Hands on with JBL Creature speakers
Ever since the iSub debuted, Harman Multimedia has catered to the Mac audience with a line of uniquely styled audio products that look and sound great. That's definitely evident in their latest offering, the JBL Creature, a new speaker system that debuted at Macworld Expo in New York.
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Although not explicitly designed for the Mac, there's no question that the Creature owes a lot to the Mac for its styling cues. It's available in three different finishes -- White, which matches the finish on iBooks, flat panel iMacs and eMacs; Metallic Blue, which goes quite well with indigo-colored CRT iMacs, and Metallic Silver, which matches PowerBook G4s and Power Mac G4s to a T. Chrome embellishments for speaker grills and volume and level controls add a great touch and go particularly well with the newest Power Mac G4s, as well.
A 2.1 speaker system (that is, two satellite speakers paired with a single subwoofer), the Creature includes a 20 watt powered subwoofer and two 8 watt satellite speakers. The Creature's styling is evocative of a three-dimensional sine wave. It's unquestionably one of the most uniquely styled sound systems I've come across recently and very pleasing to the eye.
Those who have seen my Creature compare it to a stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars, Gort the Robot's sound system (from The Day The Earth Stood Still) and several other esoteric sci-fi references. The alien design of the Creature is readily evident in Harman's own marketing: "Straight from the JBL Factory. In Roswell." The Creature's designers really played up the science fiction styling cues, too: Carrying on a design concept that appeared in the subwoofer of the SoundSticks, the Creature's speakers sport LEDs in green (if you opt for the silver model) or blue (if you get the blue or the white versions). Like the SoundSticks' subwoofer LED, the Creature's lights don't do anything like pulsate in time with the music, although they add an interesting glow to the system when you're using it in a darkened room.
Controls for the Creature are comprised of separate chromed bullet-shaped bass and treble dials on the subwoofer and volume controls on the right satellite. The volume controls harken to the Power Mac G4 Cube's power button -- the Creature uses a "capacitance touch" design that enables you to raise or lower volume by simply touching a metal button that doesn't have any resistance to it.
But how's it sound?
Designed for use with computers, the Creature utilizes magnetic shielding to help prevent any image distortion on your computer monitor, so you can get the satellites and the subwoofer close to your CRT screen without worrying about any discoloration.
The satellites are small, measuring a scant 3-inches on each side, but they're quite hefty. Each one houses a single Odyssey Plus transducer. The speakers cast a wide sound field that's easy to position, and the system seems to handle a wide variety of music and audio well. The Creature handled DVD movie playback, MP3s, CD playback and game audio with equal aplomb.
The subwoofer itself has a 4-inch transducer inside. That's 2-inches smaller than the subwoofer included with the SoundSticks, but it's still got good bass reflex -- fine for everything but the most bass-heavy music, and perfectly suitable for explosion-heavy action games.
Since the Creature uses audio output from your Mac's headphone jack instead of USB, you don't end up wasting a USB port. Headphone output might be old-school technology, but it's simple, reliable and doesn't create any overhead elsewhere on the system. It also makes the creature compatible with a lot more systems; you can use it on an old beige Power Mac, for example, or with your iPod. The package includes all the wiring you need to get hooked up, and everything is color-coded for your convenience.
With a smaller subwoofer and one quarter the number of transducers in each satellite, the Creature doesn't have quite the same fullness of sound that the SoundSticks do, but the system's also significantly less money: $129.95 versus $199.95. To that end, the Creature is one of the better sounding and most uniquely designed speaker systems in its class. It's definitely worth a look (and a listen).