The USB speakers are an excellent option when surround sound is desired but space is not available. While sound quality is exceptional, true audiophiles will find the Z Cinema inadequate to appease their appetites for a full surround system.
Everyone knows that nothing can beat the quality of sound that you get from a 5.1 surround system. Unfortunately with the aural bliss comes the headache of cable clutter and space constraints when trying to find a place to put those rear speakers. While the cable clutter is something that everyone can and usually does live with, the lack of space for rear speakers isn't. Featuring SRS TruSurround HD, the Logitech Z Cinema offers surround sound in a 2.1 speaker configuration. Full review below.
While the Z Cinema is a 2.1 speakers system, it's the Advanced Surround Sound that makes it so special. Utilizing SRS TruSurround HD, the Z Cinema allows for virtualization up to 6.1 channels which eliminates the need for a center or rear surround speakers. The processing techniques of SRS TruSurround creates phantom speakers that trick you into thinking that sound is coming from a certain direction when it is actually coming from the front. SRS is a proven technology that has been around for a while and it does work.
This is basically everything sans the cables.
The satellites themselves put out 35W RMS, and feature Logitech's piano black and silver finish. Because of the display on the right speaker, both speakers appear to be abnormally tall for the desktop at approximately 10 inches. Each satellite features a one inch tweeter and three inch ventilated midwoofer. On the right speaker there is a display that shows level for bass, treble, center channel, surround, and volume as well as the input source, power, and headphone optimization. The orange on black look of the display is quite pleasing and blends in well with the design of the speakers. On the right hand side of the right satellite there are two 3.5 mm jacks: one for an auxiliary input and one for headphones.
Unlike the Logitech Z10, there's no touch-sensitive buttons on the right speaker, but there's still a LCD display.
SRS TruSurround HD audio emulation.
The subwoofer features Logitech's eight inch long-throw sub in a bass-reflex enclosure. The sub is capable of throwing out 110W RMS with frequencies down to 35 HZ to give you that deep bass for the earthshaking explosions. The front of the subwoofer has the same piano black finish with silver trim and the enclosure itself is painted black to match. On the back are the outputs for the satellites as well as USB to connect it to your PC.
Back of the Logitech Z Cinema subwoofer.
The Z Cinema also comes with a Media Center remote control that is equipped with a 1st gen. iPod-style spin wheel, the same of which you'll find on the Wireless Music DJ System. Not only does it have all of the necessary functions to control Windows Media Center, but it also allows you to control all of the functions of the speakers themselves so you don't have to get up and adjust settings in the middle of a movie. Unfortunately the remote isn't backlit in any way and since it has the same piano black finish as the rest of the unit, it is very difficult to find the button you are searching for until you memorize where everything is at.
Installation and Setup
The installation of the Logitech Z Cinema speakers was one of the smoothest speaker installations that I have had in a while. There are no color coded wires, and each wire going to the satellites connects in only one way ensuring that you simply can't mess it up. I did notice that the cables were a little shorter than I would have liked to have. Maybe this is because I was trying to utilize them with my HTPC and 57" DLP TV because it didn't bother me at all when I installed them on my desktop. Once I installed the drivers, I found that everything was already set correctly, and I didn't have to tell Windows that I had 5.1 surround speakers installed. I did notice that while I was installing the drivers, there is no SRS TruSurround HD support for Mac or Linux. And to gain full functionality (particularly the remote), you even need Windows XP Media Center Edition or better (which means Vista Home Premium & Vista Ultimate).
Ready to rock. Samsung 245BW 24" LCD in the middle.
As the speaker system primarily interfaces with USB, it bypasses your original sound card, and the USB connection ensures your audio stays in digital form the entire way before reaching the 24-bit digital signal processor (DSP). You'll also find a line-in jack on the right speaker to hook up your iPod or other auxiliary sources.
Being someone of an audiophile, I was inclined to start playing with all the features of the Z Cinema right away and get them tuned in to how I like things. Right off the bat I was annoyed by the software that was installed along with the drivers. This software displays information about the media being played as well as various information about the speakers themselves. It wasn't that the information wasn't useful or unwanted, but it was that the software felt intrusive. As you can see from the image below, this information takes up a considerable amount of space on the screen and often covers up some of what you want to see and it doesn't go away when you click somewhere. Instead you have to wait for five seconds for it to go away. Thankfully Logitech provides an option to disable this should you desire.
