by Sergey Samarin
06/19/2003 | 06:08 PM
We decided to start reviewing acoustic systems from three products by Creative Labs: three speaker sets.
The speaker systems from this company have always been popular among users who want to get the best at an adequate price. The three systems we review today belong to different market segments. Those of you who are building up a home theater and want to purchase a 6.1 system may be interested in Inspire 6.1 6700, which launch is intended to accompany Audigy2. Inspire 2.1 Digital 2800 may be connected either to the computer or home audio appliances, while the nice pair of elegant satellites, I-Trigue 2.1, helps to free some space on your work desk.
Specifications summary of the considered products will help you to get a better idea of what we are going to play with today:
Creative Inspire 6.1 6700
Creative Inspire 2.1 Digital 2800
Creative I-Trigue 2.1 3300
Front and rear – 8W RMS
Subwoofer driver diameter
Satellites driver diameter (or flat panel dimensions)
Subwoofer cabinet material
Satellites cabinet material
Aluminum and plastic
Remote control unit dimensions
Having released its seven-channel Audigy2 sound card unto the market, Creative couldn’t help supporting it with an appropriate speaker system. That’s why Inspire 6.1 6700 was developed. This set includes a central satellite (20W RMS), five identical surround satellites (5x8W RMS) and a powerful subwoofer (22W RMS). The frequency response lies between 40Hz and 20kHz with a SNR over 75dB. The system comes in a large colorful box, just like any other Creative speaker system.
The satellites cabinets and the remote control unit are made of high impact polystyrene that is shockproof as well as temperature resistant (the melting temperature of this polymer is 250oC). This material is widely used in home electrical appliances (back panels of TV-sets, casing for recorders and receivers and so on).
The satellites have an elegant look that won’t ruin the stylish interior of your desk. Each of them has a false-panel covered by black fabric (false-panels are better left intact in order not to spoil the outer looks of the system). Special rubber-soled bases are included: they prevent the satellites from sliding around the desk. Every satellite (except the central one) can also be mounted on the wall: there is a special hole on the back side of the satellite cabinet. The central satellite comes with a special base to put it onto the display. When set on top of the display, the satellite gets slightly bent to the front.
The black fabric false-panel serves to make satellites look esthetically nice.
You’d better not remove it.
Small, but powerful 10W neodymium dynamic speakers from Cambridge Sound Works (CSW) are used in the satellites’ heads. These speakers were specifically developed for computer systems; at least the manufacturer hid the magnet behind a screen to eliminate interference with the display. The central satellite is larger than the others and has a bigger speaker; its suspension is softer than in the surround satellites. The satellites cabinets are filled with synthetic wool that performs damping functions. The cable aperture at the backside is covered with a special hermetic material from inside so that the cable wouldn’t twist up (some manufacturers save on it and just tie up the outgoing cable).
The satellite cabinet is stuffed with synthetic wool
The subwoofer circuit includes a phase inverter. Its port is at the left side of the box (the phase inverter serves as an amplifier of low frequencies here). The wooden case of the subwoofer is a cube with a 6.5” dynamic speaker in the front. The sides of the case are half an inch thick. The cube is supposed to be placed somewhere on the floor, pretty far from the display (the magnet of the LF speaker as well as its case have no screening). The false-panel of the subwoofer performs purely decorative functions and doesn’t protect the diaphragm against any accidental contact with your feet.
The port of the phase inverter is glued dead to the wooden box
Creative uses CSW speakers in its speaker systems
A rubber sealing ring is fitted around the outer rim of the low-frequency speaker. It should provide tight contact between the speaker and the case and eliminate any resonance. But they made a mistake during production: this sealing ring is on the outside rather than inside. You can see it in the next snapshot:
(1) The sealing ring, (2) 6.5” LF speaker, (3) Phase inverter port
Among other peculiarities of the subwoofer case design we can point at the absence of damping material. In practice, it means that there will be resonance of the internal components at certain frequencies and volume level, leading to poor sound quality. As an example of correct design of the acoustic enclosure we show a snapshot of the subwoofer from the more expensive MegaWorks system. Glass wool is the damper here:
Glass wool has excellent damping features.
We only wish the Inspire subwoofer had it inside.
All the connectors are placed at the back panel of the subwoofer. A special analog cable with color-coded lines comes with the system to connect it to Audigy2.
