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Edifier S-550 5.1 channel multimedia and gaming speaker system review

295 Watts of power drive this luxurious 5.1 system. Coupled with a passive radiator the massive 10" sub woofer driver provides a room-filling 120W of deep bass. A multifunctional 2.5" LCD display wired controller provides all the control any user needs.

We review a powerful 5.1 speaker system aimed at gamers and multimedia use that might be considered overkill for many users.

Read on to see what we thought of this massive speaker system.

 

Background

This speaker is ideal for those users who would like a large and powerful yet classy 5.1 speaker to complement their high end PC that is equally suited to music as it is to music and games, however our main issue with the product is the price and lack of digital inputs and decoding. Recommended.

It is no secret that the traditional multimedia speaker market has been stagnated over the last few years especially with the shift to modern digital home theatre systems.

When it comes to PC Centric speakers, we are seeing trend of shift towards premium 2.1 systems as space is being a priority for consumers who do not require an analogue 5.1 speaker set, or use their home theatre setup for the purpose of 5.1 surround sound rather than a dedicated 5.1 channel multimedia speaker system connected to their PC.

The flip side of this effect is that there has been less innovation in the market space. Focus has been on developing cheaper $100 speaker sets of 2.1 and 5.1 with less focus on premium 5.1 speakers. Premium products are seen as long life products where updates and refreshes are less of a priority and currently the R&D investment required to develop a premium product in his space may not be justified.

Some major players in this segment have pulled out of producing premium multimedia speakers or scaled back their product offerings to cater for these changing consumer trends. The product range from Kiplisch, Boston Acoustics, Altec-Lansing, Creative Labs differs from what it was only a few years ago and as of now only Creative, Logitech and now Edifier remain who offer a high power premium 5.1 speaker set aimed at the gaming or multimedia market and in the case of Creative and Logitech, long-life systems are offered which are due for an update.

Consumer and market trends have shifted towards portable media players and dedicated digital home theatre systems, which offer an easy and simple single cable HDMI connection to a PC or playback device. In some cases, the digital-only usage scenario is the only choice as modern materials contain mandatory copy protection and require a secure digital path to the audio and visual display device.

Premium 5.1-channel multimedia speaker set, technology wise are unfortunately a relic of the 20th century and now nearing the end of the first decade of the 21st century do not offer the same quality user experience that a modern home theatre in a box (HTIB) or digitally connected display can offer.

In light of this, even for us influencers - the trade press it can be difficult to justify the purchase of a dedicated speaker system such as for PC usage, as the modern digitally connected equivalent can be had for a modest increase in spend but offers a simpler, richer and better value for money proposition.

The more things change the more they stay the same. There is still a requirement for quality, high power multimedia systems especially from the enthusiast or gamer demographics that want a separate dedicated desktop style speaker system for PC use or do not wish to use a standalone hi-fi/ AV receiver setup for a number of reasons. Enthusiasts may desire an integrated speaker system due to space/compactness, flexibility, power consumption and cost.

The Edifier S550 5.1 Speaker System featured in this review represents a last stand, best effort attempt to re-vitalise the premium 5.1 multimedia speaker segment by offering larger hi-fi style two way satellite speakers and a innovative sub woofer that features dual passive bass drivers in place of a ported speaker cabinet. These features are intended to offer a different product design compared to the competition and get the best efficiency out of the package

Review
Manufacturer Edifier
Product High power 5.1 Channel speaker system for gaming and multimedia
Supplier Audion Multimedia Australia
Model Edifier S550
Price A$699.95 RRP at time of review

Product Bundle, Specifications, Design and Features

Packaging

We can not emphasise the size and weight of this product when packed in its shipping cartons. The total packed weight of the speaker set is 37.5 Kilograms which is much heavier than even many modern stereo hi-fi systems and even old 20" CRT Monitors. You will need a suitable vehicle such as a hatch back, SUV or home delivery if you intend to buy these speakers.

The packed size is also impressive and proved a challenge to unpack the speakers and to subsequently repack them when our review was concluded to return to the supplier. The speakers are shipped in two large cartons, the larger containing the sub woofer and accessories and the smaller box containing the satellites. The total dimensions of both cartons combined is 630mm Wide, 470mm Deep and 790 mm High.

The speakers we received came in Edifier branded shipping cartons, the actual colourful product boxes were inside these boxes, which contained the image of the product and all specifications and certifications. This protects the product more but proved a slight annoyance when unpacking.

 

The satellites are packed securely in a custom foam tray which not only protects the satellites during shipping but if the user needs store or transport the speaker, retaining the packaging will allow the speakers to be packed away safely. However, the sub woofer was not protected in this way simply due to its size and weight and simply had upper and lower foam inserts to secure the sub woofer. the control pod was 'thrown' in alongside the sub woofer with just bubble wrap.

