Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround System: Accessibility Review

Introduction

One common and frequent question I receive is what setup I have in terms of audio. I've reviewed a fair amount of headsets and most who asked about how I play were often surprised to learn that I utilised stereo so much instead of opting for a surround sound system. My use of headsets is mostly due to the relative ease of use compared to speakers, as they are closer to your ears, theoretically allowing for easier location of enemies and objectives. Moreover, they provide a more hassle-free means of communicating with teammates in multiplayer scenarios. However, after being able to try Gears of War 4, Uncharted, God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn on a fully calibrated surround system, I did start to wonder how much benefit a similar setup could provide.

Thanks to obtaining a surround sound capable computer and Amazon Prime Day being just after I'd set everything up, I managed to pick up a Logitech surround system for a very good price, with the wall mounts for said speakers on top for a small amount extra. Keeping in mind the set's original value, I was interested to see just how it would stack up to what I've been used to, as well as how long it would take me to adjust to the new dimensions that surround offers.

With that out of the way, let's jump into the review.

Unboxing

Place the box so that the semi-circular tab that you'll use later is part of the top face of the cube and the part itself is facing towards you.

There are four pieces of tape that keep the flaps of the box in place in addition to the previously referenced tab, two directly in front of you and two off to the left and right of the box. Cut these with a pair of scissors or a blade and pull the tab towards you. Once the tab itself reaches a point where it won't move any further, place a finger either side of the main cardboard piece it's attached to and pull gently at both sides. If done correctly, the top flap should be able to be lifted from either the front or both sides to reveal two additional flaps. Pull these to their respective sides (left flap to the left and downwards and the right to the right and downwards) so that they'll be out of your way during the rest of the unboxing process.

The first item you'll find is a plastic-like bag containing a very thick setup guide as well as warranty and safety compliance information, all in print.

The next and first large-scale item to extract is the large box towards the left-hand side of the package. Look around for two finger holes and inserting a thumb and index finger, lift the large separate box out and away.

The separate box

With the holes you just used to lift the box out of the main package facing towards you, look at the bottom and you should find an edge protruding slightly. Use this edge to lift the flap of the box up and away from you to reveal a series of 5 speakers and a remote control. The speaker in the middle on the right, if you've opened this separate box correctly, should be the central speaker. Keep this box near at hand as the parts inside will be discussed later.

Back to the main package

The second large-scale item in the box is the subwoofer, hereafter just referred to as the sub. It's contained in a cardboard holder of sorts and if you look around the top you should find two handle-like holes in the cardboard.

Placing one hand in each hole, gently pull the holder up and away from the main box. It doesn't look like it'll take the weight of the sub at first, but if you're careful you should have no issues in transferring it from the box onto a flat surface.

To move the sub off the cardboard holder, just gently push at one side that's not covered by cardboard and, when the sub's mostly free, push forwards and away from you to lift it. If done correctly this should allow you to take the holder out from underneath and put it aside.

The only remaining item in the exterior package is a power lead (commonly referred to as a figure of eight lead). You might recognise this style of lead if you're an Xbox One S or One X owner, as it's the same type of lead that provides power to your console.

Unwrapping the individual items

All the items (the sub, the speakers, the power lead and the controller) are wrapped in plastic-like material which is normally removed simply by pulling at a seal that's usually easy to find.

Extracting the sub from its own wrapping is probably going to be one of the more difficult parts of the unboxing process, as the unit itself is heavy. It has two seals on it, but only one allows you to extract it from the plastic. Remove the tape at both ends and when you find the opening, pull on the opposing side and lift the sub backwards so that it slides through the resulting hole.

The sub is revealed to be in a layer of additional material that is merely there to prevent scratches. There are three pieces of tape holding the sub in its new wrapping, one on the top and two on the sides. Removing these should allow you to lift the sub free and discard the additional material.

The power lead is just wrapped in the aforementioned plastic and sealed with tape, which is relatively easy to remove.

Each speaker has two pieces of tape sealing it in, but only one end will allow for the removal of the speaker. I suggest undoing both ends and then finding the one that opens up, sliding the speaker out gently from the wrapping.

Near where the centre speaker was located in the additional box you'll find, underneath the side closest to you, the wiring for the speakers.

Removing these wires is as easy as reaching under the cardboard they're covered by and gripping and lifting them out, still in their plastic wrappings (which are easy enough to remove similar to previous elements of this unboxing).

The controller for the speakers is located in the centre of the speaker package, sealed in its own wrapping. Just remove it by lifting it free and you'll see wiring underneath

After finding all the various leads and wires, you should have two slightly larger wrapped leads for the two rear speakers and 3 smaller sets of leads for the front speakers.

