From 5.1 to 6.1 to 7.1, the march toward more audio channels presses ever onward. At the forefront of this trend is Creative, both at the source, with its 7.1-channel-supporting Audigy 2 ZS sound cards (as well as the Audigy 2 NX external device), and on the output end, with its GigaWorks S750 7.1-channel speakers. At $499, the GigaWorks S750 set defines the high end of PC speakers in price, and its performance with PC games demonstrates why. Music-listening bliss was just a notch or two away from ideal, but home-theater enthusiasts who lean more toward DVD watching will be more than satisfied.
Creative's flagship multimedia speaker system, the $499 GigaWorks S750 is targeted at hard-core video gamers and DVD aficionados. This 7.1-channel ensemble is Creative's best-sounding speaker system to date, but there are a few snags. For the uninitiated (for whom we'd recommend our recent surround-sound buying guide), a 7.1-channel speaker set differs from a 5.1 set by supporting two rear-channel speakers in addition to 5.1's standard combination of three front speakers, two on the side, and one subwoofer. These added outputs mostly benefit gamers because 7.1 discrete channels can be rendered in PC games via Microsoft's DirectSound and Creative's EAX software processing. Less accurate up-mixing is required to yield 7.1-channels from DVDs or CDs, as a true 7.1 standard has not yet been adopted for home-entertainment media.
The seven sealed, wall-mountable satellites are two-way units, with a 3.5-inch polymer midrange driver and a 1-inch titanium tweeter. The single-ported, down-firing subwoofer houses an 8-inch driver that blasts bass from the bottom of the unit. The speaker cables attach to the GigaWorks S750's satellites via wire spring clips, and they plug into the subwoofer-based amp with RCA-type connectors. Though a little more complicated to set up, standard speaker wires do allow more installation flexibility and might be appreciated by some.
The Creative GigaWorks S750's power specification rivals that of some A/V receivers; and Creative appears to have documented its power output ratings genuinely. Multimedia speaker vendors have had a habit of reporting what's known as peak wattage, which refers to the output at its highest level. This number is not sustainable over time, however, so a more accurate value is continuous wattage, also known as watts RMS (&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex_1&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwhatis%2Etechtarget%2Ecom%2Fdefinition%2F0%2C%2Csid9%5Fgci213722%2C00%2Ehtml">root-mean-square). In this case, Creative reports RMS wattage only in its documentation, which states that the amp delivers 70 watts RMS to each of the satellites and 210 watts RMS to the subwoofer.
The wired control module sports top-mounted power, volume-down, volume-up, select, and upmix buttons. Upmix toggles between three modes: off, 5.1 to 7.1, and 6.1 to 7.1. Headphone and auxiliary audio input jacks adorn the front of the module, accompanied by a USB-esque M-Port jack, which lets you digitally stream audio to the speakers directly from Creative's Nomad Jukebox Zen NX MP3 player. Downsides of the control module include its status LEDs; we'd rather see a more informative text or numeric display. We'd also prefer a volume knob to the puny buttons. At least the included remote control effectively untethers you from the control module.
The Creative GigaWorks S750's performance chops are strongest with video games. When we fired up Soldier of Fortune II, the sonic canvas effectively surrounded us. Enemies could be tracked coming in from all angles, including from the sides and the back. The GigaWorks S750's sub delivered explosions with suitable impact, and the satellites did a good job of creating a convincing 3D soundfield. In general, the 7.1-speaker system created a more engrossing gaming experience than we've had with 5.1- and 6.1-speaker setups.
Gladiator's "Hell Unleashed" scene proved that the GigaWorks S750 is no slouch in the home-theater department, either. As the battle raged, arrows flew across the soundstage from front to rear, convincingly popping and whizzing. The center speaker delivered dialogue clearly, striking a good balance between brightness and smoothness of the treble so that voices pop out at you sufficiently, but not to the extent that they will hurt your ears. Partially thanks to its two-way satellite speaker design, the GigaWorks S750 doesn't suffer from the huge midrange hole that plagues some subwoofer/satellite systems. The GigaWorks S750's subwoofer doesn't sound as tight as the subwoofer employed by the Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 speakers, but respectably enough, it's about on a par with the Logitech Z-680's sub. By expanding the ambient soundfield, the up-mixing feature helped us feel that we were in the middle of the action, but it didn't yield significant benefits over listening to a Digital Theater Studios DTS-ES-encoded soundtrack through 6.1 speakers.
Music is the GigaWorks S750's weakest performance point, but the set still performs better than average. To test the system's clarity, we fired up Pachelbel's Canon. The music did have a nice airy quality, but playing the same track through our Event 20/20 studio monitors revealed considerable additional sonic detail. While playing Outkast's "Two Dope Boys in a Cadillac," we were surprised to find that the GigaWorks S750 didn't have enough volume on tap to get extremely loud. It's certainly powerful enough for near and midfield listening, but don't plan on using the system in a large home theater. The GigaWorks S750 did handle the track's deep bass frequencies fairly well, though we've heard a punchier, more agile sound from high-quality, home-audio subwoofers, for instance.
If you're a hard-core gamer, the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro and GigaWorks S750 combo is the rig to get. It's also a good system for PC-based DVD theaters, but conventional home-theater users will generally fare better with a home theater in a box, such as , which includes a DVD player.