Over the years, we've seen a handful of Bluetooth speakers make their way into our office for testing, but the category has never taken off despite the appealing nature of wireless audio streaming.
Part of the problem is that Bluetooth speakers tend to cost more than your typical powered PC speakers do. Costing about AU$150, Creative's Inspire S2 Bluetooth speaker system isn't cheap but it is fairly affordable. It's also very small, especially for a 2.1 speaker package that includes a separate subwoofer.
As far as exact measurements go, the Inspire S2's cube-shaped sub is 23.2cm tall by 18cm wide by 20cm deep and can be easily hidden under a desk. The sub is black; the tiny satellites are white with black cloth grille covers. They're so small you'll barely notice them sitting on a desk.
Despite the "wireless" name, the Inspire's small satellite speakers need to be wired to the subwoofer. (The headphone and input jack on the right speaker isn't visible in this photo.) (Credit: CBS Interactive 2010)
On the right speaker, you get a headphone and an auxiliary input for connecting other audio devices such as music phones or portable video players. There's also a power button and volume controls that double as the Bluetooth pairing buttons: you hold down the volume up button for a few seconds to put the speakers in pairing mode.
The Bluetooth moniker conjures up images of a totally wireless experience, but — like nearly all "cordless" experiences — there are plenty of wires here. The speaker cables — about 6 feet long each — are hard-wired into the two satellites and connect to dedicated ports on the sub, where you'll find a knob for controlling the bass levels. And, of course, you have the power cord running to the subwoofer.
The idea here is that you'd place the speakers in a fixed location (most probably on a desk or shelf) and then have the freedom to move your laptop around the room and not worry about being tethered to a set of speakers to get your sound. Alternately, you should be able to stream any A2DP-compatible Bluetooth audio source to these speakers. The list includes newer iPhone and iPod Touch models, and most media-savvy mobile phones.
The Inspire S2 comes with a USB dongle that you connect via a USB port on your computer and the drivers automatically install themselves; the dongle is compatible with both Windows and Mac PCs. In your audio settings menu, you then have to tell your computer to output sound through the Bluetooth connection. Note that the A2DP wireless stereo Bluetooth and AVRCP Bluetooth remote control profiles are supported at a range of 30 feet. Once that's set up, the dongle should automatically connect to the speakers.
We didn't have a problem pairing our computer with the speakers and setting up a wireless connection. Things were just as simple when we went to pair an iPhone 3GS with the system, but we did have a little trouble reconnecting — sometimes it took a few tries. Alas, Bluetooth remains a little finicky, but that experience is par for the Bluetooth course — not a knock that's specific to the Creative Inspire S2.
Though we were generally pleased with the set-up side of things, what ultimately impressed us about the Inspire S2 package was how good it sounded for its size. Of course, we've heard better sound from larger systems that retail for around the same price. But the key here is that the Creative speakers offered a reasonable amount of bass and good detail. They played fairly loud, too, though they strained themselves when we pushed the volume to the highest levels.
If you're looking for a wired 2.1 system that costs less than AU$150, Altec Lansing's Expressionist Plus offers similar sound to the Inspire S2. However, if Bluetooth is what you're after, and you like the compact qualities of the S2, we have no problem recommending it, especially for smaller rooms (such as a dorm room or a bedroom). It may not blow you away with its sound quality, but it certainly surprises you with how much bigger it plays than its size would otherwise indicate.