Antec’s Soundscience Rockus 3D|2.1 speakers

Manufacturer Antec
Model Soundscience Rockus 3D 2.1 speaker system
Price (Street) $179.99
Availability Now

Audio seems to be the latest craze among certain PC hardware makers. How else would you explain the fact that, through some strange twist of fate, both Corsair and Antec somehow introduced their very first PC speaker setups within weeks of each other?

We’ve been tracking the two companies closely. Earlier this month, we published our review of the Gaming Audio Series SP2500, the more upscale of the two speaker setups Corsair announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Today, we’re bringing you a hands-on evaluation of the Soundscience Rockus 3D|2.1 speaker system, Antec’s first stab at the PC speaker market.

Antec, of course, is more broadly known for its cases and power supplies. While that trait is partially shared with Corsair, Antec has gone about entering the PC audio market in a notably different manner: through a wholly owned subsidiary called Soundscience. That subsidiary was founded in 2010. According to the official About Us page, Soundscience “brings Antec’s expertise and reputation in PC enclosures, cooling and power systems, to speaker systems and multimedia components.”

Antec really is serious about letting Soundscience take the spotlight here. The Antec name is almost entirely absent from the Rockus 3D set, save for a single tagline—”Designed by Antec in California”—written in small print at the back of the subwoofer.

If it weren’t for that tagline, you might never guess Antec had anything to do with the design of these speakers. The rounded, avant-garde design of the satellites and remote is pretty far removed from even Antec’s bolder PC cases. The company’s trademark emphasis on fit, finish, and build quality permeates this product, however.

Let’s start with the two satellites, which have anodized aluminum casings with chrome-plated front surfaces. Antec claims the lack of plastic components ensures “durability and audio clarity” while “minimizing the distortion caused by enclosure vibration.” The drivers are purportedly tuned to deliver simulated 3D audio, as well—we’ll get into more detail about that in a minute.

The subwoofer, meanwhile, is relatively compact (measuring about 14″ x 8″ x 11″) and features connectivity options aplenty at the back. Don’t go thinking its small size necessarily implies poor quality, though; Antec says its use of a passive radiator design “creates extended low frequency response, producing deep bass from a compact subwoofer enclosure, eliminating the need for a larger, bulkier subwoofer.” We’ll put that claim to the test on the next page, but it’s good to see at least one newcomer to the PC audio stage trying to balance audio quality and footprint.

The Rockus 3D’s subwoofer isn’t small by any means, but it doesn’t dwarf our 2L pop bottle like its Corsair rival. Antec uses cables of similar length as Corsair, so while you might have to tuck the subwoofer away under your desk, you can safely do so without subjecting yourself to stubbed toes on a regular basis.

Connectivity options are, as I said, plentiful. You have the choice of RCA, 3.5-mm, and optical inputs, and the included remote lets you toggle between optical and analog inputs easily. You can have two analog devices plugged in at the same time, but Antec says doing so will halve the volume of both sources, and you’ll be able to hear then playing simultaneously. Another caveat: Antec doesn’t supply an optical audio cable, so you may need to buy one of those separately. A six-foot Toslink cable only costs about 10 bucks, though.

Speaking of cables, Antec is—just like Corsair—guilty of not using generic cables to connect the satellites to the subwoofer. The cables supplied have an RCA plug on one end and a pair of twisted wires on the other. (The twisted wires clip into positive and negative connectors on the sub, while the RCA plug goes into the satellites.) That’s a shame, especially considering the relatively short length of those cables (about 5-6 ft), although again, the sub is small enough to tuck away in a corner under your desk.

Observant readers might have noticed the 150W maximum power consumption rating emblazoned at the rear of the subwoofer. 150W isn’t anything to write home about these days—Logitech has a 200W 2.1 speaker set selling for $129.99 at Newegg—but of course, wattage isn’t everything. You don’t want to crank these up to full blast all the time, do you? Antec claims the Rockus 3D speakers were “purposely built” for environments like “dorm rooms, bedrooms, studios, apartments or offices” with areas of around 100 sq. ft. Clearly, this speaker set is meant to provide quality sound in close quarters, not deafen guests in your living room.

Does it deliver?

The third dimension

Much like Corsair’s SP2500 set with its DSP remote, Antec’s Soundscience Rockus 3D|2.1 speakers have some special sauce that sets them apart from the crowd. The special sauce in this case puts the “3D” in “Rockus 3D,” and it has a name: 3Dsst. Here’s what the technology is all about, in Antec’s words:

3Dsst™ is a suite of DSP (digital sound processing) algorithms that create a virtual surround sound experience from 2.1 stereo speakers. The technology analyses the frequency content and pan/positioning of sounds in the incoming audio stream, and then uses certain types of filtering and phasing to widen the sound stage and create the effect of listening to a much larger surround speaker system.

