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New Generation PC 5.1 Speaker Systems

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January 19, 2007 5:05:07 PM

THX certification, wireless satellites, and even a built-in USB 5.1 sound card - these are just some of the features you will find in today's PC speakers.

More about : generation speaker systems

January 19, 2007 7:19:08 PM

What I would really, really like to see is a true wireless satellite solution for both my PC and Home Theater. I have all hardwood and tile floors throughout the house with the main pc and home theater in separate rooms. There is no way in the world to conceal the wires without drilling the walls and more skill than I possess. Did see a small blurb on CES coverage about soon to be here (yeah, right) bluetooth wireless solutions. I've seen some of the "wireless" home theatre systems that share the Logitech and Creative solutions that were reviewed and the Logitech system appears to be the better choice for those seeking semi-wireless until something better comes along (assuming you have a couple of spare wall outlets).
January 19, 2007 7:35:13 PM

Boy that Altec Lansing hit me hard, as I have a laptop only now and my Logitech X-530's have a three plug connector. As a result, I only have the green plug in and the only speakers getting a signal are the fronts and the sub. A built in sound card would be a godsend...
<stockpiles money>
-cm
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January 19, 2007 8:03:28 PM

Good review but I would like to have seen a comparison between the best sounding computer speakers, not wireless. That means the Logitech Z-5500, Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 Ultra, and whatever Creative has right now. I'm sure those systems that were reviewed are nice but I don't think much can compare to the 505 watts RMS and 1010 watts peak of the Z-5500 lol, it's also the clearest sounding speakers I've ever heard. Pisses me off though, I'm trying to get a good sound system in my car and no matter what I do, it doesn't sound nearly as good as the Z-5500's. I wish I could just put them in my car lol.
January 19, 2007 8:09:33 PM

Yeah I tried. The manufacturers didn't want to send me the high end stuff, they're pimping the wireless stuff now, so the systems I got were the only ones they'd supply.

They were still very good though, and better than I anticipated they'd be for the price.
January 19, 2007 8:19:57 PM

Wait.
You did that review?
-cm
January 19, 2007 8:46:53 PM

Hey Cleeve, I believe I have a stipulation with a part of your review. You say that the Altec Lansings are the only speakers in the review with a tweeter, but I'm fairly certain that the cones in the logitech sattalites are hybrid or "extended range" drive, smack in the center of the speakers is an aluminum phase plug, which is a type of tweeter. These types of speakers are quite useful for they're massive acoustic range, Tang makes a 2" hybrid driver that covers from 330-20,000 Hz! You can have a look at them right here. While sound-quality wise these sorts of drivers are considered a bit of a comprimise and are generally infirior to a separated cone driver/tweeter, they make up for it with they're tiny Vas ratings and thus very small enclosure possibilities. This of corse is why Logitech likes them so much, they're ideal for the given aplication. I know that you said at the beggining of your review that you are far from an audiophile, and its a bit unfair of me to bring my backroud for this fairly nit-picky stipulation, just bringing it to your attention, thats all.
January 19, 2007 9:06:15 PM

Yep. Expanding my horizons from graphics alone... :) 
January 19, 2007 9:09:01 PM

Hey Diedfamous,

Good point, and not unfair at all... If I'm off base I'd like to know about it.

I was speaking purely from a separate physical driver perspective, but you're quite right about the logitech offering. Although I will say in my defense that you could really hear the Altec Lansing's high range better than the Logitech or Creative speakers, so practically the 5051's still deserve kudos if highs are your thing.

But it's good info, and something I'll look deeper into if I do anymore speaker reviews. I'm trying to be a better audiophile. :) 
January 19, 2007 9:28:14 PM

I've had my Klipsch 5.1 system since 2001; I've had very few problems with it and enjoyed it's performance quite well. I upgraded in November of 2005 to the Klipsch 5.1 Ultra because my old system had the power supply go out, and through a Best Buy 4 year warranty when I bought it in 2001, I was able to get it for free. 8O It's simply one of the best speaker systems I've had for my computer. 8)
January 19, 2007 10:02:32 PM

Haha, as kind of an audiophile (at least when it comes to listening) I must say that no computer speakers (even the expensive Klipsch ones) have come close to my pair of massive Paradigm towers in my HT setup. Then again those things wouldn't exactly be practical in a den or office.

But anyways, one thing that struck me as awesome was the optical in on the Logitech ones that decoded DTS.

