iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail

Platform

Video

Multimedia

Mobile

Other

Creative Inspire 6.1 6700 Active Acoustic System

November 30, 2002



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.

  • Terminator 2 - Judgment Day (Artisan Entertainment) 
  • Toy Story 2 (Buena Vista) 
  • Chicken Run (DreamWorks) 
  • Gladiator (DreamWorks) 
  • Star Wars, Episode One (Twentieth Century Fox) 
  • Jurassic Park 3 (Universal) 
  • The Perfect Storm (Warner Bros.) 
  • XXX (Sony Releasing) 
  • Shrek 2 (DreamWorks) * 
  • The Tuxedo (DreamWorks) * 
  • Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (New Line Cinema) * 

* expected

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:

  • Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring: Director's Cut (New Line Cinema) * 
  • Blade II (New Line Cinema) * 
  • Chicken Run (DreamWorks) 
  • Gladiator (DreamWorks) 
  • Rush Hour 2 (New Line Cinema) 
  • Terminator 2 (StudioCanal/Warner Bros.) 

* expected

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.

Satellites

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.

Subwoofer

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:

  • three analog-ins (two standard minijacks and one three-pin); 
  • six RCA connectors for satellites; 
  • remote control's connector; 
  • 5.1/6.1 switch. 

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.

Remote control

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.

Subjective tests

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.

Music

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.

Movies

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.

Games

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.

Summary

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?

Highs

  • first 6.1 acoustic system for PC; 
  • pleasant design of the satellites with removable faceplates; 
  • wired remote control and a headphones-out; 
  • missing decoder, hence a not so high price. 

Lows

  • DVD movies in the 6.1 format are not widespread yet; 
  • the system doesn't uncover the full potential of the Audigy2. 


 

Grigory Liadov  (xgrigory@ixbt.com)

Write a comment below. No registration needed!


Article navigation:



blog comments powered by Disqus

  Most Popular Reviews More    RSS  

AMD Phenom II X4 955, Phenom II X4 960T, Phenom II X6 1075T, and Intel Pentium G2120, Core i3-3220, Core i5-3330 Processors

Comparing old, cheap solutions from AMD with new, budget offerings from Intel.
February 1, 2013 · Processor Roundups

Inno3D GeForce GTX 670 iChill, Inno3D GeForce GTX 660 Ti Graphics Cards

A couple of mid-range adapters with original cooling systems.
January 30, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1

An external X-Fi solution in tests.
September 9, 2008 · Sound Cards

AMD FX-8350 Processor

The first worthwhile Piledriver CPU.
September 11, 2012 · Processors: AMD

Consumed Power, Energy Consumption: Ivy Bridge vs. Sandy Bridge

Trying out the new method.
September 18, 2012 · Processors: Intel
  Latest Reviews More    RSS  

i3DSpeed, September 2013

Retested all graphics cards with the new drivers.
Oct 18, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, August 2013

Added new benchmarks: BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light.
Sep 06, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, July 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 and AMD Radeon HD 7730.
Aug 05, 2013 · 3Digests

Gainward GeForce GTX 650 Ti BOOST 2GB Golden Sample Graphics Card

An excellent hybrid of GeForce GTX 650 Ti and GeForce GTX 660.
Jun 24, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

i3DSpeed, May 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770/780.
Jun 03, 2013 · 3Digests
  Latest News More    RSS  

Platform  ·  Video  ·  Multimedia  ·  Mobile  ·  Other  ||  About us & Privacy policy  ·  Twitter  ·  Facebook


22

Copyright © Byrds Research & Publishing, Ltd., 1997–2011. All rights reserved.