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Logitech G51 Gaming Surround Speakers

Date: October 31, 2007
Author(s): Rory Buszka

More than just a design refresh of the X-540 system, the G51 gaming speaker system delivers plenty of substance and several features that are intended to appeal to the specific tastes of gamers. We’ve got a set, and we’re putting it to the test.



Introduction


Logitech debuted their G-series gaming peripheral line back in mid-2005, building upon the success of their MX-series high-performance mice with a full line of peripherals targeted specifically toward gamers. The line was soon populated with a slew of gaming input devices, including the popular G5 and G9 gaming mice and the spectacular G15 gaming keyboard.

The addition of gaming audio products to the G-series breaks with the trend of gaming input devices already in the G-series, however on another level it’s a perfectly logical addition as Logitech devotes effort to gaming-oriented products in every key market that the company serves. The first high-performance gaming audio product to join Logitech’s G-series is the new G51 speaker system, which provides 5.1-channel surround sound that’s specifically tailored to the needs of gamers.

While I half-expected Logitech to create a derivative of their ultra-powerful THX-certified Z-series flagship audio systems for the G-series, it appears that the design of the G51 is actually derived from their very successful X-540 system, which was known for shattering the $100 barrier for an affordable 5.1-channel PC speaker system.

A quick look at the spec sheet, however, reveals that the G51 is more than a simple design refresh of the X-540; the G51 system contains several notable improvements in features and performance, essentially creating a middle ground performance option between the value-oriented X-series speakers and the cost-no-object horsepower of the Z-series.

So what exactly makes a so-called gaming audio system well-suited to the task of gaming in the first place? First of all, ‘gaming’ audio is no excuse to slack off in the area of fidelity – while it doesn’t take much to reproduce transient sounds like gunfire and explosions with impact and clarity, game audio also frequently incorporates dialogue as well as some music. It’s also important to ensure that multiple sound effects occurring at once are distinguishable from one another.

Second of all, a ‘gaming’ audio system needs to have enough headroom to reproduce the transient stuff. A system with limited dynamic range can still reproduce gunfire and explosions, though more subtle details may be lost, which may cause you not to hear softer sounds like footsteps sneaking up from behind. A gaming audio system should have enough headroom to preserve relative loudness between gunfire bursts and softer environmental noises while reproducing the soft stuff at a volume which is still audible.

Finally, and this is the big one, a gaming audio system needs to have enough resolution to create a seamless, immersive sound field that allows you to pinpoint the origins of sounds in two-dimensional space – in front of you, beside you, and behind you. Sub-par speaker systems have a ‘closed-in’ sound, where it sounds as if the speaker itself is the source of the sound, instead of virtually recreating another point of origin in space.

Many of the performance criteria that define a suitable gaming audio system are also goals of high-quality music and movie audio systems. Respectively, the three performance criteria we’ve identified so far are better known in the hi-fi world as flat frequency response, dynamic headroom, and imaging. In this article, we’ll examine the G51 system from Logitech on the basis of these three criteria as they relate to movie performance, music performance, and gaming performance.



Unpacking; Specifications

The Logitech G51 speaker system comes in a heavy cardboard carton that’s arrayed with vivid, attractive graphics and other meaningful information. Let me reiterate – this box is heavy. As I’ve explained in the past, however, that’s a good thing, particularly when it comes to speakers.

Open up the box lid, and you’re faced with three more cardboard boxes. You could remove them in any order, but only one order will provide the most trouble-free unpacking experience…thankfully, Logitech has removed the enigma from the procedure by helpfully numbering the modules. The subwoofer’s power cable is hardwired to the subwoofer, and has been folded up and tucked away in module ‘2’, so any attempt to remove the second module first is an exercise in futility, or else lots of mangled cardboard. Remember…module 1 first.

Once you’ve solved the puzzle of how to get everything out of the box (or just decided to turn the whole ever-lovin’ affair upside down on the floor), here’s what you’re left with: the hefty G51 subwoofer, four matching front and surround satellites, the horizontally-oriented center channel satellite, a wired control pod, and a ‘ribbon’ cable with all the individual signal input wires bonded together, a thoughtful feature that helps avoid a rat’s nest.

And now, a word about cable lengths. A common Achilles’ Heel of many multichannel PC speaker systems is that they often don’t supply enough wire to reach the desired rear speaker locations that you lovingly selected. Wire is copper, and copper costs money, so manufacturers have a reason to skimp as much as possible on the wiring to the rear surround speakers.

