Most of you may be aware of the Gigaworks line up of speakers from Creative.
Recently, I checked out the Gigaworks T3.
Logitech Z-2300 ($115)
Total Continuous Power(RMS): 200 W
Satellites(RMS): 80 W (40 W x 2) @8 ohm
Subwoofer(RMS): 120 W @8 ohm
Frequency response: 35 Hz–20 kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio(SNR): >100 dB
Satellite Drivers: 2.5-inch polished aluminum phase plug driver
Subwoofer Driver: 8-inch long-throw driver
Creative Gigaworks T3 ($240)
Total Continuous Power(RMS): 80 W
Satellites(RMS): 30 W (15 W x 2) @8 ohm
Subwoofer(RMS): 50 W @4 ohm
Response Bandwidth 30–20 kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio(SNR): >90dB
Satellite Driver: 2 inch, metal diaphragm driver
Subwoofer Driver: 1 x active subwoofer driver 6.5 inch + 2 X passive 6.5 inch
Design & Build
Gigaworks are known for their compact speaker systems. The T3 is a 2.1 Gigaworkssystem and gets the same treatment.
The satellites houses two tiny drivers, much smaller than Z-2300 satellites and have a cube-like design, perched on slim stands. The cube houses a 2 inch full range driver. They are not phase plug driver type as found on Z-2300 but are of metal diaphragm type. The driver is hidden behind a fabric mesh to prevent dust collection. But they seem better without them on, more like the aggressive performance system that Gigaworks is meant to deliver.
The stand on which these drivers sit isn't the adjustable kind.The stands have good rubber feet for a firm grip. Thought the speakers are small and compact the attached metal stand makes it quite heavy.
Now coming to the subwoofer of the T3, which is the main and most unique component of the system. It is a three-way firing subwoofer, so we get three 6.5 inch drivers. But all three are not active drivers. The passive drivers take up the two sides while the front one only being active. There is no bass reflex port which means the subwoofer is airtight. It is a good means to produce bass that has a deeper feeling, but that comes at the expense of loudness of the subwoofer.
At the rear of the subwoofer are the connectors for both left and right speakers. This includes the volume control and the connectors for the control pod/wired remote. Theaudio input RCA type and the bass level of the acoustic module are also present here. The bass can be set to a neutral level or increased and decreased. The placement of the bass level knob at the rear is really not the best idea and it would have been better placed in the control pod, like the Z-2300.
I found control pod of the T3 is a very simple unit. It is wired and with no wireless remote provided. I feel that the whole "premiumness" of the T3 is more or less lost here. The Control Pod looks neat with the use of chrome rings present on it. The wire is long enough to reach up to most desks. There is a headphone jack and a line-In or AUX jackpresent on it as well making it simple to connect MP3 players or other external sources. In between these two jacks there is a purple LED which lights up stating that its drawing power or the speakers are powered. The LED stops glowing when the speakers are not being used thus sending the T3 into standby. The pod has a neat rubber base to hold onto most surfaces it's placed on.
Gigaworks has always packed something special in all its speakers, and the T3 is no different. While we have seen almost every Gigaworks speaker feature BassXPort, the T3 has a new technology for providing better sound - SLAM. Let's now take a closer look at this new feature.
SLAM is the acronym to 'Symmetrically Loaded Acoustic Module'. This technology, just like BassXPort, is meant to provide better bass. The difference between the two is that BassXPort is meant for standalone speakers that don't have a subwoofer or woofer. SLAM on the other hand is a more enhanced subwoofer. It incorporates one active and two passive drivers into a single subwoofer in the quest to produce over double the bass from a single subwoofer, instead of using two subwoofers. This turns it into a three-way firing subwoofer. The front facing subwoofer is the master driver, while the other two help in creating a pressure barrier to contain the low frequency, so that the thump is deeper in feeling.
I found that the drivers are quite small at just 2 inches and also the satellite box that holds the driver being small to. The problem with this is, though small full range drivers in small boxes deliver excellent high frequency response, what they will definitely lack is midrange, simply because you need bigger diaphragm (more than 2 inches) & much larger air volume inside the satellite box to produce a decent midrange.
Since T3 uses metal diaphragm drivers which are fast and light, and have very high resolving power, they obviously provide incredible detailed high-frequency response in expense of midrange. This kind of "crispy boom" sound, is a rave among young people who think it as the clarity of the system. But for more experienced audio people, it is not the accurate or real sound.
