HitMaster Gaming Studio Monitor

HitMaster Gaming Studio Monitor

Written by Dan Keener on 1/5/2010 for AV  

Polk Audio has been in the gaming audio business for many years, but mostly on the PC side. Last year, Polk debuted the SurroundBar Instant Home Theater with one of it stated purposes to enhance gaming audio without having to invest in a full-fledged home theater system. We took a look at it and found that it was exactly what the company stated and a heck of an option to make your gaming audio better.

This year, Polk identified an area of untapped potential and set about creating a simple and inexpensive way to get bigger and better sound than basic TV speakers or any crappy Home Theater in a Box can provide. The Polk Audio HitMaster Gaming Studio Monitor is their latest (and first dedicated) product geared toward gamers.



The Specs:

Model:
Polk Audio HitMaster Gaming Stage Monitor
MSRP:    $99
Total System Watts:    60w Continuous; 100w Peak
Frequency Range: 40Hz – 20 kHz
Control:  Volume knob back plate
Audio Inputs:  RCA Analog, Mini Jack
Audio Outputs:   RCA Analog (Daisy Chain)
Tweeters:          2 – 1” Neodymium Horn Tweeters (3” x 5” horn)
Driver:      6 1/2" Mid woofer
Dimensions:  14” (W) x 9.5” (D) x 8.5” (H)
Weight (lbs):         13 lbs


Out of the Box and Setup
The HitMaster comes packaged in a plastic bag between a pair of molded cardboard end caps in a fairly secure position. It really doesn’t need much more than this, as it fits nicely in the center of the box and doesn’t have any surfaces that are highly susceptible to scratching unless the box was severely damaged. Inside the box lies the HitMaster powered monitor, a 9-foot RCA audio cable, power cord and a Quick Start guide.


The audio source comes from either the traditional analog audio cable or a mini jack for use with any device that has a headphone or mini line level out. This includes any iPhone, iPod, MP3 player, laptop and yes, even that old Walkman that is still in a closet somewhere. As far as getting up and running, there probably isn’t a simpler speaker to setup on the market right now. Plugging in the RCA analog audio cable (or mini jack) and the power plug are the extent of your tasks. Turn on the power, dial up the volume and away you go.



Aesthetics
Right out of the box, you can tell that this little speaker means business. The design and appearance of the HitMaster are not just for eye candy, but highly functional and practical at the same time. While the Polk and HitMaster logos are prominently displayed on the grill of the all-black monitor, its angles and dual port design ensure that a wide range of audio will come out of its driver and dual horn tweeters.

The top sports a rugged little handle for carrying it around, while the back has the two analog inputs, fuse, power switch, dual ports and volume knob. One other thing about the HitMaster that shows its toughness is that everything with the exception of the logos on the grill is screwed down. The carry handle, feet and corner guards will not be falling off because some cheap glue failed, they are there to stay.


The mesh grill looks sharp and sturdy, but it may be a little too thin to handle any sustained abuse. While the edges and corners were stout, when I pushed against the dead center (above the driver), it had a “give” of about a quarter inch. Any type of major pressure to this area would have a chance of pushing the grill in, and possibly leaving a permanent indentation. However, while any battle scar this may leave would give it character, it would take a serious blow to that area to break through the grill and get to the driver underneath. It may be smart though to make a mental note to keep any Pete Townsend wannabes away from it.

Basically, the HitMaster is designed to give off the look and feel of a small stage monitor that would normally be in front of a guitar player. The fact that it was designed with band games in mind doesn’t hurt, as the angled design and portability makes it a nice companion for your primary gaming area or on the go. However, it will work in any application by sending big time audio out into the room for all to hear.
Audio Testing
The HitMaster is designed primarily for franchises such as Rock Band or Guitar Hero, but it certainly does a good job when playing other genres, including shooters, racing and casual party games. However, I spent the majority of my time reviewing it for its stated purpose, using Rock Band 2 and The Beatles: Rock Band on the Xbox 360. Even though I use and HDMI to hook the 360 up to my DLP, I actually used the dongle and switched over to analog audio so that I could use my TVs analog audio out jacks to get the signal to the HitMaster. This worked out really well, as my Nintendo Wii is also routed through the TV speakers (more later).

After setting up the HitMaster and going through my “sound check”, I started fooling around with the volume during the Rock Band 2 opening sequence to see what was appropriate for my great room. When I turned the knob about halfway up, the first thing that came out of my mouth was “That thing is loud as hell!” When I checked, I was only at ‘6’ on the dial, which goes to ‘11’. After settling in at about ‘4’, I spent several hours of Rock Band play just jamming through various songs and playing all three instruments. While playing the bass, guitar or drums, the HitMaster performed flawlessly, keeping in sync with the video and giving me excellent audio. It is quite apparent that the HitMaster was engineered with the guitar and drum players in mind when it comes to band games, but singing is what I do best, so I had at it.

Unfortunately, I had some trouble with the HitMaster sending out some feedback and a delay in my singing vocals (game music was fine) that I wasn’t expecting. I am not sure if this was an issue with the HitMaster, or more likely, the microphone and how close it was to the monitor. I was able to avoid the issue in the future by watching where I was at in relation to the speaker while singing, but it was an interesting problem that I hope to have cleared up in my interview with Polk Audio that is scheduled to appear this week on GamingNexus.

