For over 15 years, Corsair Memory has manufactured some of the most reliable performance products available to PC users. The company began manufacturing and selling PC memory modules and used the ensuing success to expand its product strategies. The company has went on to create some of the finest PC cases and power supplies available in the marketplace today.
Apparently, the company is never content to rest on its laurels, so it created the HS1 USB gaming headset for the PC audio market. We reviewed that headset in October and found it to be excellent. Shortly after reviewing the headset, we learned the company intended to unveil its first set of 2.1 speakers at the beginning of the new year.
In the last three to four years, the PC speaker market has become stale. Consumers continue choosing products from the last few remaining brands or use home theater components instead possibly because there is no new innovation to be found. Today, we will examine Corsair’s SP2500 2.1 speaker system in order to see if this talented company has successfully brought another great product and fresh innovation to the PC audio world.
Product – Pricing – Packaging
Corsair’s SP2500 speakers have an MSRP of $249.99. The speakers are not widely available yet, so the retail price may vary by retailer shortly after widespread availability should be seen. We received a retail set of the speakers directly from Corsair and we must say, the retail box is absolutely huge.
Just as it did with the HS1 headset, Corsair uses a blue, black, and white color scheme to catch a potential buyer’s eye and perhaps create brand association. The box has a life size picture of the speaker set on three sides and a general listing of product features and design philosophy, in three languages, on the fourth side. The top of the box lists product contents and all the technical specifications that a knowledgeable buyer would want to know.
Each speaker was individually wrapped and everything was well padded with many pieces of shaped cardboard isolating each component. The foam paper that wrapped the speakers certainly prevents the possibility of the speakers becoming scratched during shipping. All of the necessary wiring was individually wrapped as well. Nothing was just “thrown in the box.”
We found that the SP2500 box contained the following components:
It is great to see that Corsair included both the RCA to RCA cable and the 1/8″/3.5mm to RCA cable as well. Some manufacturers only include one or the other with their products.
It is also interesting to note that Corsair’s choice of cabling from the subwoofer to each speaker has a four pin connector like those found on a PC power supply rather than a standard RCA jack-style connector. A user has to depress the release arm on each cable to detach it, rather than simply grab the connector and pull. While this is a very secure cabling system, it does make the speakers somewhat proprietary in nature.
Consumers often ask how the total power requirement for a set of speakers is derived. Final total wattage for the SP2500 is 232 watts; 120 to the sub, 40 to each satellite, and 16 to each tweeter. (The wattages currently shown on the packaging are incorrect.)
I/O, Controls and Programming
Some of the above may not mean much to some of our readers as it is written, so we will expand on some of the terminology.
There are two other inputs available besides the main RCA jacks on the back of the subwoofer. There is a 1/8″ stereo jack on the back of the subwoofer and control pod as well. You do not have to unplug your main input source to use another device with these speakers such as an mp3 player. After plugging such a device into one of the other two input jacks, a user need only use the control pad to choose which is the active input.
Unlike most PC speaker control units, the SP2500 has a TFT display that visually gives multiple choices for speaker settings. A listener does not have to fiddle with knobs to know what he is adjusting. He instantly sees exactly what setting he is changing. System volume and bass level are expressed digitally onscreen, not by numerical dashes on a dial.
Mod X is for movies that when placed on DVD are not remastered for home viewing. Those movies still have a soundtrack meant to be heard in a large auditorium. Mod X helps to correct that.
The control pod allows you to change the language displayed and choose different hardware presets depending on the type of sound you desire. For example, the “late night” setting makes everything a bit quieter so music or movies do not have sudden blaring moments that might disturb others. The “stadium” preset gives music that live, wide open space feeling like that of an outdoor concert. All of these presets are managed in the hardware processing of the SP2500 and are not dependant on a user’s sound card.
Corsair also told us that the firmware of the control pod is upgradeable through a USB cable if any changes are ever needed or extra features added. The pod already has nine language choices. Perhaps firmware upgrades would expand that as well.
