By Team Digit | Published 23 Dec 2016 14:33 IST
A speaker set has become an essential part of a computer system today. Historically, the term "computer speaker" conjures up an image of a tiny, tinny set sitting tamely by a monitor. But as the man once claimed, the times are a-changing, and speakers today are a galaxy away from their predecessors, with more watts than warts and greater clarity than many a hi-fi music system available today. In an era where widescreen displays and graphics cards have brought DVD-quality visuals to the desktop, 5.1 speakers bring in the aural content for a truly cinematic experience.

We demand realistic sound, be it in movies, our music or our games. We expect immersion: an explosion should rock the seat; gunfire should trigger a reflexive duck. Sound cards offer features such as DTS 96/24, THX, EAX Advanced HD and so on. To take advantage of these, one needs a good set of speakers, and whether you invest in a set of stereo speakers or a multi channel system depends on your usage patterns.

For this test, we received 45 speaker sets from 13 brands. The usual suspects were present, along with new entrants such as Xfree, Umax and Gigabyte. Altec Lansing was present in force, and had eight models spanning the 2.1 and 5.1 categories. Gigabyte and Umax were the least-represented with just one model each. The speakers ranged from 2.1 stereo speakers to high end 6-channel sets. On to the show!

Sound On a Budget (2.1)
If you are on a budget, or are not too interested in multi-channel games or a home theatre setup, a 2.1-speaker set should do fine. These speakers are meant to play stereo music, and they generally deliver better quality music than an ordinary 5.1 set. We have mentioned the reason for this in the box titled 2.1 or surround sound-What do you really need? Although 2.1 speakers are not actually stereo in the strictest sense of the term, due to the subwoofer, they produce the stereo left and right channels, with the subwoofer handling the low frequencies. We therefore expect them to perform better in our music tests than with games and movies. We received a total of 27 speakers from 13 manufacturers in this category.

A Look At Features
A 2.1 speaker set is generally light on features, and offers more value for money by sacrificing on the functionality that their multi-channel brethren offer.

Of the units we tested, most did not bundle a remote control, the Altec Lansing MX-5021 and FX-6021 were the only 2.1 models to come with wired control pods as well as wireless remote controls. The controls were extensive with volume, treble and bass controls on both the wired and IR units. The Logitech Z-2300 came with a cool wired control pod that featured a large volume dial and a smaller bass dial.

Two sets offered FM tuners. Both were from Philips-the MMS171FM and the MMS177FM. Surprisingly, all the high-end models excluded this feature. While this is not an essential feature, it is a nice addition that we can only encourage.

Even a 2.1 set needs to stand on its own two feet, and stands for speakers are vital, especially for the subwoofer. The stands on the Altec Lansing FX-6021 impressed us. They were solid metal and of good build quality. A surprise was the high-end MX-5021; this Altec Lansing model lacked any form of satellite stand. To the set's defence, however, we didn't encounter any stability issues while testing. The Logitech X-230 deserves a mention as well: the stand quality was good, and even had a swivel base for wall mounting.

How We Tested 
Our test PC consisted of a Intel 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 1 GB of RAM, a 120 GB Seagate HDD, an ATI X1300 graphics card, and a Creative Audigy 2 Platinum sound card running Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1.
We put the test candidates through an comprehensive set of intensive tests including a couple of DVD movie tests, multiple music tests and a game test.
The game test consisted of the Half-life 2 demo-d3_c17_12. We ran this demo with sound settings at "high." The demo contains a lot of multiple sounds, blending voice commands with firing and explosions, and is put to good use to test the capabilities of a speaker.
A DTS sampler disc with a couple of DVD movie clips (from Behind Enemy Lines and The Fast and the Furious) and a 5.1 soundtrack were used as the DVD test material. This sampler disc contains high quality content and is bundled with high-end Creative sound cards-perfect for stress-testing speakers. The soundtrack was rated under bass, treble and vocals.
For music playback we divided the tests into audio CD and MP3. This was further divided into Hindi and English tracks, and sub-divided into vocal-specific and instrument-specific for English tracks and contemporary and classical for Hindi tracks. The MP3s were encoded at high quality settings at 192 Kbps.
For the English CD we used Enigma's Sadness 1, an extremely instrument-intensive track that tests a speakers set's ability to reproduce a number of different musical instruments, and The Corrs' Brid Og Ni Mhaille, which is very vocal-centric Gaelic folk music track. For the Hindi CD we used Aapki Kashish, for testing vocals. This track also has some deep drum beats good for bass testing. We chose Ustad Zakir Hussain's tabla to test sound reproduction of each note.
English MP3's were Hotel California by the Eagles-a good mix of vocal and instruments, especially the drum and guitar accompaniments, and Whitney Houston's I will always love you, one of the most stressing vocal tracks, as the singer's voice, though rich, can take extreme high notes. On the Hindi MP3 front, we used Aashiq banaya aapne to see how a popular track would sound. This track has some beats and instruments with vocal emphasis. For classical, we used Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's rendition to see whether the entire range of his tone could be accurately reproduced.
We also used special test files of a constant frequency to test low, mid and high frequencies across the band. These were from 50 Hz to 15 KHz.
Last, we stress-tested the bass and treble drivers of all the speakers by playing special THX-certified bass and treble tracks.
The tests were carried out at varying volume levels, and in the case of separate bass and treble controls, these were kept at 50 per cent through the first run and 100 per cent through the second.
We also noted the different features (or lack of them) for the different speakers such as the various inputs, connectivity, controls, accessories, and build quality.

