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Logitech Z-680 Review

Highs

  • Excellent sounding

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 9

Lows

  • Noticeable white noise
Logitech has exceeded our expectations in nearly every department with its Z-680 speaker system.

Summary

Logitech has exceeded our expectations in nearly every department with its Z-680 speaker system.  The clarity in the midrange and highs as well as excellent base response is truly impressive.  We noted excess background noise at low volume – an issue which some will find disturbing and others will not even notice.  In quality the system sounds very similar to its older cousin, the award winning Z-560.  The obvious advantages are the increased power and the move to 5.1 surround from the older 4.1 standard.  Other improvements can be found in the details, but deciding if the Z-680 is worth twice the price of the Z-560 will be a difficult one for most.  If stretching those hard earned dollars is most important, you will likely go for the $100 Z-640 or $200 Z-560.  But if power, sound quality, and features are top on your list, there is not much out there that can contend with the Z-680 sound system.

Introduction

Logitech released two new speaker systems for this year, one at around $100 and one at $400.  In January we reviewed Logitech’s inexpensive new Z-640 speakers and found little but praise to give.  This time we examine Logitech’s flagship THX, DTS, and Dolby 5.1 Surround computer speaker system.  Marketed as an all-in-one computer/game system/home theater sound system, the Z-680s offer incredible sound at a premium price.  But are the Z680’s really worth four times the price of the Z640’s?  Read on to find out…

Features

Logitech’s latest and most expensive computer speakers are truly world class.  There is little competition in computer speakers with as much power, quality, and features as the Logitech’s Z-680’s.  And because of the similarity of these to last year’s award winning Z-560 series, Logitech now understands where it  falls in the market quite well.  Unfortunately this is reflected in the price, and for most it will take some real soul searching to justify the $400 price tag.  To put this in perspective, Logitech currently sells a decent 33 Watt computer stereo sound system & sub at about $50.  For $80 you get a 40 Watt 4.1 surround version, and $100 gets you the nice 70 Watt 5.1 system we reviewed in January.  Also available are the older 400 Watt 4.1 system at $200, and now the 500 Watt 5.1 Z-680 for $400.  The question most will ask (and rightly so) is can the Z-680 really justify twice the price of its close cousin, the Z-560?  Hopefully the following will provide you sufficient information to make the decision for yourself.

The Z-680’s are touted as speakers for all your entertainment needs – and because of the many inputs on the Control Center, we feel this is justified.  This claim is necessary since you may not be able to justify the price if you only use the speakers on the computer, but when used for your video games, music, and home theater it seems much more practical.

Sound on the Z-680 system comes from four 62 watt satellites, a 69 watt center channel, and one 188 watt sub.  This totals 505 Watts, but earlier versions (such as ours) use an older rating scheme (which also complied to FTC standards) and confusingly label it 450 Watts.  As mentioned before, we are quite pleased with Logitech’s accurate reporting of the RMS value rather than the oft exaggerated peak-power that nearly every other speaker manufacture in this price range does.  Unlike the less expensive Logitech subs (all but the Z-560) this unit uses a ported enclosure to maximize volume.   The quality and quantity of the bass are exceptional – and perhaps even overwhelming if not adjusted correctly.  But even more impressive is that Logitech’s center and satellite speakers provide equally satisfying midrange and highs.  Although it is difficult to reproduce the full spectrum with any two-way system (such as this and almost all other computer speakers, which are at most two-way), Logitech has done a great job reproducing the mid range frequencies on the five surround speakers without diminishing the highs.  This is a great improvement over their $100 system (Z-640), but surprisingly similar to their $200 system (Z-560).  In fact many will find it difficult to differentiate the sound quality between this and the Z-560, other than at high volume.  But this is where the similarities end and focus must be drawn to the details.

