When you choose to take the path of the notebook PC rather than the path of the desktop PC, you naturally have to make certain sacrifices. Absolutely, you gain all kinds of portability and versatility, but at the same price point, you lose in performance, screen size, and audio quality. Thankfully, there are some inexpensive ways to rectify at least a few of those concerns.

In the sound department, the integrated speakers in most laptops leave a lot to be desired. Addressing that are the Zalman ZM-NSP100 clip-on notebook speakers. Do they provide big sound in a small package? Let’s find out.

Features and Specifications

Instead of attaching through the usual 3.5mm headphone jack, the ZM-NSP100 speakers connect with your laptop via a standard USB connection. This means that the speakers are able to draw more power and, thus, they should be able to be louder.

Running our way down the spec sheet, we find a pair of three watt speakers for a total of six watts of output. Each 30mm neodymium speaker driver has a frequency response range of 60Hz to 18kHz, while the speaker housing itself is 120mm tall.

These Zalman speakers are completely powered by USB, so you don’t have to deal with batteries. They come in your choice of black or white and should run you about $29.99 US.

What’s Included in the Box?

You want simple? You’ve got simple. Opening up the box, you won’t find anything in terms of an installation CD. That’s because the ZM-NSP100 is completely plug-and-play. Aside from the speakers themselves, which come with fixed cables, you get a travel pouch and a single-page user’s manual.

The Clipping Mechanism

Quite unlike the Arctic Sound S111 portable speakers, this set of Zalmans comes with an integrated “clip” mechanism. They are clip-on notebook speakers after all.

It’s not the fanciest of mechanisms, but it gets the job done. The clip is spring-loaded, but I found that it didn’t quite open wide enough. I was barely able to clip the speakers onto the LCD portion of my Dell Inspiron notebook. It shouldn’t have any trouble with slimmer models, but I know more than a few folks with heftier laptops.

I opted to have the speakers clip on either side of the screen, but you could just as easily orient them sideways and clip above the screen. That’s up to you. Under either scenario, though, you may find the dangling cables to be a little unsightly.

Sound Quality and Loudness

And this is the part that really matters. Despite only being three watts each, the Zalman ZM-NSP100 speakers are actually quite loud. I ran them through the usual battery of listening scenarios — music, movies, games — and found that they hand no real trouble in the sound production department.

However, the sound quality could be improved. They can be quite “tinny” at times, being quite harsh at the higher end of the spectrum. They definitely miss out on the low-end, but this is understandable given their small stature and simplified architecture. Are they better than the built-in speakers on most consumer notebooks? Probably. They’re at least louder but perhaps some more time “breaking in” will remove some of their “tinny” nature.

It wouldn’t be fair to compare the sound quality of these Zalmans against something like the Razer Mako system. They’re completely different beasts for completely different purposes. I just wish the sound profile was a little more balanced and may get there with a bit more use.

MEGATechie Musical Bliss or MEGATechie Aural Attack?

You have to go into these $25 speakers with the right set of expectations. If you’ve already invested in a higher end multimedia or gaming notebook that comes with an integrated subwoofer and THX certification, you probably won’t want the ZM-NSP100.

If, on the other hand, you have a conventional consumer-oriented notebook with built-in speakers that are far too quiet, this could be $30 bucks well spent. They’re quite loud, versatile, and — perhaps best of all — very inexpensive. I’d recommend them for frequent flyers who want a mild and portable audio upgrade.

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