When one thinks of quality computer speakers, several names come to mind: Logitech, Altec Lansing, Bose, and Creative Labs, to name a few. Soundscience isn't a name that comes to mind. Neither is Antec.
In fact, when one thinks of the name Antec, they think PC cases and power supplies. Hit up the company's Wikipedia entry and that's what you'll see. There's no mention of audio solutions. As of this writing, the company's audio products subsidiary, Soundscience, isn't even a footnote.
Perhaps the Rockus 3D 2.1 Speaker System can change that, but is $US199 too much to ask?
If anything, the Rockus 3D is a striking audio solution for PC and console users. Constructed from anodised aluminium to reduce distortion and vibration, the two 25-watt satellite speakers are a pair of dark cylinders topped with shiny chrome horns, looking more like loudspeakers than computer speakers. When placed on a desk on either side of a monitor the circular style helps break up the general boxiness of the work and play area, while the honeycombed-grill hints at high technology lurking within this simple devices.
The speakers are attached to a modest-sized 100 watt subwoofer, shaped like a black box in the grand tradition of the subwoofers that came before it. Bass just sounds better in a box.
The final piece of the speaker system is the remote control, which connects to the sub via what we call in technical circles "that little eight-pin circular bastard". The remote controls the unit's volume, sound mode and input mode, in case you want to get fancy and hook up multiple audio sources at once. With RCA jacks, a 3.5mm jack, and an optical audio port, you can pretty much hook these puppies up to anything that wants to output sound.
Antec knows how to put together quality hardware, and its Soundscience division is no exception. The Rockus 3D is a solid system, tough enough to take a pounding and attractive without being gaudy. There are no flashing lights or intricately sculpted plastic grills here; just a pair of shiny circles doing their best to deliver high quality sound. Simple and elegant, just how I like them.
The satellites are also surprisingly stable. Being metal tubes resting on metal stands, I fully expected them to vibrate like crazy against the top of my desk as I put them through the hell that is my music collection. I'm certain that some of the chiptune I listen to was specifically designed to make speakers vibrate and buzz. The Rockus satellites didn't budge, even during the one Saturday I spent blasting Parry Gripp's "Space Unicorn" over and over again at full blast. That's some resilience for you.
My desk, on the other hand, vibrated like crazy, but that's just a sign that I am a cheap bastard when it comes to buying desks.
My music testing was done using the Rockus' music setting, designed specifically to deliver rich stereo sound. The highs and mids were crisp and clear' the bass thumping without being obnoxious. I rode them through Gorillaz's Plastic Beach, skipped around Lonely Island's Turtleneck & Chain, and spent some quality time with Metric and Infected Mushroom. It wasn't the most perfect musical trip I've taken via computer, but it's right up there with some of the more expensive 2.1 sets I've owned in the past.
It's the Rockus' 3D mode that left me feeling a little flat.
The Rockus is meant to be a showcase for Soundscience's 3Dsst technology, described as "a suite of DSP (digital sound processing) algorithms that create a virtual surround sound experience from 2.1 stereo speakers". The system analyses the frequency processing and positioning of sounds and uses filtering and phasing to "widen the sound stage and create the effect of listening to a much larger surround speaker system."
I wasn't quite getting that 3D feeling.
Switching from music mode to 3D mode while playing a song and you'll immediately notice the initial effects of the 3Dsst (note that Soundscience doesn't recommend listening to music with 3D turned on). The sound becomes somewhat muffled, the bass gets extremely deep, and anything in the vicinity of the subwoofer starts thrumming and vibrating like crazy. This is why I recommend placing the sub under your computer desk and turning the level switch on the back from its default one to its highest, three.
Then launch say, EVE Online, where the constant low thrum of spaceship engines keeps everything nice and shaky, or punch through some walls in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Inappropriate speaker enjoyment aside, the sound in 3D mode is a deeper, more satisfying thing, capable of making explosions in movies and games tactile things. In a game with a sound mix as complicated and elaborate as Deus Ex, you can almost see the sound coming off the speaker and washing over you. It's a luxurious and deeply satisfying noise this system delivers.
But it's not quite 3D.
There's definitely a front channel, especially evident when watching movies using the Rockus. It's right there, in your face. There are also side channels at play, but their manner of play seems to be wrestling each other just outside of vision so no one can tell exactly where sounds are coming from. You can pick out right or left, but anything beyond that just seems muddied.
I tried repositioning the speakers on my desk in multiple positions, but never found any sort of sweet spot where the sounds all came together. Turning on software 3D drivers for my onboard sound card produced a more pronounced effect, but then that also produced a more profound effect for the $US40 speakers I was using before these, and those didn't have the term 3D in the title.
The Soundscience Rockus 3D 2.1 Speaker System is an expensive pair of speakers banking on a new technology that doesn't seem to do quite what the description says it should do. That doesn't mean this is a bad speaker system; just an overambitious one. If they stripped the 3D from the product name and put these on sale for $US99 or so I'd recommend them in a heartbeat. At Soundscience's $US199 asking price, however, I'd recommend directing your ears elsewhere.
Here a shot of one of the Rockus speaker units sitting next to my monitor at a dramatic angle, highlighting the drama of my desk. Also, drama.
This shot gives us a better idea of how large the subwoofer is compared to the speakers.
This is a glamor shot of the speakers. There is no reason to ever place them like this, unless you're doing up a glamor shot.
The control hub adds another circle to your desktop. Go circles!
The back of the subwoofer, where the magic happens. Note the optical audio in, the bass level selector, and slats. Those are some nice slats.