Installing the speakers was extremely easy. We placed our two satellite speakers on our desk and subwoofer on the floor. We ran the two four pin cables, one from each speaker, to the corresponding colored plug on the back of the subwoofer. We then plugged our 15 pin “vga style” cable from the control pod to the subwoofer. For our sound source, we plugged our standard RCA cable from our X-Fi Titanium HD to the input jacks on the back of the subwoofer. Lastly, we placed the female end of the power cord into the sub and plugged the male end into our power strip. We pressed the power button for the control pod and we were immediately able to begin playing music. Unpacking and installation took approximately twelve minutes.
The two included satellite stands are for speaker positioning. If you wish to place your speakers above you, you could then place the speaker stands underneath the back of the speakers to angle them downward. If you want your speakers on a desk where they would naturally be below you, you can place the stands beneath the front of both speakers and they will point upward toward you, the listener.
The subwoofer is very large but it is entirely black so it is not at all obtrusive. There is a small Corsair logo in the bottom left corner. The speakers are only six inches high and take up very little space on a desk. The speakers are quite unusual looking though. The mid-range driver has a blue ring around the center which is very distinctive and very noticeable. Both speakers have a Corsair logo as well. The speakers are very attractive, but if such a striking color distracts you, these speakers are not for you.
Testing System Setup
For testing, we used the playlist that has been in many of our other reviews because we want to cover as many genres as possible. We used a selection of high bitrate MP3 and FLAC tracks from Metallica, The White Stripes, Lil’ Wayne, Queen, Garden State Soundtrack, The Black Eyed Peas, The Best Jazz Album in the World, The Crystal Method, The Preacher’s Wife Soundtrack, The Best Of The Most Relaxing Classical Music In The Universe, Ministry Of Sound – The Sound Of Dubstep, Open Your Ears, and Ray Charles-Genius Loves Company from HDTracks.com.
We feel most compelled to say that music in general sounds phenomenal with these speakers because mid, high, and low frequencies can each be easily discerned during playback. Imagine listening to music in the background out in public. You hear it, but you are not paying attention, because it blends in with all of the other sounds around you. With the Corsair SP2500, we can honestly say that music has a much more detailed and defined sound because every part of every song is emphasized. Vocals are clear, instruments are heard, melodies are perceived. One does not outweigh the other.
The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack had such a great playback because each section of the choir could be heard as it came in to accompany the lead vocalist. The Best Jazz Album in the World was excellent because the “flavor” or atmosphere of where and when the music was recorded comes through with the lead vocals. These speakers do not color the music with its own sound signature.
Hearing Queen’s Greatest Hits on these speakers is like hearing the songs for the first time. Instead of simply hearing Freddie Mercury sing a song at the top of his lungs, the band can be heard as well. There are so many light sounds and words that are lost with most speakers because the elements of the song simply run together and sound muddy.
A true test for speakers is for a listener to identify as many instruments and number of vocalists in a song as he can. Ordinarily, with many classical pieces, violin and piano are most commonly perceived. In our listening session with the SP2500 speakers, we could perceive flutes and a light amount of drumming we had simply never noticed.
Metallica’s albums sounded very different than what we were accustomed to. In the past, we could never really hear much of the bass guitar in the band’s songs. It can be heard quite well with the SP2500 speakers and a flat EQ. More often than not, a consumer will have to tailor his equipment and equalizer settings to his own personal tastes. This was not necessary with the SP2500 because their sound is characterized by a wide, natural room-filling sound.
The Ministry Of Sound – The Sound Of Dubstep album we use for testing really showed us how smooth low frequency reproduction is with this subwoofer. Bass rolls evenly with the SP2500 as it should. It never booms simply because a low frequency effect is present.
Music playback was simply excellent.
DSP Modes and Music
If you are the type of person that likes live music or a club music sound, then the SP2500 speakers are for you. In hardware, the speakers have the ability to add its own “custom” EQ to the sound input it receives. A listener can choose “stadium” for that outdoor live music sound, concert hall or club for that more intimate sound, and theater, karaoke, and dynamic pop which all add the environmental nature to the sound reproduced. “Late night” is one of our favorites as it prevents some of the high frequencies from being piercing or shrill at louder volumes. Again, all of this done by the speakers and control pod and does not tax a user’s system or sound card in any way.
