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For those of us that are into both computer gaming and high end audio; there are not very many compromises with hardware. Sure there are bundled systems like Bose that maintain as one of the greats for computer music lovers (cheap ones at least), and there is also the newly released Corsair Sp2500’s. Both are a great products, but lack one crucial feature; EAX effects. Playing games on your PC has taken many major leaps over the past decade with many hardware changes with displays, graphics cards, and processing technologies; but one area remains completely un-appreciated and overlooked; the sound card. Those who have them swear by them and those without are completely missing intense levels of depth in their favorite games. For the longest time I have been looking for a high end sound system build for my gaming computer that includes support for EAX and also satisfies my audiophile spoiled ears. I could have easily just sent optical out from the computer to a home theatre receiver and had great sound with the capability of multichannel support, great, but that doesn’t work for professional gamers. As much as I’d like to claim it, I’m by no means a professional gamer in the sense, but I take computer gaming and sound very seriously, as any professional does. First, let’s break down what exactly environmental audio extensions (EAX) effects are. Created by non-other than Creative Technologies; the idea is to use hardware accelerated sound processing to add lifelike sound qualities to games. An easy way to think of it is most people do not use EAX and get 2D sound; flat and non-directional, whereas EAX is 3D sound, directional and lifelike. As adding extra graphics detail and depth that you get with a nice graphics card; same thing applies to sound detail when you upgrade to a nice sound card. So when you are planning a build like this, where do you go? There are not very many if none at all that have been built with the intention of using EAX effects. The first thing I had to do was choose a good sound card that supports EAX; so after extensive research, I choose the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium. You may notice that it has RCA out/inputs versus 5.1 channel 3.5mm mini jacks; I did this on purpose. I decided that I was going to only build a system with 2.1 speakers versus a 5.1 system. I have been using 5.1 systems for over a decade, and don’t get me wrong they are nice to have, but take up way to much space and you really have to have an optimal desk layout to really benefit from them. Most people are super pumped when they get them, but eventually move them to the side or not even plug the rear speakers at all. From there, I needed a receiver. Sense I am using analog lines to carry my signals and not optical; I only needed a 2-channel stereo receiver with a pre-out for the sub. I have always been a huge fan of Pioneer so I looked at them first. Their PM8004 was on my mind until I ran into a Marantz SR4023 at a Magnolia HIFI store in San Ramon, CA. it was half the price with the same if not better sound quality. And then it came to the biggest question, what speakers should I use? I really thought about this one for a while. There are tons of good manufactures out there with thousands of varieties to choose from. I was thinking of all the great manufactures and remembered that last time I had heard something of theirs, until one name popped into my head; Martin Logan. I was at the San Ramon Magnolia store when an employee demoed a set of Vantage Electrostatic tower speakers playing Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles through a McIntosh amp. There are special times in everyone’s life where something magical happens that you will always remember; like seeing the ocean for the first time, falling in love, or going on an epic European vacation through the Mediterranean; this was one of those moments. The song starts off with a string quartet and as soon as the artist brushed the strings on their instruments, the hair raised on my neck. The Cello in particular made me feel like I was sitting right in front of live musicians and their instruments. It is really hard to describe the feeling that I was having. I was never really into high end audio before I went into the store; I was only accompanying my brother in law so he could look, but left in disbelief. So I started doing some research into Martin Logan and saw that they had a set of bookshelf/wall mountable speakers I could use. As much as I would love it, I can’t fit floor standing towers in front of my desk, so I went back to demo the Motion 4’s. Again; I was amazed. I even put these up against the best set of Bowers and Wilkins bookshelf and even two sets of floor standing models, and the Martin Logan’s blew the pants off of the competition. People in the store were trying to figure out where the great sound was coming from and kept looking at all the really high end and super expensive sets in the room, pretty funny if you ask me. So I was totally sold. I also included a Dynamo 