired control pod only contains a simple volume control and power switch, though it also integrates a shelf for a portable music player.|
|Input Connections||3.5mm stereo input cable from wired remote, additional 3.5mm jack on wired remote||With inexpensive systems, itâ€™s not uncommon for input options to be relatively few. The wired remote includes a short cable for connecting a music player. The longer input cable is hard-wired to the remote, which is in turn hard-wired into the back of the subwoofer.|
|Satellite Dimensions||6.9â€ (H) x 2.6â€ (W) x 3.8â€ (D)||These satellites have an elegant, slim design that nicely complements a wide variety of displays or other desktop hardware.|
|Subwoofer Dimensions||8.7â€ (H) x 5.9â€ (D) x 8.7â€ (D)||This subwoofer is squatty and short compared to the taller subwoofer included with the X-540 system. The smaller internal air volume may decrease deep bass output.|
The Logitech X-240 is Logitech’s smallest and least-expensive 2.1 speaker system, and is comprised of a subwoofer, two satellite speakers, and a wired remote that doubles as a cradle for a music player.
The wired remote shares the same slim, angled profile as the satellite speakers. A small, silver-colored plastic shelf slides out from the front, creating the cradle for the music player. When not in use, or if you don’t plan on using the X-240’s music player integration features, the shelf sits flush with the front of the wired remote, blending in nicely.
A tiny cable with a 3.5mm stereo miniplug connects into the line-out jack on your music player, so the X-240 is compatible with just about every MP3 player out there, as well as every flavor of the Apple iPod. The shelf isn’t very secure, however, so be careful to place the stand in a place where it won’t be knocked over.
The X-240’s satellite speakers feature an elegant, angular slim-profile design, with a tasteful full-face perforated metal grille. Behind each grille is a single 2″ paper-cone wideband transducer. Logitech claims that these drivers have a longer excursion (the distance that the cone can move before major distortion).
Extra linear excursion means that the driver can move more air, for fuller sound at the lower end of the driver’s range. The rest of the enclosure is simply molded plastic. The material and design of the cabinet can have a large bearing on the overall sound of the speaker, based on how much of the sound energy is stored in the enclosure itself. Poorly-done plastic cabinets can cause a “cupped” or smeared sound, but I’ll reserve any judgement for the listening tests.
The subwoofer included with the X-240 system is on par with other offerings in its price category. Logitech outfits the subwoofer with only a 4″ woofer, so don’t expect this system to set new standards for low bass performance. The cabinet is a vinyl-wrapped particleboard affair, with a front-firing reflex vent.
Removing the tiny woofer lets us take a look inside the enclosure. The amplifier is mounted inside the rear panel, while the AC transformer is bolted to the bottom of the enclosure. The woofer itself isn’t exactly the beefiest 4″ woofer I’ve ever seen, either. Some serious sonic compromises are to be expected at this price point, however.
Little subwoofers tend to be more annoying than anything, cranking out distortion and bloated midbass, but this is one small computer subwoofer that’s less annoying than most, thanks to Logitech’s inclusion of Dynamic Bass Equalization technology. Dynamic Bass Equalization improves the level of bass response at low volumes, or in program material that’s lighter on the low end, but its functionality is two-fold.
It also prevents the tiny subwoofer from trying to be anything more than it is. When powerful bass transients come along that the little 4″ woofer could never dream of faithfully reproducing, the circuit begins to compress the level, keeping the woofer from “farting”, or belching out copious amounts of distortion. Essentially, Logitech has created a “smart” subwoofer that knows how to keep things from getting ugly when you crank up the level.
The rear panel of the X-240’s subwoofer contains a separate control knob for the subwoofer’s level, which you can use to balance the bass output to the satellite speakers according to your own listening tastes. The system’s amplification is built-in behind this panel. 15 watts RMS is allocated to the subwoofer, and each of the satellite speakers receive 5 watts of power.
This may not seem like much, but when you consider that most speaker drivers (except the most inefficient) can produce 85 dB or greater sound levels with only a 1-watt input, these numbers look a bit more acceptable. In fact, to add 3 dB to the overall level, the power input needs to be doubled.
Now that we’ve had a look at the major features of the X-240 system, let’s move on to the listening tests, where the rubber really meets the road in any loudspeaker review.
For my listening tests, I listened to a variety of music from my collection of 192kHz WMA files spanning the rock and jazz genres, as well as a couple of my favorite reference DVD-audio recordings by Switchfoot and Ben Folds. I also did a little testing of the subwoofer’s range using test tones from a Bass Mekanik test CD.
All audio was passed through a Razer Barracuda AC-1 audio card, based on the excellent C-Media CMI8788 audio chipset. The satellite speakers and wired remote were placed on either side of my monitor, and the subwoofer was placed on the floor behind the desk. Some testing was done with an Apple iPod player.
