Creative was first to release an active 6.1 acoustic system named Inspire 6.1 6700 clearly showing again who is a leader on the PC multimedia market.
This system was designed for the Audigy2 card which is promoted so aggressively these days (see Creative Audigy2 - new sound card family).
The decision to bring out the 6.1 system exactly in the budget line was quite unexpected. Instead of building the system on the components of the 500 series to match the expensive and feature-laden Audigy2 card, the manufacturer assembled it using a subwoofer and satellites of the 5000 series and provided only analog-ins.
To expand the range of application of such system they made it compatible with conventional 5.1 cards, for example, Live!5.1 and Audigy. Note that an additional sixth channel in the 6.1 configuration is implemented via a central rear satellite. So, in the '5.1 into 6.1' upmix mode the sound for the additional channel is formed as an average between the two rear ones.
The closest relative of this system is an active acoustic system without a decoder of the 5000 series (i.g. Inspire 5.1 5300). In comparison with it, the 6700 has a more powerful amplifier, a wired remote control with a headphones-out and a rear satellite (this is the same speaker as the front and rear ones). The rated power of the system has increased - 22 W RMS for the subwoofer, 20 W RMS for the center and 8 W RMS for each other channel. We mentioned a lot of times already that specified power is power of amplification chips measured on the equivalent electrical resistance at a definite percentage of distortions. Taking into account that such characteristic is not directly connected with volume, we will omit the figures indicated in the specs considering them typical of their class.
What for is a 6.1 acoustic system in a PC? For owners of 6.1 sound cards it can be used for playing DVD movies with 6.1 sound and for games supporting DirectSound3D. For owners of 5.1 sound cards the answer can be different: given to the narrow directional diagram of the small speakers it can be used for a more uniform sound field in the rear area. In the latter case the motivation is not very convincing. But with a small price difference and greater power of the amplifier the choice can be justified.
And now let's talk about new formats of multichannel sound. Almost everyone knows what is Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, but there are not many out there who have a clear idea on the 6.1 and 7.1 formats.
Let's address the source. Here is what we have found in the FAQ of Dolby Laboratories:
Some movie soundtracks use a variation on 5.1 called Dolby Digital Surround EX, which has now migrated via DVDs to home theater. This format matrix encodes a third surround channel onto the left and right surround channels of 5.1 soundtracks, and may be decoded or not at the cinema's or home listener's option due to their inherent compatibility. Because the extra surround information is carried on the left and right surround channels, Dolby Digital Surround EX encoded soundtracks are still regarded as 5.1 soundtracks.
With respect to home playback, the terms 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 mean that there are five, six, or seven main speakers, plus a subwoofer, in the playback system. (The subwoofer reproduces the LFE channel recorded on 5.1 soundtracks, plus any bass the main speakers cannot handle.) The difference is in the number of surround speakers: two in a 5.1 system, three in a 6.1 system, and four in a 7.1 system.
Obviously, a 5.1-channel soundtrack can be played on a 5.1-speaker system. But it is not always understood that it can also be played on a 6.1- or a 7.1-speaker system. To do this, the two surround signals on the 5.1 soundtrack are spread across the three or four surround speakers. This distribution can be accomplished by a Dolby Digital EX decoder, a THX Surround EX decoder, or other proprietary methods provided in home theater equipment by various manufacturers.
So the number (i.e., 5.1) describing the soundtrack does not have to match the number applied to the speaker system. It's even possible to play two-channel stereo content over these multi-speaker systems by using a matrix surround decoder such as Dolby Pro Logic II. The delivery format and the speaker configuration are independent, and it is the decoder's job to bridge them effectively.
The main idea of the above is that the DolbyDigital Surround EX still has 5+1 discrete channels. Information for additional channels is encoded by the matrix algorithm into the left and right surround channels. On a PC the new format can be decoded by the 6.1 card Audigy2 (the driver captures and decodes the signal if the S/PDIF output is set in the DVD player). There are also special versions of DVD players supplied with 7.1 cards of some manufacturers.
Below is a list of the most interesting movies (in our opinion) coming on DVD with the DolbyDigital Surround EX sound. The list of movies is growing, many DVD discs are released repeatedly with a new sound track version.
The DTS-ES 6.1 format has a different structure. It provides both matrix encoding via 5.1 (DTS-ES 6.1 Matrix), and entirely discrete 6.1 channels (DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete). You shouldn't worry about these differences because all movies are encoded into fair 6.1 channels, except the non-R1 T2:UE and Jurassic Park III. Usual DTS 5.1 decoders are compatible with the DTS 6.1 and they just won't use the additional channel.
Here are the most interesting movies in DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete Surround:
There are more movies in DolbyDigital EX than in DTS-ES 6.1. Besides, the DTS-ES can't be decoded with software DVD players yet. In the specs of the WindDVD4 it's mentioned that it's compatible with DTS-ES 6.1. However, it just means that it's possible to decode 5.1 sound from a 6.1 track. I hope that when the number of DTS-ES movies on the market becomes decent, this format will get a support.
The bodies of all six satellites are made of plastic 3 mm thick. Inside there is sound-absorbing material near the back panel. The magnets of the dynamic loudspeakers are shielded to protect a monitor from pickups. The hole for a speaker cable is filled up with proofing compound.
The paper loudspeaker's cone of the rear and front speakers is 62mm in diameter. The flexible corrugation is made of impregnated fabric and is rather rigid.
The central speaker has a different loudspeaker. The diameter of its cone is a bit more than 7 cm, and the corrugation made of impregnated material is much softer, hence high sensitivity and more pleasant sound.
