Filling a room with directional sound from just two speakers is no longer the audio voodoo it used to be, but can clever algorithms ever properly compete with a true 5.1 set-up?
Logitech claims so with its Z Cinéma kit. Accompanying an enormous sub-woofer are only two satellites: one for left, one for right, just as nature intended. They hook up to your computer via a USB cable and do a fine job of confusing the ears into believing they’ve doubled their number.
Rear effects will never be quite as obviously pronounced as when there are satellites behind your ears, but in a relatively confined space you’ll be hard pressed to notice the difference.
To give the effect a little more edge, there’s an SRS TruSurroundHD setting, which adds reverb and volume to fill the acoustic space more fully. With or without this the speakers sound superb thanks to very judiciously balanced sound quality that’s always powerful and never too bassy.
Aside from a tremendous range, which didn’t obscure a single sound in our favourite test track, music and movies also benefit from a quite incredible clarity. Try as we could, the Z Cinema proved just as hard to distort as the Razer Mako set we recently reviewed.
Unfortunately, they didn’t fare so well in games. By over-riding any on-board sound card and relying on software voice mixing, game worlds are noticeably flatter sounding than with, say, a Creative X-Fi and the Makos mentioned above.
The software issue
On top of that, they also look quite terrible, with a cheesy black finish that doesn’t suggest you just dropped 200 notes. And while the Media Centre remote supplied in the box is attractive, the Logitech software that has to run in the background isn’t.
The fact that this set-up requires a USB connection and a Windows PC to work at all, rather than just acting as a standalone decoder, amp and speakers, is also a problem for us. It’s just not as flexible as many similarly high quality stereo kits out there. Try the Razer Mako 2.1 system and a really good sound card capable of mixing faux 3D effects instead.