That isn’t much help for those who want to place their rear surround speakers six feet or more behind them, and still have enough slack left to route the cables in an aesthetically-appealing way instead of duct-taping them to the carpet. Thankfully, Logitech hasn’t left us out in the cold here – each rear satellite has about 15 feet of cable, which was enough to place the satellites six feet behind me on either side with some cable left over for me to do a pretty job of routing the cables.

Next, let’s take an in-depth look at the G51 system’s gamer-friendly features

Specification
Value
ModelG51
Exterior Dimensions Subwoofer: 13.1″ H x 7.7″ W x 10.4″ D; Satellites: 8.0″ H x 3.9″ W x 5.6″ D
Center Channel: 4.2″ H x 8.5″ W x 5.6″ D
Frequency Response 36-20,000 Hz
Subwoofer Crossover 150 Hz
Amplifier 155W RMS (20W RMS per satellite, 19W for center channel, 56W for subwoofer)
Subwoofer Driver5.25” long-excursion cone, downfiring
Subwoofer EnclosureBass-reflex enclosure, wooden construction
Satellite and Center Channel Drivers2x 2” full-range cone, magnetically-shielded
Satellite EnclosureFDD^2 (1.5-way), sealed
Inputs6-channel discrete inputs, 2-channel aux. input, microphone pass-through
OutputsHeadphone jack
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR):>94dBa


Features Overview

If you’re just joining us, here’s what we’ve covered so far: Logitech’s G51 isn’t your garden-variety 5.1 speaker system – it’s the first audio product in the company’s vaunted G-series lineup of products designed especially to cater to the sensibilities of gamers. Here’s a look at the features that Logitech says will make the G51 speaker system especially interesting to gaming types.

Let’s start with the subwoofer. Compared with the X-540 system that Greg reviewed back in 2006, the G51 subwoofer also uses a 5.25″ woofer, but this one’s much beefier, featuring a heavy paper cone, a foam surround, and an inverted dust cap. The case is made of wood, which we’ve come to expect by now – a wooden subwoofer enclosure resists parasitic enclosure vibration that can ‘muddy’ the bass.

The G51 subwoofer’s driver also features a hefty magnet structure, and an extra deep-draft stamped frame to accommodate plenty of cone excursion. The backplate of the magnetic structure is ‘bumped’, which creates extra room in the magnet structure itself for the voice coil to move without ‘bottoming out’. The additional venting in the bottom section of the frame allows cooling air to circulate around the exposed portion of the voice coil. It’s a substantially beefier woofer than I’ve seen in most speaker systems that use 5-1/4″ woofers.

In addition to the beefier bass driver, Logitech has upped the power of the G51 significantly over its cheaper cousin. Thanks in part to the bass driver’s low impedance of 2 ohms (don’t connect the driver to a conventional amplifier), the G51’s 6-channel amplifier can deliver 56 watts to the woofer, which is more than double the power of the X-540’s sub. The rear panel of the subwoofer contains all the inputs and outputs for the system, and each one is color-coded to its connector for easy setup.

The satellite speakers of the G51 system are larger in size than the X-540’s, and feature full-face fabric grilles, but they operate on the same FDD^2 principle, which helps produce a richer, fuller sound from the satellite speakers that improves integration with the subwoofer. This is done by ‘rolling off’ the lower driver using passive electrical filtering components so that it only works through the midrange and midbass region of the frequency spectrum. This approach gives the G51 satellite speakers a sound that’s more characteristic of satellites with larger drivers, but with the top-end clarity of the smaller full-range cones.

The G51’s center channel features a uniquely-designed stand which allows the speaker to ‘clamp’ onto the frame of a flat-panel monitor, just as with the X-540 system. This is a great feature that comes in handy when you don’t have a shelf above your monitor. Another new feature of the G51 system is a removable plastic shell over the front and rear satellite speakers, which allows you to insert a piece of artwork or colored paper and customize your G51 system aesthetically.

The controls for all functions of the G51 speaker system are housed in a wired control pod. In addition to adjusting volume, the large knob in the center can also be used to individually adjust the levels of the subwoofer, the center channel, and the rear surrounds. The control pod also offers a ‘dual mute’ feature, which allows you to mute the speakers and the microphone input independently. The idea is that you can connect your gaming headset directly to the control pod, and mute the microphone when you need to. The control pod features charming amber illumination to match Logitech’s other G-series peripherals, including the recently-reviewed G15 keyboard.

The G51 speakers also feature a dual-mode matrix control, which synthesizes a 5-channel output from a 2-channel signal input. The ‘music’ matrix functions in the same way as other matrix controls on Logitech’s 5-channel speakers, producing output from all satellites that is about even in volume and balance. However, the ‘gaming’ mode boosts the level of the rear surrounds and the subwoofer, in order to generate a more exciting sound for gaming that exaggerates the bass and surround effects.