Music-Auxiliary Inputs and outputs
We plugged an MP3 player into the SP2500 control pod, and later our subwoofer, and switched our source on the control pod each time. Playback was excellent. Most generally when an MP3 player is plugged into something else, such as a car stereo’s line in or a PC, the volume must be heavily increased to compensate for the pass-through. This was not the case with the SP2500. There was no background hiss or added distortion. Both of the secondary inputs worked very well and were easy to choose with the included control pod.
A user may also plug headphones directly into the control pod rather than his PC’s front or rear audio jacks. The control pod and its design make it an excellent hub for the activities of the SP2500 speakers.
We decided to test a new DVD for this review. We used Inception. Throughout the whole movie dialogue was very clear and natural. Usually when a movie with a 5.1 soundtrack is down-mixed to 2.1, dialogue tends to be lost because of a lack of center channel speaker. We turned on Creative’s CMSS-3D before watching the movie for up-mixing purposes. When Leonardo DiCaprio is dunked in the bath tub, the low frequency effects present were subtle at first, but gradually became more and more prominent. The subwoofer of the SP2500 did not “thump” simply because low frequencies sounds were present in the movie’s soundtrack. It reacted accordingly to the amount of low frequency sound that was present at that specific moment in the movie.
We later decided to revisit an old favorite, KickAss. Even though the movie was down-mixed to 2.1 because of our speaker setup, dialogue was still extremely clear with Creative’s CMSS-3D active for up-mixing purposes. Surround effects were not as strong as on a 5.1 system, but they were quite present. There is constant narration throughout the movie and it was always clear and prominent as if there were a dedicated center channel present. One of the best features of the SP2500 speakers, is no matter how close these speakers may be to each other, we still got that “wide open space” sound when the movie’s characters were outside. Narration and character dialogue in general are mid-range frequency sounds. The SP2500 speakers do an exceptional job in mid-range reproduction. Sounds reproduced are separate and pitch perfect, not shrill.
Lastly, we watched the animated How to Train Your Dragon and this choice was excellent as well. Sound placement for animated films is done manually by each movie’s sound engineers, so proper sound playback is essential. This movie was excellent because flying scenes of the characters riding dragons genuinely sounded as if the characters were flying through the sky. Character dialogue was also excellent because again, all voices were reproduced so clearly between the two speakers.
Movie playback in general is exceptional with the SP2500 speakers, regardless of the fact that they are a 2.1 set. We do wish Corsair would consider making a 5.1 set very soon.
For gaming, we wanted to test a wide variety so we went “old school” in our first test.
We chose the original F.E.A.R. in single player mode to see how the SP2500 would handle the game sounds. We used Creative’s Alchemy program to restore hardware acceleration to the game and the results were very impressive. The SP2500 can obviously reproduce great sound with a flat EQ but its control pod also has two digital processing modes: Action Gaming and FPS.
Using the flat EQ setting, we ran through the first six levels of the game. When our character was inside of a warehouse, the echoes reproduced made us feel the environment was realistic. Enemies came from around a corner filled with crates and we could perceive how far they were from us by sound alone.
When we shot out a glass window, the breaking glass hitting the floor sound like real pieces of glass falling in front of us. The game’s villain, Paxton Fetal often speaks mentally to the game’s hero and the chilling echo reproduced by the SP2500 speakers was actually scary. When our character has temporary flashbacks, the accompanying sound effect actually sounded as if it were truly surrounding us, and again, we stress that this is only a two speaker system.
We tried both of the gaming DSP modes on the Corsair control pod. Both modes seem to enhance mid-range and high frequency reproduction and this allows for easier placement by the player to locate game goals and enemies. Both modes sounded very similar and removed some of the game’s rolling, subtle bass, but gunshots and positioning become much more precise and easier to perceive.
Next, we chose Crysis. This game takes place outdoors and we wanted to see if the SP2500 could reproduce the jungle sounds accurately. As we heard our character walking through the jungle breaking branches and moving leaves, we could easily pinpoint enemies by sound alone. Again, we got that “outdoor feeling” during the whole game. When a missile was launched against approaching enemies, we felt the explosion, but the SP2500 speakers never sounded distorted.
