Desktop Theater 5.1 Review - Part 4

4. Sound
I guess this is what everyone is waiting to hear (no pun intended), right?

Before I shoot my mouth off, let me qualify what I am about to say. I can't speak for everyone because I am not a true audiophile. I did dabble in separates for a while but the lack of space in my room finally put an end to that hobby. Besides, my frequent number of PC upgrades didn't leave me with much spare dosh to spend on hifi. =P

"The full range of the MicroWorks (which I attribute to the larger satellite units rather than the larger subwoofer) is just plain unbeatable. Midrange on the PCWorks/Theater 5.1 seems just muddy."

My experience with audio equipment is that unless you can place TWO sets of equipment side by side (what is often known as an A/B comparison test), it is VERY hard to tell how good or bad a system is (provided the 2 systems are decent enough and NOT your crappola 10 bucks free PC speakers)

In the shop, the demo had a speaker switch that allowed me to toggle between the Theater 5.1 and the mother-of-all-Cambridge-speakers, the MicroWorks, and there is NO COMPARISON. The full range of the MicroWorks (which I attribute to the larger satellite units rather than the larger subwoofer) is just plain unbeatable. Midrange on the PCWorks/Theater 5.1 seems just muddy. Unfortunately, the MicroWorks costs more than 350 bucks just for a stereo pair.

"... I am quite satisfied with the overall sonic characteristics of the speaker, which is playing some demo XG midis and some MP3s..."
"The highs were just as crisp as I remembered, if a little bright, ... a signature of Cambridge SoundWorks PC speakers."

(Oh, before I forget, if any of you wishes to test out the demo unit in Interactive Media, bear in mind that the output is extremely noisy, because of aforementioned speaker switching unit, which looks like a home-made hacked unit.)

But back home, I had nothing to compare it to. I had already carted off the midi system speakers to a corner (my room now looks like a Typhoon Zeb just swept through it!)

And frankly, I must admit that the sound is quite good. I suspect that some changes have been made to the speaker since my PCWorks (I never had access to the FourPointSurrounds for testing), especially the subwoofer unit. I could turn up the bass/sub levels to fairly high levels with less levels of distortion. The highs were just as crisp as I remembered, if a little bright, but that seems to be a signature of Cambridge SoundWorks PC speakers.

"For me, if it sounds good to me, it has delivered the goods. And that's precisely what the Theater 5.1 does for you at the end of the day."

In fact, I am quite satisfied with the overall sonic characteristics of the speaker, which is playing some demo XG midis (using the free XG softsynth bundled with my old A3D card) and some MP3s as I am typing this review.

In case anyone is interested, I belong to UK school of thought when it comes to comparing hifi performance. The US school tends to be fixated with numbers, comparing flatness of the frequency response, ad nauseum. For me, if it sounds good to me, it has delivered the goods. And that's precisely what the Theater 5.1 does for you at the end of the day.

With music, the sound is perfectly acceptable to me, and seems better than my old PCWorks.

And with Dolby Digital? I was too wowed by the zipping and zapping, and whooshing and swooshing to even care about frequency response!

=) The dialogue is crisp and clear, clearly the results of using the larger driver found in the center speaker (similar to SoundWorks)

5. Overall Impression
I suppose that the Desktop Theater 5.1 delivers what it promises: an affordable, easy-to-set-up decoder/speaker system for the PC. But don’t expect top-of-the-line sound reproduction system, that even dogs can hear.

If they market themselves right (with better packaging and manuals, and give us longer cables dammit!), they could probably sell truck-loads of these to newbies just entering the consumer DVD (or even DIVX *ptui*) market. Unlike LDs, the market penetration of DVDs has been quite rapid, offering a relatively inexpensive medium for excellent video and sound reproduction. However, most home users lack a decent home-theatre setup, which is what the Desktop Theater 5.1 delivers. And they will be wowed!

=) I still remember the first time I heard domestic AC3 in a showroom! What a rush that was!

 

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