For those that were wondering, yes, I did turn it up to ‘11’ after breaking it in for a few hours, and it was almost criminal how loud it was. Needless to say, the family was begging me to turn it down, the cats were running for cover and I had to move off center to keep my eardrums in one piece.

In addition to the band games, my family and I put in quite a bit of time playing the Nintendo Wii utilizing the HitMaster as the primary audio source. Because the Wii is hooked up directly to the TV speakers (and not routed through the home theater) this proved to be an excellent comparison for reviewing the HitMaster. What I quickly found out was that it didn’t matter whether the game was Mario Kart, Cooking Mama or Wii Fit, and the HitMaster provided an excellent audio experience that simply blew away what the TV could produce.


I was intrigued by the possibilities the HitMaster offered other than gaming. So I pulled out an eight foot mini to mini cable and plugged in a variety of devices to test it out. The first and most obvious was my iPod Touch. In fact, while writing the review for the HitMaster, I had it plugged into my touch and used it as my background music. No matter what song played off my list, the HitMaster sounded great and was much better than the boom box or laptop speakers that I usually use while writing. I also played around with it hooked up to my gaming laptop and played a few casual games while it was hooked into my headphone jack. Again, it sounded great and obviously better than anything the small speakers on the laptop can muster.

I was extremely satisfied with the audio that the HitMaster provided during all of my testing. While it certainly won’t make me forget about my home theater system and its sub anytime soon, it puts out enough bass and creates a nice blend of midrange and highs that should satisfy anyone looking for a good audio boost for their system. While I am not usually a huge fan of horn tweeter design, it works well in the HitMaster design and really accentuates the high end of the audio range.


Miscellaneous Items of Note
  • Does not come with a mini-jack for iPod, AUX hookup
  • Works with any device that outputs audio through a mini-plug jack
  • Cabinet is built to last and travel
  • Grill is steel mesh, but could be thicker
  • Volume can only be controlled from knob on back of monitor
  • By default, most TVs will not output HDMI digital audio via analog audio out
Pros
  • Compact and mobile design
  • Cost effective way to get quality sound
  • Cabinet built to last

Cons
  • Vocals tend to get “bright” at higher volumes
  • Mini jack to hook up MP3 and iPods not included
  • Grill and “HitMaster” logo on it susceptible to wear

Testing Methodology
Items utilized in the testing of the Polk Audio HitMaster Gaming Stage Monitor included, but not limited to: Xbox 360 Elite, Nintendo Wii, Samsung 56” DLP, ASUS Gaming Laptop, 2nd Generation iPod touch

The Conclusion
The Polk Audio HitMaster is a must have for any gamer that needs to add some punch to their audio or likes to take their gaming on the road. Too many times, the gaming moves on, but the experience stays at home because the audio simply doesn’t measure up to what gamers are used to. The HitMaster solves that problem and much more by providing an inexpensive way to get bigger and better portable audio anywhere there is an AC outlet. Better yet, it doesn’t matter which gaming system you own, as it makes the audio portion of the gaming experience better no matter what console it is hooked up to. I was actually most impressed with its audio playback from my iPod and laptop and how well it blended into my office workspace.

There was little I could find that was negative about the HitMaster other than some bright vocals at high volumes and some feedback and delay when singing nearby the HitMaster while playing Rock Band. Otherwise, there were just a few cosmetic issues and a missing cable that would have been a “nice to have” in the box. However, for $99, I don’t know of a better gaming audio product on the market that delivers such diverse functionally with both quality and wide ranging audio. There were multiple times in 2009 when the HitMaster would have been an ideal companion for me on trips and to parties where Rock Band was used heavily.
The Polk Audio HitMaster is an excellent audio enhancement to not only band games like the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, but gaming in general. Unlike other band game add-ons that are merely gimmicky “enhancers”, the HitMaster is all about reproducing quality sound for those that don’t have the means to unleash the true audio in their gaming experience.

Rating: 9 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

I spent the greater part of my informative years glued to the front of a Commodore 64 after we wore out our Intellivision. If you were in the Toledo area surfing C-64 bulletin boards in the mid 80's, we probably have already met. When not running the BBS, I spent countless hours wandering around the streets of Skara Brae, as my life was immersed in The Bard's Tale series on the C-64. After taking the early 90's off from gaming (college years) minus the occasional Bill Walsh College Football on Sega, I was re-introduced to PC games in the mid 1990's with a couple of little games called DOOM II and Diablo. I went all-in with the current generation of consoles, getting an Xbox 360 on launch weekend as well as adding a PS3 and Wii in subsequent years.


While my byline is on many reviews, articles and countless news stories, I have a passion for and spent the last several years at GamingNexus focusing on audio & video and accessories as they relate to gaming. Having over 15 years of Home Theater consulting and sales under my belt, it is quite enjoyable to spend some of my time viewing gaming through the A/V perspective. While I haven't yet made it to one of the major gaming conventions (PAX or E3), I have represented GamingNexus at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for the last six years.

I have been a staff member at GamingNexus since 2006 and feel lucky to have the opportunity to put to use my B.A. in Journalism from The Ohio State University.


 

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