Product Bundle and Accessories

Since Edifier classify this as a 'real' or premium multimedia speaker system, the S550 does not use any captive cables at all apart from the control pod. All cables used are industry standard speaker cable or RCA stereo cables. easily replaceable or extendable by the user. The product bundle also includes a removable stand for the control pod and a standard figure 8 AC power cable measuring 1.5 metres, typical of these sort of devices. We would have liked to see the cables labelled so that the user does not mistakenly use the longer rear speaker cables for the front channels. This would also assist setup and avoid any confusion.

The oxygen-free speaker cable used is fortunately more than long enough for even a large living room installation, which is the scenario we chose to test these speakers. The three pairs of speaker cable used for the three front speakers measure 2.4 metres, with the two pairs of speaker cable used for the rear channels measure a whopping 8 metres ! This would cover the setup needed for most users without the user having to replace the cables due to length. We cant say the same with some cheaper speakers in the $100 range that we have tested that use captive cables throughout where short cables prove frustrating.

The Point of having a 5.1 channel speaker system is that the cables should be long enough to allow the user to position the speakers in their proper locations to enjoy the full surround sound experience without compromise. The diameter of the speaker cable conductor is 1 mm.

Each Stereo RCA cable which of there are three needed for the six channels of audio are 2.4 metres long.

To connect the speakers to a PC the three stereo cables are combined with the bundled stereo RCA to 3.5mm adapters to pluged into a PC that supports six or more channels of audio.

To connect to a DVD player leave the adapters off. See the documentation for more information. The adapters fortunately use slim 3.5mm plugs so connecting to the PC will not be a problem and not conflict with other plugs such as USB cables or microphone or line in audio cables.

The adapters are about 15cm long each and not their length isn't a problem as they are Y-Cables and not solid one piece adapters which would cause a problem. Although the cables seem generic, the adapters have the Edifier brand name stamped onto the plugs and they are colour coded to the PC industry standard.

 

Like other multimedia speaker sets of this calibre, a remote control is bundled. In the case of the Edifier the remote offers some features that are directly not available on the control pod so users should try not to loose the remote. The remote offers a mute feature, direct adjustment of all levels without having to navigate through the LCD as well as a reset button to reset all levels to factory default. The remote is powered by a standard lithium coin battery. This remote is what's known as a credit card remote and is often bundled with premium products or offered as a secondary remote for devices such as televisions. The disadvantage of this type of remote is constant use can damage the switches. The manufacturer likely envisaged that owners would only occasionally use the remote and would mainly use the control pod.

Documentation

Two pieces of documentation are provided, a multilingual User's Manual describing setup and operation and a sheet describing the 'patented' distortion control that is included in the speaker system. These documents seemed to be have photocopied rather than printed but this is not necessarily an issue for a product such as this.

Specifications

The specifications provided to us on the official sales sheet for the speaker by the Australian distributor differ to the specifications in the product documentation. This is likely due to revisions made to the product due to product evolution and the need to adapt the speaker to work on 220 Volts AC.

Signature 5 Series S550 SPECIFICATIONS
Power output RMS 35W x 5 + 120W (THD=10%)
Signal to noise ratio 85dBA
Input sensitivity 5.1Ch:
L/R: 480mV +/- 50mV
SW: 175mV +/- 30mV

Stereo:
L/R: 520mV +/- 50mV
SW: 200mV +/- 30mV
Frequency response L/R: 140Hz ~ 20kHz
SW: 20Hz ~ 133Hz

Design and Features

  • Luxurious 5.1 speaker system with 10 inch sub woofer
  • Wooden MDF housing for all speakers
  • Passive radiator on both sides on the sub woofer to exaggerate bass
    performance
  • Magnetically shielded drivers for all speakers
  • Switch able dual input ports for both 5.1 channel and stereo inputs
  • Multifunctional wired controller with 2.5 inch LCD display (dimmer included)
  • Headphone output on wired remote controller
  • Master volume controls both speaker output and headphone output
  • Volume booster for extra power output
  • Separate bass and treble adjustments
  • Multifunctional wireless remote controller included

Control Pod

The wired control pod is the primary point of control for the user of the speakers. The control pod is too large and bulky to be used as a hand controller but can be used as such if one desires. The pod can be laid flat on a surface with its cable recessed or used in conjunction with the provided stand. The stand provides secure support for the pod and does not topple over.

3.5mm Headphone socket and IR receiver for the wireless remote control are present on the control pod. We would have liked to see an additional larger headphone socket included so that owners of large format headphones will not need to use an adapter there is enough room in the control pod for this feature.

Additionally, a dedicated mute feature on the control pod would be desirable as it would be quicker to mute the speaker than dial the control down. Since the speaker uses a digital volume control knob it cannot be quickly turned down to zero like an analogue control. This is a powerful speaker so a user may need to temporarily mute the speaker quickly.

