Sunday, May 07, 2006

Home Theater Speaker: Cambridge, Klipsch Vie for Top 5.1 Honors

The home theater/PC collision is inevitable. For some, it has already happened, with serious home-brewed home theater PCs adorning entertainment centers. For others, it could be the addition of a 5.1 set of speakers to their PCs. As with two-channel offerings, PC-focused 5.1 speakers have been steadily improving, and less expensive home theater speaker setups can also do a lot to make PCs sound better. But whatever your motivation, you may have found yourself looking longingly at 5.1 wares from both Klipsch and Cambridge, and pondered, "They both look good, but which set will rock my world, and not just my wallet?" Well friends, we're here to answer that and other vexing questions.

We put Cambridge and Klipsch in a faceoff for 5.1 supremacy. Loyd and Dave gave both sets of speakers some serious ear time, and while both sets sang beautifully at times, there were some sour notes heard as well.

Even priced at $400 and $350 respectively, Klipsch and Cambridge both had to make some design compromises to fit speakers with this many drivers and the requisite power into these price-points. That said, both arrive with plenty of amplification as well as a solid overall fit and finish. And either one of these sets of speakers should come bundled with a "creative responses to eviction notices" pamphlet, since the subwoofers on both units can torture downstairs neighbors. So who will prevail in this war of watts? Is one set clearly superior to the other? Read on, and all will be revealed.

Our test system was equipped with a Sound Blaster Audigy. With the Cambridge speakers, we used Audigy's S/PDIF output and connected to the speakers' digital input. For the Klipsches, we used Audigy's six-channel analog output mode since the Klipsch speakers lack a digital input. We ran under Windows XP Pro, and used the full version of PowerDVD 4.0 XP, which can internally decode either Dolby Digital or DTS.

We tested the speakers connected to typical tower PCs, with the listener sitting in the near field. While it may have been more useful to have a quieter environment (particularly for music), the fact is that these speakers will mostly live around a PC system, with its associated fan and other noises.

by Loyd Case

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