There's something a bit frustrating about laptop computers: While options like YouTube, iTunes, Playlist, and Pandora make it possible to listen to almost any song ever written, anytime, the cheap little speakers that come with most computers make everything sound flat and tinny, sort of like Video Killed the Radio Star played through a cell phone.
For years, hardware manufacturers have tried to remedy the situation, offering everything from big expensive sound systems to cheap add-on speakers that are convenient, but have questionable audio quality. Recently, the As Seen on TV folks weighed in with their "solution": the Music Bullet. Slightly larger than a shot glass, the tiny speaker plugs into any device with an audio jack.
Unable to resist the manufacturer's promises of "big sound" and "kickin' bass," we decided to take the Music Bullet out for a test drive. The first thing we noticed was its great design: Because it draws power from a USB port, the speaker doesn't need a plug or replaceable batteries, which keeps its size down. Also, the audio cord retracts into its body, which is particularly convenient. As an added plus, the speaker can be opened up to about twice its size, a feature that supposedly allows more room for the "kickin' bass": It's like a Transformer toy that actually does something productive.
Once you plug the Music Bullet in, though, things go downhill: Its output is tinny on the high end, unexceptional in the midrange, and generally fuzzy on the low end, even when I extended it for "kickin' bass." In fact, in a side-by-side comparison, the Music Bullet came in a close second behind my computer's chintzy built-in speaker. On the other hand, it was a step up from my wife's slightly-chintzier built-in speaker.
As my trusty editor Mathew pointed out, tweaking the settings on iTunes could probably improve the Music Bullet's sound quality a bit. Then again, any audiophile who is committed enough to manipulate their iTunes settings probably wouldn't settle for the speaker's poor output.
There are some circumstances in which the Music Bullet might come in handy. For example, if you have a song on your iPod that you want to share with a group of friends, it could be helpful -- at least, as long as your crowd is in a small, quiet room with great acoustics. A closet, for example, would be perfect. In general, though, anyone who really cares about music will probably find that the Music Bullet's $20 price is about $15 too much.
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.