Of Beasts And Beauties
On opening the box marked "Altec Lansing MX-5021," we were struck by the sheer beauty of the set. Even the word "hot" doesn't do justice to describe its dull-finished all-black subwoofer; it had a sedate cloth grille that barely concealed the silver-coated 6.5-inch driver. Its shiny black satellites had a similar cloth grille wrap, showing off the shiny 1-inch tweeter within, and the dull aluminium-finished 3-inch mid-range drivers (each satellite has two mid-range drivers). The Altec Lansing FX-6021 was the other attention grabber. It was decked in a sheer metallic grey/silver combination. The satellites showed off six tweeters housed within. Another tiny beauty was the Logitech X-230 with a very attractive satellite design in all black.

The lovable beast of the lot was the Logitech Z-2300. This set boasted the largest subwoofer across the entire 2.1 range, at eight inches.

If we had to choose the sleekest, our unanimous choice would be the Creative I-trigue 3400. Its white/grey colours are reminiscent of Apple Macs with uniquely shaped satellites, while its control pod maintains a traditional look.
The Umax PowerBeats UPB 980  just could not hold its own in our game tests. The sound was tinny and very artificial. To be honest, we didn't expect anything else from this speaker set, considering its low price tag and its sub-standard build quality.

The Altec Lansing MX-5021 was the best performer in this test. Our game tests underlined its solid output-reproducing larger-than-life explosions and lending a solid aural punch to rockets zooming past.

Jargon Buster 
Root Mean Square (RMS): The sustained power in watts that an amplifier or speaker can output at any given time. It is a much more realistic measure of the sustained power of a speaker than PMPO.
Peak Music Power Output (PMPO): The maximum power that an amplifier can output over a short period of time. More of an advertising term nowadays, PMPO isn't an accurate depiction of a speaker's capabilities.
Frequency Response: The range of frequencies that the device is set to operate within.
Dolby Digital 5.1 (Dolby AC-3):
Developed by Dolby, this system has five discrete sound channels in addition to Low Frequency Effects (LFE) that are directed to the subwoofer.
Dolby Pro Logic: An older standard, this packs in information for a centre and surround channel in the regular stereo channel. Essentially, there are no discrete left and right channels for the rear or surround speakers.
Dolby Pro Logic II: Audio encoded with Pro Logic II carries five channels of sound in a traditional two-channel stereo audio signal, which is then decoded back to five speakers using a Dolby Surround Pro Logic II decoder. This technology can be used on any console that does not support Dolby Digital 5.1. The advantages of using it in game applications include minimal latency, full frequency range, compatibility with existing cables, and backward- compatibility with mono, stereo and legacy Dolby Surround Pro Logic equipment.
DTS: Short for Digital Theatre Systems, this is a standard invented by Steven Spielberg, and made its debut in Jurassic Park. It uses a sampling frequency of 96 kHz with 24 bits allocated to each of the six channels. Collector's edition DVD movies generally feature two soundtracks, featuring both Dolby 5.1 and DTS.
Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES: These are comparatively new standards that add an additional channel-the rear centre channel-and is implemented in 6.1 speakers. Both standards implement the rear channel in a similar way. For Dolby Digital EX, a special Dolby Pro Logic decoder is added to the surround channels, creating a rear centre channel. This decoding method first came to light with the theatrical release of Star Wars Episode 1. For DTS ES, an additional rear centre channel is supplemented to the two surround channels.
Dolby Pro Logic IIx: This is a spanking new technology developed by Dolby Laboratories and is the first and only technology to process native stereo or 5.1 signals into 6.1 or 7.1 channel output. Different modes such as Movie, Music and Game are available with this technology, with the Music mode featuring additional user controls such as Dolby centre width, Dolby panorama, and Dolby dimension.
THX: This is an abbreviation for "Tomlinson Holman's eXperiment." It's not a surround sound standard, but a seal of approval that is granted to audio equipment and theatres that meet its standards. This standard is further divided into THX Select (for installations up to 2,000 cubic feet) and THX Ultra (for between 2,000 and 3,000 cubic feet).
S/PDIF: Sony/Philips Digital Interface; a standard audio file transfer format. Developed jointly by Sony and Philips corporations, S/PDIF allows the transfer of digital audio signals from one device to another without having to be converted first to an analogue format. Maintaining the viability of a digital signal prevents the quality of the signal from degrading when it is converted to analogue.

