The Teufel Concept D 500 THX under scrutiny here, definitely falls into the latter camp and its price (£449 plus £19.99 delivery to the UK) pitches it up against offerings from such hallowed names as Genelec and Dynaudio to name but two, so it has it's work cut out to justify it's value.
What's in the box? - CD 500 SW Subwoofer
Turning to the rear is where you realize that you're outside of the AV norm because there are things that you don't normally see and few things missing that you might normally expect. For starters, the lone control on the rear is the on/off switch proper to compliment the already mention standby control on the front. There are no gain, phase or crossover frequency controls. All of these are preset internally, because the CD 500 SW is designed to work with the supplied CG 80 FCR satellites alone.
Indeed, the twin pairs of 4mm, banana plug friendly speaker binding posts to which you connect the satellites are each connected to their own 40W amplifier channel to supply the speakers with motive force. The remaining 220W of the total quoted 300W is reserved for subwoofer duties and all channels are described as 'Class D', often referred to (inaccurately) as digital amplification. What it is, is efficient and cool running, which in this instance is good as it stops warm air wafting up from under the desk into your face. The speaker outputs are high passed at a surprisingly high 150Hz, but more on that later. The remaining features of note are, a single stereo RCA phono input, a microphone output (eh?) and a 9 pin DIN connection for the remote control which I shall describe now.
The chunky and weighty wired remote provides you with a rotary volume control (push click for on/standby) ringed by twenty five blue LEDs that indicate volume level. The volume control only advances the volume by one light for each three clicks in rotation and as such needs about three and a half full rotations to go from minimum to maximum volume. This is nice as it means you can set the volume very precisely and would be instantly familiar to anybody who has owned a Cyrus product in the last twenty years. Above the volume is the gain control for the subwoofer which makes do with a 'mere' twelve LEDs and operates in a similar fashion to the volume, but more on that later too.
The front face of the remote has 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, because if like me, your headphone output is your only stereo output, you will need somewhere to plug in your cans and doing so mutes the speakers and sub. The microphone input is to cater for Skype/Gaming types and explains the microphone output on the subwoofer; You need a 3.5mm male to male jack lead to pass through the mic on your headset to the computer's mic input from the subwoofer. I only Skype when doing the monthly AVForums.com Home Cinema Podcast and as the other participants patience has been tested to death by my headset related woes, I was unwilling to test the facility, lest a contract be taken out on me.
CG 80 FCR Satellites
This leaves the CG 80 FCR satellites to play with and I feel the term does them an injustice, because they're about three times the size of the universal KEF Egg, as an example. The cabinet very much follows the styling cues of the subwoofer, but this time it's glossy ABS baffle is partnered with a matt black sealed ABS cabinet. The rear has twin gold plated binding posts that grips copper tighter than a short changed Scotsman. If you can get your fingers inside the slightly too tight recess that is; I found it a bit of a fiddle, but with a good solid connection like this, there's no need to mess with banana plugs. The CG 80 FCRs come with a pressed steel stand that screws into the rear of the cabinet with a thumb screw and this can be mounted either vertically or horizontally. There are also two keyhole mounts should you wish to wall-hang them. There are no grills. Not that the CG 80 FCRs need hiding, because like the sub, they look expensive way beyond their price. It does leave me worried that the very young and/or old enough to know better, but can't resist anyway will feel tempted by the shiny bits on offer.
Turning to the business end and the driver compliment definitely looks far from the PC speaker norm. The mid/bass driver is a four inch nominal, three inch actual, treated paper cone with aluminium phase plug and a pukka rubber roll surround. The three quarter inch, fabric dome tweeter is set back in a waveguide, the flare of which matches the effective diametre of the main driver. The tweeter waveguide is worthy of note for several reasons. First is that by restricting the radiation of the tweeter at the lower end of it's pass band, the tweeter is wasting less energy sprayed outward - It is more efficient allowing it to play with less distortion and/or be crossed over at a lower frequency, 2kHz in this case. It also means the radiation pattern of the tweeter is closer to that of the driver it is handing over to at that point. At the top of it's range, the dispersion of the tweeter is spread a bit to provide a more consistent power response, this being it's frequency response considered over a wide range of angles other than just dead ahead.
Why so important? In this case because it's sitting on a desk and that means it's virtually impossible to avoid a large component of reflected sound, at least from below. If only the bottom end of the tweeter's output was being reflected, this would place an extra emphasis on that area, but the waveguide ensures that as less sound is reflected and that which is, is of a wider and more consistent frequency range. You wouldn't position your hi-fi speakers hard up against a side wall, but desktop media speakers like these, ask you to effectively do exactly that and so measures to reduce the downsides are very welcome and the waveguide does exactly that.
