Sounds Like A Bargain.
It's been some time since we've reviewed a speaker set here at GR, mainly because the last batch we covered took care of all our audio needs. But just like your mom, we're always looking for a good deal.
The latest buzz over the wire comes from Cyber Acoustics. Like many other hardware companies, CA is trying to break into the gaming world by offering affordable audio that can be used with both your PC or your gaming console. But while they get the price right, some questionable design decisions keep both offerings we tested from reaching the top of the .wav.
GR tested out two sets of CA speakers - the 3550 Platinum system and the 5001 Digital system. The first is a simple two-speaker and subwoofer system, while the latter is a five-speaker, 5.1 surround solution. Rather than jumping into a Ferrari before test-driving a Corolla, we checked out the 3550 two-speaker set first.
3550 Platinum Speakers
The specs cut the mustard. The 3550 pushes 60 total watts through an 8" subwoofer and two flat panel speakers. That's pretty decent power when you consider that the discontinued Logitech Soundman series we reviewed early last year managed roughly the same wattage (and that was a four-speaker system).
The setup is simple enough; as there are only two-speakers, space isn't much of an issue. The subwoofer is a little large considering the output, but will fit snugly under your desk nonetheless.
However, the 3550 suffers from an archaic speaker wiring design. The two speakers are connected by a very short wire, which means they cannot be moved very far apart from one another. They'll pretty much have to rest on either side of your monitor with little leeway. This was fine back in the mid-90's when most people only had to deal with a monitor and keyboard, but these days desks are often cluttered with digital cameras, scanners and printers, making wire length versatility a must. Sadly, these are too limited.
Another drawback is the lack of any sort of software bundle. You're just getting the speakers - no MusicMatch, no MP3 tools, no game demos, nothing.
Furthermore, the system doesn't feature a movable remote satellite for controlling sound on the fly. Instead, there's just a volume dial built into one of the speakers. There is no headphone jack, which is a bummer for those who like to game late at night without crawling behind the desk to hook up the headphones.
The quality is fine, though. The system handles high ends nicely, though the woofer doesn't carry the bass as loudly as we'd hoped. But you get what you pay for, and at 50 bucks, the 3550 is light on the wallet. Yet there are other speaker sets that go for around the same price that feature better wiring, better software and better performance, so at the end of the day the 3550 is tough to recommend.
5001 Digital Speakers
Things are a bit better with the 5001 Digital series, however. Featuring five speakers (2 front, 2 rear, 1 center), 80 total watts and the ability to function with 2.1, 4.1 or 5.1 sound cards, this is a much more thorough set.
Again, the subwoofer isn't the most compact one out there, but it pumps more power than the 3550 and still fits under the desk. The power of the woofer is noticeably beefier - bass rings out much stronger. The satellite speakers feature the same flat-panel design, which is great, but also feature the same annoying wire that connects them to one another. This hurts the 5001 just as much as it did the 3550.
And like the 3550, you won't find any extra software with the 5001. How about a few game demos to help lure in the gamers?
While there is no remote satellite, they added a fader to complement the volume dial. It's an obvious necessity when dealing with more than two speakers, but compared to the kinds of EQ options we've seen from Altec-Lansing, TDK and Logitech, it doesn't hold up. And yet again, no headphone jack. Grumble.
But unlike those other sets, the 5001 won't drain your wallet. At 80 bucks, this is a very affordable way to get five speakers and decent sound. If you just blew a wad on a 5.1 sound card, this is a great way to utilize the power of the card without throwing away too much extra money.
I should also note that both the 3550 and the 5001 are compatible with gaming consoles via an included Y-cable. Just move it to the living room, plug it into your Gamecube, Xbox or PS2, connect to the TV and you're good to go. Of course, you still have to deal with the short wiring problem, so expect to place your front speakers on top of the TV or something.
When you boil it all down, you find yourself with two similar speaker sets, but only one that really offers gamers a decent option. The 3550, while very cheap, doesn't match other similarly priced two-speaker systems like Logitech's Z-340 line. On the other hand, the 5001 Digital set gives you five speakers at a great price without losing too much quality. It's not nearly as robust as the Altec 4100 system or any of the Logitech gear, but you're not paying top dollar.
If you're on a tight budget and don't want to drop even more coin on your PC surround sound, the 5001 isn't a bad choice. Just make sure you have a long headphone extension cord.