Next we used two newer games: Left 4 Dead 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for testing. Positional audio provided by Creative’s CMSS-3D sounded excellent with the SP2500 in Left 4 Dead 2. We actually had to turn our volume down several times because every sound was reproduced so prominently across the level. The high frequencies reproduced by these speakers really do accurately reveal points of action in this game. We ran through the Dark Carnival level and we clearly had a sense of “up and down” and “side to side” character placement. When we shot a zombie by the swimming pool from a balcony, we could actually hear realistic echoes or ricochets as our bullets found their intended target in the distance. When we entered the hotel rooms looking for medkits and ammo, we could perceive the indoor environment by the distinct change in sound alone; it was quite genuine. We could perceive our three companions when they were in front of or behind us very accurately, so that “outdoor” sound the SP2500 speakers have is just an accurate representation of whatever type environment is created within the game.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 playback was loud, clear, and positionally accurate as well throughout our test levels. Explosions and gunfire were felt to great effect. Character dialogue was excellent and movie-like. When we were hiding in the grass watching enemy tanks pass by, we could feel the gradual rumble from our left that signaled the approach through our subwoofer. When planes flew overhead bombing everything, we could literally hear those above us dropping bombs in front of and to the right of us. The positionality reproduced in the game audio was excellent.
There really is no need to use one of the special EQ settings built into the SP2500 control pod when gaming, but if you are a perfectionist or you game competitively, you may find them extremely useful. For the casual or serious gamer, these speakers are exceptional with a flat EQ and CMSS-3D for surround up-mixing. The hardware digital signal processing modes are a big plus that can be selected with a push of the control pod’s menu button. These speakers show off how good the analog gaming sound output of the Titanium HD really is.
Corsair has three ways to be reached for support: phone, email, and web-based forums. The speakers have a two year warranty. In the past, we have used Corsair RMA process to return memory and an H50 water cooling unit. Each time we had a painless experience. We have confidence that our readers would not have any problems either with other purchases. It is rare in the PC industry to find companies that still accept calls for technical issues.
Apples to Apples
We spent some time this month with a competitor’s speakers and it is difficult to decide which company’s set is better. Corsair’s control pod is intuitive and versatile, but its speakers are housed in hard plastic. The competitor’s are made of anodized aluminum, but their version of a speaker control pod is terrible.
Many users in our forums remain loyal to Klipsch and its 2.1 Promedia set of speakers. The Klipsch set was descent for its time, but the control pod, dynamic range, and overall sound reproduction of the SP2500 speakers are clearly superior.
For a 2.1 set, you will be hard pressed to find a better neutral listening experience and wide soundstage as good as Corsair’s. Music playback was exceptional and gaming was phenomenal; the numerous DSP modes of the SP2500 are an excellent bonus.
The Bottom Line
If you are a music lover, these speakers will fulfill your PC listening needs. The sound separation is fantastic. The bass does not overpower vocals or any instrument. It highlights many instruments we occasionally do not notice on weaker speakers.
Gaming was exemplary as well. If you are a gamer and prefer speakers to headphones, these are an excellent choice. Pairing these speakers with a good gaming sound card is absolutely essential. If your input source is of high quality, your output will be the best it can be as well.
The one thing you might want to think about the fact that a “proprietary” ATX4 connection is used between the subwoofer and the speakers. These are 6 feet / 1.8 meters in length, each. If you are looking to place these further from the subwoofer that what might be considered “the norm,” you are going to run into an obstacle as you cannot just throw on some extra speak wire between the two in order to remedy this.
The Corsair Gaming Audio Series SP2500 High-power 2.1PC Speaker System is exceptional and we have absolutely no reservations about recommending these. Assembly was extremely easy, the speakers look great, and performed well in all of our tests. Corsair makes excellent, innovative products and its SP2500 speakers are another reason why the company deserves your hard earned dollar.
You can currently purchase the Corsair SP2500 speakers at Amazon for $259.99 with Free Shipping for Prime or SuperSaver purchases. Considering how heavy these are, that is surely a good thing.
Corsair Gaming Audio Series SP2500 High-power 2.1PC Speaker System