There are essentially two ways to get high-fidelity sound out of your PC: You can shell out a few hundred bucks for a good multimedia speaker system, or haul your home stereo system into your office and plug your computer into it. Now there's a third alternative: Cambridge SoundWorks' PCWorks. Although it's not without flaws, the $99.99 PCWorks self-powered three-piece speaker system delivers excellent sound quality--something PC speaker systems costing considerably more often fail to do.
The PCWorks speaker package is made up of two tiny satellite speakers, each of which measures about 3 inches square and contains a 2-inch driver. The speakers can be placed safely on your desk next to your screen on supplied stands or attached directly to the side of your monitor using Velcro strips. A floor-standing subwoofer is connected to the satellites via standard speaker cables. The subwoofer, which is smaller than a toaster, houses a three-channel amplifier to power the speakers (rated at 3.5 watts/channel for each satellite and 10 watts for the subwoofer), and has a back panel with the power on/off and subwoofer volume controls plus a stereo input to plug into your PC.
Once connected, the sound of the PCWorks can be summed up in a single word: bright. The satellite speakers deliver dominant midrange and highs that stress cymbals, vocals, and lead guitars in pop music. The sound is clear and crisp, although the system may lack the volume output preferred by some rock 'n' roll fans. On the other hand, the sonic flourishes of classical symphonies are well-served.
Although the audio quality of PCWorks makes it ideal for those who want to play audio CDs on their CD-ROM drives, game players may not be as sanguine. Unlike most inexpensive computer speakers, PCWorks lacks such conveniences as a balance control, a microphone jack, and a headphone input.
To keep the price down, other corners have been cut, too. The speaker cables are built into the satellites, so you can't replace them or upgrade to higher-gauge cables. The power button is also inconveniently placed on the subwoofer, and if you overload the speakers, an internal fuse in the bass module can be replaced only by Cambridge. Finally, to prevent overloads from the variable volume outputs of computer sound cards, Cambridge includes a tiny volume control on the line running from the output of your sound board to the subwoofer. It's a bit inconvenient, but it does the job.
For $99.99, however, all of these minor complaints can easily be overlooked. If you're looking for a solid PC sound system that lets you listen to music without wincing at the way it muffles string quartets, PCWorks is a true bargain.
PCWorks, Cambridge SoundWorks, 311 Needham St., Newton, MA 02164; 800-367-4434, Fax: 617-332-9229; http://www.hifi.com Requires: Sound card with stereo output. List Price: $99.99