Speaker Sparring: Two 2.1 Speaker Systems Go Head-To-Head

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Speaker Sparring: Two 2.1 Speaker Systems Go Head-To-Head

Headphones are for wimps

OK, we’ll admit that headphones—and headsets—have their place, especially when it comes to gaming. But when you’re ready to rock the casbah, you need a set of speakers driven by a no-holds-barred amp augmented by a beefy subwoofer. 

The gaming-speaker market has been so quiet lately that we feared Logitech’s budget boxes had driven everyone else away, so we’re happy to see two brand-new players enter the ring. The Antec and Corsair names are familiar enough to enthusiasts who enjoy building their own rigs. Antec manufactures a number of very solid power supplies, a host of CPU and case coolers, and a raft of enclosures. Corsair does the same, along with memory, SSD and USB storage, and the kick-ass HS1 USB gaming headset we reviewed in December 2010. 

Neither company has ever manufactured speakers, but they’ve both brought in development teams with plenty of experience. It’s also worth noting that each company already has deep knowledge when it comes to building two of the key components in a powered speaker system: the enclosure and the power supply. Will that be enough for these rookies to score? We connected both systems to an Asus Xonar Essence ST soundcard to find out.

Antec Rockus 3D Speaker System

If you think like us, you dread seeing a 3D moniker emblazoned on any speaker system. If the material isn’t recorded that way, don’t monkey with it. Antec wisely gives you the choice of running the audio through its digital signal processor or just reproducing what the artist has wrought.

We dig the stands that angle the satellites up toward our ears, but we could do without the honeycomb grilles and the garish flared rings in Antec’s Rockus 3D Speaker System. 
 
Given the number of aluminum cases Antec builds, it comes as no surprise that the company would choose the material for the cylindrical satellites in this 2.1-channel speaker system. Aluminum is an uncommon material in this price range, but it’s a good choice. Aluminum doesn’t flex, like MDF or even ABS plastic, so you hear more of the speaker and less of the enclosure. But it matters a great deal what type of drivers go into those enclosures, and Antec tries to get away with one-way, 2.5-inch paper-cone drivers (more on that when we discuss the system’s performance). The satellites don’t use hardwired cables, but you’ll need either RCA couplers or RCA plugs you can solder onto longer cables if the ones provided aren’t long enough (the other ends of the cable are tinned wire that connect to spring clips on the subwoofer).

The subwoofer consists of a 6.5-inch active driver aided by a 9-inch passive radiator housed in the more typical MDF cabinet. The active driver is mounted in the rear of the cabinet and the passive radiator is in front, so the unit performs best with its back 10 or 12 inches away from a wall. The sub houses the amp and power supply and has one set of stereo RCA inputs, a 1/8-inch aux input, and a TOSlink digital input. A hardwired puck controls the volume, switches between analog and digital inputs, and toggles the DSP’s 3D algorithm on and off. What it’s sorely missing is a headphone jack and an aux input you could plug a digital media player into. 

We thought the absence of dedicated tweeters would flatten the high end, but it didn’t; the satellites sounded brittle and harsh, instead. When we pumped Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some” through the system and cranked the amp way up, the satellites sounded as though they were tearing themselves apart. Could this be related to Antec’s decision to use a Class C amp? Class C amps are extremely efficient, but they also produce a great deal of distortion and are more commonly found in megaphones and walkie-talkies, devices that aren’t expected to produce high-fidelity sound. We’re not saying the Rockus satellites sound like megaphones, but they are pretty darned harsh. 

The subwoofer scored better. The computer-speaker market is filled with flabby subs, and Antec’s delivers a relatively tight, well-defined low-end; but it’s just not a good match for the satellites. We like bass we can feel in our gut, and this one can’t emerge from the shadow of those banshee satellites.

Antec Rockus 3D Speaker System
BLACK-EYED PEAS

Anodized aluminum enclosures; solid subwoofer; digital input.

BLACK EYES

Harsh-sounding satellites; underpowered sub; lousy price/performance ratio.

score:8

 

Corsair SP2500 Gaming Audio Speakers

There is absolutely nothing subtle about Corsair’s SP2500 Gaming Audio Speakers: This monstrous 2.1-channel system could start a riot. After just a few minutes listening to Les Claypool shred his stand-up acoustic bass on the Primus classic “Mr. Krinkle,” with the amp cranked way beyond sensible, we felt an overwhelming urge to start breaking furniture. So we turned the volume down and started hacking zombies in Left4Dead 2, instead.

The plain-Jane looks of Corsair’s SP2500 masks a monster sound system. 

The SP2500 is an interesting mélange of strength and refinement. The subwoofer and speaker cabinets are brutishly powerful and unapologetically plain to behold, but the system delivers more features than we could ask for, it sounds amazing, and it’s very reasonably priced. The satellite cabinets are fabricated from ABS plastic, for example, but the drivers inside are bi-amplified by four discrete Class D amplifiers inside the subwoofer cabinet. 

The 1-inch silk dome, ferrofluid-cooled tweeters each receive 16 watts, while the 3-inch treated-paper midranges get 40 watts each. The hulking subwoofer consists of an 8-inch long-throw paper driver housed in an MDF cabinet. The sub’s large size is dictated by Corsair’s decision to build a fourth-order band-pass design: The bass driver, which is powered by two bridged 60-watt Class D amps, is enclosed in a sealed chamber and fires into a separate chamber containing a fluted port. This subwoofer produced deliciously tight, well-defined bass whether we were rocking out with Van Halen or firing rockets in Call of Duty. Yowza! The sub’s relatively thin walls, however, make us wonder how long the fun will last.

Corsair unconventionally uses four-pin ATX power-supply plugs to connect the satellites to the speakers, so it should be easy enough to make your own cables if these aren’t long enough. Corsair also provides a set of stands that angle the satellites up toward your ears when they’re placed on your desk, or you can put them in the back of the cabinets to angle the speakers down if they’re sitting on a bookshelf above you. Source inputs are in the form of stereo RCA plugs on the sub. There’s also a 1/8-inch aux input on the sub and a second 1/8-inch aux input on the tethered remote control (which also has a 1/8-inch headphone output and a USB port, just in case Corsair ever decides to release new firmware for the system’s integrated DSP). 

The S2500’s remote is so cool you won’t mind that it’s hardwired to the sub. It boasts a 1.8-inch color LCD, independent volume control for the satellites and the subwoofer, and easy-to-navigate menus. Corsair provides a range of EQ profiles and DSP programs (Club, Stadium, Concert Hall, etc.) that you’ll probably never use, but the Late Night program highlights another of the SP2500’s cool features: active digital crossovers. Engage the Late Night DSP program, and the amplifier will shunt bass frequencies away from the sub and into the satellite’s midranges so you don’t bug your significant other—or your neighbors. 

We still prefer B&W’s MM-1 or the combination of Audioengine’s N22 amp and P4 speakers for critical listening, but each of those systems cost twice as much as the P2500, and neither will fill as large a room.

Corsair SP2500 Gaming Audio Speakers

SARAH SILVERMAN

Impeccable engineering; great remote; amazing price/performance ratio.

SARAH, PLAIN, AND TALL

The sub is as big as an ottoman, but its shell is surprisingly thin.

9

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