No software installation is involved. You need only push the small, gray button on the front of the remote to toggle 3Dsst on and off. (In case you’re wondering, the top part of the remote serves to adjust the volume when turned, and it mutes the output when pushed down.)

Now, here’s where things get confusing. 3Dsst doesn’t map 5.1-channel source audio to the two speakers with fancy virtualization algorithms, even if you hook up the speakers with an optical link. There’s not even any support for Dolby Digital audio. Instead, Antec tells us the digital signal processor “uses an algorithm to simulate and accentuate the stereo input.”
The truth of the matter is that the Rockus 3D speakers don’t really have much 3D going on—they just include a toggle that attempts to create a broader sound stage out of stereo audio. I found that fact a little disappointing, especially considering the prevalence of 3D virtualization technologies like Dolby Headphone, which allow stereo headsets to emulate multiple channels when fed 5.1 audio. Even some versions of Realtek onboard audio offer proper 3D virtualization that supports both headphones and stereo speakers. Such technologies don’t always yield perfect results, but there’s at least a semblance of an effort there. I can’t help but feel like the “3D” label on these Antec speakers is a bit like a Ferrari logo superglued to a red Pontiac Solstice.

Listening tests

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment of truth. Specifications and bullet points are one thing, but ultimately, a speaker setup’s chief task is to sound good. To check whether the Soundscience Rockus 3D|2.1 meets that criterion, I put it through the paces during a number of gaming, movie-watching, and music-listening sessions. Since the optical connection seemed to yield slightly better, more natural sound, that’s what I used throughout my testing. iTunes was used for music playback.

Much to my surprise, the Rockus setup sounded quite a bit better with 3Dsst disabled in Valve’s Left 4 Dead 2 (a game I also played to test the Corsair speakers). The game’s audio pipeline gave me a reasonably good idea of where sounds were coming from with the speakers in their default mode, but enabling 3Dsst made sound effects harder to pinpoint, and it added a boomy quality to the audio—even with the subwoofer turned down to its lowest setting.

Would 3Dsst perform better in movies? I first tried Avatar, where the 3D mode did in fact succeed in expanding the soundstage and making action scenes pop out of the screen somewhat. That said, the boominess remained, and it became distracting during dialogue-heavy scenes. In Tron Legacy, which has an audio track composed chiefly of dialogue and excellent electronic music, 3Dsst just sounded plain worse than the regular mode.

For music testing, I dug up six of my favorite tracks—four from physical CDs and two from the iTunes Store—and listened closely at a reasonable volume while taking notes. I left the 3Dsst setting disabled throughout.

  • I got started with Chasing It Down from Mother Mother’s new album, Eureka. The Rockus speakers produced warm, full bass, decent mids, and vocals that were crisp… perhaps a little too crisp, because sibilants had a metallic, static-like quality. The same could be said for the hi-hats, which sounded a whole lot like white noise.
  • In Pretty Noose, from Soundgarden’s Down on the Upside, the Rockus setup offered decent separation between mids and highs, although sibilants in the vocals again sounded too metallic, and the bass line was a little too loud and boomy for my liking. As I did with the Corsair speakers, I tried cranking up the volume with this particular song to get a feel for how loud the setup can get. Unfortunately, raising the volume accentuated the treble far too heavily and made the music unpleasant to my ears. If you listen to your music loud enough to cause hearing damage, you might want to shop elsewhere.
  • Next up was Mekapses Yitonisa from Estradasphere’s Quadropus. This instrumental track sounded crisp and airy on the Rockus speakers, creating a broad sound stage that made me feel almost as if I were standing in front of a live band. Nothing bad to say there.
  • Nine Inch Nail’s Just Like You Imagined, from the excellent double album The Fragile, is a great test for any set of speakers or headphones. It starts off with a quiet piano track that crescendos into a thunderous industrial symphony. The Rockus set made this song sound appropriately explosive, with good mids and solid dynamic range. The bass was, once again, a little too boomy, however.
  • Inventions from Maserati’s Inventions for the New Season could be mistaken for electronica, but it’s meticulously recorded with repeating guitar lines—sort of like an indie Philip Glass piece. This piece has a slow crescendo that builds up to louder, more distorted guitar and more powerful bass. Unfortunately, the Rockus speakers accentuated the very high end and bass at the expense of the mids, creating a mix of boomy thumping and high-pitched static that tarnished the experience.
  • Finally, Eet from Regina Spektor’s album Far filled in as our vocal-heavy track. The Rockus speakers rendered Spektor’s voice crisply, but they also muddied her piano track and over-emphasized the drums and bass, which detracted from the subtle, melancholic tone of the song.