The control pod is connected to the main unit via a DB type connection. Although this format is used with other brands of speakers, extension cables are not readily available in the mass market nor does the manufacturer intend for extension cables to be used with such products. If the user needs to extend the control pod cable on this speaker or any other similar such speaker, a straight-through cable is required. The Control Pod's cable measures 1.5 Metres.

The controls available in addition to the power and input buttons are audio volumes for each channel's audio levels and tone (treble and bass separately) for the sound. A LCD back light brightness allows the lights to be adjusted.

S550 Control Pod Demonstration

All of the LCD settings are adjusted using the main knob which is actually a rotary encoder and can be spun continuously. This indicates that all controls are fully digital rather than an analogue volume control as found on cheaper speaker sets which offers less control and poorer reliability.

 

The S550 offers analogue inputs ONLY. This speaker does not Decode Dolby Digital or any Digital signals. If you require this feature this speaker will not be suitable for you, however alternative models are made by the manufacturer with Digital Decoding features. Availability of these alternatives may vary in your region.


 

Sub woofer

The sub woofer unit is the heart and brains of the speaker system. It not only houses the active powered sub woofer speaker-driver itself but in the case of this product specifically it contains two additional passive bass radiator drivers to add additional low end power to the system. All the power, electronics and processing capability is housed in this unit.

Before we delve into details, the 125 watts RMS sub woofer unit itself is large and heavy. Not only does the cabinet house THREE 10" bass drivers which themselves take a lot space up but and the cabinet is large enough to be used as a seat (we do not recommend attempting this) but the sub woofer is heavy as well, the whole sub woofer weighs 25 Kilograms !. A suitable location with accessibility, heat dissipation and safety and good audio projection should be considered before permanently placing the sub woofer

The sub woofer unit measures 367mm wide, 397mm high and 489mm deep.

The rear face of the sub woofer provides all the connections, power socket , main power switch ,mains fuse and heat-sinks for the amplifier.

The S550 features a 6 channel analogue input by RCA sockets. A DVD player can be connected directly to the speaker using the bundled cables or a PC with a 6channel sound card can be connected using the bundled cables plus the bundled adapters.

A secondary input is provided for a second device, any device with the appropriate cable can be connected. An additional cable/adapter is not bundled for the extra input.

Owners of portable music players will need to connect using this input as a convenient auxiliary input is not included in the control pod.

The Front, Rear and Centre speakers are connected by speaker wire to sprung terminals on the speakers to sprung terminals on the sub woofer Other brands used fixed captive cables which not only can not be replaced or upgraded but if there is a fault with the connections the speaker can not easily be repaired. With this speaker if there is a problem with the speaker terminals they can be be fixed relatively easily under under warranty or by any competent electronics technician to replace the speaker terminals, a common part.

The terminals themselves are average at best. We did not test the speaker with aftermarket speaker cables so we cannot attest to their strength with larger gauge speaker cable. After some repetitive connection, the speaker cable conductors ere only slightly bent and did not need to be re-stripped and re-tinned.

AC Power is handled by a mains switch, two pin ungrounded AC socket and a user-replicable 2.5 Amp fuse. Other speaker brands and cheaper models do not offer any of these three features.

The power switch allows the system to be turned off completely to save power. The AC figure 8 socket allows of use of a common and cheap AC cord, easily customised to the region of use or replaced with a longer or short cable. The replaceable mains fuse protects the system from drawing more than the maximum design current. The end user can easily and cheaply replace the fuse without having to send the heavy sub woofer for service.

Note the speaker we tested is an Australian region unit. The Edifier S550B is set up for 220-240 volts AC operation and our test unit was bundled with an Australian power cord. The speaker system is not multivoltage. Other regions of the world will have a customised model for their power system with a different name. Being an Australian unit, a C-Tick Certification mark is present on the unit.

The sub woofer has very large heat sinks for its size, although given the size of the sub woofer and total output power for all six channels of 300 watts RMS the size of the heat sinks is not surprising.

Thankfully the heat-sinks run cool to touch and only ended up slightly warm during extended power use. They never got hot or uncomfortably hot . However our statement is based on testing the speaker is an open space and not in a tight enclosed space. Some users may push the sub against a wall or under a desk. Additionally, the edges of the heat sink fins are machined round and smooth so they will not cut the body if brushed against, will not cut any cables or damage furnishings. Again a feature overlooked by other vendors.

 

For those interested in the internal workings of the speakers, Edifier describe the design or components used in their premium signature speaker line on their website as other audio specialist's do such as such as Pioneer, Yamaha and Sony have done at times. At the time of our review the text of this information was not available in English, however we did our own analysis to see what made these speakers tick.

Safety warning: Amplifier manufacturers enclose or seal their products for a reason. Dangerous live AC voltages are present in such products and the power amplifiers themselves operate at high DC voltages. The information below is for research and background information purposes and in no way is a disassembly or repair guide. Do not risk your safety or the product warranty.We have disassembled and analysed the product so you wont have to.