In the DVD movie test, too, the Umax UPB 980 along with the Zebronics ZEB-1400W performed poorly and scored very low points. They could not reproduce the faint footsteps in the Behind Enemy Lines movie, nor the roar of the truck in The Fast and the Furious. On the other hand, the Altec Lansing MX-5021 and the Logitech Z-2300 performed the best in this test. The sounds produced by these speakers made watching these movies an immersive experience.

Next, we played a DVD-Audio disc to test these speakers. The treble, vocals and bass were rated separately for this test. The Altec Lansing MX-5021 once again bettered every other set in this test. Be it vocals, treble or bass, the Altec Lansing MX-5021 proved itself to be the best 2.1 set as far as playing DVD audio was concerned. The Umax and the Techcom speakers were amongst the poorer performers in this test, and we do not recommend them for DVD audio.

Our music test suite comprised English and Hindi audio CDs and MP3 songs. Yet again, the Altec Lansing MX-5021, with its very high dynamic range, did not distort sound even at the maximum volume. The Corrs' folk song had vocals at an extreme range, and the Altec Lansing MX-5021 reproduced the sound more faithfully than did any other speakers in this test category.

The MX-5021 speakers also were capable of accurately reproducing the beats in the Enigma test song. The closest that could come to these speakers was the Altec Lansing CS21.

We moved on to listen to the Hindi audio CD song, and the MX-5021 and CS21 were yet again leading the pack. With the MX-5021 and the Altec Lansing FX-6021, we could feel the tabla on the Zakir Hussain CD as if we were at a live concert.

MP3 music is what most people listen to these days, so this was an important test. The English MP3 songs played very nicely on the Altec Lansing MX-5021, FX-6021 and CS21. They accurately produced the different musical tones, instruments, as well as the vocals, with amazing clarity.

This was no different with the Hindi MP3 songs-these speakers soared ahead of the competition with the best scores.

The Tech-Com SSD-801, Tech-Com SSD-901R, Umax PowerBeats UPB 980 and Zebronics ZEB-1400W   performed below par in the music tests. These are entry-level speakers, and if you are an audiophile, keep away!

Having thus tested their mettle, we moved on to the synthetic tests.

We conducted frequency tests to gauge the capability of these speakers. The 50 Hz frequency was almost completely missed out by the Zebronics ZEB-SW8000, which means that this speaker set should not be expected to produce low bass tones. Many speakers such as the Umax, the two from Tech-Com, two from XFree, Zebronics ZEB-SW8000, Gigabyte GP-3A, Genius sw-i2.1, Artis S-700, Artis S-111R and the Frontech JIL-1811 performed very badly here and exhibited their weakness in the ability to reproduce a wide aural spectrum. The star in this test, again, was the Altec Lansing MX-5021, which trumped the competition comfortably. Only its brother, the Altec Lansing FX-6021, gave it some competiton.

