Article Index

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.

 

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