A quick mention about what is not in the box; beyond the UK and European three pin IEC mains lead, there are no other cables supplied.
Given the range of connections possible from your computer's sound card, or whatever you choose to hook the Concept D 500 THX up to, I don't suppose this is too surprising, but I would have thought some speaker cable might have been included. I don't know why I would expect it in retrospect, but given that a couple of one metre lengths of bog standard 2x1.5mm2 stranded copper cable doesn't seem unreasonable. As it was, I had some off-cuts of a decent 2.5mm2 cable lying around, but I thought it worth mentioning, as without an appropriate interconnect and speaker cables, you can't get up and running.
Now, the one feature of note as yet unmentioned is the "THX" in the Concept D 500 THX's name. THX in this case applies to the 'THX Multi Media' certification the package has achieved. That THX would, sooner or later, offer a multimedia certification was a given once they were part owned by Creative - Probably the largest and best known of PC add on accessory manufacturers. That also made it possible for anyone to wear the badge if their product ticked all of the boxes and this Teufel package has done exactly that.
What does it mean? Well it means that the package has achieved the criteria for output, distortion, frequency bandwidth and dispersion as laid down by THX for listening at "a distance of 27 inches", this being the only quantifiable parameter I could find with some concerted Google bashing. As such, I'm a bit unsure as to how high the bar is set by THX for multimedia systems and THX aren't letting on, but one would hope they are unwilling to devalue the brand with a lax set of criteria, just to satisfy one of their parent companies.
As past experience has shown, THX certification in the audio arena at least, still leaves enough latitude for a manufacturer to impress their preferred character upon a product and so there is still a subjective judgement to be made. The MK Sound 150 THX Ultra system has knocked my socks off, as has Teufel's mighty System 9 THX Ultra 2 package, but nobody with ears could ever accuse them of sounding the same....
What THX certification does mean is that a minimum set of requirements are met and if this, my first THX Multi Media experience is anything to go by, then it's pretty damn good, but that doesn't mean its plug, play and forget. Like any speaker package, you need to set it up right.
Setting It Up
The room is the office of Williams Towers and is 8x10ft square by 9ft tall. I am aware this means a lot of closely grouped room modes with room gain taking off from 37Hz in a fairly impressive manner.
Back on track; as mentioned, there are a lack of subwoofer controls although with an enforced crossover of 150Hz, the only options normally left are gain and phase, the latter being absent. What is far clearer is that the gain of the subwoofer is completely over the top. I started with the overall volume at one third and the subwoofer gain at fifty percent, reasoning that this is a sensible starting point allowing for adjustment to be tickled both ways. To say that the bass output nearly blew me over the wing backs of the review chair would be an understatement. Perhaps playing Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' isn't the greatest first choice for easing yourself in, but I had decided within about half a bar that my flares were experiencing an uncommon breeze. The wife in the east wing had felt compelled to phone up and the kittens had swiftly traveled as far away as their tiny legs would carry them.
The end result was this. If the first of the remote control's twelve subwoofer LEDs is on, it's working. If the second one is lit, it's bordering on too much bass unless you're bass happy through consumption of the grape. Once I'd established that, I noted that the bass was a bit monotonous and so spun up a Bennie Wallace track with a nice double bass solo to facilitate tuning further. Now, I should reiterate the confines of the home office, but the next step in such a tight room was to bung a pair of chunky socks in the port. This reduces bottom end output, but simultaneously extends bottom end reach and in that room at least it works a treat. Bass was deeper, tighter and a LOT more tuneful. This is not so much an issue with the Teufel subwoofer (gain levels excepted) but simply part and parcel of making a bass transducer work in your room.
Next, the speakers. I noted that the frequency balance changed quite a lot with seating height. Unlike a front room where an inch or two higher or lower makes only a little difference, when you're sitting in the near field the same vertical distance results in a large shift in the relative distances between the speaker's drivers and your ears. This is important as the driver's alignment and the design of the crossover 'expects' you to sit at a given level between the drivers. I found the stand can be bent with a reasonable bit of force (don't use the satellites as your lever - they're plastic) to aim the speakers at your head with a point midway between the tweeter and mid/bass driver being optimal. Picky? Maybe, but when you're only "27 inches" from the speaker, a six footer at a low desk could experience a very different balance to a five footer at a tall desk. Take the time and aim them as I suggest.