I'm currently using a Bluegears B-Inspirer card, which is touted for its realtime 5.1 dts encoding through its optical out. Would that signal be properly decoded by the logitech speaker system?
January 19, 2007 10:04:03 PM

It's a pretty good review. Kudos, Cleeve.
-cm
January 19, 2007 10:58:40 PM

Guys

In the specification matrix I need to point out some inaccuracies. Its a problem that many who make audio equipment aren't that worried about because big numbers are good and sell more.

Speakers power ratings. Assuming a sinusoidal waveform (which is the standard) If Peak power is 1 watt then the Power (RMS) will be 0.707Watts. Peak to Peak will be 2 watts.

Therefore in the specification matrix if the power is 315W (RMS) then the Peak power would be 315/0.707 or 445W (not the 630 identified). Peak to Peak would be 890W.

Personally I believe that adding the individual ratings of each speaker is just marketing B/S

Adding these all together is irrelevant and most assuredly isnt how high end home amplifiers and speakers are sold.

Not trying to be picky, just trying to ensure that people can see past the marketers B/S

regards

Andy
January 20, 2007 3:23:48 AM

Hey, thanks for checking it out anyway. I appreciate your comments.

Yeah, I know I'm no audiophile and there's a risk of cheesing some of the hardcore audio types off. I'm hoping that there's a place for the everyman's take on speakers too though, not just the hardcore.

Honestly, out of all my friends and aquaintances (and I'm not a hermit folks, I do have a bit of a social life), I think maybe one of them has a home stereo system that sounds better than the Z-5450s or G550Ws. I know a bunch of folks who bought '1000 watt' (obviously peak rated, and generously at that) home theatre systems, have no idea at all what's out there and are completely astonished by the quality of these PC systems when i demo them.

So I'm still hoping the hardcore will take my perspective into account, and I don't offend anyone enough to want to crucify me. I did quite a bit of research into the spectrum analysis side of things and it's really interesting, but I had no idea it was so difficult to get a decent reading and that there are so many nuances involved. My hat's off to people who really know their stuff with this subject, it's far, far deeper than i thought coming into it.
January 20, 2007 3:27:21 AM

Quote:
I'm currently using a Bluegears B-Inspirer card, which is touted for its realtime 5.1 dts encoding through its optical out. Would that signal be properly decoded by the logitech speaker system?


From what i understood it should work if it's coming from another decoder, but I'm going to ask the logitech rep that and get back to you.
January 20, 2007 7:24:50 AM

Quote:
Yep. Expanding my horizons from graphics alone... :) 


Certainly doesn't hurt. I'm trying to do the same and applaud your effort. I need a good surround sound system for my PC and Xbox 360 station. Trying to decide between Z-5500 and Z-5450 myself.
January 20, 2007 11:00:53 PM

Just to clarify, an isobaric configuration is simply used to cut the needed enclosure size in half. An isobaric setup does nothing to increase the overall output.

For example, let's say you have a 6.5" driver and it needs a 50 liter enclosure for "optimal" frequency extension. By putting another, identical 6.5" driver face-to-face with the other - coupling them - and then wiring them out of phase, you can use a 25 liter enclosure and preserve the same frequency response and low-end extension. The radiating area remains the same, so you will not increase output.

This is only done with subwoofers, or drivers operating at the bottom of the frequency range (<125 hz) because the ideal isobaric setup results in the sound being radiated from the rear of the driver, which doesn't adversely affect the low frequency sound, but would change the characteristics of higher frequency sounds.
January 21, 2007 10:34:43 AM

agree that it is sad when you can not test what you wanted. {or buy}but at these prices you are getting sound that years ago would cost much more. Have bose 901speakers ( stereo) , but to expensive to expand to 5.1. After years of migraines (not liking loud noises) I'm now looking for affordable sound for the pc 5.1 experience . please do some more reviews please. while waiting for the quads, might as well get some new periphiles. dvorak * key board , track man* mouse, wide screen LCD,(s*).,tv card*(HD?) , wireless*, better sound, foot pedals, joystick *, key pad *,( have *)
January 21, 2007 11:01:54 AM

First off let me say that I have a version of that Creative 550 system, and it sounds pretty good. The bass has some "extension" and not just "boom" and the bass distortion is fairly low. The integration between satelites and sub is fairly seamless, at least when used on a desk for a PC. However, thhe signal-to-noise ratio is less than great. You can hear a little hiss from the satelites. Not a lot, but when you have an X-Fi card in 24 bit mode you have like 100 dB S/N from the card, and here the speaker/amp system seems to be around 70. Like a Dolby cassette! The reviewer could have given us S/N readings, in this type of product that is one place where some products do considerably better than others.

