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Manufacturer: Harman Multimedia
Min OS X: Any Version    Requires: Minijack Audio Port

JBL Duet
January 28, 2004 | Greg Gant

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Harman Multimedia's JBL Duet is a two satellite system (no subfoofer) targeted for the extreme value market; where name brands are sparse and quality speakers are almost non-existent. Thanks to the Duets, now virtually anyone can afford a set speakers that bear the Harman brand name. It’s a no frills package, with only a single volume knob located on the right satellite. For those who fear complexity, they’re as easy as speakers can humanly get to setup. They follow a simple three-step process: plug the left speaker into the right speaker, plug the input into the computer, plug the power into the wall and you’re good to go.

Understandably, the JBL Duet's specs are slim: 12 watts total power (10% THD+M), 60 Hz - 20 kHz frequency response and a surprising 80 dB signal to noise ratio (SNR). I’ve dealt with a few potentially good speaker systems that were wrecked by persistent hissing problems caused by low SNRs. Even when held to the ear at high volume (with no sound playing) the Duets barely make a whisper.

The Sound
The JBL Duet tries their hardest to be a set of full-sized speakers. As expected, the JBL Duets simply can’t hit the lows that a set of speakers with a subwoofer can, nor do they reproduce sound with the same detail that a more expensive sets do. They’re by no means bad; they’re right on par with what I hoped for.

The Duet kicks out a good deal of detail but they sound slightly hallow (partly due to a lack of low end punch) but are pleasant to listen to, even after extended listening sessions. Unfortunately you can’t use your equalizer to compensate easily with the Duet, too much bass and they distort. They’re far from the loudest speakers available, so fans of early hearing loss might want to look elsewhere. They do maintain fairly good composure even at uncomfortable volumes.

The Duet presents a fairly nice soundscape that suits music quite well, The lack of significant lows might bother hardcore gamers, but I was quite content playing Halo on them. I even connected them to my iPod and used the two as a stereo in my game room to provide background music for some heated matches of Foosball. While it wasn’t the ideal solution, it served its purpose and was extremely fast to setup. I’d be tempted to take my iPod with the Duets on my next trip with me.

Accidental Drop Test!
Computer speakers are subject to an abnormal amount of abuse. I used to drop every review set I received to see how the construction held up after one of the satellites performed a swan dive onto a carpeted floor. I’ve been reluctant to perform the infamous drop test ever since the EV SonicXS' sustained minor damage. However, I found the JBL Duet are the perfect size for dropping. I had them positioned on-top of my JBL S310s, which stand on each side of my desk. On a trip behind my computer, I accidentally tugged one of the Duet's cables causing both of them to jump and violently meet my wood flooring. Oops. As if that wasn’t enough, I knocked off one of the satellites in another incident. Each time the Duets sustained no damage. They’re not indestructible like the Altec Lansing 2100s satellites, which I hear the US Army is investigating for use as a new breed of body armor. The Duet is definitely a sturdy build and capable of surviving a few good blows.

Final Thoughts
The MSRP of $59.95 seems steep but a quick price search found them for roughly $35 ($40+ after shipping). They’re right on target for the street price, though quality-wise, the Logitech Z-340s might be a better value. Laptop users who want to experience quality sound on the go without headphones might want to invest in the JBL Duet (assuming they have an outlet handy). The JBL Duet are small enough for laptop users to pack around and are exponentially better than the any of Apple's internal laptop speakers.

My personal recommendation would be to save your extra money for the Altec Lansing 2100s, which run currently for $60. The 2100s are my personal pick for the best bang for the buck. I do admit it’s a bit unfair of me to recommend these in light of speakers that cost nearly twice as much. You’re simply not going to find any speakers worth buying below the $30 mark. If you’re strapped for cash or just looking to give an extra computer a set of respectable speakers then look no further.

  • Pleasant to listen even after long sessions
  • Super easy to set up
  • Good price to performance ratio

  • No powered sub
  • Cables are hardwired to speakers

    JBL Duet
    Manufacturer: Harman Multimedia

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