First, some notes on the performance characteristics of the X-240 system. The X-240 system’s subwoofer provides useful output to about 45 Hz before rolling off sharply in sinewave testing, which suggests the presence of a subsonic filter. However, this subwoofer’s strongest, cleanest output is in the neighborhood of 60-100 Hz.
I also noticed a “thudding” quality to this subwoofer’s output, which may improve the perception of “slam”, but really can’t compete with the true, uncolored bass response that a larger subwoofer can provide. This may be due to the X-240 subwoofer’s high crossover frequency , which is likely in the neighborhood of 180-200Hz.
This subwoofer was easily located by my ears, so you’ll want to consider sub placements that limit a direct transmission path to your ears. My suggestion is to place this subwoofer under or behind your desk. Of course, the short cables will prevent you from placing the subwoofer too far away from the main speakers.
During sine tests at lower bass frequencies, whenever the volume was just a bit too high, the sub’s automatic bass equalization circuitry (which functions as a limiter at high output levels) began to freak out, causing a “helicoptering” sound as the bass equalization circuitry attacked and released repeatedly. This is what happens when the release time parameter of the compression circuit is too short. This issue didn’t seem to affect music playback, however.
With some music that had sustained, loud bass notes, I also noticed a barely-perceptible “surging” effect, which occurred when the limiter attacked the initial transient and then released, allowing the bass level to suddenly rise. Cranking the system’s level to its maximum predictably resulted in a very thin, lean tonal balance, as the limiter held the subwoofer within the limits of its own output capability while the satellites shrieked.
Overall, however, at normal listening volumes the effect of the limiter is a positive one, keeping this tiny subwoofer somewhat more clean and “tight” than most small subs in this price range.
The satellite speakers’ performance was decidedly so-so, even as PC speakers are concerned. Their output was relatively free of any ear-piercing upper-midrange peaks, and decently extended in the top end. However, they suffer from what I call TV-Speaker Syndrome, which occurs when a midrange-producing speaker driver is mounted in a thin-walled plastic enclosure.
The midrange-frequency waves excite the plastic enclosure, lending a resonant, “cupped” character to the midrange, and impairing these speakers’ ability to render midrange detail. The treble response of the 2″ drivers sounds as though it achieves its extension through the use of equalization â€“ the upper-end detail isn’t quite as clear as it is in two-way satellite speakers with a separate tweeter.
On a positive note, the satellites demonstrated decent stereo imaging, which refers to the audible placement of sound sources in space. As with the small subwoofer, these satellites put the X-240 system on par with the other offerings in this price range.
With the launch of the X-540 5.1 speaker system, Logitech declared war on the $100 price category, serving up an attractive multichannel speaker system with a straightforward, cost-cutting design that could still hang with the competition in terms of performance, while demolishing the competition in price.
The X-540 system made news because it shattered the status quo, and redefined what consumers could expect at that price point. Would I call the X-240 system a smash success on par with the X-540?
The answer is, probably not. All around, the X-240 system’s performance was decent, and certainly competitive in its price category, but I’m far from ready to trade in my Cambridge Soundworks MicroWorks II system anytime soon. The sound of the X-240 system was lackluster, due in part to the insubstantial satellite speaker enclosures, whose sympathetic vibrations colored the sound unacceptably, and deprived the satellite speakers of their detail.
The “FDD^2” dual-driver satellite speakers included with the X-540 system could have improved the X-240 system greatly when compared to the decidedly cheap-feeling and ordinary-sounding satellite speakers of the X-240 system.
The subwoofer is another weak point. In the X-540 system, Logitech bolstered the five satellite speakers with ample bass performance from a well-built 5.25″ woofer, with a rubber surround (the flexible edge at the rim of the cone) and beefy motor structure. Rubber surrounds are typically softer than foam surrounds, enabling the woofer driver to have a lower resonant frequency, which defines the lower boundary of the subwoofer’s frequency response.
Had a comparatively beefy woofer been employed here, the bass performance of the X-540 system could have been more impressive for the price. For $50, we shouldn’t expect our socks to be blown off our feet, but it’s a disappointment to see that Logitech didn’t shatter the teeth of the competition here.
To be fair, I think it’s appropriate to temper one’s expectations in accordance with the price bracket of a particular product. For $50, the Logitech X-240 speaker system is a fantastic upgrade for the cheap speakers included with many mainstream PCs today. If you’re looking for an inexpensive 2.1 speaker system to pair with a second rig, these speakers may be just the ticket.
For anyone who’s looking for more serious music performance from their 2.1-channel speaker system, I still recommend spending $150 or more. In fact, Razer’s upcoming Mako 2.1 system is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $350, so high-quality sound will continue to command a premium price.
What you get for your additional money, however, is vastly more detailed reproduction, beefier construction, greater materials quality, and greater output potential. As for the X-240 speakers from Logitech, I’m awarding them a Techgage score of 7. While they don’t threaten the market of more expensive product offerings, they represent their price category quite well.
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