- Low cost
- reasonable sound quality.
- Needs volume control attached
- undistorted sound level relatively low.
The Inspire 5.1 5100 speaker set from Creative Labs is a no-frills surround sound system suitable for gaming and watching movies on your PC. Its low cost (£59 ex. VAT) is achieved by having the bare minimum of hardware and by not using an overpowered amplifier. Although you'll have to add cable extensions and mounting brackets or stands for living room use, you can use the system at a PC desk without modification.
The system consists of five satellites and a subwoofer. All the satellites are of the same design, a 9.5cm by 9.5cm by 8.3cm cuboid with a cloth grille at the front. They simply sit flat on whatever surface you place them. Any angle adjustment will need bits of cardboard or something similar to prop the speakers up. Three of the satellites have 2m cables, while the remaining two, intended to be the rear speakers, have 4m cables. You're given a set of stickers to mark which speakers and which plugs are which, but you'll have to add them yourself after working out which are the longer cables.
The subwoofer unit is the usual cube style, and contains the amplifiers for all the speakers. You connect it to your PC using the supplied 2m, three-way stereo jack cable. The plugs on the cable are colour coded, as are the sockets on the sub. There are five phono sockets to connect the satellites.
The system has a hardware volume control on a cable extension, so you can put it where it's most convenient. This isn't an optional component -- you have to have the volume control plugged in for the speakers to work, since the power switch for the system is part of it. If you don't want to use this control, and your soldering skills are up to it, you could create a dummy plug which would leave the speakers turned on at full volume, but you'd have to be confident that your sound card wasn't going to start up at full volume itself. There's another volume control for the subwoofer on the sub itself.
Creative Labs claims 6 Watts RMS power output per satellite and 12 Watts RMS for the subwoofer. We found the speakers to be plenty loud enough for PC use, although at full volume (which was too loud for comfort) there was a fair amount of distortion. The claimed frequency response of the system is 44Hz-20kHz, although Creative Labs doesn't say what frequency the crossover between sub and satellites is set at. The amplifiers are rated at 84dB signal-to-noise ratio -- not brilliant, but not bad for a low-cost speaker set. With the speakers turned up full and connected to a turned-off PC, the noise was inaudible from 1m away.
We found the sound from the Inspire 5.1 5100 to be clear and clean, if a little lacking in midtones. The sound quality is certainly no worse than any other PC speaker set we've seen recently. We heard no buzzes or rattles from either the satellites or the subwoofer, even at full volume.
The system is fine for PC use out of the box, but for movie viewing on a sofa, for instance, you may need to add speaker extension cables and stands (both available at extra cost from Creative Labs). Otherwise this is a good-value speaker system. Although lacking frills (the hardware volume control is about the only non-essential component), it provides good enough sound quality for gaming and sound effects, and movies in a smaller room. If you have a sound card capable of 5.1 surround sound, this is a fine low-cost speaker system to accompany it.
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