The connectors panel at the back of the subwoofer
The panel carries the following connectors:
The panel also features a switch between the real and emulated seven-channel connection (5.1 / 6.1 – 5.1 / 6.1 upmix). Thus, you can use this speaker system with a 5.1 audio card (like the first Audigy). In the “6.1 upmix” mode the sound of the rear 5.1 channels is mixed up onto the central channel, which suits quite well for listening to music (don’t forget that correct three-dimensional sound positioning is lost in this mode).
As I have already said, the system comes with a wired remote control unit, which has bass and volume controls and a headphones jack. The control unit features a special button to turn the system on and the off button is combined with the volume regulator wheel (by turning the volume down to zero). Activation of the system is indicated by a green LED. Actually, you can fasten the remote control unit onto some flat surface with the help of special double-sided stickers.
The amplifier PCB is located inside the subwoofer cabinet.
The amplifier card is fastened to the inner side of the communication panel. The integrated amplifier is based on TDA8510J/TDA8511J from Philips. Its output power is quite high, so the integrated amplifier is mounted onto a heatsink. TDA8511J is an integrated output amplifier of the “B” class in a DIL-bent-SIL power package (thin form-factor with two vertical rows of outputs). Four identical 13W amplifiers are inside. They can be used in circuits with asymmetric workload. The amplification is fixed at 20dB for each of them. In order to avoid unpleasant clicks on turning on, the amplifier “keeps low” for some time, waiting for the input electrolyte capacitors to charge up.
TDA8510J is more powerful. It consists of four identical amplifiers too, which are used in two-channel circuits. The following rough sketches illustrate the point:
Generally speaking, such integrated amplifiers offer numerous advantages. There are fewer circuitry elements and, accordingly, the device production costs less. By the way, these amplifiers were specially created by Philips for multimedia speaker systems.
Now, let’s go over to the tests. There really was no click on activating the system. So, we have every right to say that Creative not just added one more rear channel, but really improved the electrical circuit of the amplifier.
Acoustic tests showed that high frequencies became more transparent, while the medium frequencies managed the details of the sound panorama quite well. The stereo panorama is well developed thanks to the high-quality satellites. The virtual sound source is absolutely correctly positioned both along the width and depth of the music picture. The system is balanced in timbres and is careful about representing various instruments. Voice division is accurate and noticeably sharp. As for melody or harmony, I didn’t notice any high drive. The subwoofer sounds quite well, although, subjectively, in a very narrow range. Of course, when trying to form an opinion about a computer speaker system, I am not too strict and often make a lot of allowances. But even here, I try to base the conclusions upon the universal clearance etalons, such as the collective presentation of piano, violin, brass, singer voices, symphony orchestra and so on.
Let’s now turn to a less subjective evaluation method: with the help of a Euradio PRO600S audio-analyzer. The diagrams shown below indicate that the system corresponds to the frequency response range claimed by the manufacturer. Certain deviations of the gain-frequency characteristic between the neighboring 125-169Hz filters could be explained by the unadjusted phase-inverter port and absence of damping material inside the subwoofer. By the way, it’s quite possible to set the subwoofer up with the help of this audio-analyzer by experimenting with its acoustic enclosure.
Summing it all up, I should confess that I liked the system rather than otherwise. Its indisputable acoustic advantages combined with a really excellent price-to-quality ratio won my heart. By the way, you can save a bit more money buying Inspire 6.1 together with Audigy2.
Gain-frequency characteristic of Creative Inspire 6.1 6700
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Gain-frequency characteristic of Creative Inspire 6.1 6700 subwoofer
Click here for details
This model, unlike the one we have just described, is intended for three-channel audio cards (2.1), MP3 and CD players and other stereo sources. Still, the both systems have a lot in common. First of all, it refers to the identical acoustic enclosure design of the satellites and subwoofer. The subwoofer of this model has a digital input designed as a standard RCA connector (The word “Digital” in the name of this system refers to it). The acoustic enclosure of the subwoofer is identical for all three systems we review today: a massive wooden box with a phase inverter port, an LF speaker in its front side and an integrated amplifier (all models have no damping material inside). The digital input implies there should be a digital-to-analog converter: you can see it in the snapshot.
The electronic stuffing of this subwoofer is complemented
by a DAC module.
The wired remote control unit differs a little from the one in Inspire 6700. Its volume control is a small wheel, while the bass volume wheel is in the center. The remote control unit carries a power-on LED and a headphones jack.
