Introducing the Soundscience Rockus 3D 2.1

When Antec decided they wanted to introduce sound products to their portfolio with their new Soundscience brand, they weren't kidding around. They sent representatives to demo the Rockus 3D 2.1 speaker system to the press and take questions in person. I was sat down in front of a Toshiba notebook connected via analog minijack to the Rockus 3D and allowed to play with the speakers, play different music, try some tracks off of YouTube, listen to a movie demonstration. And when it was all over, they sent me home with a set of the speakers that I have rigorously put through their paces during the past 10 days.

So before we get ahead of ourselves, let's talk about the Rockus 3D itself. The Antec rep was adamant that this speaker system be near perfect out of the box, and I believe him. It's a "basic" 2.1 system: two satellites rated for 25 watts and a frequency response between 10 Hz and 20 kHz, and a large (but surprisingly not too large) subwoofer rated for 100 watts. The satellites themselves connect via an RCA jack in the back and use a fairly robust cable that splits into speaker wire when it connects to the subwoofer. Build quality on the satellites is impressive: they use anodized aluminum for almost the entire build save a glossy plastic rim around the speaker proper that serves more for decoration than anything else. This is supposed to produce a cleaner, distortion free sound that plastic speaker satellites may have more trouble with, but it also gives them some heft. We have no complaints about build quality at least; these feel solid.

The subwoofer is simultaneously more and less fortunate. As the basic control hub for the speaker system the housing is a sturdy plastic with the typical cloth front, and it's actually comparatively small, measuring at 13.8"x7.7"x10.6". The subwoofer fires forward instead of down the way many cheaper units I've seen do, and spoiler alert: it can fill a room. Connectivity on the back is kept fairly clean and manageable: there's a port to connect the remote controller (which is heavy enough to actually hold its place on your desk without being at the mercy to the cable connecting it), a power switch, the two sets of speaker inputs, and then three audio inputs. This is important: the Rockus 3D accepts a dual RCA connection, a standard 3.5mm minijack connection, and a TOSLINK optical connection. This last one is supposed to make the Rockus 3D ideal not just for your computer but for your blu-ray player or gaming console, but frankly it's just nice to see a digital connection. Finally, there's a hard switch to choose between three levels of bass, and that's disappointing: it would've been nicer to see an analog knob to let you finetune the output of the subwoofer.

Last but not least we have the remote, which is weighted fairly well but does feel comparatively cheaper than the rest of the kit. The top disc is the volume knob—press down to toggle mute—and the front of the unit has four indicator lights and a toggle button: one of the lights indicates whether the speakers are in digital or analog mode, the next two indicate whether they're in music mode or 3D mode (more on this later), and the last indicates whether the speakers are being muted. To toggle between digital and analog inputs, just hold the button for three seconds. Otherwise, one press switches between music and 3D modes.

The package includes pretty much everything you'll need to connect everything to everything, but there are a couple of major shortcomings. The cables used to connect to the satellites may be of good quality, but they're fairly short and made positioning a bit difficult on my desk. Despite including robust minijack-to-minijack and minijack-to-dual-RCA cables, Antec also neglects to include an optical cable. I understand these aren't the cheapest cables in the world, but having to go out and buy my own was a little irritating, especially when this is really one of the better features of the speaker set.

It's also worth pointing out that there isn't a single certification on the box or the unit: no THX, no DTS, no SRS, no Dolby, nothing. And I can confirm: the optical input takes PCM audio and that's about it.

Testing the Rockus 3D
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    With all due respect, you're making accusations with no knowledge of what's going on behind the scenes. I know it's customary to accuse any site of taking money just because the review isn't what you'd like to see, but here's the facts.

    Antec contacted us (Anand) and asked if we'd like to look at their new speakers. Anand referred them to Dustin, since he reviewed the Corsair HS1 headset. Dustin expressed concern to both Anand and myself, and ultimately the decision was taken to go ahead with a subjective review simply because these are a new product being marketed to enthusiasts. The speakers have some interesting features, and no doubt sound "excellent" -- which is to say non-audiophiles will likely be okay but that's about it. They have optical input as well, which is a rarity. They're also expensive... too expensive for all but a subset of users.