We then conducted tests to gauge the ability of the speakers to handle extreme bass and treble. The Umax PowerBeats UPB 980 and the Gigabyte GP-3A could not handle the test and produced almost no bass. The Altec Lansing MX-5021, Altec Lansing FX-6021 and the Creative I-Trigue 3400 were the best performers here and produced rich bass. This was expected due to their large woofer drivers and their well-ported subwoofer.
Sound Card Matters 
Now that you've got that set of speakers you've always wanted, what else is stopping you from turning that PC into a digital entertainment station? It's the sound solution a.k.a. the soundcard.
Another decision to be made is whether to invest in a discrete add-on soundcard or to utilise the Onboard Sound solution. Onboard sound is simply the audio controller that is part of the motherboard you purchase. A few years back any user remotely interested in decent sound would go with an add-on soundcard as onboard solutions just couldn't keep up.
Onboard sound has improved phenomenally and industry players like ALC and C-Media have been working hard at reducing the need to invest in an add-on soundcard. Intel has developed 'Azalia', an HD audio specification, capable of playing back more audio channels, (8 channels), at higher sound quality than other audio formats. What this means is sound with all its bells and whistles!
If you want immersive gaming and movies, and want your MP-3 playback to be truly spectacular an onboard solution just may not cut the ice. Onboard solutions as mentioned above are decent performers and nothing more. They cannot compare to a decent soundcard let alone a high end one for obvious reasons - they're integrated, to keep costs down!
The choice of whether, or not you need a soundcard is more or less up to your ears! An expensive speaker set can only do so much after all, without proper accompaniments. A entry level 4 channel soundcard costs around a thousand rupees and the higher end ones could set you back by as much as 25 grand! Generally a good buy is somewhere in-between with the decent 6 channel sets costing around Rs. 5000/-.

The extreme treble under this test was comfortably handled by the Altec Lansing MX-5021, the Altec Lansing CS21, and the Logitech Z-2300. The Umax PowerBeats UPB 980 could not keep up in this test as well.
2.1 Or Surround Sound-What do you really need? 
As you try to decide which speaker is best for you, a fundamental consideration is the primary intended use. Define your usage patterns first-are you an audiophile, does music occupy seventy five or more percent of your 'speaker usage time'? Are you going to be using your speakers solely for movie watching with an occasional game?
The fact is, 2.1 speakers are ideally suitable for music, even more so than a 5.1 system. More does not necessarily mean better, and a good 2.1 set will outperform a similar priced 5.1 as far as those MP3s and audio CDs go. This is because all music today (5.1 DVD tracks being an exception) is encoded for two channel playback. A 2.1 speaker system can therefore pan and split the sound to its left and right channel easily and with minimum signal loss. 5.1 speakers have a more complex method of distributing sound to various channels and are not suitable for music. This doesn't mean that they won't play music well; but for the price of a decent 5.1 speaker you can get a really good 2.1 which will offer far more bang for your buck. So if its music you crave for, then it's 2.1 you need!
A 5.1 setup excels at movies (especially DVD movies) and games. This is because the positioned speakers put you right in the middle of the action. Standards such as DTS and Dolby Prologic IIx make it a must to have a 5.1 system to accompany those DVD movies if you want to experience the movie the way the film makers intended. For gamers standards such as EAX Advanced HD ensure gripping game-play and realism. A 2.1 system just cannot give you the sheer immersive experience that a 6-channel setup can. For the movie buff/game freak the choice is clear-it's the 5.1 way, or the highway.


5.1: Surrounded by Sound
While a decent 2.1-channel speaker set is enough for most folks, when it comes to games and a home theatre-like movie experience, a quality 5.1 channel solution would be a better choice. A 5.1 set can make a DVD come alive, and hardcore gamers should settle for nothing less.

The 5.1 segment is exciting because of the sheer variety of models available. The best (and sometimes unorthodox) looking speakers are usually found here. Falling prices mean that a 5.1 is well within most people's reach. We received 15 such sets from 10 manufacturers. The prices, when compared, show that some 5.1 sets are actually cheaper than certain 2.1 sets. Less money, more sound!

A Look At Features
5.1 speaker sets are generally loaded with features. Their build quality is also expected to be better in general. Most of the manufacturers didn't disappoint.

Multiple inputs lacked in the case of most of the speakers. Only the Creative Inspire GD580 and the Logitech Z-5500D had more than one input option, with the inclusion of coaxial and optical inputs. None of the speakers had S/PDIF inputs.

Most of the 5.1s had some form of remote control-either a wired control pod or a wireless IR remote. Some had both; the Logitech Z-5500D comes to mind. It had a sleek control pod cum decoder. The Altec Lansing 151i and 251i and the Techcom SSD-2001 disappointed with no form of remote control whatsoever-unacceptable for a home theatre setup.