Power supply and Power Amplifier

All the speakers in this set have the drivers fixed to the cabinets with hex screws. removing one of the side bass radiators reveals the heart of the system. From left to right we have the electronics, speaker padding and behind it the other bass radiator, below is mains transformer and to the right is the powered sub woofer

The following is the mains power wiring for the system comprising of the AC Mains power input, mains power switch, mains fuse, line filter which filters out any transients and smooths the voltage out so the listener hears glitch free sound and the mains Toroid transformer which drops the mains power down to levels which the electronics can work with, as well as supplying enough power to feed the hungry and powerful amplifiers.

The complete circuitry that operates the speaker system comprises of the mains AC power line filter and power transformer, input switching and preamplifier board (brown), AC-DC power supply and power amplifier (green). All gaps joints and wiring are sealed with glue to prevent any rattling which can cause distortion and to prevent any parts from coming loose.

The power amplifier chips are mounted vertically alongside each of the heat sinks (black) for optimum cooling. The main circuit board and its components is of a better quality than the input board. Like the speakers themselves all the main wires are detachable from the main circuit board. This indicates care was taken during the design and construction. Better capacitors than those fitted are desired.

 

Edifier state that the following chips power its amplifier sourced from ST Microelectronics

TDA7294 100W DMOS Audio Amplifier and TDA7296 60W DMOS Audio Amplifier.

These chips are used in multiples to power the five satellite speakers and the sub woofer We were unable to determine what design was used however the power ratings Edifier state are achievable with these parts according to their data sheets.

As described by ST's data sheets, both parts are " a monolithic integrated circuit in Multiwatt15 package, intended for use as audio class AB amplifier in Hi-fi field applications (Home Stereo, self powered loudspeakers, Top-class TV)"

All of the amplifiers used are of the Class A-B and not the cheaper Class D type. This is important for a speaker of this calibre and price point.

Specifications such as Total Harmonic Distortion stated in the data sheets match the claims Edifier make about their product.

Total power consumption was not stated.

 

Input switching and preamplifier

The input audio signals both the 2 channel stereo aux input and the 6 channel main input are fed though industry standard 4558 op-amp chips sourced from ST Microelectronics. The thing with the infamous 4558 op-amp chip is that they are the bane of so called 'audiophiles', who insist because the chip is cheap it is rubbish and are convinced they can hear a difference between different manufacturers and age of the 4558 chip when in fact the differences are largely immeasurable and any difference is a placebo effect.

The 4558 op-amp itself has been sold in the millions and is in millions of consumer audio devices worldwide over the past decades. In the S550 speaker the op-amp chips amplify and boost the to levels that the power amplifier can use to output the sound at loud levels.

Two CD4053 switch chips sourced from Texas Instruments control the state of the audio inputs. This circuit allows the user to switch between the inputs from the control pod.

Overall the preamplifier and switching board seems cheaply made and designed compared to the rest of the speaker. The components used such as the ceramic capacitors (orange discs) and the brown circuit board are low cost parts. The relevant cables have been clamped with magnets to filter out any interference from the sound. We expected something better for a A$600 speaker set.

 

Bass Drivers

The S550's party piece is its sub woofer and bass drivers. Small and large sub woofers typically use different designs of tuned cabinets and bass ports (the holes or slots in the back or front of a speaker cabinet) to enhance the bass of the speaker. To make the best use of this type of design a bigger and more powerful sub woofer drivers are needed. Larger drivers is not very practical for a multimedia speaker system and is not the most efficient use of power, space, or cost.

The main sub woofer itself is a large 10" unit with 8 ohms impedance and 120Watts RMS power which is front firing behind a metal grille. it takes up half of the depth of the sub woofer cabinet

Edifier, instead of equipping the S550's sub woofer with a bass port, have fitted a front-firing 10" sub woofer with two side firing 10" drivers on either side of the main sub woofer driver. These two side firing drivers are actually sub woofers but lacking their magnets and voice coils plus a diaphragm lid added on top of the speakers. As such these drivers are now called radiators, as these radiators reproduce the radiated bass from the main sub woofer driver.

Essentially the radiators can be thought of as drums that are played by the sub woofer rather than a drumstick. These use of radiators allows for a smaller speaker cabinet and better efficiency. The downside to this approach is cost, with three 'speakers' instead of one.

