We regularly review headsets here at OC3D. With the enormous increase in gaming clans and events, coupled to the movement of the PC from the study or bedroom into the lounge as the centrepiece of a multimedia showcase, so it seems that nearly everyone is utilising a headset as their primary means of audio delivery.
If you couple that the lack of design innovation in speakers in general, it's understandable that we review far more headsets than pure speakers. Supply and demand.
Microlab have a good range of speakers to suit all tastes and pockets from the simple to a wall of speakers that wouldn't look out of place in a studio setup. What they do better than almost everyone else is package their products in something other than the regulation wooden, or even plastic, box. The emphasis is as much on the aesthetic as the audiophile.
This brings us neatly to today's review of the FC50. A 2.1 set available in both black and white, the design is eye-catching. We're here to find out if the sound is equally on the money.
The FC50 consists of two satellite speakers and a subwoofer, with the total power output split fairly reasonably between the two. With the majority of the output dedicated to the subwoofer when compared to each satellite there shouldn't be a lack of bass.
|Output power||54W RMS|
|Power distribution||12W x2 (satellite) 30W (subwoofer)|
|Harmonic distortion||0.5 % (1 Watt, 1kHz)|
|Frequency response||40 - 20 000, Hz|
|Signal/Noise ratio||80 dB|
|Tweeter driver type||(0.7+4)x2|
|Bass driver type||5|
|Product weight||5.6 kg|
The FC50 come well packaged in a large cardboard box with plenty of polystyrene keeping everything secure during transit. Each item is also covered with a foam bag, and every cable is cable-tied and in a polythene bag too.
To further protect the satellite speakers there is a form fitting plastic cover. Handy in ensuring you don't accidentally stick your finger through the cone when unpacking.
The design is minimalist. They almost look like a speaker with a stand, but we think they're extremely attractive. They're weighty too, a claim that certainly can't be made of many satellite speakers.
Photographing piano black things is always the hell of any review, and the Microlab FC50 are no exception. What is hardest to get across in photographs is that the surround is actually only around 70% opaque. It's darker than what used to be termed "smoke effect", but you can still see through them a little bit.
Behind the magnetic shielding is the speaker itself. The whole unit gives off a serious sense of robustness which belies its looks. Even the fabric covers for the cones are designed very well, rather than the plastic circle with unbraced fabric that we've all seen on lesser quality satellite speakers.
Up Close Continued
The subwoofer is, as befits the bass part of the operation, a big unit. With a letterbox port and a large bass speaker it should have all your low frequency needs covered. The surface is coated with a textured vinyl which is the antithesis of the shiny black used on the satellites.
Connectivity is kept simple with two RCA jacks for the satellite speakers, a power input and on/off switch, and a volume knob. The input is a simple 3.5mm jack which opens up a world of possibility, being the most common audio output on almost every device. The power box is fairly small with a long cable to allow the best possible placement of the FC50.
Microlab provide a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable to connect the FC50 to your chosen source. We'd have preferred to see a black one, but understand that, with both black and white models on offer, grey is the best compromise.
A nice surprise is the inclusion of a wireless remote control to allow for volume adjustments without hunting around behind the subwoofer.
Working via two AAA batteries it has three functions. In normal mode the dial adjusts the overall volume. Press it briefly to mute the FC50, or hold it for two seconds and the LED changes from the fast blinking blue light to a blinking orange one and the dial now adjusts the amount of bass. Because of the speed of the blinking and swift change into power saving mode it's extremely difficult to photograph the LED, so apologies for the blurry nature of the text.
As always we'll be testing the Microlab FC50 on our ASUS Phoebus soundcard that is part of our Z77 test bench. We're also going to plug our iPod into them as well as run the Sky TV through them to give a full test of their abilities.
It takes something special to have us interested in a 2.1 speaker set, and the Microlab FC50 certainly ticks all the boxes.
Unquestionably the design of the satellite speakers is the primary focus. We're so used to 2.1 setups being a booming bass box and then the most minimal effort, square box possible for the satellites, that the work Microlab have put in to the design of the satellites makes us smile. Rather than being minimal effort, they are minimalist. A centrally positioned speaker with the plastic surround expanding upon the cone design. The stands are as solid and stable as the satellite design, and in all they're very nice. The subwoofer is more of a regulation affair, with a MDF box containing the 5" bass speaker and connections for the power, audio input and satellite speakers. It's very sturdy and the textured vinyl coating provides a nice counterpoint to the gloss black satellite speakers. Finally, the RF remote control for the volume and bass is a nice, unexpected, touch and saves you having to use the volume control on the back of the subwoofer.
Sound quality is obviously extremely important, and the FC50 is a bit of a mixed bag. As you can see from the "High Clarity - Close Distance" label upon the subwoofer, the FC50 is designed to give you clear sound reproduction when you're near to them, and they certainly do that. The satellite cables are very short, at around four foot long, and so you're rather limited in your placement options. If you use them as the speakers on your computer then you're very likely to be within touching distance of them, and this close the sound is very good with the subwoofer rather dominating proceedings, but backing off the bass a little allows the excellent satellites to give you exceptional clarity and great midrange and high-end response. We utilised our standard array of game tests, from the outstanding BioShock Infinite and jungle insanity of Far Cry 3, to the tense atmosphere of Hitman Absolution and the sandbox Sleeping Dogs. With a neutral sound profile everything from gaming, music and films are projected very well with only minor tweaks to the equaliser needed for your own tastes.
As you move away from the FC50 though the satellites struggle to overcome the subwoofer. Even turning the bass down with the remote it becomes a struggle to maintain a balanced sound scape. This would be less of an issue if the bass was hard and tight, but it's a bit woolly and indistinct. More of a general rumble than the percussive pounding in your chest. This is definitely a system designed to be used near to you, rather than use it as a boost for your television or a sound system at a party. We tried a variety of films and television programs through the FC50 and found that 'softer' documentaries and movies worked much better than those of the action variety, largely because of that disappointing bass performance.
Other problems are small, but there. We'd like longer cables on the satellites. Cable is really cheap so there is no excuse to provide so little. We've used mice with longer cables than this. The volume control on the subwoofer isn't the biggest quality item we've ever seen. Ours just went round and round which hardly inspired confidence. Also of variable quality is the wireless remote. It's very light and cheap feeling and it's also the only way of tuning the bass volume without resorting to external equalisers. There is no indication of how loud either the volume nor the bass is beyond your own ears, as the dial turns and turns without a stop point.
If you are planning to use the FC50 as a desktop audio solution for your computer, there are few more impressive ones around. With the ability to tame the subwoofer using your equaliser, and because you're at the distance the FC50 has been designed to be used at, the sound quality is excellent. The short satellite cables and the quality of the two volumes controls is disappointing, but those aside the build quality is very good. At £70 you wont want for a more gorgeous looking speaker set, and as long as you don't expect it to fill a room with sound you wont be disappointed either. Because they're very good but within a tight set of limitations and with only average subwoofer performance, we're going to award the Microlab FC50 our OC3D Silver Award.
Thanks to Microlab for supplying the FC50 for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.