a number of computer and iPod speaker systems here at Playlist, but most have fallen into one of two categories: small speakers that sacrifice ultimate sound quality for portability, and 2.1 (subwoofer/satellite) systems that offer significantly better sound but require a good deal more space. In addition, with a few exceptions (such as JBL’s
), to get anything resembling full-range sound quality you need to spend upwards of $150—good sound just doesn’t come cheap.
It’s into this market—right smack in the middle, to be precise—that Klipsch has introduced its
ProMedia Ultra 2.0. Using a 2.0 approach (left/right speakers without a subwoofer) to save space—hence the name—the Ultra 2.0 system still aims to provide full-range sound, and to do it for a suggested retail price of only $100. In other words, Klipsch is hoping to offer the best of all worlds—good sound, small size, and low price.
Do they succeed? Read on.
The ProMedia Ultra 2.0 system consists of two (left and right) magnetically shielded speaker enclosures, approximately 10.5″ tall, 3.25″ wide, and 7″ deep each. The speakers are narrow enough to squeeze into some fairly tight spaces, but tall enough to hold three speaker drivers each: two 2.5-inch fiber-composite cone drivers and a single 1-inch metallic polymer tweeter. The standard version of the Ultra 2.0 comes in black, but according to Klipsch, a silver version, designed to better match aluminum-clad laptops and desktops, as well as iPods, should be available in the next week or so. Both models feature removable, fabric speaker grills.
The right speaker is where you’ll find the Ultra 2.0’s connections and controls. On the rear of the speaker are three jacks: audio-in, speaker output, and power. You connect your audio source—such as a computer or iPod—to the audio input via a stereo miniplug (cable included); the left speaker is connected to the right’s speaker output by a single RCA to RCA cable, also included. The power jack accommodates the cable leading to the system’s power brick. (Using an external power supply is another way in which Klipsch was able to reduce the size of the speakers.)
The front of the right speaker provides two additional jacks: an auxiliary input minijack for connecting an iPod or other device, and a handy headphone minijack. The front and rear audio inputs are mixed, meaning you can connect two audio devices—for example, a computer and an iPod—simultaneously; both signals will be audible. Plugging headphones into the headphone jack mutes the speakers, as expected.
The front of the right speaker is also where you control the Ultra 2.0’s system volume and bass levels, via two rubber-coated knobs.
Although the Ultra 2.0 isn’t a true “portable” system—it doesn’t run off batteries and it’s significantly larger than most of the portable systems we’ve tested—it’s small enough and light enough (just under 8 pounds, including the power supply) to move around easily, or even to stick in a suitcase or duffel bag. In fact, I found this “transportability” to be one of its advantages over a sub/sat system, which, even if it’s small, is still a hassle to move thanks to the additional pieces and cables.
Although many home audio speakers provide full-range or near-full-range sound without the need for a subwoofer, that’s generally not true for “computer” speakers, given that the latter are often constrained by space and power limitations. The Ultra 2.0 are a rare exception to that rule—I was surprised by their full, rich sound, despite the lack of a sub. More specifically, although I expected a system with dual 2.5-inch drivers and a separate tweeter to provide clear midrange and treble, I didn’t anticipate much bass. However, during my testing, I generally listened with the bass knob set at around 3/4 the maximum, and although the bass wasn’t exactly powerful, it was there. In fact, someone else who listened to the system put it perfectly: There’s enough bass to notice that it has bass—as opposed to most smaller speakers, which are missing enough bass for you to notice that it’s missing. (To be clear, most of the bass provided by the Ultra 2.0 is what’s often called “upper-bass,” as explained below.)
The Klipsch system also provided more “presence” than I expected. In a 15′ x 10′ office with very high ceilings, the Ultra 2.0 produced more than enough volume—I could turn the volume up to uncomfortable levels without distortion.
So what doesn’t the Ultra 2.0 do well in terms of sound? Because of the size of the speakers, you shouldn’t expect the sort of true bass extension you would find with larger speakers or a subwoofer-based system. In fact, what you’re really getting with the Ultra 2.0 is what’s often called “upper bass”—frequencies at the upper end of what’s traditionally considered the bass range. For example, when using test tones with the Ultra 2.0 system, bass output begins to roll off gradually at 100Hz, and more steeply below 80Hz; bass is effectively nonexistant below 65 Hz. In comparison, the $300
Altec Lansing FX-6021
, one of our favorite sub/sat systems, doesn’t start to roll off until 65Hz, and still produces reasonable bass output at 50Hz. (And a good number of sub/sat systems provide more bass than the FX-6021.)
Related to this, the Ultra 2.0 is also not going to compete with larger speaker systems in terms of sheer volume. Although the system’s 15 Watts per channel total RMS power is impressive for a small 2.0 system, many sub-sat systems put out significantly more power. When listening to bass-heavy music on the Ultra 2.0, cranking the volume up—to levels that were uncomfortable in an office but reasonable in a larger room—resulted in some distortion.
Finally, although the Klipsch system provides relatively balanced sound compared to many inexpensive speaker systems, I heard an emphasis in the upper midrange and a slight roll-off in the treble. But these weren’t significant flaws, and they were admittedly observed in a testing area with a number of more expensive systems to use as references. Given the Ultra 2.0’s price and size, I think most consumers will find the system’s overall tonal balance to be quite good.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the ProMedia Ultra 2.0 appears to be an attempt to find an attractive compromise between good sound, small size, and low price. If so, it has succeeded. What impressed me the most about this system, given the price, is the overall balance between the treble, midrange, and upper bass—a rare trait in inexpensive computer speakers. If you’re looking for a truly enjoyable set of speakers that will fit on your desk, won’t clutter the area with extra cables and a subwoofer, and won’t break your budget—and if you aren’t looking for room-shaking bass—the ProMedia Ultra 2.0 are highly recommended. I don’t think you’ll find better sound in a package this size for the price.