Creative GigaWorks ProGamer G500
The $249.99 Creative GigaWorks ProGamer G500 isn't the fanciest 5.1-channel multimedia speaker system money can buy, but its excellent game and DVD sound quality and its high-power output make it a solid choice for audio enthusiasts looking to spend a little more on their PC's sound output. Like other 5.1-channel speaker systems, the G500 includes two front speakers, two surrounds, a center, and a powered subwoofer. Creative also supplies a wired control module; although it's far more basic than the ($399) controls, the trade-off is fairly minor if you're looking to save some cash without going down to the minor leagues in terms of performance.
Setting up the G500 was simple in our tests, but it took a little time. We spent 30 minutes unpacking the system, attaching the stands, connecting all the wires and calibrating the speaker levels. You'll need a sound card with 5.1-channel analog audio output (we used a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro) to get discrete multichannel surround sound from the G500, but Creative's CMSS feature can distribute (or upmix) the output from 2-channel sources, such as an , through all 5 satellites and the subwoofer. An auxiliary input facilitates connecting an external audio source to the G500 without disconnecting the sound card. The G500 doesn't have a digital audio input (another disadvantage compared to Logitech's Z-5500 Digitals), which means you'll need a digital receiver if you're hoping to use the speakers with a game console or a DVD player.
The G500's small control module is fairly well designed. In its default mode, the module's volume wheel adjusts the overall system volume. Pressing the volume wheel selects the center speaker, the rear speakers, the subwoofer, or the treble for individual level adjustment. Status LEDs denote volume levels and the speaker selection mode. A CMSS button activates the aforementioned upmix feature. The control module also has power and mute buttons, as well as a conveniently situated headphone jack.
Total system power is a very respectable 310 watts. The built-in amplifier delivers 36 watts to each satellite and 130 watts to the ported subwoofer's 8-inch front-firing driver. Each satellite has a 3-inch driver and a port to enhance lower midrange response. Creative includes small plastic stands that let you perch the speakers around your listening area, although we suggest wall-mounting the surround speakers (each satellite has a keyhole bracket on the back) or purchasing Creative's optional floor stands ($39.99 each) for more secure positioning.
To test the Creative GigaWorks ProGamer G500's musical wherewithal, we fired up the Buena Vista Social Club's track Chan Chan. The soundstage had convincing depth, with the bass creating a solid foundation and lead elements such as the trumpet wafting across the top of the mix. The satellite speakers' well-balanced midrange and treble performance gave the vocals a smooth quality with plenty of realistic texture. Activating the CMSS upmix feature created an even more immersive environment without making the sound too diffuse. The ultralow electronic bass line in Bass Factory 808's Woofer Warm Up proved the subwoofer's moxie. With the system volume maxed out, the subwoofer delivered a copious amount of palpable bass without getting sloppy.
The G500 delivers excellent video game and DVD performance. In Half-Life 2's deathmatch mode, the G500 made it easy to track the positions of enemies, and it convincingly placed us in the midst of an urban battlefield. Bullets ricocheted off of metal objects with a realistic ping. When an enemy overthrew a grenade, it exploded in the rear speakers exactly where we had expected it to land. In the Jurassic Park DVD, the center speaker proved bright enough to make dialog perfectly clear, but not so bright as to cause ear fatigue. During the "The Tyrannosaurus Rex" scene, the massive dinosaur's footsteps sounded absolutely thunderous. When the T. rex snapped a high-tension steel wire, the wire seamlessly whizzed from the front right speaker to the rear right speaker as it flew by on the screen. From a performance perspective, our only significant gripe is that the satellites hiss a bit when audio isn't playing. That said, the hissing isn't especially pronounced unless you crank up the treble setting. We have no reservations recommending the G500 for virtually any computer audio application, as long as you can live without digital audio input.