Logitech Z Cinema software takes about 200px on the top and bottom of the screen.
I spent well over the next two hours listening to music, criticizing the quality of the soundtracks to see if there was anything I could find that would be substandard or just not right. I was very pleased to find that all of the lows were incredibly well pronounced and the highs were just as precise as if you were there in person. From Metallica, Five Finger Death Punch, Tori Amos, Disturbed, Kid Rock, Evanescence, and Airbourne to Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, Eminem, The Guess Who, Sick Puppies, Stabbing Westward, Beethoven, and Bach, I just couldn't find anything to be unhappy with the sound quality.
Part of this is due to the quality of the Z Cinema speakers and part of it has to do with the intelligence of the engineers at Logitech. Most speakers that you will buy might be capable of cranking up the speakers but when you turn the volume up too loud, it leads to a lot of distortion and eventually blown speakers. This even hold true for my THX certified Klipsch Promedia 2.1 speakers. They might be able to produce superb quality, but anything above 50% and they start to distort. Logitech apparently took this into consideration as even when the Z Cinema is cranked all the way, it sounds distortion free. Yes there are going to be times when the slight lack of extra volume will mildly inhibit the ability to rock out or rattle the teeth out of your jaw, it ensures that you are always receiving the highest quality of sound that these speakers can offer.
I then moved on to see how well the speakers performed when watching a movie. First up for the evening was Transformers, which had a lot of action in it and a lot of detail if you know when to listen for it. I watched the movie twice, once without SRS TruSurround HD enabled and once with it, and then went back to listen to various scenes over and over again to compare the differences. Without a doubt the SRS TruSurround HD did its job, albeit sometimes in mysterious ways. I definitely felt a more submersed experience with the speaker emulation enabled and it did sound like there were speakers behind me most of the time. It certainly isn't a replacement for a true 5.1 speaker configuration, but makes a great substitute when it isn't available. There were some times that some sounds such as bass or dialog were under/overemphasized with the SRS TruSurround enabled and the only explanation I can conjure for this lies in the algorithms that are used to enhance the audio. SRS tries to optimize bass and treble at times to provide greater dialog clarity and my assumption is that these algorithms sometimes can't discern someone speaking from other sounds that may be similar, thus leading to optimization at the wrong times.
Watching Transformers. This is a good scene to listen for things all around you.
I performed the same scrutinization over the movie 300. I experienced the same few sound anomalies that I did with Transformers, but overall the sound quality was great. It was at this point that I had a hunch that maybe I was just too far away from the speakers to receive the full effect of the SRS, so I moved them to my desk and went back over the movies one last time. Sitting much closer to the speakers I was treated better surround experience, but it still wasn't a replacement for a 5.1 setup.
Of course there had to be some games testing involved as well. Being an avid gamer, I love using anything I can to help immerse myself deeper so as to enhance the experience. I spent a considerable amount in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 listening to what was going on around me. While I was deep within the ant lion tunnels I could hear sounds that I had never heard before such as bugs crawling around behind me. It was also much easier to tell where shots were coming from allowing me to react much quicker. The same held true with Call of Duty 4, only it was more immersive with debris bouncing all around me. All around I had an excellent gaming experience with the Z Cinema speakers.
Excellent audio clarity
Surround sound with only 2 Speakers
MCE-compliant remote control bundled
3.5mm headphone and line-in jacks
Virtual surround available only on PC
Lack of high volume
Remote not backlit
Requires Windows XP MCE or better
I was very impressed by the audio quality of the Z Cinema. I wasn't expecting something that delivered the quality of my Klipsch speakers with the added benefit of SRS TruSurround HD. My only real disappointment came from the lack of volume produced but the clarity at max volume is much appreciated. Thanks to the Logitech Z Cinema speakers I know have the opportunity to have surround sound in my cramped computer room. Overall I highly recommend these to anyone looking for a good quality medium range speaker system or those that seek surround sound without speakers all over the room.