    At no point has Antec asked us to give them a favorable review for money (payola). To my knowledge, that hasn't occurred at any point from any company in recent history... or at least, we've never accepted payment. I know that in over six years, the only time this has ever come up was CES 2006 (or was it 2007?). I had a motherboard company (a smaller brand...or at least a lesser brand seldom used by enthusiasts, so not ASUS, ASRock, Gigabyte, or MSI) ask how much it would take to get an editor's choice award, and our response was simple: put the money into making a good product that deserves an editor's choice. It didn't happen, but I did see a few interesting awards from other sites (which shall remain nameless).

    You may not like seeing a subjective review of speakers, and I know for a fact that Dustin isn't particularly happy doing these reviews simply because of the backlash, but tell me this: has this review actually harmed any reader in any way? Would anyone read this review and come away thinking, "OMG I HAVE TO UPGRADE"? 95% of all audio commentary is going to be subjective, but you can hide it behind measurements and such (yeah, I just made up that statistic). It's a shorter op-ed piece about a new set of speakers that come from a brand any enthusiast is familiar with, and ultimately the conclusion is that they sound good but they're too expensive. Hardly a sham, ringing endorsement, or fluff piece.

    But, I'll make sure that next time anyone mentions an audio review to me, I'll point Anand this way and say that we should probably just let sleeping dogs lie, so that our readers can get information elsewhere. Like this:
    http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&...
    Reply
  • canontk - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    What about the guy that did this article?

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/2677
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    He's doing motherboards, and apparently isn't interested in going back to anything with audio as far as reviews judging by this post:

    "It'll please you all to know I have no plans to write another audio article. AnandTech will continue to concentrate on the computer stuff to the joy of many readers."

    I sometimes wonder what the point of the complaining is... does it really pain you to see an article like this every now in then? Is it more a case of people wanting us to avoid watering down the site? Are there just a bunch of die-hard audiophiles that get up in arms over a subjective review of kit that doesn't cost $1000+? I honestly don't know; what I do know is that I personally have no interest in trying to cover audio either, at least in part because all it seems to generate is complaints. (Notice how many of the comments on Raja's audiophile article are very negative as well.) So, damned if you do, damned if you don't in some ways. I'll stick with my laptops and such....
    Reply
  • WhatYaWant - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    When I come to Anandtech I expect quality reviews which you almost always deliver to an astounishing degree. I am really happy about the work you do and the bar you set so high. I read most stuff you publish...because its simply worth it.

    This article however...sorry, it's crap. And that's rare from this site, hence my comments.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    Jared,

    I normally agree with almost everything you write, and think your comments bring good value to any thread as they tend to include some nice behind-the-scenes details. That said, I think most of these posters are on target.

    I'm certainly no high-end audiophile. In fact I think it's laughable to consider this product over the Logitech Z-2300s that will be on sale for $89 (shipped if you're a Prime member) at Amazon on Black Friday.

    That said, yes, you hit on something when you mention watering down the site. In a world with paid-off video game review sites and clueless consumer reviews (see Dailytech's car reviews by people who are computer experts..."that hybrid is really fun to drive and has excellent MP3 compatibility") there is a demand for trustworthy reviews from purists. Anand's SSD reviews built up tremendous goodwill by documenting a method of improving PC performance by leaps and bounds that most people weren't catching on to. Your buyers guides I still remember from years ago stuck with me because they were bold enough to tell midrange shoppers to drop hundreds of dollars on a 24" LCD because displays don't depreciate at the same rate video cards do. The iPhone 4 reception issues took the "rabble rabble bad reception" complaint from the CNETs of the world and quantified it.

    All of those stories then lead to page views for stories like this. I don't just ignore it because I've come to expect high quality from Anandtech based on your other articles. So I spend some of my precious free time learning about these new speakers. Problem is it ISN'T up to the standards of an Anandtech article. You could apply a "Subjective Fluff Piece" tag on the homepage and allay my time wasting concern, but if you know the article is such then why publish it? Hits = wins for websites, but you guys obviously know it's more complicated than that for CPU or GPU launches. Ultimately I'd ask why you would publish a speaker article that isn't of the same rigor of your CPU, GPU, or SSD articles. It isn't a silly question either - four years ago power supply and CPU cooler reviews were pretty amateur, but you guys put some effort towards those areas and had a great string of quality articles.

    The only good news is this happens infrequently, which is probably why I'd wager you guys have pretty darn loyal readers. Wesley's pro-Obama rant the day after the 2008 election was a low-point. This article doesn't stoop so low, but I'll still be a bit more sparing with my time at Anandtech in the near future. Still you've earned a lot of loyalty with me and others and that isn't going away in one article. But when you act so puzzled above...well I'm sure you editors have had internal discussions about how you're glad to be different from CNET or MaximumPC or Tom's or Consumer Reports...well just realize we're mad because this article isn't really distinguishable from something from those guys.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    LOL @ the Wes comment. Can't say I was very happy with the politicking either. But that's beside the point.

