First Looks: SphereX Xbox 5.1 Surround Sound System

Bring Your Room Down

Bring Your Room Down

Do not belittle SphereX Inc, the little-known maker of the Xbox 5.1 Surround Sound system because the company is in fact a subsidiary of speaker manufacturing giant Audio Products International and Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G) that comprises members such as Apogee Technology, MaxxBass and Texas Instruments. Leading the team of engineers behind the SphereX Xbox 5.1 audio system is world-renowned audio engineer Ian Paisley, who apart from being the Design and Development Director of SphereX is also a longtime avid audiophile and inventor.

Stargazing Satellites

Aesthetically, the paper-cone satellites give the impression as if they were leftover props from an alien-themed movie. At the top of each teardrop shaped satellite is a detachable mesh cone guard that while functional to its intended purpose, is unfortunately too loosely connected for our liking. In setting up the system, we were initially puzzled by the hefty 1.1kg satellites that did not seem to stand in a conventional upright position and nearly scoffed at what we thought was an incompetent design. After a little research however, it became clear that the upward facing or "stargazing" design was a signature attribute that's more than just aesthetic. Tracing down the heritage line led us to the Omnipolar technology found in the high-end Mirage speakers. By incorporating the same design principle into the satellites, the end result was a more natural audio atmosphere because sound is spatially spread out (30% direct and 70% reflected) instead of channeling towards users. Also, to show how serious they were with details, each of the five satellites sports an RCA jack, which means serious gamers can simply walk out and purchase higher quality cables for clearer signals.

A Titanic Sub

Sizing up the down-firing subwoofer, we were taken back by its weight - a titanic 12.7kg. Judging by its size and mass, it would be a shame to let the system shine only with an Xbox system. For this, SphereX has included an array of inputs, namely one coaxial digital, two optical digital outputs, and an analog input right at the back of the subwoofer for compatibility with PC systems, MP3 players, DVD players, and other audio sources. Also at the back is an infrared receiver jack, a USB 1.1 port for firmware updating as well as an expansion-card slot for features that will be introduced in the future. The black exterior of the subwoofer is generally simple with only four silver leg-stands breaking the rectangular profile.

What Lies Within

At the heart of the system is the state-of-the art Direct Digital Amplification (DDX) chip that removes the need for digital-to-analog converters while at the same time recreates a truer sound. MaxxBass' acoustic technology as well as a Texas Instruments' Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip for Dolby Digital/Pro Logic II and DTS processing are also embedded within, which should provide added confidence in the audio capabilities of the SphereX Xbox 5.1 Surround Sound system. And to take full advantage of these specialized features, SphereX has included a rather blocky infrared receiver that displays volume levels as well as the audio mode that is in use. In addition, the remote is also a master control, fully at the helm in adjusting the sweet-spot seamlessly; satellites could be individually adjusted using the remote.

To Die a Happy Man

A welcomed feature of the system is that volume is always muted upon startup and incrementally raised, which means there'll be no surprise of a sudden loud clamor from previous sessions where volume was not tuned down prior to powering down the system. When put through its gaming paces using Ghost Recon 2 (an Xbox360 title), the bass was magnificently strong, so much so that window panels were rattling uncontrollably. In-game sound reproduction was also accurate and true to its derivation, which again bodes well for enthusiastic gamers wanting the most bang (literally) from the weapons his virtual character wields. Overall, thanks to the Omnipolar sound projection technology, the soundstage produced was sufficiently deep and wide, however when hooked up to a DVD player using optical digital input, the SphereX 5.1 was found lacking in channel definition in movies and wasn't as pleasing or engaging as it was in gaming sessions. Another slight gripe we had was a very light but relentless hissing sound from the rear speakers when not in use – something that most hardcore gamers would overlook though (when they are in the midst of gaming).

Our Thoughts

We were certainly bowled over by the fact that a gaming speaker system had Mirage 'royal-blood', however we must caution that because of the Omnipolar technology, the satellites should not be placed too close to the walls as it could have a detrimental effect on the overall experience. Other than spatial restrictions and some reservations as a total Home Theatre audio solution, the SphereX 5.1 Surround Sound System is an extremely immersive and powerful audio package that would strongly complement an Xbox360 gaming console or PC gaming system.