The speakers sit on special supports which are identical for all satellites, there are no bolts to attach them, but the speakers sit firmly. The supports have two rubber strips underneath to protect the desktop from scratches. Besides, all the speakers, but for the central one, have special holes on the back for other supports. The central satellite has an additional support which bends the speaker downward, for example if the latter stands on the monitor.
The protective grills are made of coarse grating with fabric pulled over it. The grills can be removed, but the minute loudspeakers won't add to the beauty of the cabinets. Still, you can replace them with colorful grills which can be ordered via the Internet. There are two colors - blue and maroon.
The cables have quite thick insulation material for their class. The cables are 2 meters long for the three front speakers, 5 m long for the left and right rear speakers and 7 m for the central rear. Well, it's sufficient for an acoustic system of such dimensions.
The cabinet of the subwoofer is wooden, the panels are 13mm thick. The subwoofer has a phase-inverter acoustic scheme. The phase-inverter's hole is output into the side panel above. The paper cone of the LF loudspeaker is 14.5 cm in diameter. The flexible corrugation is made not of rubber but of foam rubber-like material. Judging by its rigidity the speaker is meant for a quite high volume level.
Inside there is no filler. The amplification plate is in a horizontal position. The heatsink in the form of a metallic bracket is also inside the subwoofer. The plate is reliably attached with corbels to the back panel.
The back of the sub has the following elements:
The amplification section uses three different amplification chips: two are Phillips Semiconductor TDA 8510J and TDA 8511J. And the third one comes with the Creative's mark. (There are no diagrams of power vs. distortion level for these chips in the data sheets.)
Anyway, the manufacturer doesn't keep a secret the real power values: 22 W for the sub, 20 W for the central channel and 8 W for the rest of 5 channels. According to the specs and to the power these data look verisimilar.
Although wired, the remote control is handy. You can adjust the overall volume level and that of the subwoofer. The volume control has a power switch built in. Besides, the remote control has a headphones-out (minijack). When the system works the power LED located above is yellow.
The remote control can be attached to a vertical surface with a special double sticker. For example, to a monitor as the manufacturer suggests. The cable connecting the remote control and the subwoofer is 2 m long.
The speakers of the Inspire 6700 were connected to the Creative Audigy2 sound card with the supplied cable with three minijacks on its ends. A signal is delivered to the 7th satellite through a three-pin minijack connector. That is why it would be a problem to connect the system to a 6.1 or 7.1 sound card not from Creative.
The sound produced by the Inspire 6700 is typical of Creative with all its advantages and disadvantages. The speakers in the stereo mode are able to create a good stereo panorama, though with a bit narrow directional diagram and a specific tint of the sound. Listening to music with the Creative's speakers implies that the sound card enables the CMSS 3D algorithm which extends stereo to 5.1 or to 6.1. Owners of the Creative Inspire systems of the 5000 series might be interested if there is a noticeable difference in the sound of the Inspire 6700. Well, although the amplifier was modernized, the satellites are the same, and the sound hasn't changed much.
The subwoofer doesn't distort the sound much or mumbles at a low volume level. The Inspire 6700, as well as all new models of the 5000 series, uses a subwoofer with an improved acoustic scheme. At the expense of the phase-inverter it embraces fuller the LF range. Hence the richer basses. And a bit blurred attack is on account of the LF speaker.
Well, the speakers are more than just sufficient for listening to MP3 at an average volume level at your workplace, and they won't tire your ears for a long time. The sound is typical of the Creative system: well-balanced and uniform, with a specific timbre tint of the satellites.
We mentioned a lot of times that speakers of such class are for individual watching of DVD movies rather than in a family circle or with friends. That is why we estimated it according to the level of acoustic system of such class.
You are probably interested whether the additional satellite makes change in the sound. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a DVD with the Digital Surround EX tracks, and DTS-ES support no software DVD players. So, we have no choice but to test in the 5.1 modes and in a special virtual 6.1 one.
The sound quality can be estimated as not bad. I can clearly feel the positions of the sources. But don't reckon that with small speakers you can get the same impressions as with a normal home theater. DVD movies can really impress only when you watch it using a wooden acoustic system of a really high class. Nevertheless, these speakers can be used for watching, for example, an advertising clip downloaded from the Internet. The central satellite sounds excellently in all dialogs, the dynamic loudspeaker is able to cover the whole frequency range of the human speech. But the sound of the rest of 5 satellites is somewhat compressed. At the same time, I have no complains about the sound of the subwoofer.
I can't say that the additional satellite improved a lot the 3D sound, but it definitely made it a bit unusual, especially in games where positions of the sources mean a lot. The speakers should be placed not far from a user (the rear speakers shouldn't be far the the wall), otherwise you will have to add volume which will cause more distortions. In any case, quality depends primarily on the speakers' sound, not on their number. If the speakers are in right positions, a user will get a uniform field around himself.
The subwoofer copes quite well for its class with dynamic scenes.
The Creative Inspire 6.1 6700 speakers are the first 6.1 system in the multimedia sphere. The 6700 can work in the virtual 6.1 mode, which makes it suitable for 5.1 cards as well. Movies in the 6.1 format are not widespread yet, and software players do not tend to support the new formats. It seems that until 6.1 acoustic systems and 6.1 and 7.1 cards become available in large quantities on the market, the players won't provide the support.
Do you need a new 6.1 system? I think, not much. But if it's offered at the same price as the 5.1 and with some improvements, why not?
Grigory Liadov (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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