The Z-2300 on the other hand have drivers that are 2.5 inches (3 inches would have been even better) and they are fitted in a satellite box that is twice the size of T3. So from a technical point Z-2300 satellites will have better midrange. My personal view is that the satellites of the Z-2300 produce the most accurate sound of any 2.1 multimedia speaker system available today within its price range. Remember i said "accurate" which means just as the sound was meant to be heard, not the more clear "crispy boom" type with perceived clarity.
I seems T3 have gone the BOSE way.
The bass driver is 6.5 inches and are just okay for me. Actually any person with decent knowledge about sound systems will consider drivers of 8 inches & more in size as real bass drivers that are suitable for subwoofers. Z-2300 uses a 8 inch bass driver, so for me Z-2300's has a real subwoofer.
The theory is that in order to produce low frequencies of the sound spectrum, you need prodigious power (watts of power) in order to move huge volumes of air. To do so you need a driver with big diaphragm (thus 8 inches or more in size) and lots of watts from the amplifier powering the driver. Also the size of the subwoofer also counts, since the bigger the bass driver size the bigger the subwoofer assembly gets and thus can produce more defined, more powerful & more accurate bass than a smaller subwoofer.
Z-2300 subwoofer is twice the size of T3's. No question, Z-2300 wins in the subwoofer department hands down.
Amplifier module of T3
The amplifier unit is at the back of the subwoofer. The quality of craftsmanship, the PCB layout of the amplifier is top notch & the best i have seen among multimedia speakers. It is even better than Z-2300. But this praise goes for craftsmanship & design, not for the components used in the amplifier assembly.
The thing that spoils this party is the rather lame EI type power transformer that is used to power the amplifier. If you look at the picture showing the subwoofer internals as above you will find that the EI type transformer is sitting in the middle. At $240 I expected at least a toroidal transformer as found in Z-2300. The toroid is way superior than any EI type, but generally cost 50% more than a similar EI one.
The biggest disappointment for me is that T3 uses a rather chepo Class-D Texas Instruments TAS5142 power amplifier. I personally believe a Class-AB amplifier would have produced far superior sound. But that would have increased their cost of building this system & a dent in profit margin.
On the other hand, I am quite pleased to find that Z-2300 uses four Class-AB power amplifiers. Also doing a gross oversimplification of the price of the components as found on the amplifier modules of both T3 & Z-2300, Z-2300's amp module cost nearly two times that of T3's.
TAS5142 is a 2 × 100 W digital amplifier chip, to achieve output of 100W per channel, need to BTL (bridge) mode. In fact, it is a 4-channel amplifier chip, 4 ohms impedance, to achieve 4 × 30 W output. The chip, being Class-D have high efficiency, over 90%, that is, most energy is converted into sound, only 10% of the electrical energy is converted into heat energy.
Texas Instruments TAS5142 [Stereo Digital Amplifier 2 X 100 W]
REASON FOR USING CLASS-AB AMPLIFIERS
A quick look at many new low power speaker amplifiers on the market highlights the move to class D audio performance, but when it comes to low distortion and low noise and best sound quality, class AB still has the edge.
Class AB architecture offers a signal to noise plus distortion ratio of up to 10 times better than its equivalent Class D neighbour as well as providing a much simpler architecture which can be tweaked as required, without the need for reactive filter components on the output and the electromagnetic radiation resulting from an output stage switching at a few hundred kHz.
Class D amplification has inherent distortion in it and therefore is predominantly used in lower bandwidth amplification like in subwoofers. In other words it is quite impossible for a Class D to achieve the level of linearity in frequency response produced by a Class AB amplifier. Class D achieves about 90% power efficiency compared to about 60% respectively for Class AB.
Ultimately it comes down to what you want, for efficiency and cost effectiveness Class D is best, but if you can sacrifice some efficiency & increase cost for the sake of sound quality then Class AB is the best.
In other words Class A amps sound the best, cost the most, and are the least practical. They waste power and return very clean signals. Class AB amps dominate the market and rival the best Class A amps in sound quality. They use less power than Class A, and can be cheaper, smaller, cooler, and lighter. Class D amps are even smaller than Class AB amps and more efficient, because they use high-speed switching rather than linear control.
The most important reason behind which multimedia speaker manufactures are switching from Class AB to Class D is to increase profit margin for the company. Class D is very cheap to produce and does not need require a big extruded aluminum heat sink or expensive toroidal transformers. They are basically switching power supplies but utilize pulse width modulation so as to be able to reproduce and amplify an alternating current. There ok for subwoofers, but I honestly think that it is ridiculous to use a class D amplifier in a high end studio monitor.
In short, Class D amps are more efficient but are only good for low frequencies applications like subwoofer amplification. Class AB amps are generally 30% less efficient but can be used full range amplification i.e from 20Hz – 20kHz.
