Antec’s Soundscience Rockus 3D, 2.1-channel speakers add an expansive feel to your gaming audio, but music is another matter.
Antec is a name normally associated with power supplies and PC cases. But the company is hoping to change that by creating a new brand, Soundscience, for its homegrown speakers. Designed by Antec in California, the Rockus 3D 2.1 is aimed at gamers with limited space who can't afford the space or wiring for full 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound speaker systems.
According to the Soundscience site, the Rockus speakers offer 100W of subwoofer power and 25W to each satellite. It's unclear how that power is measured – is it 'peak power' or RMS measured power? Still, these relatively compact units do get pretty loud. The bass unit houses an active woofer coupled with a passive radiator to increase base volume. The satellites are built into metal cans with a polished metal border.
Setting up the Rockus is straightforward: pick your input type (analog mini-jack, RCA or digital optical), plug in the wired volume control, attach the speakers and make sure the power switch on the bass unit is on. The volume control is about as simple as you can get: a big knob controls the volume and also acts as a mute switch by pressing down on it. A lone button labeled '3D' activates the sound field widening effect. There are just two settings: '3D' and 'Music'.
You have a choice of three different bass level settings on the back of the bass unit. Speaker terminals are spring-loaded, wire type. The speaker wiring consists of bare wires at one end and RCA jacks at the other, which plug directly into the back of the speaker. The wires are really too short for most desktops, if you're using a floor-standing tower PC, but it's easy to get RCA extension cables if you need them.
As you might imagine with a name like 'Rockus', these speakers aren't necessarily neutral-sounding. My preferences tend towards neutral, accurate speakers. In standard mode, music playback is clearly on the bright side, with a slightly edgy breathiness to vocals in particular. The bass is ample, but not boomy, which is a positive. Stereo imaging in music mode is very good, though not exceptional. You definitely want to keep the speakers in music mode when playing music, though, as the sound stage becomes muddy and ill-defined in 3D mode. Vocals in particular seem to recede into the distance.
The audio quality when listening to actual 5.1 encoded material, as found in Blu-ray movies, seemed better than the music listening experience. Vocals typically encoded for the centre channel in surround- sound was clear and easy to understand. Nevertheless, the overall soundscape sounded artificial, and there wasn't really any surround sound effect. I played several Blu-ray discs, including Serenity, Planet Earth and Iron Man 2. In the end, I thought setting the movies to 2.0 stereo mode and the speakers to 'music' mode sounded better overall for movie playback. Mostly, it sounded like a fair amount of reverb was added to an effect to widen the sound field.
Okay, so music doesn't sound accurate and the 3D effect isn't so hot for actual surround sound audio. So what good is it?
It turns out to be surprisingly good for games. I fired up several games, including Dragon Age 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Crysis 2 and Mass Effect 2. The 3D effect proved to be startlingly immersive for some types of games. That said, it's by no means an accurate 3D effect. I wouldn't want to trust it for positional audio in an online shooter like Call of Duty: Black Ops. But the boomy reverb and widened sound stage certainly got my blood moving in Dragon Age 2.