It has been a trailblazing year for Logitech, which introduced its innovative Bluetooth Wireless Headphones for iPod in June before extending the concept to wireless headphones that work with non-Apple MP3 players. Now Logitech brings its wireless initiative to multimedia speakers with the new Z-5450 Digital 5.1 speaker system, the first 5.1-channel multimedia speaker set to incorporate wireless surround speakers. With the Z-5450, you can experience true surround sound from your PC or game console without running messy wires all over the place. Despite having a high price and being outmuscled by the less expensive (though wired) Z-5500 ($399) system, the Z-5450's ($499) unbeatable convenience makes it a winner.
The Logitech Z-5450 comprises six speakers: two front speakers, two rear-channel surround speakers, a center-channel speaker, and a subwoofer. You operate the Z-5450 either via its wired control module, which functions as a preamp and a wireless transmitter rolled into one, or with the included 19-button remote control. The control module incorporates Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, and DTS 96/24 processing, allowing direct connection to devices such as appropriately equipped PC sound cards, DVD players, and game consoles (you may need an adapter, however, to add digital outputs to your game console).
The Z-5450's control module measures 3 inches high, 8.5 inches wide, and 5.5 inches deep. Shaped like a typical wireless router, it has an antenna attached to its rear panel. It also has a 2-line-by-20-character luminescent text display, a large front-panel volume knob, and buttons for power, input, effects, settings, level, and mute. Together, the buttons provide easy control over the system's features and functions.
Featuring removable black-cloth grilles and black cabinets with silver accents, the attractive front and surround speakers each measure 7.5 by 4.5 by 3.5 inches (HWD), including their stands. The matching center-channel speaker measures 5 by 6.25 by 3.5 inches (HWD) and has the horizontal orientation you'd expect for a center speaker. The center speaker's stand tilts up or down so that it can perch on top of or below your computer monitor. The front and surround speakers have nonadjustable desktop stands that conveniently convert into wall mounts. Unlike the other satellites, the center-channel speaker cannot be wall mounted.
The Z-5500 impressed us with its A/V receiver-like assortment of inputs. The Z-5450 takes connectivity a step further. Its control module offers not one but two optical digital audio inputs, one coaxial digital audio input, and three 1/8-inch analog minijack inputs. You can configure the three minijacks as a group to connect a 5.1-channel PC sound card or independently to connect up to three separate stereo sources. The control module's side panel hosts a 1/8-inch headphone output and a 1/8-inch auxiliary input for playing a device such as an iPod.
According to Logitech, the system provides 38 watts RMS for each of the front speakers, 42 watts for the center speaker, and 40.5 watts for each of the surrounds. Each surround speaker has a single 2.5-inch aluminum driver mounted in a vented cabinet. The Z-5450 dedicates 116 watts to pushing the sub's 6.5-inch driver. By comparison, Logitech's acclaimed Z-5500 5.1-channel system has more powerful amplification, a larger and better-designed subwoofer, and 3-inch satellite drivers, but it doesn't have wireless surround speakers.
In less than 15 minutes, we easily set up the Logitech Z-5450 Digital 5.1 speaker system and plugged it into our PC's 5.1-channel Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card. To Logitech's credit, the Z-5450 has standard binding-post wire connectors for the front and center speakers. As a result, you can easily replace the speaker cables if necessary. To set up the rear-left and rear-right wireless surround speakers, we placed them on tables behind our listening position and plugged each of them into a power outlet. Each rear speaker has a hardwired power cord measuring approximately nine feet long, so you probably won't need extension cords to plug them in. Because of the power cables, the rear speakers are not 100 percent wireless, but we think connecting directly to a power outlet is the best solution. Batteries need to be changed, and they deliver questionable power output. At least with power cables you can get creative about where you plug them in. Shedding the speaker wire without degrading performance is still impressive in our book.
The Z-5450's control module employs 2.4GHz digital wireless transmission to send the signal to the surround speakers. Like some cordless phones, the transmitter uses a frequency-hopping technique to avoid interference. Logitech also claims that when the system detects interference, it changes channels and resends the signal in less than 20 milliseconds, correcting the problem before the human ear realizes anything went wrong.
With our 2.4GHz wireless phone in the same room as the speakers, interference from the Z-5450 rendered the phone unusable. We eliminated the problem by turning the speakers off or leaving the room with the phone. At least the phone didn't cause any noticeable interference in the speakers' sound. What's more, the speakers and our 802.11g/b wireless network didn't cause each other any obvious problems, such as dropouts or interference. Logitech claims the speakers have a reliable range of 28 feet; their performance was consistently clean and stable in our more typical setup, with the rear speakers installed roughly 7 feet from the control module/transmitter. We briefly plugged one of the rear speakers into an outlet in the room next to our testing facility, and it still received the signal fine. All in all, the surrounds performed great, delivering clear, hiccup-free rear-channel sound.
During intense deathmatch battles in the game Half-Life 2, the subwoofer drove rocket-launcher and grenade explosions home with enough bass to satisfy. Unfortunately, the bandpass subwoofer represents a step down from the larger and more powerful direct-firing subwoofer supplied with Logitech's Z-5500. Bandpass subwoofers such as the Z-5450's incorporate an internally firing driver along with a vented cabinet to maximize bass output, but the extra brawn comes at the expense of tightness, punch, and precision. For instance, in Outkast's track "Ms. Jackson," the bass line sounded a little more lumbering and looser than we would have liked.
With movies, games, and music, the capable satellite speakers created a convincing soundstage with impressive depth. During Star Trek: Insurrection and other DVDs, center-speaker dialog came out perfectly clear. The Z-5450's treble and midrange sounded smooth and balanced rather than abrasive and unnatural, making the system easy on the ears, even during long listening sessions.