We here at jonnyGURU.com are fond of trying on other hats once in a while. Sometimes we wear heatsink reviewer hats. Sometimes we wear case reviewer hats. Other times, we take the hats off and walk around safely dancing to the Safety Dance. It's that last option I've decided on for today's review. Today, I'm branching out into computer speaker reviews just to see what it's like.
Some of you may be asking what business I have listening to speakers and telling people what I think. Well, not a whole lot of people know this, but audio is my first passion. At an age where most of my peers were running around the schoolyard playing Dukes of Hazzard, I knew what slew rate was. At an age where most of my peers were walking around planning their graduation party, I was a pro audio sound man consulting on an overhaul of the school's gymnasium PA system. Folks, if you thought I was a power supply geek, you'd best strap yourselves in right now.
That said, it is fitting that the subject for my first audio review is the Corsair SP2500. See, this was Corsair's first stab at the market, too. We're both trying on new hats today.
As always, boxes come first in any review I write. It just wouldn't be the same if I didn't cram a few dozen pictures of cardboard down your throat before I got to the good stuff. This box happens to be a rather large affair, so it's not that easy to make out all the little marketing blurbs on there. So, I'll zoom in on a few and follow them up with my usual smart alecky commentary.
Get ready to experience a revolution, cries the box. Absolute power, uncorrupted, promises the box. And I have to admit I actually like the way this blurb is going. It suggests that power output is not the be-all end-all indicator of how a set of speakers is going to sound. Not all companies are this forthcoming. Dishonesty is still rampant in the computer audio business, leading to misinformation. Next thing you know, you have people buying three thousand watt car amps off eBay for fifty bucks and somehow being surprised when they wet the bed a day after installation.
And let's be honest - you know a few of those people right now. You know the ones... they buy their thousand watt subwoofer out of the back of a white van and are somehow happy with that purchase because they've never heard anything decent before. All they know is, this new sub sounds better than the dinky little fart box that came with their Wal-Mart home theater in a box. And you don't have the heart to tell them they got royally hosed, so you sit there with a grin on your face as they go on and on about that fantastic deal they got.
The smartest speaker system I've ever met, eh? Not likely. Then again, I am not Corsair's target audience for these speakers. I've been around pro audio gear so complex it would take a rocket surgeon or a brain scientist to decipher all the little bells and whistles.
That said, there are things I like about the smart guy blurb up there. Active crossovers via DSP. I love that. Not only are they more accurate than using traditional passive components, but they can be tweaked as needed (within reason) to help provide different equalization curves. You can't tweak them too far, or you end up with blown tweeters and other sound related issues, but they can certainly help. Custom listening environments... that one I don't know about. Who amongst you actually uses those types of presets in your sound card options? Oh, cool, Pavarotti in a bathroom. Haha, that's so funny. I'm just gonna set this back to default now and never touch it again. Seriously, I've spent more time eating beef liver than using those types of DSP presets. And I'm a man who loathes his beef liver.
On to the next paragraph, the bi-amplification one. Hooboy. The marketing guys took this one and ran with it. Yeah, bi-amping speakers can be beneficial to the sound. Particularly when you're comparing against a set of speakers with a bad passive crossover design. But it's not necessarily the slam dunk to audio nirvana this blurb would have you believe. There are plenty of ways to screw up audio, trust me.
Amazing stereo imaging. To be honest, you almost have to try to screw that one up. Like taking a rectangular box and sticking a 5.25" driver in front and then cramming eight more in the back firing rearwards like a certain company I could name but won't.
Oh, good. I thought I'd lost control there, for a second. Three audio inputs and a headphone output. I like that. Flexibility is always nice. No mention of a Toslink optical digital input, but that's ok. At this price range, digital inputs are hard to find in decent computer audio gear. Why? Because then you have to add in the circuitry to process digital signals, and that costs money.
True power reporting. Now this is nice to see. No PMPO, peak, or "max" ratings. That said, I'm not coming at this review putting much stock in the 220 watt number on the front of the box. I have no way of testing it for myself, and to be honest all I care about is the sound quality. If these speakers can handle good sound with a little volume, I'm happy.
And on the subject of volume, I'm going to take a minute to clarify my position on these things to let you know what I'm expecting from them. While these are computer speakers, I am not letting them off easy. I am dead serious about good sound, and I expect Corsair to share that mindset. That said, they are still computer speakers. You cannot plop these down in your living room, hook them up to the DVD player, and expect Dolby reference level playback. They can't do it, please don't expect them to. These are designed to be placed by your computer and listened to from maybe six feet away at most. So, that's exactly how I'm going to evaluate them. I'm going to set them up in my office with the subwoofer located where I know it will perform well in room. The satellites will be on a shelf above the monitor, about a foot above my ears angled downward, five feet apart. This puts my ears into just about a perfect triangle with the satellites for optimal imaging.
Most importantly, I'm not going to crank the bejeezus out of them all the time. I want an accurate picture of how they sound at reasonable levels, and I like the fact that I can still hear almost flat to fifteen kilohertz at age 37. I will turn them up to see how they handle increased demand, but most of my listening will be done at comfortable levels.
That said, it's not like these will magically know they're plugged into your DVD player. They will still work as such. Just don't expect more than they can deliver, and you'll be ok. What can they deliver? I'll get into that later. Lots of time for that.
Here, we see a long list of specifications and features. I won't comment on all of them, but I will on a few.
First, we have the frequency response 35Hz-20kHz, +/- 3dB. What does that mean, you ask. Well, it means that in some anechoic chamber somewhere in space and time, somebody took a microphone, ran a few sweeps through the speakers, and plotted the measurement on a graph. Then, that somebody took a couple rulers and found that the speakers measured in a relatively straight line within six decibels between any peaks and dips that showed up. Now, when I say "relatively," I mean it. An anechoic chamber is not your computer room. An anechoic chamber is acoustically dead... you do not have such a room in your house, unless you're a complete lunatic with too much money. Therefore, this spec is always going to be open to interpretation. It's a general guideline, nothing more. Like all audio specs, it should always take a back seat to how you think it sounds. If it sounds bad, who cares if the thing measured flat to 35Hz by Bob Q. Soundengooden?
Good to see that the system uses an 8" woofer in the sub. To be honest, not many serious consumer level subwoofers use drivers much smaller than that. The reason is quite simple... long sound waves require a lot of air displacement to create them. You can make a driver behave more efficiently through the use of various tricks like horn and bandpass loading, but there's no getting around the laws of physics. At 35Hz, you're looking at a 32 foot and change long wave.
Hmm... silk dome tweeters... watts... DSP... wait a second here. 3" midranges? Seriously? I hate to say it, but that's more than a bit on the small side. Especially when you consider the design of the sub, which I'll get more into later. I hope this decision doesn't come back to bite Corsair later on.
Moving on down the list... blah blah controls blah inputs blah... full digital internal signal path? Bzzt. Nope. Nothing digital about the output from the amps to the speakers, and I'm guessing those amps are probably considered to be internal to the unit. I know, I know, I'm nitpicking now.
Interesting that they apparently provided a ModX equalization curve in there. Not sure why, to be honest. I don't use that option in my home theater, let alone pine for it on my computer speakers. What ModX does is compensate for an overly treble heavy movie by rolling off the high end a little. Like I said - never use it. Might as well be a six dollar bill to me. I want to hear stuff as recorded. Nice to have the option, though, since the whole thing is DSP controlled anyway.
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