In the past when thinking of PC audio, GIGABYTE weren't the first name to come to mind. Traditionally specialising in motherboards and graphics cards, it's going to be interesting to see what they have come up with in terms of high-end PC audio with their latest 2.1 Speaker System I'll be checking out today.
The high-end PC audio market has changed dramatically over the years as we see many more companies like GIGABYTE and ASUS now making high-end audio gear. This is a real shift from traditional manufacturers like Klipsch, Videologic, Altec Lansing leading the market in the past; it's also great for competition which always means lower street prices for the consumer.
Coming back to GIGABYTE though, when you consider the materials and associated costs it all looks very promising. Kevlar cones are a first in PC audio, these usually something only seen in home audio with MDF cabinets all round. You don't even see them in the $1,200 Videologic X-Fires I reviewed many moons ago. GIGABYTE has even added some dome tweeters to boot. This was laughable in the past for PC audio, and for so many years I awaited someone to do exactly what GIGABYTE has done here.
Let's get them up and running and take a look at a technical overview of the speakers' characteristics.
Setup and Technical Overview
Setting Up the Speakers
Setup is quite a straight forward process; it's just a matter of connecting the left and right speakers to the subwoofer and the latter to a source such as your PCI soundcard. It's then a matter of plugging the subwoofer/amp into the wall and you're away.
Configuration is also pretty easy stuff as we are simply looking at a 2.1 system here. As long as your soundcard is set to 2.1 mode, then there should be no problems.
Looking at the satellite dimensions; these are 120mm wide, 172mm high and 110mm deep. Each satellite is magnetically shielded. The largest speaker in the satellite contains a 3.5" full range driver and as mentioned earlier is constructed from Kevlar for extra strength. This speaker is mounted via four small allen key bolts onto a burnt steel coloured ring of metal. Above these sit a 1" dome tweeter, again mounted in the same fashion with the exception of the metal insert.
Keeping everything together, we have some nice MDF cabinets which are ported in the rear and provide better timber and natural acoustics to the sound over the moulded plastic enclosures we see 99% of the time in multimedia systems due to manufacturing costs. Each speaker is then sent 12watts in 4ohms; whether or not they are referring to RMS with that rating is anyone's guess.
The subwoofer driver is again made from Kevlar, but this time we are given a 6.5" driver in a much larger bass reflex box (although it is dwarfed by my MegaWorks Z5450 subs) with a port at the rear along with connections for the two speakers and signal from your source. Also found on the sub's backing plate is volume, bass and treble controls. 25watts into 4 ohms is given to the unit, but again I cannot say whether this is an RMS figure or not, although I would strongly feel it to be. Dimensions of the sub woofer are 215mm wide, 275mm high and 200mm deep. At this point I cannot give much in the way of information on the amplifier built into the subwoofer.
Now that we've spent some time delving into the design of the speakers, let's see how they perform to the well trained ear.
Test Methods & First Impressions
I think at this point I should briefly mention the benefits of using higher end components in multimedia speakers. Firstly, there is of course the factor of construction costs associated with their materials and also the added cost of final assembly. However, it is up to the manufacturer to take a gamble that the 'true' audio fans will appreciate these differences and make the choice to buy their product over competitors.
Musical performance is certainly an area where these speakers are expected to excel, and this as usual will be my port of call for testing. For the purposes of testing I have several systems around my home to provide an adequate representation of where these speakers stand, all things considered.
I think that when evaluating speakers in general, it's a very good idea to try and listen to the same piece of music through several different systems. In fact, owning a 'test' CD that is known to the listener like the back of his/her hand can be a usual thing when testing speakers because it will soon become apparent as to what strengths and weaknesses are evident across different systems.
Of course this is the challenge of a good engineer, to be able to produce a mix that sounds good on anything from $100-10,000 which is a far harder task than one might've first imagined. This also comes into play to a different and lesser extent when making speakers; questions such as "Who is the user?", "Where will they be used?" and "What for?" are all important ones. Music, film and radio are things which all must be considered. In today's example, GIGABYTE have chosen to aim this particular system towards the music listener with games and movies secondary due basically to only having two main speakers and a bass unit to play with.
Initially I'm going to provide some general thoughts on music performance, and then I'll get into more detail and discuss specifics.
My first impression of the system was "Gee, these sound bright!" - Well, after listening to the MegaWorks and Logitechs (both without tweeters), yes at first they did sound a pinch 'toppy', but this is just the ear taking time to adjust to the extra high-end presence which is thanks to those residing dome tweeters.
Next, I began to examine the bass response which at first was not something I was blown away by, especially considering I was impressed by the two main speakers. I suppose my age old complaint about using sub (mind the pun) 8" units is not suitable for any sort of response below 50Hz. It simply boggles my mind as to why an 8" driver would not be used in this case considering the ported satellites which have decent low end reach. it just doesn't add up to me.