I am an audiophile, and an amateur speaker builder; I am also an engineer. That said, there are a LOT more technical tests that speakers should be put through. No doubt the reviewer was not properly equipped to run MLSSA etc., but really a GOOD review would do more than show the spectrum analyzer graphs. Things like impulse response, distortion and waterfall plots are useful to see. But, OK, that takes special gear which a COMPUTER reviewer likely doesn't have. We'll cut him some slack here.

One thing I like to see in a speaker review is a discussion of game sound subjective experience, and music subjective opinion as well. Comments like "good for shreddy guitar but makes massed violins sound strident" or "excellent spatial cues during game play" are useful to the buying public.

I am less interested in the reviewers' opinion of the way the cabinet looks, or the styling. Yes, good design is nice to behold, but these are SOUND REPRODUCERS first and foremost, and sleek cabinets do not equate to being able to pinpoint the location of musicians in an orchestra or other aspects of sonic goodness.

Of course, it's always useful to discuss the features- remote controls, digital decoders and so on. And the ergonomics of the controls etc, this is good to know about.

All in all, I would like speakers reviews to be a little more like the equipment evaluations in Stereophile and little less like something posted on ePinions.
January 21, 2007 7:31:18 PM

I have really mixed feelings about reviews like this. As milosz pointed out, the review lacks a lot of details that a good audio rag would include in a review.

On the flip side, it is hard to get excited about plastic speaker cases, onboard audio, MP3s etc. And listening to music that was mastered in stereo on a "5.1" computer sound system just smacks of hacked sound and overhyped marketing. My bet is that even a modest pair of well chosen bookshelf speakers would blow the doors off this setup, admitedly at about $800 cost. High Fidelity isn't about "more drivers", or having a subwoofer (its hard to get subs that cost 10 times as much of this system to integrate properly); its about having good sound.

Try this experiment: go listen to live music in a concert hall or club, and then listen to a recording of that performance. Even on a $10,000+ system, you will be amazed at how lifeless the music sounds and you don't need "golden ears" to hear the loss. Even SACD and DVD-A won't "get you there". And MP3s - forget about it. So plastic speakers - naaah!

If you cannot pipe your music from your PC into a good outboard DAC and play it in good system, spend the $$ on a top flight pair of headphones and leave the hype behind.
January 21, 2007 8:04:11 PM

Boy I can't tell the difference between Phantom of the Opera in concert, and the sound from my crappy Logi X530s. I guess it's louder in the opera house.

Be nice, Cleeve is listening.
-cm
January 22, 2007 12:47:20 AM

I have actually tried using Rogers LS 3/5a monitors and a modified (MIT Multicaps, precision resistors, stock circuit, matched Svetlana EL34 output tubes, the desireable "cloth insulated" output transfromers) Dynaco Stereo 70 instead of the desktop speakers and the result was mixed. Putting a pair of speakers on a desk is NOT the best placement! LOL. When Creative (who now owns Cambridge Audio, founded by AR/KLH/Advent founder and famous audio guru Kloss) designs a pair of speakers one HOPES they take typical desktop placement into account in some way. I think if I "flew" the LS 3/5a's overhead with a slight downward cant, the way one might oganize a sound mixing desk/ audio workstation, this would be MUCH better.

I have a number of Cambridge Soundworks and then later on Creative computer sound products, from PC Works to Gigaworks and so on, and the folks there at Cambridge DO TRY to make coherent-sounding stuff at the given price points. They have plastic cabinets, yes, but they are mineral-filled material, fairly thick and with a high coefficient of internal damping. Plastic, if it's thick enough and filled with high-density stuff like ground stone ('mineral filled') can be acoustically good. The Creative 550 speakers are plastic, but it's thick "dead" plastic- whack it with a fingernail and it goes "thunk" not "tink" - so I think it's OK in that regard. The sound you get from a good desktop ensemble is SMOOTH at best, but you don't really get the depth, sweetness, etc etc of good audio gear. It would be interesting to see a "high end audio" approach to desktop audio, I think more is required than just better drivers, boxes and amps. There is some serious thinking and design that needs to be done to get it really right, and no one has yet done it.