Now that we’ve covered the major features of the G51 speaker system, let’s move on to some listening impressions.



Listening Testing

For my listening tests, I listened to a variety of 192kbps WMA files from my broad collection, spanning the rock, jazz, bluegrass, and country genres. The front satellites were placed about 18″ apart on either side of my monitor with the center channel placed on a shelf just above my monitor, directly between the two satellites. The rear satellites were placed six feet behind me, with an elevation of about 24″ above ear height. The subwoofer was placed on the floor along a wall, behind my desk.

I used the subwoofer’s own internal bass management, because I wanted to test the G51 system’s natural sound, not a highly tweaked-out sound only made possible by my sound card’s bass management features. While listening to music, I set the ASUS Xonar sound card’s output to 2-channel mode, while for gaming and movie testing, I enabled all five channels. During testing, I sat about two feet away from the front satellite speakers.

To test these speakers with music, I loaded up Dave Matthews Band’s Everyday album. I was first struck by the ability of the G51 system to pump out an impressive amount of low end ‘slam’ on the opening bass hits of “I Did It”. The sound from the G51’s satellites is warm and natural, thanks to the FDD^2 system, which complemented Dave’s voice nicely and kept the sound from ever becoming ‘thin’.

These speakers seem to have an untamed upper midrange, however, which can cause them to sound ‘hashy’ on complex instrumental passages where lots of things are going on at once in the music, causing the subtle details to get somewhat lost. At high volumes, this ‘hash’ can become ear-fatiguing. The subwoofer can also begin to struggle to keep up with the satellites’ volume at high levels, leading to distortion in the bass range characterized by an apparent loss of low bass extension.

In stereo (2-speaker) mode, the full-range drivers in each satellite speaker threw a consistent image that seemed to extend well beyond the speakers themselves – a natural strength of full-range drivers. On the track “Angel”, individual instruments seemed to come from a well-defined area of space, and the general presentation was fairly coherent.

With the rear surround speakers placed behind me, and with the Matrix control set to ‘music’, however, I felt the effect was fairly unnatural, with the rear speakers sounding almost like television speakers. Setting the Matrix control to ‘game’ led to a bizarre effect where the music almost seemed to get lost in reverberation. By comparison, the rear surround effects from the Xonar card’s Dolby Pro Logic IIx processing with the soundstage control shifted slightly to the front sounded significantly more natural.

To test these speakers in a true gaming environment, I loaded up the new prerelease Crysis demo. Though my mid-range testing machine struggled with the graphics load, the audio was rich and enveloping, and the output from the surround speakers nicely complemented the front soundstage. Sound effects from behind me made me turn my head more than once. I found the ‘gaming’ matrix option unnecessary to achieve a consistent surround effect in the game.



Final Thoughts

Overall, Logitech’s G51 proved itself a worthy contender in the world of surround gaming audio. In general, Logitech has taken the right approach to designing a gaming audio system, by building a system that addresses the concerns of fidelity and dynamic range instead of going for cheap thrills like ‘boom and sizzle’. I was impressed by the system’s power, and its ability to deliver plenty of room-filling output from a compact package. I also appreciated the conveniently-located, user-friendly controls.

The system produced very good overall sound quality, and a level of low-end impact from the compact subwoofer that belied its small size. Its gaming-specific features also set it apart from its competition in a way that is not trivial, such as the dual-mute feature and the ‘gaming’ matrix. While not quite on the same level as Logitech’s Z-series systems, that’s not the point here, and the G51 system proves that there truly is room in the Logitech product lineup for a middle ground in performance between the value-oriented stuff and the top shelf stuff.

So far, however, I’ve shied away from pointing out the fact that the G51 system’s benefits come at a price that’s not insignificant. The gaming market has often been indicted for being a place where manufacturers inflate price tags artificially, and I feel that the G51 system’s MSRP is a bit steep at $199, which hurts the overall value of the product. $149-$179 would be a much more reasonable price range for the G51 speakers, I feel. While I think the G51 misses the sweet spot on pricing, it’s not by much, and other major players in the gaming market often do far worse.

The Logitech G51 5.1-channel speaker system brings some real substance to the table, and I’m pleased to hand the G51 a Techgage score of 8/10. Its thoughtful feature set and well-executed design are a testament to Logitech’s fastidiousness, and their continued commitment to the gaming world as well as the multichannel speaker product category.

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