Last year we took a look at the very first audio product from long time memory manufacturer, Corsair. We were impressed to cut a long story short; it was a great headset. In fact, it was one of the best through our doors, and for a seriously competitive price.
We actually made reference to how much we are looking forward to an expansion of this series in the coming months, after this headset got chosen for a special encore mention in the XMAS Buyers Guide.
And expanded it was; this to the tune of two fresh from the drawing board desktop speaker systems. The first is a fairly standard looking affair. But the second (high-end) model, well, haven't they been busy engineers at Corsair HQ over the time between products.
By now surely interest levels have been raised somewhat, and not without good reason. Let's get to the bottom of what makes this such a special little 2.1 system.
Package and Contents
- 2x Satellite speaker, 1x subwoofer
- Quick start guide/product manual
- 1x Digital control unit
- 2x Proprietary speaker cables, 1x RCA cable
- 2x speaker stands
- 1x Power cable
The SP2500 come in what can only be described as a huge box - The likes of which we do not see very often. In fact, this one barely made it into the vehicle charged with taking it back to the secret TweakTown test lab.
The design elements of the package itself are quite eye catching with lots of bright blue and a life sized image of the system taking up most of the space. Overall, another nice job continuing on from the HS1 headset style of artwork.
Inside the package can be found all the system components stacked and slotted together in a pretty smart fashion, which allowed for everything to be safe during shipping and also easy to get out. Even a set of small stands are included.
It must also be mentioned just how heavy each of the components feel when held, which has always been a good sign of things to come when testing audio equipment.
We also found an extremely detailed paper on the system as part of a 'press pack' inside - Just as with the HS1 headset. Now, the reason this gets a mention is because it's just really good thinking on a basic level that shows Corsair mean business. And also because we think that every retail system should have this inside.
Obviously most companies use the same manual in many different languages to negate costly printing costs, yet we just feel as though this little document the media folk got should be awaiting every SP2500 owner.
Speaking technically, let's start by looking at some specifications.
* Frequency response: 35Hz - 20kHz +/- 3dB
* 232 Watts total power (measured via FTC "RMS" method)
* Subwoofer dimensions: 18.1 x 10.2 x 11.7 inches (46 x 25.8 x 29.7 cm)
* Satellite dimensions: 4.25 x 4.7 x 6.25 inches (10.8 x 12 x 15.9 cm)
* 8" 120W (IEC60268-5 24hr continuous rating) subwoofer with durable rubber surround
* Fourth-order closed band pass enclosure design
* Bridged dual 60 Watt class-D amplifiers with integrated DSP for 120 Watts of power (measured via FTC "RMS" method)
* Ultra-efficient integral power supply with 100V - 240V AC input
* Bi-amplified, two-way design with detachable audio cables
* 3" 40W (IEC60628-5 24hr continuous rating) midrange drivers
* 1" 40W (IEC60268-5 24hr continues rating) Ferro fluid-cooled silk diaphragm tweeters
* 56 Watts per satellite (measured via FTC "RMS" method):
o 40 Watt midrange class-D amplifiers with integrated DSP
o 16 Watt tweeter class-D amplifiers with integrated DSP
I/O, Controls and Programming:
* PC input on subwoofer
* Dual 3.5mm auxiliary inputs (one on subwoofer, one on desktop controller)
* 3.5mm headphone output with digital signal processing
* Wired desktop controller with high-resolution color 1.8" (4.6cm) TFT display and multi-lingual interface (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese)
* Mod X theatrical audio processing for Blu-Ray and DVD audio that recreates the theater experience
* Dynamic DSP programs and EQ curves for late night listening, environment simulation, and optimal enjoyment of game and movie genres
The above is there in full detail for those who want nothing less than. However, let's pick up some key points here that set the SP2500 apart from other 2.1 systems.
The subwoofer firstly, and it's a 4th order band pass enclosure, which for those who don't know, means that it relies on the use of a separate chamber to house the woofer, as well as a secondary chamber that the frequencies then get passed onto, and then finally out of a tuned port.
Now, when done well, this type of enclosure allows for a certain amount of 'tuning away' with unwanted frequencies, namely those above 90Hz as a ball park figure.
On the amplifier side of things, the SP2500's have a total of six built into the subwoofer. Six, you ask? - The reason for this is because the speakers are bi-amplified, meaning each tweeter and mid range cone gets a dedicated amp.
Power is on the plentiful side with over 200 watts of properly measured 'true' power being sent around the system. We say 'true' to negate getting overly techie. We just mean good clean sustained power measured by industry standards.
Onto the speakers themselves now, and they both feature Ferro-fluid cooled silk tweeters and specially sourced high tolerance mid range drivers that can handle full power for ultra sustained sessions. These are coupled with angled enclosures and A-symmetric tweeter zoning for improved stereo imaging. And what you get is not like any other desktop speaker that we have seen.
Lastly is the control unit. Now, what is key here that differs from other systems is what's known as an Active Crossover. A Crossover acts to direct specific frequencies to specific speaker components. For example; tweeter, mid range driver and subwoofer. There are two types of crossovers used in speaker technology. The first is called a 'passive crossover' which relies on physical audio components within the speaker 'box' itself to manually direct the frequencies, as seen in just about all desktop speaker systems and most 'Hi-Fi' speakers.
The second is called an 'Active Crossover', which basically means it can take user input and be altered at key times to allow for differing equalization curves to be programmed into the speakers. This is usually seen on 'Active' Studio Monitors, which demand the finest of fine alterations to compensate for various types of 'sonic pollution' generated (back) within the monitoring environment.