 

 


 

Satellite Speakers

Front and Rear

As a premium multimedia speaker, the S550 uses two-way Satellite speakers for all channels. This setup represents the best combination of dynamic range and cost. Cheaper or entry level speakers use one way speakers of lesser power. Two-way satellites are expected of speakers in this product segment, being for high end multimedia, gamer and enthusiast but not very common. The Kiplisch ProMedia 5.1 is notable for its use of two way satellite speakers. The inclusion of two way speakers in combination with the Sub woofer with radiators provides a very wide dynamic range of frequencies that the speaker is able to reproduce making it ideal for all genres and types of movies and music

 

The five satellite speakers all use a modular construction with the speaker drivers being fixed to the speaker cabinets via screws. Unusually Edifier have gone with hex head screws which can be opened via means of an Allen key. One may presume they thought these screws provided a much more elegant look than Philips or flat head screws and complement the styling of the speakers.

The satellite speakers do not include a bass port as the speakers are not intended to reproduce low or very low bass as their use is designed to be in conjunction with the active sub woofer The satellites, including the centre were designed to replicate mid and high tones and that's just what the speaker boxes do.

The satellite speakers themselves have a very contemporary, elegant yet conservative design unlike its competition which have very modern and cutting edge cabinet designs often in silver.

We quite liked the styling of the satellite speakers, however their size makes them more suited for larger desks, living rooms or wall mounting. In fact all of the satellites include sturdy wall hooks for wall mounting. The wall hooks are actually facilitated by brackets so that there is some angular adjustment possible. These speakers are not really designed for very close listening or very tight desks as they do not have stands nor are they slim or tall speakers.

If you are looking for a 5.1 speaker that can fit into compact spaces this speaker may not be the choice for you. The satellite speakers measure 116mm wide, 203mm high and 160mm deep.

The speaker grilles are removable for cleaning and aesthetics. The speaker grills covered with cloth mesh are held on using friction to chromed posts fixed into the speaker. again these are a style element as most mainstream mass market speakers hold the grille on using the opposite method. The grille will have 4 posts and the speaker will have 4 holes.

 

Due to this fastening method and that the cables to the speaker use spade lugs, the speakers can be repaired or upgraded easily wether under warranty by the manufacturer or their agent or by enterprising users who enjoy modifying their audio equipment. The polarity of the speaker connections is keyed with different size lugs for the positive and negative speaker terminals. The speaker wire used is the exact same as the bundled speaker wire that is included in the speaker set. We can also see the speaker padding used to reduce resonance within the speaker boxes.

The drivers used all have magnetic shields and bear Edifier's branding, signifying the speakers are of their own design. Not all multimedia speaker manufactures do this as some simply source third party speaker drivers. We experienced some magnetic interference with the television used in conjunction to test these speakers so we are not sure about the magnetic shielding's effectiveness.

The front and rear satellites use a 25mm silk dome tweeter of 6ohm impedance and a 3.5" mid range driver of 8ohm impedance. Total power for each satellite is 32 Watts RMS.

Interestingly, the tweeters used in these speakers have a heat sink attached to their magnets which is something we haven't really seen on PC/Multimedia type speakers and is mainly found on expensive speakers. The heat sinks assist in cooling the tweeters during transients.

 

When a speaker cabinet contains different types of speaker drivers, a circuit called a crossover is needed to separate the incoming audio signals into the particular ranges of frequencies suitable for each type of speaker driver. The different types of speaker drivers such as tweeters (high frequencies), mid range (mid frequencies), woofers (low range) and sub woofers (very low frequencies) can be present within a single speaker.

Cheap speakers use a crude design for a crossover consisting of a single capacitor part.

The Edifier S550, like well designed high performance speaker cabinets uses a full function crossover circuit of the passive 2nd order design as shown in the photograph below. The audio signal is fed into the crossover which splits the audio signal into high and mid frequencies to the tweeter and mid range speaker driver in the speaker cabinet. We can also see the damping material put inside the wooden speaker cabinet to reduce resonance, reverberation and provide a clearer , more neutral sound. Something also which cheaper plastic speaker sets skimp on.

Centre Speaker

The centre speaker's role is to clearly reproduce dialogue when used in a a dedicated surround system. The S550 centre speaker is based on the satellite speakers but adds an additional mid range driver. The manufacturer could have included a 5th two way satellite identical to the front and rears for use as the centre channel but this would not have been doing the concept of quality 5.1 surround sound any justice as the centre speaker would have projected an asymmetrical audio image which is not ideal for a centre positioned speaker. The addition of the second mid range allows the centre speaker to project a symmetrical audio image and will play the centre channel audio signal louder.

The centre speaker contains two 3.5" mid range drivers with 4ohm impendence each and a 25mm silk dome tweeter with 6ohm impendence. Total power for the speaker is 32 Watts RMS.

It varies as to which vendors include an enlarged centre speaker. Most speaker sets that use full range drivers include five identical speakers for use as the Front pair, Rear pair and centre speaker and do not emphasise the centre channel simply because the speaker system is not designed or intended to emphasis the centre channel where as a vendor producing a speaker set for Consumer living room or Home Theatre use will emphasise the centre channel typically with a 2+1 setup as the Edifier has. Logitech's X530 entry level system and many Creative Inspire models use five identical satellites

The centre speaker is quite large which we have tried to illustrate by including a photo of the centre speaker located in its appropriate place on top of a 29"/68CM television which we used as part of our review. The centre speaker measures 316mm wide, 117 high and 157mm deep.

