And the Winners Are...
Time again for another great addition to my multi-part series about building that perfect gaming rig. So far, you've been taken on a whirlwind tour of the video card, the sound card, and most recently, the speakers. Today we'll be talking about which speakers are the best ones and why. As I always mention, there's no better judge for a speaker's quality than you - however, if you find that your speakers are not performing as well as you'd like, I would suggest tweaking around with the equalizer settings. The equalizer fixes the levels of certain aspects of the speakers, for instance on the Z4, the levels for the bass or woofer can be found in the actual remote control.
Without further ado, here are the top three 2.1 speakers for the gamer:
1. The BOSE Companion 3 Series II Multimedia Speakers
When it comes to sound, BOSE is usually the one that raises the bar for the rest of the competition. These speakers are no exception to the quality you've come to expect from them. The cool thing about BOSE is the amount of new tech they pack into every speaker. Looking at this pair, the EMI shielding alone would be worth the price of admission. And if you don't know about EMI shielding, you've probably had a taste of what it feels like to live without it - whenever you receive a phone call on your cell phone, the speakers may exhibit a certain noise that is incredibly annoying. With the EMI shields on this thing, that phenomenon will probably not happen to you again. But what makes these number 1 is not the fact that they are BOSE nor the fact that they have this amazing new TrueSpace technology, but the fact that they are sleek, and that all the features you could ever want in a 2.1 system come packed together.
2. The Logitech Z-2300
If there is one other name worth mentioning in the same breath as the BOSE speakers it is the Logitech Z-2300 speakers. And while no-one can argue that the sound quality is almost as good as the BOSE speakers without breaking the bank, the one thing that I'm always aware of when recommending these is that the speakers are ugly little things. The woofer can always be hidden under the desk, but the speakers are something you always have to look at, and while I'm definitely not one for beauty over function, these speakers are short, pudgy and just a little too bland. If however, you don't have a problem with the aesthetics of your speaker system, by all means - buy these speakers, they offer amazing range without having to equalize anything.
3. The JBL Soundsticks II
Let's do a complete 180 now and talk about what may just be the best looking speaker system on the planet. While I love BOSE's design, the Soundsticks are just really cool-looking. On top of the fact that the design is different from any other speaker out there, you have the reliance of a JBL system with all the features you'd come to expect. The reason these speakers are not in number 2 however, is because of the lack of accessibility. Let's face it, if you're playing games in a dark room and want to adjust the sound, you have to fidget around with the touch sensors on the satellite, which if you're not careful may become a huge hassle. Also, the fact that there aren't any headphone jacks really limits the playing you'll be able to do in the wee hours of the morning.
As always, here's the big winner for the budget award:
The Logitech Z4 Speakers
As I type, I'm looking at these bad boys standing right next to my monitor. They embody everything I enjoy about a good speaker system. The design aesthetic is terrific, even though the piano black finish can be a pain to clean fingerprints off of. The sound that comes out of these is amazing - combined with a good sound card, you have an amazing combination. However, if you're in the market to spend about 30 bucks more, I'd grab the Z-2300 set because they have almost 4 times the raw power that these speakers have. If you don't feel the need to deafen yourself with your setup, these $70 speakers are probably the right fit for you. And I could go on about these great speakers - suffice to say I made an upgrade from a pair of Altec Lansing VS2221 speakers and the difference couldn't be more like night and day.
Now that you've seen the winners for the 2.1 systems, time to take a look at the 5.1 systems. I'll remind you that 5.1 systems offer much better quality sound because of the surround sound capabilities they sport, however, if you're limited to a desk in a room where you can't hoist the other speakers up to the walls, then the 2.1 systems will be much better for you than the 5.1 ones.
That being said, here are the winners for the 5.1 surround sound systems:
1. The Logitech Z-5500
I recently got to demo these speakers at a local electronics store. While the clerk wasn't looking, I jacked up the volume to see what kind of punch these things could do. I was reminded so very clearly of when I was about 13 and my father took me to a Styx concert where the band literally had a wall of subwoofers and amplifiers behind them. Anecdotal evidence aside, if you're looking for the best speakers of any kind on the market, you'll need look no further. Sporting an amazing 505 watts of power, even BOSE will have trouble de-throning this king. Aside from the usual features, what I found to be most neat about the system is that the remote control has an LCD display with all sorts of useful information - allowing you to individually tweak the speakers and control up to seven (that's right, seven!) different output options, including CD player, DVD, and even console systems. It just doesn't get more complete than this for the surround sound gamer.
2. The Creative Inspire T6100
Sadly, because of the high standard the Z-5500 system has set, even the number 2 spot looks dead last compared with them. Instead, we'll talk about not breaking the bank. If you're willing to spend, get the Z-5500, but for those of us without the means for a $300 speaker system, better to get these $70 speakers that have a lot to offer. Sporting an impressive 76 watts (impressive when you remove the 5500), the sound quality will be a definite improvement over the 2.1 systems above. The only complaint I can find about this set is the amount of bass being a little too high - something easily taken care of with good equalizer settings or in the case of one reviewer on Newegg, a sock in the woofer's hole!
3. The Logitech X-540
This is Logitech's budget speaker line. You can tell by the hit in power you've taken down to 70 watts, but keep in mind that when we talk about power like this, you want to make sure that you know exactly where and how you'll be using your set-up. It's all fun to talk about how amazing the 505 watts the 5500 has, but if you're in a cramped office-type setting, you probably want to stick to something a little more humble, something that you can turn the volume up on without destroying any furniture. These speakers are perfect for exactly that - a more humble 5.1 set-up with amazing sound. What I especially like is that Logitech actually models their central speaker after a real center speaker in a home theater setup, so it clips to your LCD monitor nicely.
As promised, the winner for the 5.1 system is:
The Logitech X-530
Say hello to the brother of the X-540. The X-530 is only $55, cheaper even than the 2.1 budget speakers, basically because most people can't fit a surround sound set up. Sporting the same power as the X-540, the design may have taken a hit with the downgrade, as these speakers actually look a little nicer than the X-540, for that pro sound setup. When I say pro-sound, I mean satellites that don't have any cloth between you and the actual drivers in the system. For the budget gamer who can fit it, this is the system you want.
And there you have it - all the tools you'll need to make that big speaker purchase. Join me next time when we'll be talking about the thing that makes computing even possible, the processor.