umpteen flavors of Dolby, but at the risk of oversimplifying things a tad, there are just three types of surround sound today -- each easily identified by their plug. Virtual surround uses just simple stereo jacks, emulating multiple channels from two, while digital surround travels across optical or coaxial S/PDIF cables (or HDMI) and has to be decoded. Finally, there's analog surround sound -- the cheapest solution of all -- where you basically just plug a pair of dumb speakers into each of front, rear and center 3.5mm sockets on your existing PC sound card. Unsurprisingly, the $100 Logitech Z506 speakers use this last technique to deliver their true 5.1 sound, but that's no reason to count them out. The question is, do they deliver enough bang, boom and tweet for the buck? Read on to find out.
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Logitech Z506 surround sound speakers unboxing and hands-on
- Color-coded cables
- Quality sound
- Fewer features than predecessor
- No wall mounting
- Analog input only
Hardware and set-up
Setting up the Z506 actually takes less time than getting it out of the box, because every cable and port is color-coded -- just plug in four speakers and your audio sources into the back of the subwoofer, and you're done -- but that's assuming you don't have to rearrange your entire room to set it all up. You see, while the X-540 had a wired remote with all the controls plus adjustable stands that let you hang satellites on a wall, the Z506 puts the volume control on the right speaker, the bass control on the sub, and has absolutely no place for wall supports. This means you'll need to have the front speakers and subwoofer on your desk and within arm's reach if you want any control, and somehow also find flat surfaces immediately behind your desk as well -- or else move furniture around. Thankfully, the center satellite still has a clever folding mechanism that clamps onto an LCD monitor with ease. One single connectivity advantage over the X-540 comes in the shape of two new RCA jacks to connect an auxiliary audio source like a game console, but even this upside has a down -- anything you plug in is automatically virtualized across all five speakers, whereas the X-540 let you control "Matrix Mode" with a button on the remote. We don't really expect digital surround in this price range (though it'd be nice if Logitech didn't even suggest the system could do 5.1 from game consoles and the like) but we can't hide our disappointment at Logitech's backward decisions here.
The feeling of immersion in Hero's guqin courtyard fight scene was fantastic, with raindrops hitting the pavement all around, and we felt every bullet whiz by during Neo's infamous bullet dodge in The Matrix thanks to punchy front and rear sound. Solitary singers came through high and clear in the front and center channels, their words reverberating off the auditorium walls behind us, while orchestral pieces and applause shared the front but with a welcome rear bias. Tossing flaming barrels with our Half-Life 2 gravity gun, than quickly turning away, we could easily tell by audio alone in which direction they'd exploded, and the worlds of Mass Effect 2 took on an incredible sense of immediacy with futuristic advertisements and alien conversations bombarding our ears from all directions at once. In other words: surround sound kicks ass, and these speakers are excellent boots.