Class D amps cannot be used on highs frequency response because of the way they work. They only produce square waves because of the technology involved, so they will make your highs sound lifeless and tinny. Class AB amplifiers produce full variable signals and can capture subtle nuances better and sound more warm and generally have more depth in sound.
Since T3 uses Class-D amplifies which emit little or no heat, it has a tiny heat sink as shown below:
Pushing it through the music, movies & game tests the T3 performed quite well. The highs from the satellites are sharp and there was no distortion even at max volume. The mids are present and but are not quite defined as predicted, though the satellites seems to get a bit too sharp at higher volumes. The mids die out as it gets a bit overshadowed by the characteristic shrilly highs of the Creative speakers. They are present but you can make out the difference.
The T3 is crystal clear up to 60% of the volume but after that point it goes off balance and the shrill from the satellites take over. On the other hand the Z-2300 remains superbly composed even at full volumes. The T3 system overall is balanced but you need to keep the volume between 10-60% (under 10% it's soft and over 60% it fades a bit with increase in volume).
Note that the upper midrange is a bit overdone, which may be a little flattering and the extreme treble is little bit attenuated to provide the "crispy boom" effect. That is the reason why women voices performed better than male voices, since for male voices needs better midrange.
The Z-2300 satellites are more powerful at 80W RMS (instead of 30W RMS of T3) and produce a far superior natural, soothing & smooth sound with clear detailing on every note which is so pleasant to hear. Both male & female voices are excellently represented on the Z-2300.
The 50W RMS subwoofer of T3 was able to deliver quite a thump. I dare say that I am seriously impressed with this thump. It's a unique thump though it still needed tuning.The subwoofer has tight bass but the overall bass of the T3 is is not well defined. This is a normal "techno" bass character of Class-D amplifiers. A similar Class-AB amplifier(as in Z-2300) will produce bass which is a little less deeper than a Class-D, but the bass will be much more defined & accurate and also feel more natural & real.
For example, playing the track "Chant" of the band Foreplay, i noticed that the kick drums of that track produce "boom boom boom" on the T3. Playing the same track on Z-2300, the kick drums sounded "booouuumm booouuumm booouuumm" which is the actual sound of kick drums.
Z-2300 successor Z-623 also sound "boom boom boom" as it uses Class-D amplifiers. More of it in the next post.
Since the satellites are very small and uses very small full range drivers, they affect the overall bass produced by giving it a rough edge. It can't be noticed at lower volumes but is noticeable as soon as you turn up the volume even with the subwoofer set to neutral. With the bass pumped to a higher level the roughness in the bass gets more profound. On reducing the bass level and going below neutral, the bass seems poor. Overall SLAM has potential and can deliver but it needs to get better. But, all said and done the bass of T3 is good for the size of the subwoofer.
Comparing it with the benchmark 120W RMS subwoofer of the Z-2300, I was amazed that it completely matched the Z-2300 up to 50% of Z-2300’s volume and produced the same slamming & chest thumping response Z-2300 is so famous for. But after that it was as always Z-2300’s territory. I am very impressed with the T3’s bass i would have loved the use of more expensive Class-AB amplifiers.
The performance of the T3 isn't all it's cracked up to be, with good 2.1 systems like Logitech Z-2300 around. It has a slight edge but only at certain volumes, but still loses out on the whole. Its small & compact size is the main factor that limits its performance.
As you see above, T3 is nicely balanced & provides a wide response through out the frequency range. It is important to note that T3 is way superior than Altec Lansing MX-6021 in terms of balanced frequency response.
The Creative Gigaworks T3 costs a whopping $240 with a one-year warranty. In comparison Logitech Z-2300 is available at $115.
Buying the T3 is like paying double the price of Z-2300 to buy half of its performance. This is a ultra steep price just like any other product from the Gigaworks line up. At this price you'd expect something like near studio quality, which sadly is not the case. Actually if Audio Engine have made a bookshelf between A2 & A5 say the A3, T3 would have made circles around A3 all day long.
I have the Altec Lansing MX-5021 and the Z-2300 from Logitech. Both of them are THX certified. The Z-2300 being the better of the two, and a much better buy over theGigaworks T3 in the price to performance ratio.
Ask me and I'll repeatedly choose the Z-2300 for the performance it offers at that price. It actually provide much superior performance than T3 at half of its price. As for theGigaworks T3 all I have to say is that the SLAM technology still has to prove its mettle. I won't pay the premium for a technology that can, as of now, only deliver a 0% better performance over a system(Z-2300) that costs less than half of its price.