The speaker kit comes in the standard colours that Creative love, with orange and blue taking up most of the box real-estate. It’s covered with pictures of the speakers themselves and also of the various features that the kit has.
The box is pretty heavy and it would be nice to see this arrive at your door. Even better is when you pop the top and have to slowly and carefully remove each individual part from the box. You’ll get an impressive pile of packing waste that’ll leave an area of fall-out around the box.
You get the sub itself, the speakers (seven, eight including the sub), the volume controller, stands for each of the speakers bar the sub, 3.5mm jack cable, cables for each of the speakers, a large and heavy power block and the manuals.
The speakers themselves aren’t going to win a Turner prize for their looks, but are hardly an eyesore. Each of them has the same styling, with the front material grill that sits in front of the angular black body. The silver edge of the speaker unit itself is easily visable through the grill, and so are the allen screws that hold the edge in place. While you can remove the grill, you’ll be left with four ugly(er) holes where the grill slots into. Each speaker comes with its own silver metal stand which is nice and weighty to prevent the speaker from sliding around. The stand connects to the back of each unit with a provided screw, which opens up for the opportunity of wall-mounting these speakers should you wish.
The central speaker features a RMS Watts of 24 meaning that it should be more than powerful enough for DVD watching although this speaker will often not function for general music listening without the correct signal from your PC. It packs a mid-driver and a separate tweeter so that the higher pitched sounds are muddied by using an oversized driver.
The front two speakers are similar with the separate drivers, but with a lower output power of 8W which is the same for the other satellite speakers. The outer four speakers are left with a simple mid-range driver as they will be used primarily for surround elements to a DVD and don’t need the same quality that the front three will. Interestingly, while the front three speakers have moulded wire output, the four surround speakers are the more versatile bare-wire method, which would open up the opportunity to use different speakers with the same cable although you’ll run into volume issues with non-Creative speakers not designed for this kit. As a result, the choice of using bare-wire connectors appears to only be to allow you to thread the cable through a smaller hole than a moulded connector would permit. It’ll also allow you to use a longer wire if the provided don’t meet your needs.
The sub-woofer itself is made of reinforced wood and is a simple box shape that doesn’t cut a great profile and is definitely something to have hidden away from your view. The front has a large ‘blow-hole’ at the front with a Creative logo above, this hole allows the side-mounted woofer with breathing air allowing for better bass. The 24W speaker is covered with a raised dome of grilled material similar to the other speakers.
The most interesting part to the rather awkwardly shaped sub is the back which contains all of the ports necessary to get your PC talking to the 8 speakers. You have all of the spaces for the cables and speakers that you’d expect, but also a white aux port and a little switch at the top. This little switch does what the X-Fi does, CMSS upmixing. As it’s rare that you’ll either have a 7.1 sound card, or a movie that supports that level of surround sound, you can output at either 5.1 or 6.1 and the set will upmix to 7.1. You can of course just put the switch to direct, where your sound card has to provide the correct number of sound channels. It’s odd that this process isn’t done transparently (i.e. the speakers accept a 5.1 source and automatically upmix) but for whatever reason, you may not want full surround on some games/movies.
The aux connector is linked with the volume control remote. This connects to the sub using a multi-pinned plug similar to a PS/2 connector, and allows you to change the volume, turn the set on or off and adjust the bass level. There are also a couple of ports on the side which are used for plugging in headphones or inputting a sound source. Y0u’ll need to get your own 3.5mm male-to-male cable to use this feature. This is where the aux connector comes in, as the port on the volume control is simply a port extender moving the aux port on the sub to the remote. This aux plug makes for an interesting addition as you’d be able to play music through your PC, and then a friend with a funky Apple branded MP3 player can then give you a taste of his tunes without faffing around with going underneath your desk.
Annoyingly the connectors for use with your computer are the multi-pole type, with the center/sub (orange) and rear (black) each with 4 separate strips rather than the usual 3 strips. This means that you only have to connect 3 plugs (orange, green and black), rather than 4 (orange, green, black and grey) to drive the 7.1 system. However, not even Creative’s own X-Fi cards support this feature fully so you’d be better off with another cable (4 plugs to 4 plugs, rather than 4 plugs to 3 plugs). The system will work without multi-pole support but it’ll resort to 5.1 rather than full 7.1 or even 6.1. For the sake of an extra cable, Creative has made the wrong choice, especially considering as I’m yet to see a motherboard that has multi-pole over the additional grey plug.
Unlike higher-end systems, you won’t get an optical or coaxial inputs meaning that the your SPDIF port will be left unused.