I'll get the negatives out of the way first for once. I personally feel the 150Hz crossover is too high and the subwoofer can be aurally locatable. This doesn't seem to be an issue with a lot of music, but if you're listening to something with wide ranging, dynamic bass lines like Paul Simon's 'Graceland', or 'Cakewalk' off Flim and the BBs Tricycle, you are aware of the bass lines traveling from above the desktop to beneath it. Furthermore, with the subwoofer turned down low enough to sound unobtrusive, I felt that this took some of the upper bass with it. As such, there appeared to be a bit of a dip in upper bass output, which took a bit of warmth away, mostly impacting vocals as they lost a touch of natural warmth.
Given the distance the CG 80 FCRs are designed to be listened at, plus the internal volume and driver area they have, I feel a lower crossover could be handled. The speakers could still generate the hair raising volume levels they're capable of without trouble and I personally feel a lower crossover or better still, the possibility to adjust it to your own taste, would be beneficial.
I also found the upper mid/low treble to be slightly emphasized which, with normal stereo speakers you could tame by crossing their axis slightly in front of the listening position. With the CG 80 FCRs, this just resulted in a stereo image about six inches wide. Aiming them to fire past my head so I could just see the inner side of each cabinet opened up the sound stage no end and helped a little with the response, but the wide dispersion of the waveguide prevented it from making a large difference. I think there may be a bit of an 'engineered', raised plateau in the response in the region of 4-7kHz. It's not large and I suspect it's there to make movie/gaming metallic effects project and tinkle. To that end it works well, but it does have a very slightly hyper realistic effect with music that, depending on your preferences and/or program type, may be preferable or a bit wearing. At low volumes I found it made speech and female vocal in general, very intelligible and expressive, if a sometimes a touch insistent.
When Eva Cassidy, god rest her soul, truly opened up, she could sound a touch hard which she never, ever could be accused of. However, I've heard plenty of very expensive speakers that get Eva wrong too, so maybe I'm being harsh. On the other hand, Angelique Kidjo who can sound pretty basic and unsophisticated with her pure toned wailing vocals, sounded as sensuous as I've ever heard her and was projected out front and rock solid centre stage, without stridency. I was genuinely impressed. So, we have an outcome with female vocal, that can be a little dependent on who you are listening to, but again that's a critique that could be leveled at much larger and more expensive speakers too. I must remember how much these don't cost...
Turning to other material, then if I had to pick a Concept D 500 THX package strength, it would be dynamic timing and attack. They do rhythm well, especially if you resist the urge to turn the sub up too far. Plucked strings of acoustic guitar have a surprising level of attack and this is backed up a reasonable rendition of the following body of the note, different guitars differentiating quite well, if not quite hi-fi well. A gust strung acoustic could sound a touch steely for instance.
Another rhythmically dynamic track is 'Poem of Chinese Drum' off a Burmester sampler CD that, quite frankly needs kilowatts of amplification to do well in a real room, especially in the sub bass zone. It is an extreme test of dynamic impact, in both the micro and macro spheres across the entire frequency spectrum. I wouldn't call it music and indeed it's typical of the stuff you find demoed at hi-fi shows. Perhaps because of the confines of the Williams' office, the Teufels made a genuinely compelling fist of the presentation. The pace of the piece was as fast or as slow as demanded and the positioning of the drums was pinpointed across the plane between the speakers, without sounding like it came from them. No, it didn't have quite the 'chest hit' experience of my normal system, nor did it quite differentiate the tonal differences between the different drums (and there are a LOT of drums to differentiate) on that track, but it was surprisingly competent for, let us not forget, a set of PC speakers.
But if I'm being honest, these speakers expect the less critical realms of rock and pop and here, the ability to knock out a beat, deliver some deep bass and do it with a bit of volume are qualities more important than tonal precision and a deft touch with a brushed hi-hat. Having procured such material from a passing youth, the Concept D 500 THX generated comfortable party levels with ease and without strain, remaining very listenable.
Okay, I lie; I have such stuff, but restrict it to time worn material that I'm familiar with. Madge has given us 'Music', which like most of her albums, provides a reference level of what a pop mix from a variety of sources can sound like. The Teufels made it all sound satisfying, but also resolved the difference in tonal signature between strands of the mix recorded/sampled from different sources, but stopped short of making it sounding disjointed like a true studio monitor might. There's a difference between hearing absolutely and hearing what is required to to make track listenable and the Teufels lean toward the latter.
From the off, with scene three of House of Flying Daggers (The Echo Game), its clear you loose a lot by having only two channels on tap.
