04.How we tested
For the sound quality part of our testing we brought in the experts — or, rather, we took the speakers to them. Testing was done at Megaphon Sound Studios at St Peters in Sydney, with quality judged by three sound professionals: Sound Engineer Shane Fahey of Megaphon Studios, Mastering Engineer Steve Wilson of Reaktor Audio Services, plus independent Sound Engineer Tim Chaproniere.
We tested the speaker systems for ease of setup and use, as well as for sound quality. We also looked at their power consumption both in use and on standby, but the power consumption test does not contribute to the overall score.
To test the performance of the speaker systems, a quality 5.1 channel sound card was used instead of the integrated audio of the test PC. Note that for both PC and Mac to properly use 5.1 speakers a 5.1 output soundcard is required.
For the listening assessment, we tested each system at its best, using a selection of music of various kinds selected specifically for the kind of system — whether 2.0/2.1 or 5.1 channel. We also tested all systems with a DVD movie selection involving a combination of music, dialogue and special effects.
The expert listeners evaluated each sample and scored it for individual tracks, noting comments, resulting in an overall score for each system. The scores from the experts were aggregated to give a total performance score for each.
Ease of use
The other major consideration is how easy the speakers were to set up and use. This goes hand-in-hand with performance because if the speakers are not set up and, if necessary, adjusted correctly they won’t provide optimum audio performance.
This task could have been easier for all the PC speakers tested. The 'out of the box' experience was hampered by the lack of some simple instructions in the user manuals.
- Four systems — Creative GigaWorks T40, Creative Inspire T6100, Logitech Z-2300 and Logitech X-530 didn’t include troubleshooting information in case of problems during setup.
- Several others provided limited information that our testers found wasn’t very useful. These included the Cyber Acoustics 5.1 CA-5001 and Yamaha NX-A01.
- Several manufacturers didn’t provide Australian contact details or information on support options. These included Edifier, JBL, Logitech and Sony.
For physical setup, we looked at whether the speakers included colour coded connections, and individual speaker marking (to correctly identify where speakers should be placed in the configuration), and if playback controls were easily accessible during normal operation.
Most of the models tested has good colour-coded connections, the exceptions being the Altec Lansing FX4021 and Harman Kardon Soundsticks II, which didn’t include colour coding for all connections.
Access to controls
To provide easy access to volume, treble and bass, most of the tested systems positioned the controls on one of the satellite speakers or included a remote control. The power switch was difficult to access in some cases, however, as it was positioned at the rear of the subwoofer, which usually sits on the ground and often under a desk.
- Only the Edifier M2600 included a remote that could be used to switch the speaker system between a powered-on and active standby mode.
- Of the others, the Edifier M1550 and Edifier S2.1M (S330) put both the power switch and bass control at the rear of the subwoofer.
- The Creative Inspire T6100, Cyber Acoustics 5.1 CA-5001, Harman Kardon Soundsticks II and the Logitech X-530 put only the bass control on the rear of the subwoofer.
- The GigaWorks T40, Edifier M2600 and the Logitech Z-2300 put only the power switch at the rear of the speakers.