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PURE Digital ZXR-500 Speaker System

PURE Digital (a division of Imagination Technologies which was formerly known as VideoLogic) is a UK company probably best known for its unique PowerVR technology and also as the only serious sound card competition (with the demise of Aureal) to the mighty Creative. We examined one of their entry-level Dolby surround 5.1 Speaker systems - the ZXR-500. Here's a look at what you get for a RRP of 79:

Five satellite speakers that are identical and a subwoofer along with all the wiring you will need (3m wires for the front speakers and a generous 10m for the rear ones). Available colour is only silver as far as we could tell so if you have an all black system you may want to consider this although the speakers are not exactly high visibility and the subwoofer tends to be hidden out of sight.

Here is a quick rundown of the specs as published by the manufacturer:

Output power: Total 65W RMS; fronts, rears and centre 8W RMS; subwoofer 25W RMS.
Input sensitivity: 350 mV.
Frequency response: Amplifier < 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
Power supply: UK/Europe: 220-230V AC 50 Hz.
Total packaged weight: 10.6 Kg.
Cables supplied: Three 3.5 mm stereo to stereo phono cables and integrated speaker cables.
Approvals: CE marked. Compliant with the EMC and Low Voltage Directives (89/336/EEC and 73/23/EEC).
Minimum system requirements: PC with sound card, or any audio source with line-level output.
Warranty: Two years.
Technical support: Technical hotline and online support at www.PURE-digital.com.

SUBWOOFER
Wood cabinet housing 5" subwoofer with tuned front and side bass ports. Front mounted volume controls for precise audio tuning.
Cabinet: Wood construction cabinet with front and side tuned bass ports.
Drive unit: 5" cone.
Impedance: 4 Ohms.
Amplifiers: Integrated amplifier.
Power supply: Integral low-noise power supply.
Power output: 25W RMS.
Controls: Individual volume controls on front panel for front, rear, centre and subwoofer, Power on/off (located on rear of subwoofer).
Connectors: Six phono inputs, five phono outputs.
Dimensions (mm): 165 (w) x 250 (h) x 340 (d).

SATELLITE SPEAKERS
Five compact speaker units with powerful 3" drive units. Cabinets: Moulded ABS construction cabinets.
Drive units: 3" cone.
Impedance: 6 Ohms.
Power output: 8W RMS each.
Connectors: Captive speaker cables with phono connectors (3m fronts and centre, 8m rears).
Dimensions (mm): 85 (w) x 112 (h) x 98 (d).
All speaker cones are fully magnetically shielded.

PURE Digital is usually more conservative with the power ratings of their speaker systems than most of their competitors. Power ratings, however, do not tell the whole picture and in our experience 65W proved quite adequate for this system and is easily loud enough to attract complaints from neighbours with the volume turned up.

It can be seen from the photo that all the controls are mounted on the front of the subwoofer and not on a separate box which may make adjustments difficult if placed beneath a desk but is not a major problem as when the system is balanced the volume can be adjusted from the computer's sound card options.

Looking at the back of the subwoofer we can see the 5 phono outputs for the speakers and six phono inputs - that's right six. This system supports Dolby Digital, DTS and Pro Logic. No decoders are included but that can hardly be expected at this price point, and you will need to provide the correct output. For our tests we hooked up a DTS DVD player which has six outputs and several different PC sound cards using the provided 3.5mm to 2 phono leads. All 3 of these leads are required to make use of 5.1 surround sound but if your card only has 4-speaker support you can use 2 of these for the front and rear speakers or just one lead if you only have stereo output on your sound card. It should be noted that in the two latter cases some functionality will be left unavailable as there is no pseudo surround mode to make 2 or 4 speaker inputs seem anything more. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it means less processing of the signal enabling it to be truer to the source.

Assembly is very straightforward as the stands slide easily into speakers firmly staying in place. We would have like the inclusion of a slightly different stand for the centre speaker to enable it to sit on top of a monitor which seems the best place for dialogue to come from.