Most 5.1 speakers depend on the sound card to split sound into the six discrete channels. We gave extra points to speakers that had their own external decoders.

The Creative Inspire GD580, Logitech Z-5500D, Techcom SSD-2001, Philips HTR5000 and the Artis S6600R all came with external decoder/splitter boxes. Among these, the Logitech Z-5500D was notable: its decoder was capable of a sampling rate of 96 KHz at 24-bit quality. The Creative Inspire GD580 and Logitech Z5500D were the only two sets that were fully THX-certified.

The process of setting up a 5.1 speaker system can sometimes be a pain, because of the sheer number of wires involved. Some users prefer plugs to the clamp system because it's cleaner to set up. With the clamp system, one actually has to ensure that the clamp makes contact with the actual wires and not the insulation.

However the clamp system has one inherent advantage. As most people know, the sound quality depends to a great extent on the quality of wires, and if one feels the quality of the cables doesn't match the speakers, the option of an upgrade to better-quality, higher grade wires is always there.

With plug connectors, an upgrade becomes a problem. Moreover, if any of the speaker cables get damaged with the plug-type connectors, replacements will always be a problem.

Cable quality was decent throughout the 5.1 range; nothing spectacular, but no gripes either. Looks like manufacturers have finally understood that bad-quality cables tremendously hamper performance .
We faced a peculiar problem while setting the Frontech JIL-1875 speakers: the colour coding for the centre speaker and subwoofer were found to be reversed. This was quite irritating, because the subwoofer kept playing bass for the centre channel until we remedied this by simply swapping the wires. Color coding is supposed to make setting up easy? Quite the opposite here!

We were blown away by the enormous size of the Logitech Z-5500D's subwoofer, and we thought its carton was huge! The subwoofer with its massive 10-inch driver (the largest subwoofer we've received to date) was heavy too, and it took two people to lift it out of its box! Its control pod cum decoder with its cool blue backlit LCD panel was also a plus.

Demystifying the channels 
The nomenclature 2.1, 4.1, and 5.1 denotes the number of channels of sound that a speaker can reproduce. Simply put, the number of satellites is represented by the figure before the dot, and the subwoofer-which is almost always 1-after it.
A 2.1 speaker set will have two sound channels, and two satellites and a woofer. A 4.1 set similarly implies four speakers (two front and two rear) and a woofer. The term 5.1 denotes a 6-channel setup with five satellites (two front, two rear and a centre) and a woofer. Similarly, a 7.1 system will have seven satellites and one woofer. There are also systems that have two woofers; in case of a 6-channel setup, this would be shown as a 5.2 setup. However, such systems for computers are extremely rare.

The Philips HTR5000 looked rather sexy with its narrow subwoofer and satellites with horn-like micro drivers. The decoder box actually looked like a slim DVD player at first glance, and we did a double take just to be sure.

Two 5.1 speakers sported tower speakers-the Genius GHT-S200 with a silver and black finish, and the Zebronics ZEB-SW12000R in a complete metallic silver and chrome finish. Incidentally, these two models sported tall subwoofers that were sized on par with a mid-sized computer cabinet.

Altec Lansing's GT-5051R surprised us when we found only three satellites amongst the packing. We were surprised to see that this model integrates the rear speakers with the front speakers itself, but with a different direction of fire. Altec Lansing calls this "Side Firing Dipole technology." Just three satellites for a 5.1 setup is something unique-space-conscious users, take note!

Sounding Off
We fired up the Half-life 2 demo to check out the gaming performance of these beauties. The Artis S6600R was a clear winner here, surprisingly, considering its overall power. Its bass reproduction was good, and the voice commands of the squad could be easily heard above all the gunfire and explosions. The Philips HTR5000 was a distant second while the Logitech Z-5500D was close on its heels at third place.

The Frontech JIL 1875 and the Zebronics ZEB-SW12000R brought up the rear with the lowest scores in the gaming segment.

Coming to the DVD tests, the Philips HTR5000 topped both the tests with clear sound and hardly any discernable distortion. The bass was flat and the highs and ambient background sounds faithfully reproduced. The Artis S6600R came in second, with the second-best overall scores.

