Logitech revamps a classic with surround sound for computers and TVs. (April 10th, 2011)
The Logitech Z-5500 achieved an almost cult-like status among a certain slice of the computer and gaming markets, and for good reason: along with a fierce level of power, they were one of the few surround sound setups equally suited to both a gaming PC and a home theater. With the arrival of the Z906, Logitech is blurring the lines even further. We're checking in our Z906 review whether it still has that credibility and if it's the sleeper choice for 5.1-channel audio.
Product Manufacturer: Logitech
- High quality sound for the price.
- Subtler, more home theater-ready design.
- Multiple stereo modes; good 4.1 mode.
- Five inputs with simple setup.
- 5.1 Dolby and DTS decoding in the console.
- Not a real revolution.
- Cable bundle still assumes PC users.
- Bright control console lights.
- Bass can slightly overwhelm treble.
- Simulated 3D a hit-or-miss prospect.
Speaker design and the control stack
When it arrived years ago, the Z-5500 was clearly intended for computer users first and almost incidentally useful for a TV. All the speakers were mounted on stands, and the control console for managing and decoding audio was vertical. As such, it was sometimes difficult or even impossible to actually blend it discreetly into a subtle home theater setup, especially if you depended on wall-mounting the satellites or hiding the control stack.
The Z906 solves these problems in grand fashion. Each of the satellites no longer has a stand on the bottom and instead uses just a rubberized skid to stay in place. There's also a very conspicuous place for a wall mounting screw on the back of each of the five speakers. Gone too is the silver, vertical stack; the new console is much more horizontal and has a matte dark gray finish that would make it a perfect fit at the top of a column of home theater equipment. Combined with a subtler look for the speakers themselves, the array comes across more as something you'd expect from NAD than someone who also makes computer mice, and it's all the better for it.
Wiring it up is simple. Logitech is distinctly aware that many will be setting up their first surround sound speakers and makes it explicit as to how to wire everything up. A nice minor touch was the somewhat longer wiring for the two rear channels, which in our case were just long enough to comfortably link everything from across the room. Large environments will still likely necessitate a follow-up trip for speaker wire, however, so this is clearly intended for apartments and computer desks more than large suburban living rooms.
Input choices are by far the strongest elements of the design. Along with computer input, there's also an RCA stereo connection, two digital optical inputs, and a SPDIF connection usually meant for Macs or Windows. All five can be connected, too. And since the control box also handles Dolby and DTS decoding, you can theoretically avoid buying a receiver altogether if you have a fairly complex setup. Be prepared to buy multiple cables, however, since a TV pass-through won't usually work to keep the surround sound intact.
We do wish Logitech was smarter with its included cabling, though. Out of the box, the only included cabling to connect to another device is a three-plug connector for certain kinds of computer sound cards. If you need to hook up a PS3, an Xbox 360, or other hardware that has an optional optical audio link, you'll need to visit the store; you'll even need a new cable if you just want to hook up something with basic stereo audio. PC gamers are still undoubtedly a core part of the audience, but we'd think it would be more realistic to include an optical or RCA cable either in addition to or in place of the PC connectors.
There's also one definite issue with the control stack, and that's its lighting. The console is almost always lit, and it's occasionally bright in areas like the power button. We liked that the speaker grid lights up to let you know which satellites are working, but they tend to light up under certain mode switches and when some infrared remotes (such as Apple's own) are in use. If you're in a darkened room trying to watch an engaging movie, having to stare at an orange light set can be distracting. You may end up turning the stack to the side once you've set the volume to concentrate on the picture.
Audio quality and 3D audio effects
At just over 500W of collective power, the Z-5500 was certainly powerful for a computer audio arrangement and still very competent for home theater. The Z906 isn't much different on a superficial level and puts out 67W from each of the five satellites along with 167W from the 10-inch subwoofer.
We listened to sound from a mixture of sources: games, movies, and different styles of music. The differences between the new speakers and the Z-5500 set are difficult to tell, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When all five satellites are invoked, the Z906 invokes an almost thunderous level of sound with deep, warm bass. The mid-range was acceptably clear, as was the high end most of the time. We could occasionally hear the highest frequencies being overwhelmed, but it was enough that we could appreciate the airy sound of a game like Mirror's Edge, the finer points of dance or rock music that we've learned to look for, and hushed dialogue in a movie. In many ways it adheres to the "Logitech sound" of a bass-first but still largely balanced range.
We tried audio at volumes just short of those that would get us evicted, and we didn't encounter any problems with distortion or losing detail apart from the previously mentioned heavy bass.
The sound is most engaging in Dolby or DTS surround, but stereo users have a fair amount of control. An Effect button (handily included both on the remote and on the console) can toggle between a basic 2.1-channel stereo mode, a 4.1-channel mode that brings in the rear channels, and a virtual 3D mode that tries to move sounds from the front to the back channels based on what it detects in the sound signal. We most liked the 4.1 mode simply because it provided a consistent sound and the most detail. The 3D sound is better than 2.1, but it's somewhat inconsistent and can't always identify what needs to be in the foreground or background.
Our only real disappointment from listening to the Z906, other than it won't compete with a $4,000 system, is simply in audio format support. At 5.1 channels you'll only have so many options, but there's no Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master Audio or other very high quality and sometimes lossless formats.This isn't intended as a high-end piece of equipment but could stand to get more advanced processing to keep up with some of the most advanced hardware.
Speaker development is often a very conservative field, especially when you hit on the right formula and have little reason to change. Logitech could just has easily have left the Z-5500 alone or introduced a slightly different controller. That it didn't remain completely still is a welcome step. We liked the Z-5500, but the Z906 now feels like a 'grown up' system that you could attach to a high-end 3D TV without giving away that you hadn't spent thousands on your speakers.
The audio again is hard to top for the category. At $400, it competes quiet well with home-theater-in-a-box kits, bookshelf speakers, and some entry level dedicated surround speakers. It may border on overkill for computer users, but if you're sitting in front of a 27-inch display that doubles as a movie viewer, it may be worth the investment there as well.
More than anything, the only real letdown is just that Logitech missed an opportunity to go further. The Z906 like its predecessor is still based around certain assumptions, such as that computer buyers are the core audience, that you can easily hook up every device you own directly to the speakers, or that someone in the price range won't fret over what surround formats they can play. That and some casual hiccups like the overbright lighting prevent the Z906 from being perfect, even if it's still the go-to pick for a certain class of gamer or movie viewer.