Review: JBL CAS-33 PC Speakers
JBL have a variety of esoteric designs for computer speakers, but the CAS-33s, selling for around £145, is their more conventional offering. Supplied in pairs, each CAS-33 speaker measures 85 x 181 x 174mm (WxHxD), and houses a 3” AL cone woofer and 19mm PET dome tweeter. The right speaker also contains an amplifier with RCA and 3.5 mm jack inputs, volume control, 3.5 mm headphone socket, an on/off switch, an output socket to connect the left speaker via the supplied cable, and a 12v AC input socket for the included power supply unit. The amplifier is rated at 10 watts per channel but, as with many manufacturers, we are not told if this is 10 watts music power, peak power, DIN, or RMS, therefore the figure is largely meaningless but, suffice to say, it’s enough for computer speakers.
JBL have clearly put a lot of thought into the CAS-33s and come up with some interesting design features. To begin with, the push button on/off switch is on the top. Although this might seem slightly unconventional, it makes perfect sense. Front mounted pushbutton switches rely only on the friction between the speaker and the surface the speaker is on to prevent it from moving backwards when being switched on and off. With the switch on the top, the resistance comes directly from the surface the speaker is on. In other words, push the button down and the speaker isn’t going to travel anywhere.
The volume control also takes the form of pushbuttons on the top, one for volume up and one for volume down. I was concerned that there would be too few incremental levels, meaning that just one push could change the volume from being too quiet to too loud, or vice versa. This proved not to be the case at all, and I’ve had no problems setting the volume to just the level I require. However, the disadvantage with pushbuttons over rotary volume controls is that you can’t actually see what the volume level is set to. That said, provided that the power supply unit isn’t disconnected, the CAS-33s remember your last volume setting, so you don’t have to reset the volume every time you turn the speakers on. Between the on/off and volume control buttons resides a red LED, clearly visible.
The speaker housing has a gloss black finish, which I’m sure is intended to look ‘classy’, but for me it doesn’t – it looks, and is, plastic. Also, just one touch and the high gloss is broken by a set of fingerprints. I feel a matt finish would have been better but, having said that, the gloss black does help to make it stand out from the crowd.
And so to the most important thing – the sound. Different people want different things from PC speakers, depending on what the computer is primarily used for. I would guess that serious gamers prefer a speaker that can deliver a thunderous bass, whereas musicians want true, faithful, reproduction, and general PC users may just want something slightly louder and of better quality than the average PC speaker can offer. Meeting all these needs would be a tough task for any speaker, made even tougher by bringing in size limitations, but the JBL CAS-33 does a good job.
The sound obviously has some tonal enhancement in order for such small speakers to produce the level of bass that they do, and to this end they are not suitable for serious monitoring. Unfortunately this tonal enhancement is also applied to the headphone output. This will benefit cheap headphones, but any reasonable headphones are probably going to sound too bassy.
The CAS-33s are not Hi-Fi speakers, but they’re probably as close as you’re going to get with PC speakers of this size. For me, they have brought new life to audio emanating from my computer, to such an extent that I’ve even found myself slipping audio CDs into the drive to listen to while engaged on other tasks!
(At the time of writing, these speakers don’t appear to be sold outside Asia.)
(I would like to affirm to the reader that I have no connection with JBL, or their parent company Harman Kardon, and have received no payment or benefits from any source for writing this review. It is a true customer/user review.)