There's also a 3x3.5mm to 3x3.5mm audio cable, 3 AAA batteries and the control console, all wrapped in individual wrapping.

Setup

Whilst the setup process could theoretically be performed without sighted assistance, I had such assistance whilst installing my unit into my existing setup. Given that it could actually be completed without sight, here's a little information on the wiring process.

The wiring process works like this:

Wiring everything in wasn't too stressful, though it likely would've been without any sighted assistance whatsoever to assist in verifying that everything was working as intended.

Once I'd wired the speakers in, it was just a matter of plugging the inputs into the sub which I again had sighted assistance with. These inputs included two optical cables (for the PS4 and Xbox One), as well as the 3 3.5mm audio cables (for PC).

Powering the speakers up emitted a small "pop" and after a quick input test (by holding down the middle button on the controller for 8 seconds) I was all set.

Before we go onto testing the speakers themselves, however, let's actually take a look at the controller.

The controller

This controller, when held correctly, has 3 buttons in a line going from left to right, furthest away from you on the front of the remote. The power button is on the top left-hand side, the input selector is in the middle and the mute button is on the right-hand side of the row of 3 buttons. Below that are a set of 4 arrows in a circular section, the left and right of which turn the system up and down, the other two changing what levels you're adjusting. These are best handled with sighted assistance as there's no way other than trial and error to tell what you're adjusting specifically.

With that out of the way, are these speakers as good as the reviews might have you think?

Testing

Xbox One

Gears Of War 4

The first game I tried with the system with a console was Gears 4 and, though at first there was no sound from the rear speakers due to the settings not being immediately calibrated for the new audio equipment, I managed to rapidly resolve the issue via the Xbox settings. After that, everything sounded crisp and clear, with the shouts of the Gears and insurrectionists in the prologue punctuated by explosions and the crack of gunfire, all without a hint of latency that I could notice.

Fighting enemies in Horde was, at first, rather unusual, given that I'd only experienced Gears in 5.1 sound once before in a completely different environment. However, given that I knew most of the enemy audio cues I needed, I began to adjust to where my foes were coming from and turn to face them, admittedly a little slower than I might have liked at first.

It must be stated that when playing Gears 4 I had the settings at their default levels and, whilst playing alongside other players in Horde runs there was reference to the lower frequency from my setup being too loud. This could be resolved by turning down the sub, but I will keep looking into alternative solutions that will allow me to immerse myself in the full 5.1 audio mix as well as conversing with co-op partners as best I can.

Halo 5: Guardians

Note:

The gametypes and maps played during testing were specifically designed to focus on audio cues for the majority of the time, though "standard" multiplayer was also tested. The majority of discussion for Halo 5 centres around the aforementioned custom map+mode configurations.

Given that I'd heard of individuals playing Halo on surround systems before, I was interested to see how gameplay would sound on this new setup. Fortunately, I was not disappointed at all when running a theatre game through the system. Hearing the distinctive sounds of gunfire at my back as I ran through the corridors and the far-off detonations of both fragmentation and plasma grenades and being able to pinpoint (with greater accuracy as time went on) their point of origin allowed me to gain the upper hand in scenarios where a stereo headset, regardless of lower frequencies, wouldn't have helped me.

Things got even better when I was able to participate in an actual game and put my skills to the test with the additional channels available to me. Being able to tell, without needing to clarify, where an opponent was in terms of close proximity battles allowed me to win encounters where I might've previously suffered due to a lack of directional information.

Moreover, in a custom oddball gametype, with the sounds of the eponymous objective coming from the necessary directions, sometimes it made it easier than I'd have thought possible to take down the carrier, as well as avoid attempts to rest the coveted ball from my hands in intense run and gun gameplay.

Campaign in Halo 5 was everything I could've hoped for, with the centre speaker outputting all the necessary dialogue and relevant audio cues, without being outdone by the surrounding speakers in the setup. This provided what can really be described as a cinematic experience and given the various comparisons that have been made between Halo 5's opening cutscene and Marvel movies, it's hardly surprising that this sound system can deliver on all fronts. From the distant grunts alerting their comrades to myself and my co-op partner's presence in an area, to the frustrated shouts of elites as they were attacked from all directions, the potential for greater immersion was clearly evident even from the small segment tested of the narrative elements.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection (MCC)

Running Halo: The Master Chief Collection, specifically Halo 4's penultimate mission, was extremely satisfying. The clatter of shell casings from the Mantis, throwing a grenade to take out a cluster of enemies or slashing an energy sword through a suicide grunt all felt very much the cinematic experiences that I think were being aimed for. The dialogue and important audio effects, emitted from the centre channel, were rarely if ever overpowered by the rest of the assets and the large amounts of low frequencies output by the game make explosions and crucial story elements all the more impactful.

