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Creative MegaWorks 5.1 THX 550 Active 5.1 Acoustic System

January 12, 2003



The current top model of the 5.1 acoustic systems from Creative couldn't pass by our test lab. The new set of speakers is named MegaWorks 5.1 THX 550. This system is based on the previous model MegaWorks 5.1 510D, but the key fact is that this is the first Creative's system sporting the THX's logo.




The legend has it that famous film-maker George Lucas brought in the abbreviation of THX in 1982 when the engineers assembled a special high-quality system for sound editing in the Lucasfilm studio. In 1983 they launched RETURN OF THE JEDI where this system was used for the first time. But when he saw the premiere in several cinema theaters he was disappointed in inferior sound-reproducing equipment. The people heard not what was meant to be heard. Then George decided to make the special THX certification for those cinema halls which complied with all quality criteria. Taking into account that film distribution is the main source of profit in the cinema industry in the United States many cinema halls started to replace their equipment in order to get the THX certificate. The manufacturers of the equipment and film studios were offered their own certification programs.

As home theaters started gaining their popularity in 1990, they developed the Home THX certification program specially for producers of home electronic equipment.

But it wasn't enough for Lucas. After that they developed logos for laser discs and then for DVD-Video media as well. In 1994 the 5.1 sound was given birth to for home theaters, and in 1999 they released StarWars Episode 1 with the new encryption algorithm THX Surround EX, also known as DolbyDigital Surround EX (look for details in the Creative Inspire 6.1 6700 review).




Soon the expansion came into the computer market. In 2001 Lucas and its team released the THX Multimedia certificate and the first acoustic system with the THX logos is the Klipsch Pro Media series. It's interesting that it includes 2.1 and 4.1 acoustic systems as well with the THX certificates.

It's obvious that the THX Theater program for big theater halls, THX Home for home equipment and THX Multimedia for computer acoustic systems have different quality requirements. But what the requirements are and to what extent the certified equipment satisfy them remains a secret. At the official THX site neither the specs nor the test results are available. They say that the precise specs are not given because it contradicts to their license policy. That is why we can only rely on ingenuity of the engineers at Lucasfilm who set quality requirements, and on honesty of the testers as independent tests are impossible. Of course, the certificates are not free at all...

In any case, you must understand that:

  • the THX logo has nothing to do with surround sound encryption formats like DolbyDigital or DTS; 
  • take the THX logo just as "heard and approved by the experts from Lucasfilm"; 
  • the equipment without the THX certificate can play better than the one with it, and vice versa; 
  • so, what sense does it make? well, it's just a trend of today! 

Now we are moving to the today's system - Creative MegaWorks 5.1 THX 550. 




Although the speakers are not great, the system ships in quite a big box. It weighs 17.5 kg. The appearance is quite stylish. The satellites are rather big for computer speakers.

The THX 550 system consists of:

  • 5 identical speakers; 
  • subwoofer with an integrated amplifier; 
  • remote control; 
  • cable (3 stereo minijacks to 3 stereo minijacks); 
  • cables for speakers; 
  • stands for speakers and remote control; 
  • network cable for subwoofer; 
  • user manual. 

The satellites of the THX 550 system do not differ much from the 510D system. The plastic panels are 4 mm thick. The box has sound absorber inside. The dynamic heads have changed their design a little. But their size and quality are the same.




The loudspeaker's cone made of paper is 7.5 cm in diameter. The flexible corrugation is made of impregnated fabric. The dynamic heads are magnetically shielded. The speakers has acquired one capacitor of 150mF, 100 V, instead of 4-element equalizing chain like in the 510D. Well, the comparison tests of both tests will show us everything.




The speaker lies on a special stand which has rubber pads on its legs. The central satellite has a bit different support with a vertical adjustment of the directivity angle. The speakers are connected with spring clips located behind. They also have holes so that you can hang them on the wall. The cables for the front and central satellites are 3.5 m, while for the rear ones - 6 m.

The wooden subwoofer of the THX 550 system has changed noticeably. The producer has improved efficiency in the LF range by adding the phase-inverter. Its hole is output to the side panel in the upper part.

The subwoofer has its LF loudspeaker's cone facing the floor. The paper cone impregnated with varnish is 18 cm. The flexible corrugation is made of rubber. The LF loadspeaker's cone is protected from mechanical damage with a metallic grid. The subwoofer stands on the legs 4 cm high. Each of the legs has a soft rubber pad to eliminate vibrations.




The rear panel of the subwoofer has the following stuff:

  • 5 RCA connectors for speakers; 
  • connector for the wired remote control; 
  • analog-ins for 6-channel connection; 
  • stereo minijack for connection of stereo sources; 
  • power connector. 

The remote control is not wireless. The cable connecting it with the subwoofer is 2.5 m. There is even a special support for the remote control of the same style.




There are 5 buttons on the remote control which are very hard to press and the volume controls produce unpleasant clicks. On the left panel there is a volume level indicator. You can control both the overall volume level and separately the central and real channels. The TREBLE function adjusts the HF level. On the front you can find a headphones out (minijack).

The THX 550 system was connected to the Creative Audigy 2 sound card with a cable supplied. The cable is 2.5 m long with the connectors of different colors.

In the listening tests we aimed to find the differences in quality between the 550 THX and its predecessor 510D. Besides, it's interesting to find out what the THX certificate allows for.

In the tests we switched the systems instantly from one to the other and did find some slight difference. I liked the 510D more in playing the music than the 550 THX. The satellites play almost identically, maybe the 510D has a bit higher frequencies. The subwoofer of the same system plays more balanced and melodic. So, answering the question what benefit do the new speakers get from the THX logo I can say that the sound of the new speakers is not better compared to the old ones, if not worse at all.

When switched on, the 550 THX system produces no clicks thanks to the electronic control that turns off the speaker during transient processes in the amplifier. The 510D makes quite loud clicks.

For its acoustic class, this system plays music quite good. Unfortunately, the speakers have a very pronounced direction of sound. The tilt angle of the speakers provided by the stands is not great, that is why for deeper sound and effectiveness in the HF range you should either bend your head or direct the speakers at the listener to find the best location. But the speakers lack high frequencies anyway. The cymbals and high-tech sound quite dim in the musical compositions. The mid-range frequencies are not that bad taking into account the form-factor of the miniature speakers. At least, the sound is not very colorful and is not so crying to make listeners tired. The dialogs in movies are produced by the central satellite decently.

You can reach a good 3D effect by properly placing the satellites. But you mustn't place the speakers farther from each other than 1.5 m. It works like point light - the farther the light source, the more pronounced its narrow directivity.

The subwoofer of the 550 THX system now has a phase-inverter. That is why the output in the lowest frequency range is much greater in comparison with the subwoofer of the 510D model, but at the same time it lacks for the balance in the bass range. The lowest register lies heavy on your ears and the impression on the subwoofer is more negative. Nevertheless, there are no additional sounds and spurious middle frequencies in the sub's sound, and its volume reserve is sufficient for a computer corner.

The systems of this class are meant only for computer corners. However, even such systems can have very good sound and can be considered as some kind of a home theater. Fortunately, the 550 THX system leaves a really positive impression, though the price is not low - about $400.

Conclusion

Highs

  • decent sound; 
  • pleasant exterior; 
  • wired remote control; 
  • headphone out; 
  • no clicks when the system is turned on. 

Lows

  • the satellites without a HF speaker; 
  • high price. 

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