The connectors panel is found at the back side of the subwoofer. It carries two line-in connectors, so you can attach two sound sources (the computer and an MP3 player, for example). Besides, don’t forget the digital input, enhancing the connecting capabilities of your system.
The connectors panel on the rear side of the subwoofer
The panel carries the following connectors:
The amplifier of Inspire 2.1 is based on some unidentified components. They are marked as Creative CT1975-SAS, but as Creative itself doesn’t have semiconductor manufacturing facilities, they can be from any manufacturer (from Philips, for example). By the way, the components are designed in the same thin case with two vertical rows of connectors. The DAC is implemented as an independent card that carries the DAC itself (CT8930-SAS) and an operational amplifier. I can’t say anything about the technical parameters of the DAC as I couldn’t find any info about it.
The system performed well in aural tests: a detailed stereo-panorama and voice division. As for reproducing music tracks of different genres (pop, rock, jazz or classic), there are no distinctions in fact. So, the system is universal and suits for any music fan. Such instruments as saxophone or violins sound rather unnatural, while the cello frightens with its shriek sounds (at low frequencies, some instruments don’t sound at all, falling out of the frequency range). I found the power reserve rather insufficient (I wish the system could do more). The dynamic range is well-developed, though. The system is linear and is accurate about the accents of the pianoforte.
Now, to the audio-analyzer. Even visually the diagram of the gain-frequency characteristic of this system differs from the first one in misbalance along the entire frequency range. This must be caused by differences in the elemental base. By the way, the subwoofer of both Inspire systems is resonating. The resonance is perceptible at high volume levels when a special test track from IASCA Competition CD is sent to the amplifier. Overall, this system could be recommended for the owners of portable audio devices, if it were not for its price: strangely enough, this system costs just $4 less than the seven-channel system.
General gain-frequency characteristic of Creative Inspire 2.1 2800
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This stylish-looking speaker system was developed by Creative for notebooks and portable audio devices owners. Of course, the user is not supposed to carry it anywhere on his back, but any portable device is often used stationary.
This system includes two satellites and a subwoofer and a wired remote control unit for the sound and bass volume adjustment. The control is attached to the subwoofer via a composite connector.
The remote control unit from I-Trigue set
The satellites are designed as metal stands with rubber soles. The speakers are hidden behind the black false-panels. An opaque plastic panel covers the satellite from behind. Every satellite has three mini-speakers connected in parallel.
The system satellites are designed as metal stands.
The acoustic enclosure of the subwoofer doesn’t differ from the Inspire boxes. Only the phase-inverter port is silver-plated, but this doesn’t matter for the quality of the sound. The amplifier is based on Creative CT1975-SAM. The only thing known about them is the output power (22W subwoofer and 8W each satellite). By the way, Creative used these amplifiers in the previous generation speaker systems, like FPS-1000 and FPS-1500.
By the way, haven’t you ever noticed that the manufacturer always writes the full response frequency range in the specs? In practice, this range is often narrower. Creative specified 30Hz – 20kHz for I-Trigue. The audio-analyzer showed 40Hz – 16kHz and, moreover, there is a slump in the gain-frequency characteristic in the high-frequency part of the spectrum. In other words, if you cut out the middle of a 20cm ruler, then glue the two remaining pieces together and say that the ruler still measures from 0 to 20 cm, it will be absolutely the same thing. And there is no mention of the missing middle.
Anyway, the system produced high and medium frequencies quite clearly in aural tests. The sound is clear and transparent; its sources were accurately positioned around the stereo-panorama. On the other hand, the timbres were rather unnatural and unvaried. There is a good reserve of power, adequate to a system of this class. As for the bass, the system lacks depth and fundamentality. Although the bass is saturated, most bass compositions sound unnatural; some instruments fall out. Something similar happens to the medium frequencies, though. At the maximum volume, there is no overdrive of the subwoofer, but certain noises are present. Jazz compositions don’t sound right; there are distortions of a number of instruments. When I listened to a Lux Aeterna chorus there was some confusion: you couldn’t single any voice out. The dynamic range of the system is narrow; fortepiano accents are not implemented appropriately.
I-Trigue costs about $100, which is not a very good price/quality ratio. Do you want to pay more for the nice looks of the satellites?
Gain-frequency characteristic of Creative I-Trigue 2.1 3300
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Gain-frequency characteristic of Creative I-Trigue 2.1 3300 subwoofer
Click here for details