    The reality is, I think speaker/audio reviews are almost a total waste. I'd rather not even do them, but sometimes a product is new and has potential to be better than average. We all know Antec, we know they make good cases and power supplies. But speakers, can they do anything out of the ordinary?

    Hey, I listen to my PCs with some Logitech X520 speakers from years back. They keep me happy. Compared to the laptops I review, they're awesome. But do they really sound great? No... they're just good enough for me. We could buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment to test speakers, and we could tear them apart, and the end result would still be lots of complaining I'm betting. But like I said, if this is fluff, read what some other reviews are saying, (i.e. "These are worth every penny of $250" or whatever). Dustin at least has the sense to say they're just good sounding computer speakers that cost too much for the market.

    For the record, we do have him doing one more speaker review, because he already has the hardware. But, it's a laptop speaker bar so it's more in the realm of stuff worth looking at from the mobile perspective. I'd actually like to hear the bar and compare it with the XPS speakers... but Dustin will hopefully have an XPS 17 soon for testing.

    Anyway, I appreciate the feedback, particularly when some amount of thought went into it. There are better ways of doing it. Constructive comments are far better than the "you guys got paid for this, you've sold out, this article is garbage, etc." stuff that's being said. The reason Dustin is doing these reviews is mostly because no one else wanted to, and he's got at least some background in A/V stuff as he works with film stuff. If anyone ripping on this review wants to take a shot at "doing it right", by all means send me an email--or put together a "proper" audio review and email it to Anand. But then, how much demand is there for speaker reviews? I'm guessing not much....
    Reply
  • wtfbbqlol - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Jarred,

    I think you need to distinquish those of us who really have a valid point about doing an audio article right, from those "complainers" who really don't know what they're talking about.

    It's not about the price of the gear in review. It's the review methodology that is important here. Reviewing audio products is f>>king hard. Probably more so than GPUs or CPUs in some ways because not everything is easily quantifiable and easily tested. As such, not writing a speaker review is probably better than publishing an ill-prepared one.

    And because audio is has so many gray areas you find a lot of apparent know-it-alls (I may appear to be one but I think my comments are well-reasoned) who spout nonsense. Unfortunately, the well-reasoned group also gets rolled in with the rest under the deragotary term "audiophile". That term is almost synonymous with "super anal dude who belives in snake oil" and garners absolutely no respect from the general public. I am not that guy yet I feel like I am invariably lumped into that group.
    Reply
  • canontk - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I'm not complaining about the article at all. I just remembered his article and wondered why he didn't do the review on the speakers.

    Doesn't matter who does the reviews on this site, there's always negative comments. Welcome to the internet.
    Reply
  • WhatYaWant - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    But: It's a really poor review. EOD Reply
  • wtfbbqlol - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    "
    You may not like seeing a subjective review of speakers, and I know for a fact that Dustin isn't particularly happy doing these reviews simply because of the backlash, but tell me this: has this review actually harmed any reader in any way? Would anyone read this review and come away thinking, "OMG I HAVE TO UPGRADE"? 95% of all audio commentary is going to be subjective, but you can hide it behind measurements and such (yeah, I just made up that statistic). It's a shorter op-ed piece about a new set of speakers that come from a brand any enthusiast is familiar with, and ultimately the conclusion is that they sound good but they're too expensive. Hardly a sham, ringing endorsement, or fluff piece.
    "
    Weak excuse. Judging the quality of an online review by the degree of 'harm' it does to its readers? Come on. Anandtech should strive for better than that. My personal belief is a hardware review that is not supplemented some way by repeatable, measurable results qualifies as a fluff piece.

    "
    But, I'll make sure that next time anyone mentions an audio review to me, I'll point Anand this way and say that we should probably just let sleeping dogs lie, so that our readers can get information elsewhere. Like this:
    http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&...
    "
    Yes, do so. Just leave it if you cannot devote more resources to it. It's because Anandtech's articles are of generally high quality that yes, FLUFFY, ones like this stick out like a sore thumb. It's almost like I'm reading a PC Gamer magazine review of multimedia speakers from 1998.
    Reply

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