I've heard tell that the Klipsch 5.1 and 7.1 speakers systems sound pretty good. I'd be interested to hear from any audiophiles out there who have heard them, are they "quality" audio, or just louder with a more forward sounding midrange?
January 22, 2007 6:23:39 AM

Quote:
but really a GOOD review would do more than show the spectrum analyzer graphs. Things like impulse response, distortion and waterfall plots are useful to see. But, OK, that takes special gear which a COMPUTER reviewer likely doesn't have. We'll cut him some slack here.


i appreciate that, Miloz. Honestly i wish I could have done more, and when I checked out other PC reviews of audio systems, i found very, very few even showed an audio spectrum analysis... at least 90% of the PC speaker reviews I found included only subjective analysis, and absolutely nothing objective at all.

But I'd like to know more about what I'm doing, and to go further in the future. Are you equipped to do the type of tests you're describing? If so, PM me... thanks!
January 22, 2007 11:35:38 AM

Quote:
at least 90% of the PC speaker reviews I found included only subjective analysis, and absolutely nothing objective at all.


That is exactly the problem, most mainstream reviews are prostitutes to the advertising money and think that Bose is a great brand (well the revenue from Bose is spectacular).

Look at Stereophile (sadly they often review $50K speakers which are out of most of our means) and the Loudspeaker Design Cookbook by Vance Dickenson for ideas about measuring performance.
January 22, 2007 11:40:49 AM

Quote:
at least 90% of the PC speaker reviews I found included only subjective analysis, and absolutely nothing objective at all.


That is exactly the problem, most mainstream reviews are prostitutes to the advertising money and think that Bose is a great brand (well the revenue from Bose is spectacular).

Look at Stereophile (sadly they often review $50K speakers which are out of most of our means) and the Loudspeaker Design Cookbook by Vance Dickenson for ideas about measuring performance.
January 22, 2007 12:07:04 PM

Quote:
They have plastic cabinets, yes, but they are mineral-filled material, fairly thick and with a high coefficient of internal damping. Plastic, if it's thick enough and filled with high-density stuff like ground stone ('mineral filled') can be acoustically good.


I remain skeptical about plastic enclosures. It is true that there are some surprisingly good systems in cars that use fiberglass covered MDF enclosures. However, I bet you would be hard put to find even a modestly priced set of speakers constructed that way recomended in stereophile.

Quote:
It would be interesting to see a "high end audio" approach to desktop audio, I think more is required than just better drivers, boxes and amps. There is some serious thinking and design that needs to be done to get it really right, and no one has yet done it.


This is an interesting thought, but I think that the real problem is that you are trying to create a "desk top" listening experience. As an audiophile, you know that speaker placement has a dramatic effect upon accoustics: why not experement with the computer listening position? Most of my friends have the computer shoved against a wall or in a corner which is aweful.

I have attempted to set my home office up more along the lines of a critical listening position for audio. My computer is in a freestanding desk near the center of my office. My bookshelf speakers (sealed box) that are set higher than normal due to the monitor, but still aimed at my head. I could do more with monitor placement and other accoustical treatments, but I think that this is better than mucking about with speaker response which will never fit more than one room.
January 22, 2007 1:44:21 PM

I'm curious about the "wireless" aspects of these systems reviewed. Although it was mentioned that there were no problems with using the wireless, I'd be curious to see how it behaves with other typical products in a house like phones and other wireless or RF emitting items.

The websites for these products may have FAQs or other data sheets on this. Just a brief note to spark thoughts with my fellow computer users.
January 22, 2007 1:54:36 PM

Is it just me or is the Altec Lansing FX5051, Continued page 7 showing the wrong controller?
February 2, 2007 7:02:10 AM

I just bought some speakers last week after reading the review and I didn't go with any of them because I had two constraints:

1) No more 2.4ghz devices. My mouse already lags every time my phone rings.

2) I need to hook up two computers to the same set of speakers at the same time (I don't want to have to switch between computers). One of those computers will be running linux, the other windows

If not for condition 1 I would have bought the Logitech setup, I looked for their older non-wireless version but it's disappeared from stores.

Then I almost bought the Altec Lansing, it had two sets of input: one usb, and one 6 channel (3 plug) minijack. Since the usb jack replaces the soundcard I would have had to toss my xi-fi card, or hook the usb jack up to my Linux machine, for which there are no drivers. So that didn't work.

In the end I bought the Creative Labs Gigaworks 500 progamer (I almost didn't because I'm not a pro gamer). The quality of sound was good, not great but good. But at least it supported the standard 3 plug surround sound setup and has a stereo aux plug for my second computer.

While speaker shopping I started talking to two other people each with specific needs. One guy wanted a wire less setup (so I pointed him to the Logitechs), and there was a married couple looking to do video/sound editing on a Mac, they had almost all the same issues I did and passed on the Altec Lansing speakers for the same reason.

