Philips MMS460 review

£45
Price when reviewed

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If your PC is as much an entertainment centre as a workstation, surround speakers literally place you in the centre of the action. They make DVDs feel like a cinematic experience and can even give you a competitive advantage in 3D games, as audio cues help you to locate your enemies. Choosing the right surround speaker system isn’t as straightforward as it should be, though, which is where we come in to help you separate the good from bad.

The Genius SW-HF5.1 5000 looks like something you’d find in a hi-fi shop rather than attached to a PC. The speakers are much bigger than any other set, as is the huge subwoofer. The centre speaker in particular has two drivers, which gives it superior power for punchy dialogue in movies with Dolby Digital sound effects. The retro styling is offset by blue LEDs and a motorised volume knob. On the rear of the sub are three sets of stereo inputs and two 5.1 inputs to choose from, but no headphone output.

Using a stereo input, sound quality was excellent, with a solid response right down to 30Hz and high frequencies that extended further than others. Midrange was detailed and focused too, but sound quality was a little confused at the crossover between the subwoofer and the satellites.

Using the 5.1 input, bass all but disappeared from music sources because the subwoofer only reproduces audio from the subwoofer input rather than the bass frequencies from all inputs. This would be fine if each satellite could handle full-range playback, but they give up below about 80Hz. It means you’ll need a sound card with bass redirection for decent sound quality in music and games – a feature few cards offer. If movies are your priority, the high price is worth it.

Creative i-Trigue 5600 handles its bass redirection internally, with all bass sounds being summed together and piped to the subwoofer – just as we’d expect. The styling is great, although the external power supply adds to the clutter under the desk.

Regrettably, sound quality didn’t live up to the high price. There was plenty of deep bass, but it sounded disconnected to the rest of the mix. High frequencies were weak, giving a muddled surround soundstage, and the centre speaker made dialogue in DVDs sound thin and weedy. Maximum volume was quieter than any of the other surround sets too, leaving little reason to justify the price premium for this set.

The Philips MMS460 takes the cheap and cheerful approach, with an aggressively low price and an aggressive tone to match. Bass was big and raunchy, while the satellites were extremely bright – too bright, really, especially as there are no tone controls to tame them.

Still, for high-energy music and game sound effects the system certainly sounds fun. More refined musical styles revealed a scruffy, brittle top end and an uneven lower-midrange. Sadly, the MMS460 suffers the same lack of bass redirection as the Genius system. Plug a single cable into the front line input and they work as expected, but as soon as a cable is inserted into the centre/sub input bass disappears from the front and rear channels.

Trust makes exactly the same mistake with the SP-6600A. A separate stereo line input gives a balanced sound, but the 5.1 input is useless without a bass redirection option on the sound card. This is a real shame, as sound quality is excellent for the price.

Bass was solid and even; the satellites produced a balanced, focused sound. Our only real criticism in terms of sound quality is that the crossover frequency between the subwoofer and satellites is too high, which means the subwoofer doesn’t blend well.

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