Review: Cerwin-Vega XD3 speakers offer big, but unbalanced, sound

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At a Glance
  • Cerwin-Vega XD3 Powered Desktop Speakers

Every so often you evaluate a product and lean toward ambivalence regarding its performance. You then take a gander at the price and reconsider in an “Oh, well if it’s only [x] number of dollars, then okay” kind of way. Such are my feelings about Cerwin-Vega’s XD3 2-Way Powered Desktop Speakers, which list for $150 but are widely available for under $100.

Each speaker measures 8 by 5.5 by 6.5 inches, with black cabinets made of vinyl-laminated, medium-density fibreboard (MDF). Each includes a 3-inch paper-cone woofer and a 3/4-inch silk-dome tweeter. The XD3’s left speaker houses a 15-Watts-per-channel amplifier that powers both speakers. The left unit also bears two audio inputs: a pair of left/right RCA connectors on the back and a 3.5mm stereo input on the front (along with a 3.5mm headphone jack). In addition to the power switch, the back of the left-hand speaker hosts a Vega-Bass switch, which engages a feature designed to pump up bass frequencies.

For a hundred bucks, you can forgive the XD3 for not being terribly flexible. While having two inputs is nice, there’s no USB connectivity. And unlike some powered speakers, attaching a second input doesn’t mute the first, so you have to be sure to stop playback on one of your music sources if you want to avoid a John Cage-like audio mess. The XD3 also doesn’t include a remote control. Instead, you control its volume from a somewhat stiff knob on the bottom-left of the left speaker.

These are understandable shortcomings given the price, but less forgivable—if you’re particular about your speakers being free of audio coloring—is the XD3’s sound. Although the speakers offer decent stereo separation and—unlike some similarly designed models—really are at their best on a desktop rather than a bookshelf, I found them boxy sounding with an undefined low end. Testing them with a real-time analyzer confirmed what my ears heard: The low end isn’t impressive, there’s a fairly significant hump in the 160Hz to 350Hz area, and the speakers fall off at around 7kHz. When you engage the speakers’ Vega-Bass feature you don’t gain more definition in the low end, just more thump.

Of course, Cerwin-Vega isn’t marketing the XD3 as a pair of neutral studio monitors. Page 4 of the user manual states, “And, if it has the Cerwin-Vega name, the bass has to be in your face.” Personally, I prefer that the bass stays right where it should be, balanced among a speaker’s other frequencies, but that’s not the point of these speakers. My ears tell me that the point is to provide—in an inexpensive, compact package—okay-sounding speakers with the kind of low end that’s common in today’s popular music (and, for those who seek a different kind of entertainment, more thump and drama for computer games).

Bottom line

For a hundred bucks, it’s tough to find great sound, and I’ve heard similarly sized desktop speakers at this price that sound far worse. So your purchasing decision comes down to money and the type of speakers you’re looking for. If you’re on a tight budget and $100 is about as far as you can stretch, give the XD3 a listen—particularly if you enjoy hip-hop and thumping computer games, and you want something larger (and louder) than the typical $100 computer speaker. If, however, you have more to spend (or are willing to wait until you can save up for better speakers) I’d consider something else. Our own Dan Frakes offers a load of recommendations in his annual speakers buying guide.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Inexpensive
    • Decent stereo separation


    • Unimpressive sound
    • Limited connectivity
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