Corsair has incorporated this Active Crossover very well in the form of pre-set EQ curves and environments. It's not important to go through them at infinitum now.
The installation process for the SP2500 did not present any issues once everything was out of the super big box laid on the floor. Because this is a 2.1 system, there really is not too much equipment to deal with.
The system does not require anything but a stereo signal and power to work. However, the small control unit does feature firmware which presumably can be upgraded for whatever reason - perhaps new EQ curves.
Placing the speakers themselves is fine as long as there is not a need to have them far from the subwoofer (amp) unit, because while the provided speaker cables are nothing short of excellent, they are in fact quite short of being what you would call lengthy.
It's also important to remember that the SP2500's have been designed with a centre 'sweet spot' in mind - That being that the users head forms the topmost tip of an equal-lateral triangle with the height plane also being equal from the speakers.
Testing was conducted using ASUS' Xonar Xense audio hardware without any processing turned on. This was in combination with an AMD/ASRock Phenom dual core platform @ 3.00GHz, with 2GB DDR3 1333.
We found the Corsair SP2500 high powered speaker system to be of the highest integrity of any comparable system through our labs, period. Attention to detail like this is usually reserved for speaker systems not found in PC retailers.
Performance backs this up with everything we threw at these speakers, with nothing but a hint of port turbulence under very heavy load to show for it. Total harmonic distortion under heavy load was also very low for a product in this class.
It would be almost irrelevant to try and compare the high end of these speakers with most conventional PC speaker systems, because they are so different fundamentally.
However, what we did find during testing was a very balanced and controlled high end which never interferes and provides localization of different instruments when stereo imaging. And thanks to the active crossover, it is really very smooth in its transition (an important one) to the mid range frequencies.
Even when compared to entry level Hi-Fi equipment, the use of the active digital crossover allows the tone and structure of the high-end to always be on under full control, which is key to good studio monitoring and as Corsair know, key to controlling a small desktop system without overly sizeable midrange components to fall back on like a big lazy set of floor standing tower speakers. Which incidentally, they can usually get away with only having passive crossover networks.
Overall, though, if users can pair these with a nice sound card, expect some great high end when listening to anything well recorded. Fatigue is very low too, which is another benefit of the active crossover network, and something else studio monitors try and achieve, rather than just ordinary Hi-Fi speakers.
The mid range has always been a soft area for most desktop systems because of the hole created in the mid range by the use of drivers that are too small along with the subwoofer being tasked with far too much of the mid range duties. Fortunately, though, it seems Corsair have negated this with some clever tuning and component choice.
Important mid range duties were handled very well indeed for the most part. Percussive instruments sounded edgy and full bodied. Drums in particular were rich and true to their original integrity.
Thanks to the combination of 8" driver and a well designed 4th order band pass enclosure, the result is far closer to proper 'Hi-Fi audio' than any subwoofer we have tested. The low end thanks to the active crossover only kicks in when needed, like it should. And when it does, the result is good clean bass down to around 35Hz.
There are certain drawbacks to using this type of enclosure, however, and this can be felt occasionally when punchy fast bass is required and the SP2500 subwoofer sometimes feels as though it would rather be involved in a movie soundtrack with lots of sweeping atmospheric low end stuff.
That being said, though, 99% of the time it's a great performer and really hard to fault when it achieves so well what it sets out to.
This is another area where the SP2500's are going to impress. During our testing we found that complex dialogue scenes and demanding action sequences were really a breeze for this system. This was without ever feeling as though a centre channel was needed in order to hear dialogue properly, which is in large part thanks to the use of such competent tweeters in each speaker.
In fact, during lengthy dialogue scenes, we found the subtle nuances in particular voices to sound really impressive. It was almost shocking in a sense to hear a 'PC' speaker set achieve this. There really is a great sense of balance and control; those words should be on the 'box art' somewhere, we feel.
A vast amount of the immersive quality of games and movies is how well integrated the subwoofer is and also how low it can extend. The SP2500 subwoofer is rated at 35Hz, and we think this is an honest and true figure which reflects the true ability of the subwoofer in question.
We feel that under fairly normal loading during complex action scenes the SP2500 subwoofer is going to perform strongly - Better than nearly all we have tested previously, but let's not beat around the proverbial here. What you get is deep tight-ish and metered out low frequency extension that is highly uni-directional. This is thanks to a well tuned band pass enclosure, active crossover and a large well powered driver.
The Corsair SP2500 is a great and timely product that aims high and hits many targets - Many that have not been in the realms of achievability for desktop speakers in the past. Key features like a well executed subwoofer enclosure, active crossover and bi-amping really take this system way above anything else out there at the moment.
When it comes down to real world listening, things get even better still. On offer; a level of balance tonal clarity and clever tuning that make for an enveloping and detailed soundstage. The likes of which really surprise us to be honest. Then that surprise turns to appreciation for a job well done.
What we really liked almost of all was that Corsair have covered everything that's important. And let it be said we have never seen a system in this class do that. There's always something that's been missed; the quality of the cables, the size of the sub or not having a tweeter; maybe even poor amplification. But that's just the thing, they've got everything right! - We almost had to rub our eyes to make sure it was true.
Inevitably the question of value comes up, and as always it's a subjective one. In our minds for $250 U.S. there has never been a better 2.1 system that we have received for testing. We feel that if this system had a European or exotic Hi-Fi brand name hanging off the front, the price would double without a doubt, and they'd still sell quite well not withstanding.
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