Titanfall2

Titanfall 2 is what I would term as a "large-scale game". The battles feel epic in scope, even when it's mostly just a large number of pilots free-running everywhere and taking each other out. When a titan, friendly or otherwise, comes onto the battlefield, that's when things really get kicked up a gear, particularly with regards to their armaments.

Having only played this title on stereo setups, I had high hopes for how the upgrade would impact my perception of the game and, suffice it to say, I wasn't disappointed.

Doom 2016

Doom's reboot/sequel, whilst not being the most accessible game as referenced in this review, is nonetheless an entertaining experience with CoPilot. Having played the opening couple of levels on a reasonably sized set of stereo speakers, I was curious to see just how much of a difference the upgrade would make given what I'd already experienced.

The result was pretty much night and day. The resounding metallic thud as the doors of the various UAC facilities opened and closed, the explosive burst of micromissile fire, the roars of the hordes of hell and the industrial metal tones of Mick Gordon's score all merge together into an intense surround sound experience. Being able to direct my CoPilot as to the direction of enemies relative to our position was extremely helpful, meaning that in combination with a walkthrough we completed the third level, Foundry, in far less time than we had done on a separate save and progressed to the first level set in hell a short time after that. The larger scale encounters facing even tougher enemies once you leave the main UAC levels is definitely something you have to experience for yourself on a setup like this as videos wouldn't convey just how different it is from a stereo headset.

PC

PC testing is rather more difficult to analyse given that multiple sound cards and hardware configurations can make or break the experience. For a while, though DVDs seemed to be playing in 5.1 (as indicated by their audio tracks and how they sounded), I was apparently using emulated 4.1 or 3d sound as indicated by the lights on the console. This discrepancy, it turned out, was much harder to resolve than I first thought. Eventually, after much frustration, I discovered there's an undocumented fourth setting for the system in terms of the available effects.

The effects presented in the manual for expansion of a stereo source into emulated surround sound include 3d, 4.1, and 2.1. The undocumented fourth setting displays no lights but allows a PC to output audio in full 5.1. This improved my experience greatly with elements like movies and PC games designed to take advantage of the technology and, had I not found this setting via research into the issues I experienced, I would likely be more frustrated with the setup process for PC.

Once I'd set everything up correctly though, it was difficult to find games that could utilise the surround sound options to their full potential. However, I did certainly recognise an improvement in the audio in terms of quality alone compared to my previous improperly calibrated setup.

Gears of War 4 sounded crisp and clear, with each thrown grenade, shotgun blast and chainsaw execution sounding just like the console port. Enemies coming at you from the rear were definitely intimidating, not just a testament to the sound design in general but how well the experience transferred to the additional channels.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition has a benchmark for PC which can also act as an audio test. With the Locust theme blairing and the rattle of various weapons, it was easy to see that this setup would be useful regardless of whether you ran the game on Windows 10 or on the Xbox platform.

Utilising the setup for movies was also well worth the effort, as the pod racing scene from Star Wars Episode I demonstrated. Having previously only heard the scene through stereo systems, having the extra positional and lower frequency audio allowed for a clearer sense of just how quickly elements in the scene were moving and provided greater immersion. Even when the score kicked in, it did not overpower the dialogue but complimented it, further reinforcing this system's ability to provide an experience that's close to, if not identical to that of watching the film on the big screen.

Summary

Pros

Cons

Conclusions

The Z906 system delivers high quality sound in a package that is, with a little adjustment, pretty accessible without sight and provides sound from all corners. With a limited amount of issues encountered over a period of prolonged testing and usage, if you're looking for a method of experiencing games arguably as they were intended by the developers, or just getting a boost to your movie watching experience and simultaneously have an easy way to switch input methods, this might just be what you're looking for.

The only issue I really had with the overall surround experience was the inability to easily modify individual levels of centre, sub, front pair and rear pairs of speakers, as there's no audio cues to indicate which set of speakers you're adjusting. Utilising trial and error would be either too tedius or could cause too many issues later when you switch inputs. That being said, the default levels have been fine during my tests for this review, so you may not need to adjust the levels at all.

That being said, if you have sighted assistance to calibrate things to just how you want them, this package from Logitech is very much what you'd hope for from a surround sound system and certainly worth the price.

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