Conclusions

Overall, I’d say the Soundscience Rockus 3D|2.1 speaker set produces solid mids and sufficient separation between different frequencies—unlike some competitors, like Corsair’s SP2500, which seem to squish layered songs into the high end of the spectrum. That said, Antec loses points by giving highs a somewhat metallic, static-like quality and making the bass far too prominent. I had the subwoofer set to the lowest of its three settings throughout my testing, and loud, boomy bass still posed a problem. There really ought to be at least one additional setting below that one. Even if you like your bass thumpy and over-the-top, having the option to tone it down at night will probably make your neighbors happy.

As for the 3Dsst mode, which Antec seems to think important enough to call these “3D” speakers, I’ve got one thing to say: why? Why would you create a mode to turn stereo audio into slightly different-sounding stereo audio, when surround virtualization schemes exist? The whole point of 3D audio is to provide positional cues, but these speakers offer none of that—and 3Dsst’s filtering can negatively impact audio quality to boot.

The Rockus 3D speaker set has other, albeit more minor shortcomings. I would have enjoyed a headphone port, for one. Also, after about five minutes of inactivity, the speakers go into a sort of power-saving mode… which causes an audible and somewhat disconcerting pop. Finally, seeing your distorted reflection in the chrome-plated bezel around the satellites is a bit distracting. I wish Antec had gone with a matte finish there.

All in all, Antec’s first stab at the PC speaker market is a commendable but imperfect one, much like Corsair’s SP2500. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose a daily driver out of the two, I’d probably go with the Rockus set (in its default, non-3D mode), simply because it renders most music in a more neutral way. I expect good things from both companies’ second-generation offerings, though, especially if they take negative user feedback into account.

Comments closed
    • C-A_99
    • 8 years ago

    Actually, a 6ft Toslink costs $1.84.

    [url<]http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=102&cp_id=10229&cs_id=1022901&p_id=1419&seq=1&format=2[/url<] (Or $4.55 for high quality.) [url<]http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=102&cp_id=10229&cs_id=1022904&p_id=2764&seq=1&format=2[/url<] The 8-pin connector looks to be of the kind that breaks quite easily, and a VGA style connector (like the kind Logitech uses on their middle-higher end speakers) would be better.

    • SNM
    • 8 years ago

    Is there any reason to buy something this expensive over Logitech’s x200 series (for 2.1) or z500 series (for closer prices, and real surround)?

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      No, if you’re aiming for higher end audio, just buy a receiver and get a few speakers. All the major companies exited the high end pc speaker market years ago.

    • Rakhmaninov3
    • 8 years ago

    2002 Klipsch Promedia 2.1 FTW!!!!!!!1

      • bitcat70
      • 8 years ago

      I’m looking to replace my aging Logitechs that started to buzz. Is that Klipsch still the way to go? And why 2002?

        • Rakhmaninov3
        • 8 years ago

        I got my current set in 2002 and they’ve been sounding lovely ever since 🙂 Very solid build quality — I’ve moved and taken the system apart and put it back together multiple times and haven’t had any bending/breaking issues. I’ve even dropped the satellites a few times. Simple setup — hook the satellites to the sub and the right speaker into the 3.5mm headphone jack and you’re done. Doesn’t have any other inputs or a remote, though, and it’s mildly inconvenient that it only has a power button on the back of the sub, but the sound quality easily makes up for these things.

        The sound is clearer than any other PC system I’ve heard — excellent, lifelike sounds for most games, movies, and music. Feels like you’re there. I’ve heard that they get kinda muddled/the sub can’t clearly render very-low-register sounds, but I haven’t personally experienced that problem (though I haven’t tested the system specifically for that, either).

        This is also a very loud set — max output of 106 decibels. Will blow your ears out if you want it to. I think it has a total wattage rating of around 200W. You can adjust the sub volume independently of the satellite levels, too. The sound retains its high quality and clarity at very high volumes.

        I hadn’t heard of the sub burnout/amp failure issues myself, maybe I just got lucky. There is an easily-replaceable fuse in the sub that’s there to try to prevent blowouts, though.

        Won’t find anything that sounds better or goes as loud in a 2.1 system at $150-200.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Interesting, I’ve heard most of those have died out due to the subwoofer overheating and frying part of the board. They definitely have awesome audio otherwise.

        • bitcat70
        • 8 years ago

        From what I understand it only happened when playing them really loud all the time. I don’t plan on doing that. Maybe occasionally, he he. So what’s the best 2.1 speaker set for PC’s? Any suggestions?

      • swaaye
      • 8 years ago

      I have a set yet myself and they are about 7 years old I think. The only annoying part is how the power switch is on the sub. They use like 15W just sitting there idle and I’m sure that leaving them running like that 24/7 is not good for lifetime.

