Antec Soundscience Rockus 3D 2.1 Speakersby Dustin Sklavos on November 18, 2010 12:00 AM EST
Testing the Rockus 3D
I'll go ahead and preface again in saying this testing is largely subjective, and with a $249 speaker set that admittedly becomes a little harder to excuse. That said, if this is going to bother you, I strongly recommend curling up with your studio monitors, because at the end of the day this is still a consumer product. A moderately expensive one, but a consumer product.
The first big point that needs to be made is the difference between the Music and 3D modes for the Rockus 3D. The Music mode could probably be more accurately referred to as "reference mode:" the Rockus 3D simply tries to produce as clean and accurate a sound as possible and functions as a basic albeit high quality 2.1 speaker system.
Switching to 3D mode invokes what Antec calls "3Dsst," a sound processing algorithm designed to simulate a larger space. This should be fairly familiar to most users, as even many sound cards include some way to try and simulate surround sound using only two speakers (i.e. the HS1 we reviewed recently had a similar mode it could operate in). I'll tell you right now, 3D mode isn't going to produce accurate sound, but its value depends entirely on how you're using the speakers at a given time. The rep was very proud of 3Dsst; I personally tend to be skeptical of simulated surround environments and haven't yet heard one that felt convincing.
I'll also point out that I tested the Rockus 3D using three different connections: I used the optical connection plugged into my ASUS Xonar DX, tried it again with the TOSLINK port on my motherboard (Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R), and then used an analog connection with the Xonar. I actually asked the rep via e-mail which connection he felt would present the Rockus 3D in the best light, and he suggested using the analog connection with the Xonar. Color me surprised when I found that the digital connection seemed best overall, regardless of whether I used the motherboard sound or the Xonar DX. In fact, the Xonar's equalizer wouldn't affect the sound quality at all, while the equalizer in my motherboard's Realtek ALC889 drivers was able to manipulate the digital signal just fine.
I also frequently double-blinded my existing Bose Companion II speakers connected to the Xonar against the digitally connected Rockus 3D. It's not entirely fair, but close enough: the speakers and sound card together cost about $200, just $50 shy of the Rockus 3D.
With all that said, I did the majority of my testing with the Rockus 3D connected optically to my motherboard, and before getting into any of the nitty-gritty of it, I feel it prudent to note that unless you have a more expensive sound card, an optical connection is probably going to be the way to go. Analog quality is for the most part comparable, but the digital just works, requires very little calibration, and operates independent of the quality of analog components used by the audio hardware itself.