Comparison of 13 4.1 and 5.1 Sound Systems

Logitech Z-560

Logitech Z-560
Number of satellites 4
Speaker power 53 RMS watts
Subwoofer 188 RMS watts
Center channel n/a
Bandwidth 35 Hz - 20 kHz
SNR >100 dB

The Z-560 by Logitech is a completely different system from what we are used to from this manufacturer. It is not only THX-certified but also has an overall power of 400 watts, almost as much as the powerful MegaWorks 510D by Cambridge SoundWorks. The most surprising thing is that it is "constant" and not "burst" like the MegaWorks, so we can expect unequalled power from the Z-560. And this is indeed the case, because on playback it can reach an extremely high volume and saturates a bit less than the MegaWorks. As for settings, everything is on the SoundTouch Control Center, a small box that you can stand upright or lie flat on a desk. This has the only connection available on the Z-560, a wired-in twin-cable mini-jack to link it to the sound card, plus the amplified headphone output expected of such a system. The SoundTouch Control Center is used to set volume, on/off, low frequency levels, fade and to activate the M3D mode.

M3D, or Matrix Surround Sound, is a system that is supposed to enable a sound card with only one stereo output to produce good quality 3D Surround sound by redirecting environment and background sound to the rear speaker. Having tested the system in 2-point mode with an Audigy, we can conclude that this objective is partially attained. Still, I'm not as enthusiastic as Logitech and Labtec (inventor and developer of M3D), who claim to provide "realistic surround sound in a 3D arrangement." In the M3D Matrix Surround Sound tests on a DVD (with "Matrix" and "Alien vs Predator 2"), at best we just got slightly muffled stereo panning on the rear speakers. In fact, this system does not seem outstandingly useful. None of the recent sound cards have only one output, and the 3D sound technologies developed by Sensaura or Creative Labs can reproduce 3D sound with just two speakers in a much more conclusive way. Furthermore, a user who has $200 to invest in a sound system should logically be able to spend about four times less on, say, a Hercules Fortissimo II sound card.

For sound quality, the Z-560 is in the same league as the Altec Lansing 641 and the MegaWorks 510D by Cambridge SoundWorks. The sound is very good and very well suited for gaming. Medium frequencies are especially percussive and clear-cut, as are the low ones, whose power and depth are felt very quickly, even at low volume. The 35 Hz threshold that is specified actually holds true in practice. The high frequencies are also clear and true, though there is a bit of coloring which differentiates them completely from the Altec Lansing 641. So, while the sound is more than adequate for hip-hop or rock music, in our view it is not the best for classical. The same applies to DVD where the percussive sound is most effective in action scenes. You can just feel those bullets flying in "Saving Private Ryan." Instrument distribution and stereo image are the same level as the MegaWorks 510D - outstanding. And the Z-560 has a decided lead on its rivals in its price. At $200, it has the best quality/price ratio in this range of sound systems.

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