Reviewed: November 10, 2003
Inside the Box
As computer games continue to evolve they are quickly approaching the same level of quality as mainstream theatrical productions, both in visual and sound presentation. Itís not uncommon to see just about every game released today to feature some sort of advanced 3D sound presentation whether it be Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, or the ever-popular EAX.
Back in the late 90ís Creative Labs introduced EAX technology to go up against the other emerging standard of the time, A3D. The battle didnít last long and EAX rose from the rubble as the undisputed winner. Over the years the EAX technology has been tweaked and improved upon to give gamers the ultimate in 3D audio immersion. And while there are several variations of sound cards to deliver this new sound technology, you wonít be able to experience any of it without a good set of speakers.
Enter the Inspire T7700 7.1 surround system from Creative Labs. Most of you who are into the DVD scene will already know about 5.1 surround whether it be Dolby Digital or DTS. There are also EX versions of both formats that take the technology to a 6.1 level adding an additional rear-center channel. 7.1 surround is the latest in technology and these speakers are one of two sets available from Creative to literally surround you in sound and put you in the game.
Note: To get the ultimate performance from these speakers you will need a 7.1 sound card. Please refer to our companion product review for the Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum for additional information on 7.1 and EAX 4.0 HD technology.
Installation - 10
Unpacking the T7700 reveals seven identical satellite speakers and a hefty subwoofer. Hooking them up wonít prove nearly as challenging as deciding where to place them in your gaming room. The speakers come with a handy Easy Installation sheet that shows diagrams of how to connect the color-coded wires and even offers some suggestions for placing the speakers.
The 7.1 surround environment differs from the 6.1 in that the rear-center speaker is replaced with a pair of side speakers. The ideal environment is a square room where your computer is centered along one wall. Your main speakers (left and right) can go on either side of the monitor, and the center speaker can either go below or on top of the monitorĖ they are shielded so they will not harm or distort your monitor. The side speakers would ideally go on the wall to either side of you, positioned in a straight line to your normal seated position while playing a game or watching a movie. The rear speakers go behind you and perhaps slightly elevated in a symmetrical position. The subwoofer can go under the desk, somewhere near the computer.
In my situation I was able to attach the side and rear speakers to the wall. The back of each speaker is slotted so it can slip over the head of a drywall screw. The speakers also come with brushed aluminum stands, which I used for the front and center speakers. If you donít have the luxury of putting holes in your wall there are optional speaker stands you can purchase to elevate these speakers and place them anywhere in the room.
I must congratulate and give my extreme thanks to Creative for actually including ample speaker wire. This is the first speaker set I have used that actually allowed me to place the speakers where I wanted without stretching cables or purchasing and splicing in my own extensions. My game room is 15íx15í square and the cables fit perfectly. If your environment is larger you may need to splice in some extensions. While the speaker wire has traditional RCA plugs at one end they are open wire on the other making this an easy operation if necessary.
Once you have the speakers mounted and the wires strategically routed through your room itís just a matter of plugging in all the wires into the color-coded ports on the back of the subwoofer. There are handy labels that you can attach to the wires so you can identify the plugs without tracing the wires back to the speaker if you ever have to disconnect at a later time. Hook up the AC power and run the front and rear channel wires from the sound card to your sub and you are ready to rockÖalmost.
Depending on your sound card and the software you have installed you will probably want to customize your settings. In the case of the Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum there is a THX configuration program that lets you input the distance and elevation of each speaker so it can adjust the output for optimum sound. This is the same thing a THX technician would do if they were certifying your home theater system.
Aesthetics - 8
The T7700 isnít the most glamorous set of speakers on the market. They are definitely more about performance and function than style, but perhaps Iím just a bit jaded since my last speakers were the sexy Altec Lansing 5100 speakers. Going from speakers the size of candy bars to speakers the size of a box of Pop-Tarts was a bit of an adjustment.
Donít get me wrong Ė these speakers are far from ugly. In fact, they look like just about every other speaker set available, and within the line of Creative Labs products really havenít changed from others in the series. They look perfectly fine sitting on my desktop or hanging on my walls and they are still small enough that you can hide them in a bookcase. If I could make only one suggestion for future speaker products it would be clear shielding for the satellite speaker wires. While the speakers look cool enough hanging on the walls the thin black wire stretching to the floor is quite obvious and unattractive.
The wired remote gives you convenient desktop control over volume, bass, and power, and there are even inputs for a line-in and headphone jack not to mention a M-PORT so you can jack-in your Creative NOMAD MP3 player. Ė You do own one, donít you?
Durability - 10
The satellite speakers are fairly lightweight so if they should happen to get knocked over or fall they will probably survive unscathed. The mid-size subwoofer is also a solid piece of equipment that is resistant to casual damage. The optional metal stands provide a substantial weight to the bottom of each speaker making them very stable on any flat surface.
Performance - 10
As you can guess, the performance of any speaker system is going to be directly related to the sound card and the source material driving it. For the purposes of this review we tested the speakers using the aforementioned the Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum and some of the latest game and movie titles that make use of 7.1 technology.
The first thing we fired up was Activisionís Call of Duty, arguably the best sounding game currently available and only one of a very few that support the new 7.1 EAX surround. Prior to the Audigy 2 ZS I had a normal Audigy Gamer card in my test PC. The difference literally blew me out of my chair. With the addition of the two side speakers the surround effect is much smoother. Previously, there was a noticeable ďjumpĒ when you spun your character around and the sound shifted from front to rear channels. Now, the panning not only shifts from front to side to rear, but the new EAX technology also adjusts the volume of each channel to make these transitions perfectly seamless.
We tested some other titles like the new Jedi Academy, TRON 2.0 and an advance copy of Deus Ex 2: Invisible War. These games make the most of the new EAX 4.0 HD standard and really drove these speakers to their ultimate potential. During all of our testing we were all amazed and very pleased with the dynamic frequency range, crystal clear audio, and substantial low-frequency effects emitting from the subwoofer.
Just to be thorough I popped in a few DVDís including Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Lord of the Rings, and the new Indiana Jones Trilogy. These movies sounded phenomenal and prove conclusively that a well-equipped PC can rival the most expensive home theater rig.
Value - 10
True audiophiles will probably want to look at the GigaWorks THX series for $500, but gamers on a budget shouldnít even flinch at the $150 price for this amazing set of speakers. If youíve already got one of the new ZS sound cards then you owe it to yourself to get these speakers. Considering the rich and amazing sound quality and full support for previous versions of EAX and 5.1 and 6.1 upmixing this will be the last set of speakers you need until the next new sound standard arrives.
Overall Ė 10
Whether you are looking for the ultimate in audio immersion in your games or just want to enjoy DVDís in all their glory on your PC you wonít find a better set of speakers that offers 7.1 capabilities in this price range. This is the perfect compliment to the new line of ZS sound cards from Creative Labs (which is why they are offering a special package deal).
Some of you might not think 7.1 surround is that big of a deal but until you actually hear the Inspire T7700 speakers in action you canít possibly understand how much this extra dimension really adds to the immersion in a game or movie. Grab a set today and start listening to your multimedia entertainment the way it was meant to be heard.