Also worthy of a mention are the Creative Inspire GD580, Philips MMS 5.500 i/C and the Logitech Z-5500D which produced some decent scores. The GD 580 basically lacked the bass punch necessary, owing to its lower RMS rating. The Z-5500D was quite the opposite: the 187-watt RMS subwoofer overpowered everything else and the explosions in the movie rocked us, but the bass tended towards rumbling and wasn't as tight as we'd have liked it to be.

The lowest scorers in this segment were for the Frontech JIL-1875 and the Intex IT-4900W. There was a lot of distortion, especially in the high-pitched sounds. Bass was also below par and explosions sounded flat. Not recommended for DVD viewing!

The DVD test track was tested for treble, vocals and bass, and the undisputed winner was the Logitech Z-5500D. This speaker set left the others biting the dust. The closest rivals were the two Philips siblings the HTR5000 and the MMS 5.500 i/C, in that order.

The Frontech JIL-1875 sounded pathetic in the DVD audio test, with some of the lowest scores ever recorded. The Altec Lansing GT-5051R also could not handle this test and posted some low scores. A surprise bad performer here was the Creative Inspire GD580; it just didn't impress.

4.1-A Dying breed 
This time round we received just three 4.1 speakers to test. Certain large vendors such as Logitech and Altec Lansing have done away with the 4.1 product line almost entirely. There is a strong technical reason for this. Let us explain.
4.1 speakers are of two types-true 4.1 and pseudo 4.1. A true 4.1 speaker set has four channels and a subwoofer that derives low frequency sounds from the front two channels. Pseudo 4.1s have four satellites but actually have just two channels, and the rear speakers and woofer do not have discrete sound channels. A Pseudo 4.1 is therefore nothing more than a 2.1 with two extra speakers. In movies supporting Dolby surround, a 4.1 will not be able to deliver accurate positional sound. Coming to the gaming segment where EAX rules, 4.1 is once again a big no-no.
A 4.1 is therefore not suitable for either the music or gaming/DVD segment, which is better served by 2.1 and 5.1 systems respectively.
For those of you still hanging on to that old SoundBlaster 4.1 channel sound card, we tested the three 4.1s (two sets out of these were "Pseudo sets"). The Creative Inspire 4400 surprisingly lost out badly and was placed last. Sadly this was the only "true 4-channel speakers" of the lot. The winner among these bad boys (pun intended) was the Frontech JIL 1867. The other contender the Intex IT 2880W was marginally better in Half Life 2.
For music playback, the Frontech JIL 1867 came out tops. In case you absolutely must have a 4.1 for whatever reason, this is your best bet.
For an overall picture, it must be said that the 4.1s are worse than the smaller 2.1 sets, and don't even come close to 5.1 territory.
4.1 sets were originally meant to be a cheap replacement to the discrete six-channel 5.1s, which were costly up until a few years ago. Today, the cost of an entry level 5.1 speaker set is just a couple of thousand rupees more than a similar 4.1 set. Anyone wanting a surround sound experience is, in our opinion, better served by investing a bit more in a 5.1 system. We feel the number of 4.1s we received as compared to the other categories speak volumes about good old "Pseudo Surround." R.I.P.!

Next, we decided to stress-test the 5.1s with our frequency tests. These tests stress the speakers because they contain sounds of a particular frequency played continuously.
The 50 Hz test was won by the the Logitech Z-5500D with a near-perfect score. The Altec Lansing GT-5051R also deserves a mention here. Coming to the mid and high frequencies, the verdict was once again in favour of Logitech-the Z-5500D demolished everything in its path. The Altec Lansing GT-5051R also performed well and came in a solid second. The Frontech JIL-1875 was once again trounced with below par scores.

We fired up the power handling tests next. We plugged in the Logitech Z-5500D first. After 10 minutes of listening to it, it was clear that this set was going to be hard to beat. The only speaker to come anywhere near the Logitech was the Altec Lansing GT-5051R.

The Zebronics ZEB-SW12000R and the Creative Inspire 5200 just could not keep up with the rest and posted the lowest scores. The Zebronics ZEB-SW10000R and the Intex IT-4900W did marginally better. A lot was expected from the Philips HTR5000, but it failed to deliver here.