Like the front and rear satellites the centre speaker is wall mountable however two wall hooks are required due to its size. The size of the centre speaker precludes it being positioned at the corner of two walls or in tight spaces. One could place a LCD monitor atop of the centre speaker (which is a valid configuration according to many speaker setup guides such as THX's) but anything else would likely be too heavy and damage the speaker. The centre speaker in this speaker set is quite unique and is alike to the centre speaker found in mainstream home theatre surround speaker sets.


Performance

Test Methodology

Sound Cards

  • Creative Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eX
  • Creative Sound Blaster Audigy ZS Platinum Pro
  • On-Board Realtek ALC650 Codec (Giga-byte)

The latest device drivers and DirectX runtime at time of review used.

Mixer settings reset to default with unused mixer inputs muted. CMSS surround modes for the Audigy cards were disabled.

Where Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC-3) was used, Dynamic Range Compression was disabled or set to full range.

Software

  • foobar2000 audio player v9.5
  • Media Player Classic v6.4.9.1
  • PassMark SoundCheck
  • RightMark 3D Sound
  • Sweepgen.exe version 3.5 software frequency generator

Games

  • Half-Life 2: Lost Coast
  • Trackmania Nations Forever
  • Flatout 2 Demo
  • Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Academy
  • F.E.A.R Demo
  • CounterStrike 1.6
  • Solider of Fortunate Platinum
  • Serious Sam II
  • FarCry Demos 1 and 2
  • Unreal Tournament 2004
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell : Chaos Theory
  • Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon

Movies and TV

  • Batman Begins DVD {AC-3 Audio}
  • Fast and the Furious DVD {AC-3 and DTS Audio}
  • 2 Fast, 2 Furious DVD {AC-3 Audio}
  • Matrix Trilogy DVD {AC-3 Audio}
  • Trinity and Beyond DVD {AC-3 Audio}
  • Scarface (AC-3 and DTS Audio)
  • Star Wars : The Phantom Menace DVD (AC-3 audio)
  • Transformers [2007] DVD (AC-3 audio)
  • Live Analogue Television Broadcasts {Dolby Surround Encoded}

Test Signals

  • realtraps.com test CD (CD Audio /MP3 )
  • Sweepgen.exe version 3.5 software frequency generator

Music

  • Queen – Greatest Hits (CD)
  • Fruity loops 3 audio creation software – bundled sample tracks
  • 1812 Overture (MP3)
  • Santana Ft. Rob Thomas - Smooth (MP3)
  • Chemical Brothers - Come with Us (CD)

Operation and Behaviour

The speaker system is aimed at multimedia and gaming applications rather than audiophile and we tested it in this fashion.

We setup the satellite speakers approximately 20cm aside to a 29"/68CM Television to replicate a home theatre setup. Since a CRT television is not as shielded as a computer monitor (some monitors contain cages to reduce electo-magnetic inferences) at times the satellite speakers would create coloured spots on the television as typical with any magnet being near a television. the Speakers were not fully magnetically shielded as the focus of design was on audio performance althugh the product claims to be magnetically shielded.

We did not notice any pops or clicks when the speaker system was powered on or off.

Distortion from all speakers was very well controlled and minimised even when the speakers were driven at high volumes or when source material that was distrotion prone was played back. The speaker contains a distortion control system but without a lab test we are unable to determine exactly how much of an effect this system has on distortion.

Headphone output

When the headphone output was being used and the volume level was being adjusted, the clicks from the volume control were audible in the headphones. Additionally an audible beep is heard when the speaker is turned off or put into standby.

When the headphone output was being used we found the volume output to be low even when used with full size headphones.

The headphone input works correctly when the input is switched between 5.1 and 2.1 inputs. This indicates that the headphone output is a dedicated output and is being down mixed by the speaker. This is additionally confirmed by the fact that the headphone socket does not work in standby and the tone controls are disabled when the headphone is being used. This feature has some pros and cons. proper handling of the headphone is desired by some users may also desire the headphone to operate when the speakers are in standby to save energy and bills. Some sub $100 5.1 speakers will run the speakers when they are in stand by or off.

 

Subjective Listening Tests

5.1 channel game testing : Half Life 2 Lost Coast game

HL2: Lost Coast is more a tech demo than a game and has been desired intentionally and deliberately to showcase the video audio and game play effects possible with the half life 2 'source' engine

The game starts off at the sea side as its name sake implies. The seaside even provides the backdrop for the game's main menu. The seaside comprises of birds, swell, crashing waves against cliffs and rustling wind. These effects are ideal for testing surround speakers.