      However, these apparently have a tendency to die of amp failure. Mine spend most of their time unplugged. A friend of mine had his set die on him though.

      In the computer speaker world there are other options. The Logitech Z2300 2.1s are definitely competitive.

        • bitcat70
        • 8 years ago

        How do they compare to the Klipsch? I had a chance to compare side by side Klipsch and whatever else a local Best Buy has and nothing, well, compares. I’d really like to get the Klipsch but if they have those problems… Can we have a computer speaker shootout?

    • ShadowTiger
    • 8 years ago

    I have the older logitech 2.1 thats 200 Watts total (120 + 2x 40)

    It has a knob for the bass… I don’t know if having 3 settings for bass would be good enough for me.

    Secondly, it comes with a desk mounted remote with a headphone jack… which I love. If I had to connect my headphones to my computer it would drive me nuts.

    That being said… I can’t really compare the audio quality without having speakers similar to my own reviewed… *wink*

    • Dposcorp
    • 8 years ago

    I am looking for something kinda cheap like this, but with optical in.

      • eitje
      • 8 years ago

      Doesn’t it have that?

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    These speakers just aren’t worth the $179.99 asking price. Heck, even if the price gets halved, there are plenty of speakers that sound just as good, or better.

    I’ll have to admit the Rockus [i<]looks[/i<] good, but as an audio device they fall flat.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, I’d vote $70.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 8 years ago

    Thanks Cyril for taking the speaker review on. It’s great that the fanciest CPU/GPU/motherboard is covered, but it’s the little things that can make or break a PC.

    Speakers that sound tingy, a heatsink not cooling as well, a mouse that’s just annoying to use. These things have a much bigger impact than wether or not I can use an extra 200mhz.

    Keep it up and I’d love to see TR keep expanding it’s PC periphial reviews.

    • DeadOfKnight
    • 8 years ago

    Personally I would like to see a review of Logitech’s new Z623 speaker set.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    I would like a review that ends in on a flat note to recommend an preferred product. Just a thought since I frequently read these reviews when considering purchases and that feature would make it easier to find the current favorite hardware parts of damaged labs.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]Antec is ... guilty of not using generic cables. That's a shame...[/quote<] No, that's an abomination.

      • Pizzapotamus
      • 8 years ago

      It’s also not true. Speaker terminals are plenty common and I’m not sure how one can get more generic than [b<]wire[/b<], not a special connector just freaking wire.

    • Xenolith
    • 8 years ago

    I am really disappointed in the lack of use of the word “diminutive” in this article.

      • Rakhmaninov3
      • 8 years ago

      Impostor Cyril!

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    Totally missed that it was a 2L soda bottle the first time around – I thought it was a 20 oz for whatever reason. Just didn’t read the Corsair review closely enough.

    At any rate, good gravy those things are huge.

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      20oz? How much is that in real money, not weird old fashioned monopoly money measurements.

        • RobbyBob
        • 8 years ago

        Some of us live in ‘Murica, sir.

    • Meadows
    • 8 years ago

    Surround via optical input, a shameless “3D” moniker, and no built-in virtualisation. The design is great, but colour me extremely unimpressed, Sound[i<]science[/i<].

      • Palek
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, “stereo expansion” would be more appropriate.

      Remember Qsound from way back in the 90s? Or SRS and their numerous enhancement technologies? Stereo expansion never took off as a recognized and sought-after feature so it’s puzzling to see companies attempting to resuscitate it again and again. (Well, not really, it’s SRS and all the audio IP companies pushing their tech onto manufacturers who are desperately seeking value added features.)

      Antec/Soundscience should ditch the useless DSP and the optical in and cut the price by about $20.

      Also, I’m curious… Is there a market for $180-$250 stereo amp+speaker sets? We have a Logitech Z4 2.1 system set in our home that does a decent job at music playback (haven’t really tried it for anything else). This set sold for about $70. Would the Rockus really be a significant step up? And if someone’s going to spend $180 on a 2.1 set, wouldn’t they be better off stretching their budget a little and investing in a mini component system from Denon or Onkyo, such as this?

      [url<]http://www.amazon.com/Onkyo-CS-445-CD-Receiver-System/dp/B004BD9W4W/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1306405665&sr=1-1[/url<] It may not provide thundering bass, but overall sound quality surely would be better, no? And if the thundering bass is an absolute must, apparently the little Onkyo system has a subwoofer out. Amazon helpfully offers an optional subwoofer, too.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      and neither set even has balanced analog inputs. That’s a little more forgivable here with optical available, I suppose.

        • tempeteduson
        • 8 years ago

        Are you seriously expecting balanced connections on consumer-grade audio?

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