You do not loose dialogue intelligibility and the clarity of the tinkling head dress, or the bead curtains is very good. As I listen there is a scene in the forest with close mic'd dialogue that is as tangible as I've ever heard. The positioning of dialogue and effects across the stereo plane is excellent - freedom from the speakers is as good and so the beans rattling around the drums portrayed a nice full sound stage with no noticeable gaps. The full dynamic impact is slightly muted, presumably as a result of the down mix from 5.1 to 2.0, but it ain't bad for something you're sitting two feet from.
Lord Of The Rings, backed up the impression. The atmosphere and clarity survived, but the big bass and/or dynamic moments were somewhat surpressed. No surprise this, as the full dynamics are preserved for full 5.1 channel playback, but the furnace roar of the Balrog sounded potent and the general complexity of the massed Orc attack in the Mines of Moria was well presented. Arrows whizzed left and right and the screeches from deep in the caverns sounded suitably distant. Wind rustling the trees in the forests sounded suitably 'movie' with a slight autumnal crispness, rather than spring fresh swish to the sound. As alluded to earlier, in the big bass moments of half tonne hammers hitting the ground, or skyscraper high staircases collapsing, you could have enough bass to wake the dead if you so desire and with enough depth to make it all sound pretty satisfying, with decent enough crunch factor to give it all some kick.
- Generously sized package with reproduction to match.
- Wide bandwidth - The frequency extremes are well represented.
- Can generate impressive SPLs.
- Levels of detail and intelligibility at low levels.
- Flexibility of use in situations away from the desktop.
- Looks expensive beyond it's price tag.
- Size - Depends on the size of your desk, or how tidy it is...
- ...Which applies double to the space for the subwoofer under it!
- Detail is delivered to a slightly tailored frequency balance...
- ..Which can make reproduction a touch strident at high levels.
- Subwoofer gain makes accurate tailoring of levels difficult
Teufel Concept D 500 THX speaker system review
I didn't know what to expect, or at least tried suspended my preconceptions of desktop media speakers, prior to the Teufel Concept D 500 THX turning up. I wasn't expecting much to be honest. I wasn't expecting the considerable material value, I wasn't expecting the prodigious volume capabilities and I certainly wasn't expecting something that would come within a gnats of being real hi-fi, which it does.
Based on no knowledge of the breed, I did expect it to be a 2.1 system, which it isn't in the true sense as there is only a stereo input. In retrospect, this is the only way it can be done without a stand alone processor or multichannel sound card, so it seems obvious (now) that this is the way these things are done. I had also expected an active system, with separate channels of amplification for each driver, whereas this is strictly speaking a powered passive satellite/active subwoofer system. I also, perhaps because of the computer connotations, expected the input to be via USB and/or an iPod dock to be in evidence. Again, I'm not sure why - as no such thing was promised or suggested. With twin RCA phono inputs you can plug devices with headphone outputs, a standalone dock or, for that matter, a dumb CD Player into the Teufels, as they have their own volume control.
It would be possible to make all of this extra input gadgetry available, but when your £450 already buys a good sized pair of speakers, three ample channels of amplification and a, relatively speaking, monster subwoofer, I feel the budget has been spread precisely where it should be. That being to extract as much sound in terms of frequency and dynamic bandwidth, delivered with more quality than I dared to hope for for the money involved.
Sure, you could accept limitations in any one of these areas, and ratchet up the experience in other areas, but that's the nature of compromise. Late in the day, I did have a pair of respected mini active monitors (circa £400/pair) on hand for the sake of comparison. They go for accuracy at the expense of all else and you could argue what they did, they did with a bit more finesse, neutrality and accuracy than the Teufels. The flip side of the coin was that they didn't go very loud, deep bass was totally absent along with the macro dynamics this brings to the party and they had precisely the same levels of connectivity. As such, you give away a little with the Teufels, but get back a lot and whilst I had both in situ, I tended to find it was the Teufels I ended up listening to.
This opens up the possibilities beyond being desktop speakers. They can handle larger spaces due to the output of the subwoofer and so make a good, decent second room system you don't have to make up excuses for. They would compliment an LCD/Plasma TV fed from the headphone socket, or variable RCA phono output if it has one. This would give you wireless remote volume control and show the risible fayre that passes for TV speakers a very clean pair of heels. To my mind, that makes the Teufel Concept D 500 THX a near perfect solution as student digs speakers.
Good enough as budget music hi-fi, loud enough to bother your neighbours with movies and games, flexible enough to do away a lot of other boxes, wrapped up in a package for very, very sensible money, they go a long way to throwing off the label of a mere PC speaker.
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