Finally, some music! We did the audio CD tests first. No surprise, the Logitech Z-5500D once again went about its business ruthlessly, beating every speaker hollow in three out of the four audio CD tests-second place was a more closely contested affair. Most of the 5.1s did decently well in this test with average scores. The two Philips models (the HTR5000 and the MMS 5.500 i/C) did well here. Altec Lansing's GT-5051R and the 251i, the Artis S6600R and Creative's Inspire GD580 also deserve a mention.

The unpopular battle for last spot was also a closely contested affair-between the Intex IT-4900W and the Frontech JIL-1875.

The final test was the MP3 music: we played the evergreen Hotel California first. The Logitech Z-5500D made it sound like an Eagles concert. Even at high volumes there was barely any distortion, and with this set, your ears start to protest before the speakers do. These speakers are very loud, and the 500-watt RMS label is very believable.

The Z-5500D took two out of the four tests outright, and tied for the third. The Philips MMS 5.500 i/C took second spot with the Artis S6600R. Another worthy mention here is the Philips HTR5000.

The Frontech JIL-1875 once again occupied bottom position proving that these aren't performance oriented at all.

Putting It All Together
We saw some strong performers emerge and other speakers get thrashed once subjected to our rigorous testing standards.

There is no clear choice for all users. The Altec Lansing MX-5021 performed superlatively in nearly all the tests it was subjected to, but it would be hard to recommend to a casual music listener when cheaper 5.1 systems are available. For an audiophile who wants good music on his computer and wants sound as close to the original as possible, the MX-5021 is the speaker for you. Even after taking into account its considerably high price tag of Rs 7,900, the Altec Lansing came on tops in the 2.1 category leaving the closest competition, its higher priced sibling Altec Lansing FX-6021, behind by miles. We did not need to have a second look before deciding that the Altec Lansing MX-5021 be awarded a well-deserved Digit Best Buy Gold. The Altec Lansing FX-6021, which did not perform too badly either, came in second and was awarded the Digit Best Buy Silver.

Coming to the 6 channels sets, for users with no budget constraints, we'd recommend the Logitech Z-5500D. This 500-watt monster rocked our labs with its front firing 10-inch woofer. It topped the performance charts in 70 per cent of the tests we put it through. Although the Z-5500D was by far the costliest speaker set of the lot, performance is guaranteed, and, oh, let's not forget the flaunt value!

We don't all have deep pockets, however, and for users looking to dabble in a bit of surround sound at an affordable price tag, the Artis S6600R and the Altec Lansing GT-5051R are good choices-they perform well and don't cost a bomb. Going even further down the price range, we recommend the Altec Lansing 251i-5.1 for under Rs 4K!

At the end of the day, a perfect combination of low price, good features and performance is what goes into deciding the winner. The Philips MMS 5.50 i/C did not fare poorly in any of the tests and was more or less an average performer. With an inbuilt FM radio and decent looks, it's sure to appeal to a wide audience. Add to all that a cost of just Rs 4,990, which is peanuts for a 5.1 speaker set, the Philips MMS 5.500 i/C was adjudged the winner of the Digit Best Buy Gold award.

Even though the Philips HTR5000 was priced much higher at Rs 12,990, it performed well in most of the tests thrown at it. It sports good looks, has an inbuilt FM radio and also has a decoder for DTS and Dolby Pro Logic II, because of which, watching (or rather listening to) compatible DVDs is a whole new experience! We found that the price of Rs 12,999 was not too much for a decently-performing 5.1 speaker set with so many features, and therefore, the Digit Best Buy Silver for this category goes to the Philips HTR5000!

Contact Sheet                                          Speaker
Brand  Company  Phone  E-mail  Web Site 
Altec Lansing  Rashi Peripherals  022-55090909 
Artis  Kunhar Peripherals Pvt Ltd  022-56345758 
Creative  Creative Asia Labs  9840160005 
Frontech  Jupiter International Ltd  022-3095682 
Genius  Transtek Infoways Pvt Ltd  95250-3250072 
Gigabyte  Transtek Infoways Pvt Ltd  95250-3250072 
Intex  Intex Technologies  011-41610224 
Logitech  Logitech Electronic India Pvt Ltd  022-26571160 
Philips  Philips India Ltd  022-56912332 
Tech-Com  Shree Sagarmatha Dist Pvt Ltd  011-26428541 
Umax  Neoteric  022-39828600 
Xfree  Transtek Infoways Pvt Ltd  95250-3250072  NA 
Zebronics  Topnotch Infotronix Pvt Ltd  044-26616202 




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