Dell has made its name on the back of their PC, notebook and monitor products. However, the American giant also produces several PC peripherals such as printers, input devices and more. One such category is a dedicated audio peripheral range to complement their core product group. This particular Dell line-up includes products such as the AX510 sound bar and the A225 2.0 speakers. The latest addition to this band of products is the Dell AC411 Wireless 2.1-channel speaker system.
With portability being the 'be-all and end-all' for all things related to audio gadgets recently, it's nice to see that Dell has not forgotten about the more sedentary users who would just like to sit down and listen to some quality sound. After all, small pocketable or portable speakers have their limits on how good they can sound at a price point for the masses. For that same dollar-value spent on such speakers, you will likely get a better sounding desktop speaker set since there's no constraints to designing for portability. For those who're hunting for such options, the new Dell AC411 that we've brought in for review is meant to be used primarily with either your PC or your notebook (when it's resting on your desk).
There is not much you can do with the design and aesthetics of mainstream 2.1-channel speaker systems. Hence the AC411 follows the same boxy, cuboid design every other competitor conforms to. Most of the surface area of the sub-woofer is clad in a cloth material, while the top panel of the cabinet is constructed from what looks and feels like matte plastic. The satellites are also covered with cloth and are perched on on top of a transparent stand.
The correct orientation of the sub-woofer is easy to determine due to the fact that the back panel is where all the ports and connectivity options are found. However, the symmetric nature of the satellite speakers makes it a bit harder to figure out which side faces forward. Users should look out for the small recess meant to help route cabling from the satellite speakers as it indicates which is the rear-facing side.
The final piece of the system is a remote control pod which features the power button and the volume control disc. In addition users will find bass control options, with three marked settings, on the right shoulder of the pod. Finally, there is a button to activate Bluetooth pairing. The Dell AC411 comes with Bluetooth 3.0 and is can be paired with any A2DP compatible device. The inclusion of wireless playback via Bluetooth seems to be a nod to users’ general disdain of having to fiddle around with wires to connect with devices. This also means that you can also use your smart devices as playback sources with ease.
Editor's note: At this juncture, we thought it would be good to clear any ambiguities. When Dell calls this a wireless speaker system - the "wireless" is referring to the Bluetooth connectivity for audio sources and it didn't refer to the satellite speakers or the subwooefer being wireless.
The Dell AC411 has a total power output of 33W RMS. Out of that figure, the subwoofer is rated at 20W power output while each of the satellites is rated at 6.5W. For S$99, the power output seems to be a bit on the lower end of the scale (in our opinion), but we'll see how this impacts performance on the next page.
The Dell AC411 speakers have a stated frequency response of 68Hz to 17,500Hz. The tests from audiocheck.net confirm the numbers and Dell’s honesty with regards to the frequency response figures is refreshing.
However, just by looking at the size of the satellite speakers, we feared that they may not be able to handle both trebles and mid-range frequencies on their own. Further tests from audiocheck.net revealed that the sub-woofer does indeed shoulder some of the burden and helps out with the reproduction of mids. The crossover frequency for top quality 2.1 speakers should roughly fall between the 80Hz and 150Hz band and the sub-woofer should not be handling any duties other than providing bass. Clearly, this is not the case with the Dell AC411.
So how did it fare in our actual audio playback tests from our test tracks? Unfortunately, throughout our listening tests the absence of mids was clearly evident. On Melt My Heart To Stone the AC411 was able to recreate the warm tone of the song with soulful trebles. However the meat of the track, which are the lush mids, were absent. Moving on to Sail On Soothsayer, the clarity of the guitar tone came across in the audio from the Dell speakers. However the notes were lacking in bite and we attack.
On the bass heavy Elements of Life, the AC411 was unable to deliver the deep, extended low frequencies required. The bass we heard had almost no impact and sounded loose and undefined. Similarly, on Hotel California, the lack of impact contributed to sub-par performance. The transient response from the speakers also failed to meet the mark as evidenced by the off-color sound of the alternate percussion instruments used.
We did try and toggle the bass settings to get better sound, but we were unable to find a sweet spot that could give a boost to most of our test materials. At the lower settings, the bass was not present in the mix at all. Increasing the levels meant that the low frequencies started losing definition but did not balance that with a correspondingly proportionate increase in impact.
When switching over to movies, the Dell AC411 redeems itself slightly. The wide soundstage of the speakers meant that the exploding ball bearing sequence from Swordfish was spacious and roomy in its rendering. Unfortunately the bad bass performance of the speakers meant that the explosion sound effects themselves were not up to scratch. With no center channel, all the dialog is reproduced by the two main satellite speakers and it wasn't as clearly audible as we would have hoped.
|Melt My Heart to Stone - Adele||7.0|
|Sail on Soothsayer - Buckethead||6.5|
|Elements of Life - Tiesto||6.5|
|Hotel California - The Eagles||6.5|
|Swordfish Opening Sequence||7.0|
|Overall Audio Performance||6.5|
We have been harsh on the Dell AC411 wireless speaker system as we hold high standards in assessing products. Of course, we've also taken its price point and features into consideration. Priced at S$99, you will realize that Dell’s target market demographic for the AC411 is probably positioned as speakers for the everyday user.
As an affordable mainstream 2.1-channel speaker set, the Dell AC411 impresses with a decently wide soundstage and trebles which catch the attention of the listener. The addition of Bluetooth wireless playback, a feature which not many competitors can boast of, gives the Dell contender an added advantage with regards to functionality and connectivity. This means users can use their smart devices (and even notebooks/systems with Bluetooth) as playback sources without needing to plug the device in to the speakers with the help of that standard 3.5mm analog audio cable.
On the whole, the Dell AC411 is a good speaker system for someone who just wants to solve their audio needs on a budget and expects hassle free functionality from their audio peripheral.