As none of the sound cards that we are using are able to take advantage of the multi-pole connector type, we’ll be testing at 5.1 upmixed to 7.1. We tried an X-Fi Xtreme Audio, Auzentech Prelude 7.1, several on-board and an older Creative Live! 5.1. While using an additional cable would unlock the 7.1 potential we felt that most users won’t have access to the required wiring.
We used Black Hawk Down to test the surround sound capabilities as the war scenes are unmatched for multi-speaker setups.
We used several tracks to test the music ability to the full. For gaming, a session of Battlefield 2142 was used.
When the speakers were first plugged in, the sensation of your ears not being cleared was felt. However, with a little playing with the settings (bass, treble, upmixing) the sensation was lost.
For the most part, the bass is far too overpowering, and you’ll leave it way above the 50% mark. Anything above and the bass begins to become the dominant frequency and ruins the rest of the track rather than adding to it. Finding the perfect bass level is difficult and you have to listen to a fair few tracks before you’ll get the right amount. Once you’ve found the sweet spot, you’ll end up tweaking it depending on the track that you choose to play.
For movie watching, setting the treble to the max level enabled you to hear every sound perfectly thanks to the separate tweeters in each of the front speakers. While the sound quality is more than acceptable, it is still trailing behind most home cinema systems. The bass is mainly delivered by the sub which doesn’t appear to be setup correctly, as you aren’t meant to be able to tell the position of the woofer, but it’s quite easy. Using driver settings on most modern sound cards will allow you to adjust the cross-over frequency that reduces the positional frequencies the woofer outputs.
During the battle scenes that Black Hawk Down does so well, it’s easy to get immersed in the action, even with a tiny TFT screen and bright fluorescent lights thanks to the awesome surround audio that’s being forced at you from every direction. With bullets flying overhead, you can see why surround sound is far superior to standard stereo OEM kits. The upmixing the kit does from 5.1 to 7.1 is to duplicate the sound from the rear speakers to the side while reducing the volume slightly. While this works for the most part, sometimes you’ll find that it confuses the direction that something is meant to come from as the instead of being directly behind, it’s slightly to the side.
The same goes for Battlefield which immerses you with the flying bullets and pounding bass. Unfortunately, the upmixing can become very confusing as you think someone is attacking from the side, while then are actually behind you. After playing for a while, you’ll learn to trust your instincts rather than the sound.
For that part, the 7.1 part of the set seems to be wasted. Considering as most games are only 5.1 compatible, the additional speakers are most often wasted. Only with the advent of high definition movies will the additional channels see their own channel rather than being a clone of the rear signal. This is where the switch comes in handy, as turning off the upmixing provides you with a better playing experience where the side channels are not being used.
For music, you’ll be playing with the bass level depending on the song that you choose and the volume level. For the most part, it’s a good idea to adjust the treble level to give a little more power to the tweeters otherwise everything
egins to become one bass note rather than discrete sounds. As most music players don’t address the central speaker, you’ll be left without the 20W of power that it provides. Any song sounds as it should provided that you put the time in changing the settings depending on your preferred setup, with the treble and bass being accurately reproduced.
The aux input on the remote only uses the two front speakers, and will play from the external source at the same time as your PC which seems odd but hardly as bad point. The headphone port will mute the speakers and just play through the headphones which makes it perfect for swapping over to headphones for late night gaming without having to duck under your desk to change ports.