Features Continued…

The Z-680 intends to be a much more user friendly system, complete with a large control center, wireless remote, and many new features.  One of the biggest advantages of this system is its capability to accept multiple inputs such as digital coax, optical, stereo mini-phono, and six-channel direct via three mini-phono jacks.  On home theater systems it is generally expected to have multiple inputs – but for a computer speaker system this is relatively new – and quite useful.  For instance this allows your game system to plug into the mini-phono jacks, your DVD or VCR to connect to the digital coax, your CD player to the stereo mini-phono jack, and your computer to the optical connector (or any other variant of this).  Of course all this could be accomplished externally with a switchbox or similar device but this internal solution is simpler and more elegant.  Unfortunately if you want more than four devices (ie DVD, VCR, TV, Computer, Game system, etc.), or if some of the devices require stereo RCA cables, you will be back to engineering a work-around – something many are accustom to doing anyway.  For instance, send the audio from the DVD, VCR, & Game system to the TV and connect the TV out to the Logitech control center (effectively making the TV into the switchbox).

Another feature to make this system stand out is its ability to automatically detect the stereo/surround input signal, rather than have to manually select which input to use.  Its ability to distinguish between a 5.1 Dolby Digital, DTS, or stereo sound, and adjust accordingly is a distinct advantage over cheaper systems which generally will play the stereo signal only on two speakers.   A manual fix for this was placed on Logitech’s cheaper Z-640 speakers – a matrix button was used if you needed to switch between stereo and surround inputs, and had to be pushed each time your inputs input changed between stereo and surround.  Again, the Z-680 offers an elegant solution – the only setback being a ~5 second delay needed for automatic detection and switching.

The other features found in this exceptionally large control center are a LCD display, a hefty volume knob, the IR sensor, several buttons, and the I/O jacks.  We are not sure what purpose the overall bulkiness plays; it looks like all these features could easily have fit into a box one-half this size.  Nevertheless the control center is quite functional and allows switching between the various inputs, several effects, settings, levels, and a mute option.   Most of these features will rarely be used – but for the audio enthusiast it will be interesting to go through each of the various effects: Dolby Digital, DTS, MPEG, Dolby Pro Logic II Movie, Dolby Pro Logic II Music, 6 Channel Direct, Stereo X2, and Stereo.  Depending on your input your options of the above will be limited.  The remote has the same options as the control center, plus a test button to confirm each of the speakers is operational.  The remote’s range is great, as with its layout and shape.  The system uses standard speaker wires – making it simple to replace with wire lengths to suit.  As with the other Logitech systems, speaker mounts are reversible to allow for wall or table mounting.  Also it is arguably one of the more aesthetically pleasing speaker systems available.

Unfortunately even with such a high quality system we had several disappointments.  First – right out of the box the red center channel speaker jack was broken.  Perhaps this was just an early quality control issue, but in our opinion the biggest issue is a concern that even Logitech notes on its web page – the background noise.  Audiophiles will notice immediately a significant amount of white noise at low volumes.  While this is not noticeable at louder music levels – we found that even after 3 clicks on the volume (out of 27) the background noise exceeded the music volume.  At close range it takes turning the volume up to about half-way to totally drown it out.   And in a quite room the white noise is still distinguishable from 15 feet away.  Logitech attempts to justify this in several ways – primarily explaining that this is normal in high power systems and can be fixed by placing the speakers further than 6 feet away.  While placing the speakers further away will definitely help, we feel that some better noise reduction circuitry would be a great help.

Setup and Installation

Setup is very straightforward:  the satellites and center channel all connect to the sub with the included standard speaker wire.  An Allen wrench is included to reverse the speaker mounts (horizontal to vertical) if necessary.  The control center plugs into the sub via a SVGA cable, and audio inputs plug into the front and back of the control center.  The 6-channel analog cable is included, digital coax & optical cables are extra.

Conclusion

Logitech has exceeded our expectations in nearly every department with its Z-680 speaker system.  The clarity in the midrange and highs as well as excellent base response is truly impressive.  We noted excess background noise at low volume – an issue which some will find disturbing and others will not even notice.  In quality the system sounds very similar to its older cousin, the award winning Z-560.  The obvious advantages are the increased power and the move to 5.1 surround from the older 4.1 standard.  Other improvements can be found in the details, but deciding if the Z-680 is worth twice the price of the Z-560 will be a difficult one for most.  If stretching those hard earned dollars is most important, you will likely go for the $100 Z-640 or $200 Z-560.  But if power, sound quality, and features are top on your list, there is not much out there that can contend with the Z-680 sound system.

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