We have already reviewed a few speaker sets on XboxRules.com and I am pleased to say that so far they have all scored well. Thrustmaster have now thrown in to the competition their attempt at 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround speakers and decoder for us with Xbox, PC, Gamecube, Playstation 2 and DVD / TV / VHS players.
In this review I will be splitting it into sections covering the look of the system, running on an Xbox and last but not least running on a PC. First of all the look and sound generally:
Style and General Sound
What people like me look at first is that big cabinet of wood. If you haven’t guessed it already it is the subwoofer unit. The lovely bit of modern thinking of sticking a huge speaker in an enclosed area, sticking a powerful amplifier up to it, a unique channel of sound sent to the speaker and letting the room vibrate to the tantalisation of your feet as the floor boards bounce with glee.
This system is not lacking and for the price of around £150 the subwoofer is no let down. In a nice weighty wooden cabinet the bass is just superb. For me the subwoofer is the all important component as if this is a let down, the rest of the system is overlooked. The look of the subwoofer is also solid and looks the business sitting comfortably either beneath your feet for the PC or next to your TV in the distance.
The satellite speakers that surround you are nothing to write home about but look nice and sound good. Picking up those higher toned sounds admirably. Also to note is a generous amount of speaker wire which is a big plus as you would be surprised how stingy some companies can be with speaker wire. Nothing worse then waiting with high anticipation of your new sound system, getting to the rear channels at the back of the room and you realise the wire doesn’t reach.
Thankfully this is not a problem although if you do have to navigate around a lot of furniture rather then a more direct route in a large room you may encounter a problem. The speakers don’t have the usual 2 wire approach to plugging into the subwoofer where the amplifier is located. Instead it is using the much simpler phono sockets which is great to save time but a bit more tricky if you need more length. No snip snip, you will need instead to purchase the proper extension cable.
The Decoder box is something of an ugly duckling compared to the rest of the system. With big fat knobs, uninteresting design and overly plastic look, you wonder what went wrong.
It would look more in place in an old Star Trek series in the 60’s then next to an up-2-date PC or Xbox. However functionality isn’t lost with the poor design as it is clear and pretty simple to operate. Another nice touch is the remote which isn’t overly loaded with buttons, just the necessary ones to tweak while in game.
One of the most wonderful areas of the Xbox is the real-time encoding of Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. At present this is something only the Xbox can do in the console world allowing games to be much more atmospheric and impressive. The advantage of Dolby Digital sound is the complete new dimension it adds to a game. No longer something you seem to see at a distance, but rather an experience that gets you right into a game ranging from gun fire ricocheting around the room to knowing where vehicles are behind so you can cunningly block them without the need for switching to a rear view. Dolby Digital has transformed the way we play games allowing for tactical decisions to be made by what you hear rather then what you see.
Where bass is concerned Dolby Digital now has a channel dedicated to bass output. This is the .1 part of the 5.1 set up. With this games like Halo gets a remarkable response from the sound system when a drop ship comes along and the rumble certainly will make the neighbours wonder why you appear to be using a pneumatic drill to get through the wall.
Knowing where the enemy are attacking from also helps especially on games played on the Xbox Live! service where hearing from which direction an attack is coming from becomes a huge advantage. Online play is very competitive and if you don’t have a system like this to aid you, you can expect to lose lots of points due to your slower reaction times compared to people using the 5.1 advantage of sound.
This is where you might have a problem with this type of system. Games and soundcards now are moving towards analogue output and this speaker system is digital if you use the decoder. This isn’t a problem if you have a Nforce Motherboard which can, like the Xbox, encode in real-time a Dolby Digital 5.1 signal and send it to your digital decoder for games like Unreal Tournament 2003 and many more to come in the future. However if you do not have the luxury of this new motherboard you will be only getting Dolby Surround Sound which limits greatly the number of channels and the quality of sound reproduction.
There is a way around this. You can just leave the decoder out and connect straight into the amplifier on the subwoofer cabinet and enjoy 5.1 sound using the Direct Sound 3D API provided by Direct X. This does defeat the object, but I have tried both ways and seeing as I do not have the Nforce Motherboard, it is nice to still get 5.1 sound as long as you have a 5.1 soundcard. Even though using analogue connectivity the speakers do not let you down and sound fantastic with whatever is thrown at it. There is plenty of power from all speakers and again like the Xbox games become much more realistic and immersive for the player.
Music like MP3, WMA, and DVD’s sound great no matter whether you use the hardware decoder or not. Another new format on the scene recently is DVD-Audio. This is the successor to CD-Audio now with full 5.1 sound and a much richer and more faithful to the original sound format. Even with this new technology the speakers again do not whimper and instead grin with confidence at how well they perform.
Good price, great sound just a shame about the decoder style. If you still haven’t got the 5.1 advantage, these are a great addition to your gaming experience.