Arctic has been long known for its effective, efficient cooling products—case fans, heat sinks, and the like. However, they have recently expanded their lineup to include various audio products, including the S111 portable USB-powered laptop speakers. They bear such a low price tag ($17.15 MSRP) that they're initially a very tempting product. So, if you're looking to step up from your underpowered, undersized laptop speakers, the S111 might be worth a look.
At only 7x7x7cm (or 2.75×2.75×2.75 inches) per speaker, these are very compact and easy to store. They have a bit of heft to them, so when you pick them up there's no sense of cheapness or flimsiness. The wide, grippy volume knob on the back of the right speaker is nearly flush with the casing so as not to take up any space in your bag. The cords are easily managed and firmly connected. However, despite all these pluses, there is one major reason why I would think twice about throwing these into my backpack without first reboxing them: the drivers themselves are completely exposed. No mesh grill or other protective covering is built into the speakers, an inexcusable—and frankly rather stupid—omission on Arctic's part. If they're going to advertise that the system is "highly portable and fits into every backpack," they should build it so that it could survive in the even that your backpack also contained, say, a pencil.
I was initially put off a bit by the need to connect the speakers to your computer twice. The USB cable only delivers the 2W of power per speaker, so it requires a separate 3.5mm cable in order to actually provide sound. If you move around frequently, an extra cable is the last things you want. However, the dual-cable setup has an advantage: if you connect it to a wall outlet using a USB adapter, the speakers can play music from an MP3 player or phone. And to be honest, the extra cord isn't really much of a hassle, since in most cases they'll start in the same spot and more or less end together.
My initial expectation was one of flat, uninspiring sound. I expected the singe small drivers to be inadequate for any sort of depth or complexity, and that they would sound much like laptop speakers only a bit louder. I was pleasantly surprised by how they turned out: they're not tinny at all, and the sound remains clear as you turn up the volume. The volume itself was surprising as well: they're more than able to get you kicked out of a library and will easily fill most medium-sized rooms with sound. All I can really say for the bass response is that there is some, which is more than you can say for most laptop speakers. Although it's not as powerful as the midrange or treble, most classical, rock, and R&B music will sound fine through the S111's. Drum-and-bass fans might be disappointed though. Arctic rates the frequency range at 50Hz—25KHz, but the low end starts to become unclear around 100Hz and is totally nonexistent below 65Hz. Treble is clear up until about 5KHz, after which it becomes edgy and uncomfortable. There is considerable and rather unsettling distortion when you turn them up all the way; at full blast they sound like the drivers are trying to tear themselves out of the enclosures. All in all, the speakers have some pretty great midrange response, and will suffice for the non-audiophile's ear in the vast majority of cases.
For most movies, the S111's are adequate. Since their strongest, clearest frequency range lies around that of human speech, dialogue is very distinct and free of distortion. They'll do gunshots well, but low tones—earthquakes, explosions, etc.—are a bit too much to ask. When the speakers are trying to push such low sounds, the rest of the range begins to suffer for it, and dialogue and background music slightly muddy as the drivers struggle to cope with both low and high at the same time.
Until a solution is found for the exposed driver, I cannot recommend that you carelessly throw these in your bag along with pointy things like pens. They should be placed back in their box (which is considerably larger than the speakers themselves) for safekeeping. A note to Arctic Sound: I'm sure consumers would gladly pay an extra dollar or two for some grilles over the drivers. For the peace of mind, it would be worth it.
As it stands, the Arctic Sound S111 speakers are half the price of competing USB-powered laptop speakers, but the sound quality is still respectable. And although they might not deliver earth-shaking bass (what sort of one-inch driver does?), they pump out pretty good sound for their size and price. For $17, these could be a viable upgrade from your standard laptop speakers.