The moral of this story: if you are a manufacturer make you're devices standard and flexible before you build in a bunch of fancy features.
February 6, 2007 4:42:02 AM

Quote:
but really a GOOD review would do more than show the spectrum analyzer graphs. Things like impulse response, distortion and waterfall plots are useful to see. But, OK, that takes special gear which a COMPUTER reviewer likely doesn't have. We'll cut him some slack here.


i appreciate that, Miloz. Honestly i wish I could have done more, and when I checked out other PC reviews of audio systems, i found very, very few even showed an audio spectrum analysis... at least 90% of the PC speaker reviews I found included only subjective analysis, and absolutely nothing objective at all.

But I'd like to know more about what I'm doing, and to go further in the future. Are you equipped to do the type of tests you're describing? If so, PM me... thanks!

Hi Cleeve,

Just want to say it's great to see more reviews for computer speakers. I hope to upgrade my Logitech's x-530s sometime in the future, and I'll definitely take a look at the ones you suggested in your review. I've been getting into audiophile products using my computer as a source and I've been learning alot reading forums such as www.head-fi.org I'd like to make a comment about objective vs subjective analysis for measuring sound quality.

There's has been great debates using equipment to measure sound quality of headphones/speakers by measuring the sound spectrum as opposed to using the human ear. The general trend in the audiophile world is basically this: whatever sounds good to you, must be good. I think it's great that you put put both objective measurements along with your personal opinion; I'm sure viewers want to "see" your evidence, however, no type of objective measurement can define what sounds "good" to everyone. To rate video cards, it's easy, whatever video card and pump out the most FPS wins and that can be measured. But to measure "good" sound, that's subjective. Using audiophile headphones as an example (NO, I will not use BOSE as an example =P), Grados have a brighter sound as Sennheiser has a more neutral/warm sound to me. If the sound spectrum were to be measured using objective analysis, you'd find that the graph is skewed very differently. According to this objective analysis, which is considered to be high quality sound? Which outputs bad quality sound? You've had to listen to them yourself. Some like more base, some like more highs, some like a mixture, whatever. Overall, it's all up to you, the type of music you enjoy listening to, etc.

As a suggestion, I recommend you read the forums in head-fi.org (use the search function, most users there don't like noobs posting questions that most likely been answered already, heh). There's plenty of people who can give you more information in what to look for in a headphone/speaker system, how to improve it, etc. Even better, I recommend you buy a few headphones, a new sound card for the computer, and listen for the difference and compare. I'm sure it'll help you improve your reviews in the future. Who knows, it might even change your opinion on the speakers you reviewed.
January 22, 2009 11:41:47 PM

Hi Guys,

Just wanted to say thanks for the excellent review. I am, I would imagine, the exact customer that the FX5051 is aimed at. I replaced my gaming desktop this year with a portable gaming laptop. Now I run a (rebranded) Clevo M570TU which is widely viewed as one of the best gaming laptops (not priced at a bajillion dollars) on the market. I absolutely love the machine - I use it in my office, I use it at home, and I use it on the road with never any issues and running any game I can throw at it at full speed. Where it falls down is audio - the built in speakers being complete rubbish (as you would expect).

I had been shopping for speakers for a while and have run with an Aletc Lansing set in the past which have not only been great quality, but lasted FOREVER without ever failing once. After some searching and reading some reviews it is a total no-brainer on which system to go with. With any other system you have to tack on $80 for the external soundcard - either that or go for a 2.1 system (yeah right, eh?). The icing on the cake is that the price of the system. In the end I ordered one for $189 + $29 for delivery for a grand total of $220. I also live in Australia so keep in mind that's Aussie dollars - that translates into $140.00USD (!!) for a system that compares to the Logitech and Creative ones mentioned here, is delivered to my door, and completely solves my terrible on-board audio problems with USB connectivity.


If there was ever a definition for 'no brainer' - this is it!

Cheers,
Darryl

EDIT: After reading some other replies with complaints towards the lack of specifics in the review, I feel obligated to say that I think the majority of people reading these reviews are like me: average joes. I'm not an 'audiophile' but I do love good sound quality. I don't know the ins and outs of speakers and their components and I really don't want to spend hours learning about them so I can understand a review. This review did an excellent job of relaying the information I need to know in an easy to understand way so I can make an informed purchase. So for ME (and the majority of users I suspect) it was bang on. Thanks again!
!