Review (November 2004)
By Kevin Nakano
Logitech has introduced their new THX® certified Z-5500 5.1 speaker system that includes both DTS and Dolby Digital decoding capabilities in a single package for under $400. The Z-5500 replaces the award-winning Z-680 5.1 system and includes five satellite speakers, a subwoofer with built-in power amplifiers, the SoundTouch Control Center, wireless remote and cables. Total power output is 505 watts RMS, 188 of which are dedicated to the subwoofer. If you think this is a lightweight package, you'll be surprised to find out that the boxed system weighes nearly 60 pounds . The Z-5500 has a frequency response from 33 Hz - 20 kHz with a signal-to-noise ratio of 100 dB (typical) according to the manufacturer. The SoundTouch Control Center accepts analog and digital inputs and performs all the audio processing within the main console. The low-level analog signals are then sent to the subwoofer chassis over a seven foot cable where multi-channel power amplifiers reside. Each of the satellite speakers uses a 3" polished aluminum phase plug driver in a ported enclosure. The well built, ported subwoofer cabinet includes a 10" high-excursion ported driver. The system is designed to satisfy music and movie enthusiasts as well as PlayStation®2 and Xbox® gamers. Based on our tests, we think they have succeeded in all areas.
Inside the SoundTouch Control Center lies a Cirrus CS494003 32-bit DSP to handle both Dolby® Digital and DTS® bitstreams including DTS® 96/24 data for unsupassed sound quality. A Cirrus CS42526 data conversion chip is used to move signals between the analog and digital domains. The CS42526 contains an amazing number of high-quality converters including six 24-bit DACs and two 24-bit ADCs. The same chip includes digital audio interfaces (S/PDIF) used for the coaxial and optical digital connections. Finally, a pair of Cirrus CS5351 stereo ADCs are also used to convert the remaining analog inputs to the digital domain. Cirrus has an excellent reputation among audio enthusiasts and their products are commonly found in some of the best audiophile equipment. We were glad to see Logitech has chosen to use them in their Z-5500 product. The result is a great sounding 5.1 system with features found in more expensive products.
The rear panel of the SoundTouch Control Center has inputs for both coaxial and optical digital signals. Three stereo analog inputs are also located on the back allowing the Z-5500 to benefit from a 6-channel sound card installed in the PC. Setting the 2-position switch to "6 ch direct" setting will pass the analog signals straight through without any decoding. A seven foot cable with three 3.5mm male stereo connectors at each end is provided to interface to a six-channel PC sound card. Our setup utilized an M-Audio Revolution 7.1 audio card. There is also an auxiliary input jack located on the side of the console for convenient connection of portable devices such as CD or MP3 players.
The easy to read LCD on the SoundTouch Control Center has a pleasant backlight that displays the input and effects settings when the system is in idle mode. Whether the room lighting is good or bad, you won't have a problem seeing the display on the console. During level adjustments, bargraphs are used to show the setting. If the input signal contains 96/24 DTS data, the display will indicate this in the upper right corner with "96..24".
The rear panel of the subwoofer chassis uses color coded RCA connectors for each of the five satellite speakers. A high density 15-pin connector interfaces to the Digital SoundTouch Control Center over a seven foot cable where it receives the analog signals processed by the console. A master power switch and fuse holder occupies the lower part of the panel along with the non-detachable power cord. We were impressed to see the large heatsink fins used to cool the amplifier modules contained within the subwoofer chassis. Each speaker has its own amplifier circuitry and shares a common heavy duty power supply. Due to the power rating of this speaker system and the linear amplifier design, a significant amount of heat can be generated when driving the system hard. Logitech has taken measures to ensure that heat can be properly dissipated by the power electronics when required. We took a look inside the subwoofer chassis and were pleasantly surprised to see good build quality and internal cabinet bracing. The port design uses smooth edges to prevent wind noise through the port at low frequencies. The power supply design in the Z-5500 has a large toroidal transformer with two 10,000 µF capacitors to store energy for the power amplifier rails. This is something that one might see in a more expensive product, but is certainly not typical in a PC-based speaker system. We must commend Logitech for using such a hearty power supply design in this system.
We liked the flexibility of this system and its ability to accept both analog and digital inputs. Making use of our existing 5.1 audio card had its benefits, but we were not limited in any way to use the digital connection with the Z-5500. Once engaged, the digital decoder displayed the format detected and produced great sound. The ability to trim the levels of the satellites and subwoofer made for an overall better sounding system. Since all the satellites used the same type of driver, sound panned seamlessly between channels giving a more realistic experience when sound engineers move the audio around the listener. The wireless IR remote is a feature and allowed us to lean back and still fully control the system.
While the Z-5500 system is not inexpensive for a PC-based 5.1 audio system, it is by far one of the best sounding PC systems that we have heard to date. The THX® certification is more than just a fancy name attached to this system. The certification does ensure a level of performance that many PC-based systems could never achieve. If you really want to experience impressive sound quality with your PC audio whether it be for music, movies or games, the Z-5500 will likely put a big smile on your face.
- Kevin Nakano
PC - Sony Vaio PCV-RX550,
1.5GHz Pentium 4
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Part Number 970115-0403
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