In a desktop environment (near field listening) I initially found these speakers involving due to their slightly pronounced upper-mid. My first thoughts on imaging were positive, I felt they pulled ahead of my logitechs and were ballpark with the MegaWorks. Although a little sterile on first examination, I did not feel initially sucked into the soundscape, rather I was simply on the outside looking in. Output near field is adequate, however I found mid-range to roll off rather fast when moving around the room. With that said though, they do fill a small to medium room with sound of a reasonable volume, I just feel off-axis response is wanting at this early stage.
Testing The Higher Frequencies
The High End of Things
As I have mentioned earlier, we have silk dome tweeters which generally speaking should provide these particular speakers with some advantage over the majority of the competition at the moment to some degree. Near field tests were initially quite good with reasonably smooth upper-mid to high end response in a range of test tracks I was playing.
I initially began with some electronic music which always has plenty of dynamic high-end to warm up those nice new dome tweeters; and let me say right off the bat they don't give up easy. These things really impressed me with their ability to produce clear well maintained upper presence right to the point of 100% volume. That's right folks; full volume (including my soundcard's own amplified outputs) pumped away without a hint of distortion. Top marks right away there for matching a tweeter with an amp that does not conflict in tolerance/output as to course distortion between the two.
Maintaining a smooth balance between the upper-mid frequencies at the 14-18k range can be a tricky prospect for all designers, and it's an area where time and attention must be paid to use a quality crossover network, which put simply is up to the job of splitting the frequencies correctly to avoid spillage. The end result avoids muddy high-end and a loss of upper mid crispness.
On the whole I think GIGABYTE has used a fairy good crossover for the tweeters, and whilst not silky smooth like the "Crossfires" they are very combatant at what they do, and they're much more capable of showing up shortfalls in material over the Logitechs. This is really just a result of the tweeter, but goodness nonetheless.
In short, I really like the dome tweeters GIGABYTE have chosen to use here; I think they provide what they're set out to do very well.
Testing The Lower Frequencies
The Low End of Things
First, a word about Kevlar; Kevlar has been found to have useful acoustic properties for loudspeaker cones, specifically for bass and mid-range drive units.
There are three grades of Kevlar; Kevlar, Kevlar 29 and Kevlar 49. Typically, Kevlar is used as reinforcement in tyres and rubber mechanical goods.
From the perspective of the 3.5" full range cone used, things are really quite good with again not a hint of distortion at the highest of volumes. This is really good to see from a product not costing an arm full.
For the testing of lower-mid and upper bass frequencies, any sort of good percussion music is usually a good start. I enjoyed the way these speakers imaged the often hard to cope with range between 1-5KHz which can be a real pain in the neck for designers of smaller systems because quite simply there must be some compromise between good high-end and muddy bass due to the work required by the bass unit.
On the whole though, I found myself engaged in the drums and percussion; though as I felt in my initial testing still found it a little sterile towards the timber of the sound, perhaps just lacking a little warmth which can really mask a lot of shortfalls of drivers. The subwoofer's enclosure itself is a nice unit which as stated earlier just lacks that slightly larger 8" driver to duck under 50Hz which makes a lot more of a visceral experience with regularity, leaving subs with smaller drivers....well....not really feeling like they are fulfilling the purpose they were intended to. However this is a topic that's been raised constantly by myself so I will not harp on.
Overall, the subwoofer is a sturdy unit that does not sound overly boomy when taken to the limits, but it just lacks real low end punch. So in this department my only really complaint is lack of mid-range warmth and the ability to extend below 50Hz; all in all not a bad day at the track though.
Use in Games/DVDs & Final Thoughts
Use in Games and DVDs
I've decided to include the use of both games and DVDs together at the final stages of this review for the purpose of making things a bit more streamlined; and since we're talking about a 2.1 system there is not a great deal to add as surround does not come into the picture. For the vast majority, the same positive and negative aspects involved in music production should for the most part apply here as well. The next system I will be testing is likely to be a 5.1 system, in which case I will cover its relevant surround capability.
Gaming and movies were both enjoyable experiences on these speakers, providing easily enough of an engaging watch for the most casual user. Games again do need bass power to give those big explosions some soul, and again as with music this was one area where these speakers were not at their strongest. As a side note, I could see some wonderful portable versions of these hitting the market and being an unbeatable product in their class.
I think GIGABYTE has done a really top-notch job of designing a flexible and impressive 2.1 solution which sounds far too good given the price being charged. My prediction is that with a little time to be recognised of their capabilities, they'll do quite well.
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