700 sub to better balance out the frequency spectrum in the lower end. For testing I had chosen a list of recently released games and a diverse song list that includes HIFI studio samples down to everyday listening. Many companies demo really high end quality music to listeners at stores to help the sell, but it is really important to list to the music you will be listening to on your new set of speakers, so you know that they work great with the stuff you love. After a good few days of just music listening, artist ranging from Mason Williams to Slayer and everything in between, to really get a good feel from every type of music genre; and believe me, Martin Logan delivers. Gaming on the other hand is where is believe Martin Logan and Creative really shines. Playing Battlefield 3 on this system is something else. Every foot step, on every different type on ground, and the sounds of whistling bullets takes gaming to a whole new level of amazing. Playing multiplayer on a 2.1 system usually puts someone to a disadvantage because of directionality, being where the enemy is compared to you, that favors 5.1 or surround headsets; but not this system. With using Creative 3Dfx processing, the game sounded as if I had a 5.1 system; I mean you really do start looking in the direction of sound in the room because you know that there are no speakers behind you, but you look in disbelief anyways. Every explosion and every tank round fired reverberated through my room and straight to my chest thanks to the Martin Logan Dynamo 700 sub; extremely accurate, lifelike, and powerful are only a few ways to sum up my experience with it. Purely magical in its ability to blend in to the room and take music and games to a whole new level of realism. Sub placement is key to the great sound and Martin Logan has a funny instructional video on sub placement located on their website. I started to do what it told me on the video and after some funny looks and snickers from my wife, I found the magical spot in my room and set the proper settings on the back panel. The next game I tested was awarded one the best sound effects and detail of any game, Dead Space 2. The game itself is not life changing in anyway; fun and suspenseful, but not the best action game out there. However, the sound alone is worth it. I had played and beaten this game before I purchased my stereo system, so I had the before reference already set and was ready to see the after. And after beating the game a second time, I had noticed that it took me a few hours longer this time than before, and I started thinking what the hell? It should have gone faster if anything. But it didn’t and here’s why. The game scared the sh*t out of me; constantly... It’s hard to admit and anyone who has played this game with a nice system will tell you, the sound alone is scary. I had to take many breaks from the game. With the Martin Logan speakers, I was hearing every ounce of detail such as aliens scrambling about air ducts, bodies being dragged and eaten rooms away, and just the creepy ambiance of just walking around the crumbling up ship by yourself. Every gamer remembers when they played the 2004 release of Doom and walking around Mars’s substation with a flashlight or a gun, not both at the same time, in the dark and hearing the monsters coming at you without being able to see them, not cool. Dead Space 2 is a non-stop adrenaline rushed edge of the set thriller only for that fact that the sound alone has you tuned in and wetting your pants; it is a spectacular audible adventure that I recommend to everyone. So do I recommend this system and all its components… hell yes. It is a little on the expensive side for a computer audio build, but it is worth it; in every way. If you think about it, it is more an investment than anything. I was going through cheap sets of speakers almost every 1-2 years, and at around $300 each, it adds up. With buying higher-end equipment, you get excellent build quality with fantastic warranties; you should be good listening to your new equipment for decades, not years. I would recommend saving up for a system like this, for as long as it takes, because, it really is worth it. I was never a real audio buff, until I heard what is was missing, and I challenge you to go and demo some nice equipment and tell me you don’t notice a difference. I also open an invitation to anyone in the Reno/Tahoe area that would like to come over and hear some music or play some games with me; and I do mean that sincerely, I love nothing more than share my incredible experience with others and welcome you to the wonderful and rewarding world of high-end audio. So feel free to email me with any question you have and also if you would like to set an appointment to come and demo my equipment. I had a blast putting this system together and am looking forward to setting up a home theater system using Martin Logan's much anticipated, and more affordable, Electromotion Series speakers. I'll keep you guys posted, but with funding, it should happen some time late next year. Daniel Gilbertson [email protected]