The speaker default volume of 30 we found to be insufficient for this scene and 40 to 50 level gave good pleasing results.

Crashing waves during the initial scenes of the game caused the sub woofer to reproduce 'thumps'. To enhance this, adjusting the volume has a more pronounced effect on these sounds than adjusting the bass control in the speaker.

The Front satellite speakers easily reproduced the many small details present in the HL2:Lost Coast seaside scene such as the birds flapping their wings.

Lost coast features NPCs (non- playable characters) in the game for the player to interact with. Our initial thoughts were the dialogue sounded neutral but our opinion swung to realising the dialogue was coloured with some reverb and echo. This sentiment later matching our findings with DVD movies such as Batman Begins.

Once the gunfights started we had to lower the system volume back to 30 as since the overall system power is 300 watts, guns and weapons were too loud.

Valve software takes care to model their weapons fairly well. Lost Coast features a magnum gun, the signature 'dirty harry' weapon. Shots from this weapon sounded smooth and full bodied with these speakers, in fact all the weapons such as machine guns and shotguns sounded like this. The triple driver sub woofer gives the kick in the sound profile that these weapons should have.

5.1 channel game testing : Track Mania

Trackmania is a popular racing game where players race against the clock and other cars on a variety of unique and puzzling stunt race tracks. We used this title to test the panning of sounds and separation of each of the sound channels. Cars coming from behind or two the sides of the player will be able to be heard from their presence in the particular audio channel relative to the cars position, being front or rear.

At the 40+ volume levels we could hear the some strain during Trackmania's introduction music which features electric guitar. At these volume levels, one may see the excursion (movement) of the speaker drivers.

We liked the accurate reproduction of metal and stringed instruments which are also present in Trackmania's music sound track.

5.1 channel game testing: Flat Out 2

The Flat Out series of racing games are open world every driver for them self style of game with little rules of play. Since drivers can smash into a variety of objects such as road side objects, litter, buildings, construction sites and other cars these provide a variety of different multichannel simultaneous sounds.

Glass, gravel, girders, Armco (road barriers), garbage, the sound of metal clanging and banging and other fine details such as these bombarded all the speaker channels and playing this game which such a powerful speaker system was quite enjoyable.

The games sound track comprised of rock and metal music.

We tested Flat out 2 at volume level 40.

2.1 Input testing : Patriot Games (Dolby Surround) Television broadcast

Patriot Games combines dramatic tense music and action sequences, however the source material for this film we used

We used the dedicated secondary stereo input in the speaker for this test.

Mode 2.1 , Volume 35, Sub woofer Volume 0 (normal)

Glass shattering reproduction was good

Thunder during the Courtroom scene presented some slight distortion

Stereo separation and steering was excellent overall

Engine sounds from the Prison Convoy sounded tight and accurate

The bass reproduction of this system does correctly fill in the lower frequencies that are produced by mechanical or electrical equipment and not just booming or thumps. During the School Pickup Scene and Annapolis scenes, the roar of Jack Ryan's car acceleration as reproduced rather than just being a tiny background effect. The whirring of the electric stretcher being lowered and raised from a Medivac chopper was also strongly reproduced.

The reunion of the Ryan family at the subsequent Hospital scene was a tense scene accompanied by some tense music. Some distortion was present during this scene.

Distortion can only be minimised and not eliminated from any speaker wether its cheap or expensive. The satellites produced some distortion in the CIA Langley Bathroom scene.

Cooley's Book store had a distinct attractive reproduction of clappers

One of the most famous scenes from the Tom Clancy based films, the climatic scene where the Ryan house is raided by Irish hit team. Metallic timbre on the triangles were sharp and accurate, the woodwind instruments unique reverb was reproduced.

2.1 Input testing : Speed Television broadcast

The introduction scene to Speed is accompanied by very bright, dramatic and strong theme music. Pay attention to these scene with these speakers as well the sequences early in the film where the hero character Jack Travis chases down the infamous bus.

Movies and Music

Batman Begins

We thought the reproduction of Ras Al Ghul's dialogue during Bruce Wayne's training in the mountains earlier in the film could have been clearer, more pronounced and less muddy. We had slight trouble following particular dialogue during these scenes.

The Fast and Furious

The Fast and the Furious collectors edition DVD provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS 5.1 sound track on the disc.

The common DTS piano trailer is shown when the DTS sound track is selected The piano notes were very distinct and crisp.

The hissing of the nitrous oxide injection systems in the tuned cars was quite distinct, pronounced and clear like some other detail reproduction or environmental effects in other test material we sampled. Another example of this clarity and emphasis is in The Matrix where Door knocking and Door bell ringing is quite sharp powerful and distinct.

Bass especially from the sub woofer can be noticed during the Race Wars scenes and various Echo Park scenes as these feature bass heavy music.