The positioning and set-up of this system is probably an article unto itself but as a general guide (assuming you are sat in front of your monitor):

- The centre speaker should be directly in front of you (ideally atop or behind the monitor).
- The front stereo speakers should not be further apart than they are in distance from the listener and not too close together either. This usually means either side of your monitor but limitations may be imposed by desk space.
- The rear speakers should be directly behind you at an approximate level to your ears although they can be placed in corners or even to the sides but if this is done they should be pointed in the general direction of the listener. Remember that this system supports Dolby Digital and DTS so the rear speakers are also stereo, so make sure the left and right don't get mixed up when connecting the wires.

We like the use of phono sockets for all connections as this is the standard output from decoders and the use of the same sockets on the satellite speakers is a nice touch. Many people argue that bare speaker terminals are best (the route taken by Logitech) since this allows the user to substitute the provided wires for a more professional one of the users choice but we have found that high quality co-axial cable can be used with these connectors to give a vast improvement in quality. This sort of cable can be hard to find in the UK but here <insert hyperlink> is an overseas supplier that provides free delivery. Alternatively, all the necessary parts can be purchased from the nearest Maplin Electronics store. Even such cable cannot compare to high-end speaker cable, however, but this is offset by the fact that such cable will cost many hundreds of pounds and such a user would be purchasing a system much pricier than any PC based solution.

With the speakers in position in our test room we generated a tone signal using our invaluable Video Essentials DVD. This allowed us to calibrate the satellite speakers to get the perfect balance and we could place the subwoofer under a table safe in the knowledge that there was no further need to adjust any settings from there.

Our first test was to use a number of PC games to see how the playing experience could be enriched but we encountered a problem with most of our sound cards. All except the PURE Digital SonicXplosion only allowed for 4 speaker output by utilising 2 3.5mm stereo outputs. The Sonic Fury (update: the versa-jack on this card can be programmed to allow for the additional 2 channels) and the SoundBlaster Audigy both had digital outputs but this was of no use in this case as the system does not have a built-in decoder. In fact our Hercules Fortissimo would not produce 4-speaker output at all and eventually ended up in the nearest rubbish bin.

The results of this were rather mixed and although many games support EAX we found the use of the rear channels to be somewhat lacking although the extra base in the explosions in Medal of Honour: Allied Assault added a new dimension to that game. I anticipate that in the future, first-person perspective games in particular will make fuller use of surround sound to locate opponents etc. We will have to await the arrival of Doom 3 to see if this is true.

We then switched to WinDVD and using the SonicXplosion sound card (reviewed separately) we were able to get virtually the same results as with our DTS DVD player so I will lump the results together and treat it as one continuous test.

We have sat through the D-Day landings of Saving Private Ryan many times and we knew exactly what to listen for. The explosions were resounding (although we had to turn up the volume near its maximum to really feel them). Definition was good with ricocheting bullets being accurately reproduced by the system and the dialogue was clear and crisp. At times we forgot we were listening to an entry-level system and even at maximum volume the components seem to be well matched, as we heard no distortion or hissing.

Switching to The Matrix we ran the lobby scene as we do with all surround sound tests and we were equally impressed as each cartridge case hitting the floor could be individually heard and the use of the rear speakers was sufficient to give the viewer the impression of being in the firefight.

Conclusion

To sum up, this is an excellent entry-level system for the price and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Our tests showed that overall it outperformed Logitech's Z-560 system, which is only a 4-speaker type costing more than twice as much as this system. The sound quality of the speakers is not as good as dedicated Hi-fi speakers and the system is somewhat under-powered compared to some of its competitors but in terms of price/performance ratio it cannot be beaten. Incidentally, a version of this system including a Dolby decoder using a Zoran DSP is available as the DigiTheatre ZXR for a RRP of 149.99. This may be of interest to those wanting a direct digital input from their sound card or DVD player into their speaker system.

Pros

  • A Dolby Digital and DTS system for an entry level cost.

  • Individually adjustable channels for setting up in any type of room.

  • Phono connectors used throughout to allow the use of custom cabling.

  • Very well matched components giving smooth performance at all volume levels without distortion or warbling.

  • Good channel separation that makes the most of encoded AC3/DTS material.

Cons

  • System may appear to be under-powered (65W RMS compared to 400W RMS for the Logitech Z-560 but the Logitech system is over twice the price of this one).

  • Could do with a stand for the centre speaker that allows it to be positioned atop of monitor.

We would like to thank Julia Horne of PURE Digital for the review sample ZXR-500 speaker system.

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