Logitech Z-5500


posted 11/25/2004 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
Logitech has made some of my favorite speakers, especially with the high end Z line. From the Z-560 to the Z-680, the 5.1 series has been one that I highly recommended to fellow gamers in search of great speakers. It seemed like it’s going to be hard to improve on the Z-680 but Logitech has released a new set that’s looking to be the next big speaker system. Let’s see how the new Logitech Z-5500 measure up and if it continues the great quality of their high-end line.

The setup of the Z-5500 follows closely to what the Z-680s are composed of. It’s a 5.1 system consisting of four satellites, one center channel, a subwoofer, and a control unit. Rather than duplicating the physical appearance that the Z-680s did compared to the Z-560, Logitech has a brand new look for all of the speakers. The total RMS power is still a little above 500 watts RMS and distributed the same as the Z-680. A remote is also included to control the unit from far away.

Each satellite still consists of one 3” driver with an aluminum phase plug in the middle, consistent with the past three high end speakers from Logitech. All four satellites output a max of 62 watts RMS. As you can see from the picture, the satellites are thinner and not as round looking. If you want to hang the speakers on walls, you no longer have to use an allen wrench to reposition the speaker stand. Instead, you just have to rotate the stand and it’s now in position to be mounted on the wall. Now comes a major disappointment for me in the design of the set. The previous two high end Logitech speakers featured thumb screws with banana plug connectors so that you can use any type of wire and at any length. Logitech has changed that with the Z-5500 with the speaker wire now directly attached to the speaker and ending in a composite plug. I really, really wished Logitech had stuck with the traditional speaker wire connection design. While the length of the wires is pretty generous, I don’t think it replaces the flexibility of using your own speaker wire. At the minimum I would’ve liked to have the spring clips. To me, it seems like a small step backwards.

The center speaker for the Z-5500 outputs 69 watts RMS, just a little more than the front and rears. It’s a good decision as the center handles most of the voices if you’re watching movies or playing games. If you took the satellite and rotated it 90 degrees, you’d get the center speaker. Taking the grill off, you’d see there also sits one 3” driver with an aluminum phase plug in the middle.

When you talk about the subwoofer for this set, the first thing you have to say is it’s pretty damn big. It’s the first time I’ve seen in a computer speaker product where two plastic handles are provided for you to pull the sub out of the packaging. You’re going to need some muscle to get it out as it is pretty heavy. A large 10” long throw subwoofer driver is now in place, making the unit bigger in size. It’s still rated for 188 watts RMS even with the larger size. You can see how it’s grown compared to the sub for the Z-680. The back of the sub holds all the connections. You can see the speaker plugs that are clearly labeled and color coded. The control unit plugs into the sub via a serial plug and screws in nicely. The Z-560’s control unit had a weak plug and it was nice to see Logitech keep the serial plug that was introduced in the Z-680.

The Z-5500’s control unit has gone through some big changes. For starters, it’s now larger than the Z-680’s unit. You can now connect up to six different audio sources. There are four stereo 1/8” plugs, one optical digital plug and one component digital plug. If you’re connecting a computer with three plugs for front, rears, and center, you’ll lose two connections and render the unit being able to connect four different audio sources. You’ll easily switch from different sources with a push of a button. This is another aspect of the system that makes it ideal for tight spaces as you can run a good number of components through the Z-5500. A larger chrome dial is now the volume control knob and it’s very smooth to rotate with little tension. It’s an improvement over the Z-680 design and makes for adjusting the volume easier and faster. The display is also easy to read with a nice contrast between the dark letters and blue backlight.

What makes this set attractive to people with tight spaces is that the unit does Dolby Digital decoding without a need for a receiver. A set like this is very attractive to those in college dorms who are looking for a very nice setup without sacrificing too much space. Well, I guess you can’t say too much space now with the massive subwoofer that comes with this set. Besides Dolby Digital decoding, it also does DTS and DTS 96/24. DTS 96/24 is a new addition and it’s used with DVD-Audio. CDs are a 16-bit medium with a sampling rate of 44.1kHz. DVD-Video/DVD-Audio recorded in DTS 96/24 ups the medium to 24-bit and a sampling rate of 96kHz, hence DTS 96/24. It will also deliver the audio to 6 channels. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any DTS 96/24 discs to test out but I applaud Logitech for including this decoding in the new set. It’s ready for the future of audio if you are concerned about that.

First up, as usual, is musical CDs. Throwing in various genres of music into an Xbox that was hooked into the Z-5500 through an optical cable, I was greeted with clear mids and highs and a very good deep bass. Turning up the volume, the set stayed pretty clear even at extreme settings. This wasn’t surprising to me as I was used to the performance of the similar Z-680 set. And not surprisingly, my ears gave out before I could max out on the sound. On some CDs, I enjoyed using the Dolby Pro Logic II to transform the stereo output to a 5.1 output. It really depended on the music but some actually sounded really good at “pseudo” 5.1.

Movies, my favorite past time next to gaming, also did well with the set. I popped in a few action flicks that generated some good surround sound. The list of movies I tried out are Star Wars : Attack of the Clones, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Saving Private Ryan While it certainly won’t replace a good receiver and speaker setup, the Z-5500 is does give great performance and I think it will satisfy a lot of people looking for an all-in-one setup of receiver and speakers. Hearing bullets wiz by you or the sound of swords clashing around you, the Z-5500 set delivered clear, quality audio in the movies I previewed. Explosions were powerful and can almost be felt with the sub outputting some serious bass. And with Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, you have a choice of what audio decoding you’d like in the movie. You can tweak the settings such as bass, front, and rear so getting the right balance in sound is available. If the bass is too much for some movies, you can easily bring it down a little. The Z-5500 is definitely a good set for movies.

Now we get to games. Fans of Doom 3 will definitely want a set like this to really immerse themselves as the Z-5500 great work in movies translates directly to games with surround sound as well. With the powerful bass, you’re sure to feel every bullet as it leaves the barrel of your guns. Hearing the demonic voices around you and fireballs fly past you is a real trip. Popping in NCAA Football 2004 into the Xbox, the roar of the crowd and the sound of tackles around you is a real rush. As in movies, most of the dialogue from the commentary and your QB comes from the center speaker. Half-Life 2’s movie like experience is boosted by the great surround sound the set delivers. Even with regular stereo games, the set produced awesome audio.

So you got $399.95 to spend on speakers for your computer or console system, which one do you get? The Z-5500 is it. Great sound and versatility gives this set high marks. I am disappointed in the speaker wire design and Logitech’s decision to move away from the banana plugs. Compared to the Z-680, the set is a physical redesign with a bigger sub and a better control unit with DTS 96/24 support. If you do have the Z-680, I really don’t see getting the Z-5500 but those who are looking to upgrade their set and have the money should give the Z-5500 a listen to. As with any speaker setup, everyone’s ears are different and my recommendation is to not buy the set until you can listen to them for yourself. I know people who’ve found that a cheap $50 setup was great for them and those that deduce the more expensive set to be better. In the end, Logitech’s Z-5500 set is a great computer and console setup for those looking at high end solutions.

Expensive but a great performer, the Z-5500 continues Logitech's tradition in making good high end computer speaker systems. The move from banana plugs disappoints me though. Dolby 96/24 support has been added.