For many of us, 5.1 speaker systems are the way of life. They provide a nice surround-sound atmosphere for whatever audio content we choose to be listening to, whether it be music, gaming audio, or movies. However, these systems are often quite immobile and infeasible for our ever-increasing desire to have products that are portable. Enter in the Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB speakers. This small 2.0 speaker set is certainly fit for those of us on-the-go. But how does it sound?
The Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB speaker set comes nicely packed within a convenient travel case. Once I removed the protective wrapping around each speaker, I noticed the sleak design and smooth surface. Hercules describes it as a "piano-like" finish, and I agree with their assessment. The speaker set weighs very little, so they are easy to carry around for traveling. The cord length is quite long, which is definitely valuable. However, the cords are quite cumbersome to deal with due to their plastic braded covering, which is more annoying than you would think especially considering you will probably be unpacking and repacking any set of portable speakers you own many times.
The Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB speaker set comes neatly packed within a handy traveling case.
The speakers are easy to set up – literally plug-and-play. Any USB port will work to draw power. However, it's important to note that the Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB speaker set can draw power only via USB. While this is fine for any laptop, I envision this being a problem for other portable devices, especially MP3 players and smartphones. This greatly limits the scope of portability for the speakers.
Finally, how do the Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB speakers rate for sound. As a note of full disclosure, I'm obviously not expecting any portable speaker set to compete with a 5.1 or even 2.1 speaker set. However, a portable speaker set should be able to compete with similar products on the market, and unfortunately for the Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB set, it falls short. To test this speaker set, I used to same list of songs I tested the Yurbuds Ironman Series earphones with. I won't be harsh in regard to bass sound quality, as any speaker set without a dedicated subwoofer won't be able to reproduce low frequencies with accuracy. And honestly, if you really want quality bass sound, you'll need to go with a 2.1 or 5.1 speaker set. The high frequency sounds were reproduced pretty well for a set of portable speakers, so I was pleasantly surprised with this. Nevertheless, what I noticed is that the Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB set consistently overcompensated for the lack of low frequencies by over-ampliying high and medium frequency sounds. This really skews with the balance of sound and makes listening a little difficult.
Another thing I noticed is that the volume dial on my sample set produced no discernable amplification of sound in the last 20% of the dial. And the reason why I needed the dial that high in the first place was because the overall speaker volume is below average for a dial setting compared to other units.
The performance of the Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB speaker set was much better for spoken word. I tested out a few Ted lectures and the speakers performed well. I envision a portable set of speakers being used for this type of application fairly often, as students giving a presentation from their laptop could play a few documentary clips with greater quality than from their laptop speakers.
However, when customers think of speakers the first thing they think of is music, and that's what Hercules is branding these speakers for. The quality in regard to music is quite poor, even for a set of portable speakers. And lest you think I'm being harsh, Chill Pill Audio presented a set of mobile speakers at CES 2011 with really good quality, even for low frequency sounds. Also, in addition to having USB power capability, the Chill Pill set has an internal lithium ion for true portability. For only an extra $10-20, skip the Hercules XPS 2.0 35 USB speakers and go with the Chill Pill Audio mobile speakers instead.