The point of this speaker system (and its competitors which use a similar sub woofer) is bass reproduction. Modern music is very powerful and bass heavy and fans of such music will have much joy with the sub woofer in the S550. Modern tracks such as Broken Bones and Yeah by Usher Feat. Lil' Jon and Ludacris bring out the full potential of the sub woofer In fact Yeah and other powerful tracks such as those from Faithless we joked were enough to make the speaker crack fibrous walls ! Although older discs such as Queen were reproduced correctly without any unnecessary enhancement of their tonal properties.

Bass heavy test material causes the three bass drivers in the sub woofer to exercise violently, as designed to.

Synthetic audio testing

Synthetic testing means we used various scientific test materials such as audio frequency generators and pre-mastered test discs to play specific sounds to the speakers. Since the frequency of these sounds is known and the sounds have been engineered specifically to play specific patterns or frequencies for test purposes, people will good hearing or who have been shown what to listen for will be able to determine wether certain sounds can be reproduced by a particular speaker or not.

Popular music or movies can vary in format, compression, mix , is complicated, muddled and preprocessed so it is a good idea to supplement real world test materials with synthetic test materials

While the test material is scientific and engineered to be test materials. the actual test method used in this review for these synthetic materials, our human ears and hearing still remains subjective not objective.

For all you readers the best way is to demo the speakers for yourself using songs, movies or games you are familiar with. If you enjoy or are pleased with how a particular speaker reproduces these familiar materials then the speaker will be very suitable for your needs.

Using our are audio frequency generator software with the speakers connected to a Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum sound card, the two bass drivers/radiators in the sub woofer started moving at above 30 Hz (cycles) and bass began to be audible to our ears at 30Hz. Using our premastered test CD and audio fileswhich also contained equivalent audio frequencies we found the same result.

For the top end of the audio reproduction we found anything above 13.5KHz to drop off and be inaudible to our ears.

 


Conclusion

Support and Warranty

Since the speakers are an imported product supported by a local agent for Australia/New Zealand there is not much to speak of regarding support and warranty as all enquires are handled through the local agent. This is no different to other brands where there is no direct local presence by a manufacturer in a particular region. However due to the design and construction of these speakers, knowledge users with electronics skills and experience can upgrade or repair the unit out of warranty or have a repair workshop service the unit.

Due to the size and weight of the speaker and cost of shipping, sending the product back to the reseller or agent may not be possible for some owners.

Price and Availability

Australia and New Zealand

A$699 RRP at time of review (late 2008). Street prices will vary significantly.

Global

Availably of the specific unit we tested on a global basis is somewhat confusing. The unit we tested is called the 'S550' and more specifically S550B is printed on the information panel on the sub woofer At time of the review the S550 was newly introduced to Australia/New Zealand. However as part of our research we found the product is sold as the 'S5.1' overseas and additionally, in two styles. One style being the black/silver unit we reviewed and another with a completely different design and housing using wood grain, controls and LCD integrated into the sub woofer as well as a standard size and design remote control.

Some of the online references, reviews and user discussion refer to the the latter so care must be taken when shopping for this product. The speaker actually dates back to 2007 based on the information in the speaker documentation and build dates inside the speakers.

This review references the Australian/New Zealand sold domestic model called the 'S550' , labelled S550 and in black with silver highlights.

Competitors/Alternative Products

  • Logitech Z680 / S5500
  • Creative Inspire T/GigaWorks S750
  • Kiplisch ProMedia 5.1

Verdict

Elegant, functional and powerful 5.1 speaker system for the most discerning of enthusiasts, however more expensive and not as polished or feature rich as competition systems such as the Logitech S5500 which contains Dolby Digital decoding, THX certification and a cheaper price.

Conflicting specifications between the product documentation and the sales documentation.

Might be too large and bulky for some setups.

We had some issues with magnetic shielding even though the product is claimed to be shielded.

Quoted Signal to Noise Ratio and Total Harmonic distortion figures are worse than dedicated Home Theatre setups of similar price.

Excellent innovative sub woofer design and home theatre like 2-way satellite speakers.

Manufacturer fully discloses all performance specifications and components used

We quite enjoyed the performance of this speaker especially of the triple driver 10" sub woofer, however the Logitech S5500 and some home theatre in a box setups are a better buy for the price. If the S550 contained the full Dolby Digital and Digital Input functionality, for a very similar or the same price it would be a stronger recommendation from us.

Although designed with some flair, elegance and true knowledge of audio engineering, product needs more 'polish' and more value for money.

This speaker is ideal for those users who would like a large and powerful yet classy 5.1 speaker to complement their high end PC that is equally suited to music as it is to music and games, however our main issue with the product is the price and lack of digital inputs and decoding. Recommended.

Disclosure

Edifier Speaker review unit loaned by Audion Multimedia Australia

Sound Blaster Audigy sound card samples supplied by Creative Labs Australia

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