Any company as large as Creative knows that if you want to gain maximum market share you need a diverse range of products that cover the full gamut of potential customers. By providing something for everyone you have the best chance of making a sale regardless of whether the buyer is a professional, an enthusiastic amateur, or just a casual first time buyer. This is why Creative produces over 40 different types of speakers, from dual channel sets costing just over £10 to monstrous 7-channel sets that will set you back over £300. Unless you insist on true audiophile quality and are willing to plump up some serious cash, there’s sure to be a Creative speaker set that will suit your needs.
Now, obviously, the range is split up into the different speaker types, so you have portable, desktop stereo 2.0 & 2.1, and surround sound 5.1 & 7.1 sets. However, that still leaves a considerable number of speakers in each category. So, to make sense of this vast range, Creative splits up its models into various sub-brand names like i-trigue, SBS, and Inspire. At the top of the pile is the Gigaworks name, which you may recognise as being the brand used for the T20 and T40 speakers that Andy liked so much. This label is preserved for the elite models in each category of speaker and, considering how impressed we were with the T20 and T40s, we believe this name is not used idly. So, when we were offered the chance to review Creative’s new T10s we jumped at the chance, expecting more of the same.
However, this is where things get a little complicated. You see, as we did, you may think that the T10s are just the smaller versions of the T20s, just as the T40s are the large versions thereof, but in actual fact they are quite different, so much so they actually fall under the lower grade Inspire brand name. Confused? I certainly was.
What is clear, though, is that the T10s are what are known as a 2.0 speaker set – that is, the set consists of just two desktop speakers with no separate sub-woofer – and they cost around £30. If they can manage to sound remotely decent at that price then the confusing naming and most other minor grievances can be forgiven. So without further ado, let’s see how they stack up.
Given these speakers don’t fall under the same brand name as the T20s and T40s, it’s no surprise the styling of the T10s is different. Gone are the funky yellow speaker cones to be replaced by relatively dull grey ones. The metallic knobs are now plain black plastic and likewise the front surface has changed from a beautifully finished metallic grey to gloss black.
Also gone are the removable speaker covers, which have been replaced with a permanent speaker grill over the larger driver and a protective bar over the tweeter. This is a shame as the grills in particular really let down the overall styling – they’re not even lined up straight so they don’t match. Is it so hard to put a grill on straight? Oh, and evidently blue LEDs must cost more because power is now indicated by a green LED instead.
The shape of the speakers has also changed slightly as the T10s use wider (75mm) bass/mid-range drivers so the case has a slight bulge in the middle to accommodate them. The overall affect is that they lack the clean elegance of the T20s and T40s and, though I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say they look cheap, they definitely don’t look like a high-end piece of equipment.
Other more prosaic differences include the tone control, which uses a single dial rather than two separate knobs, and that the auxiliary input and headphone sockets are situated on the right side just behind the peculiar fabric tag. While both of these configuration options may cause some grievance if you prefer your cables laid out in a certain manner or if you particularly prefer the flexibility of separate tone controls, for the price, the lack of adjustability is understandable and the inclusion of both auxiliary and headphone sockets at all is a welcome bonus.
Of course, less than stellar looks, odd naming, and socket positions aside, what will ultimately decide the T10s fate is how they sound and unfortunately the reason for the removal of the Gigaworks brand name becomes immediately evident the moment you turn them on. Where the T20s and T40s produced a warm, enveloping, yet crystal clear sound, the T10s are decidedly muddier. That’s not to say they sound bad, at least not when considering the price, but the bass has a booming quality and the clarity simply isn’t comparable.
As I’m listening to it right now I’ll get specific talking about how the track Glass by Incubus sounds. Being a band well known for bringing together a multitude of different music styles and forming them into one impressive cohesive whole, their music is perfect for testing the ability of a set of speakers to pick out details in what can be an otherwise chaotic mess.
The Drum and Bass style rhythm sections are done considerable justice despite the T10s lack of a separate subwoofer and even when the volume is cranked the sound remains distortion free. Indeed at full pelt, they would be quite sufficient for filling a small room or providing background rumblings in a larger environment. However, while clarity is perfectly decent for casual listening, even for extended periods, the intense mix of record scratching, distorted guitars, crashing cymbals, and electronic samples can sometimes overwhelm the set’s abilities, resulting in instruments disappearing into the overall muddle.
Moving onto something a little more sedate, I fired up Chopin’s Nocturne No. 13 in C Minor and, boy, the difference is like night and day. The T10s simply can’t compete with their more expensive siblings in this intimate and dynamic recording. Low notes become a dull thud and intricate high-pitched passages merge together into a tinkling more akin to a wind chime than the perfection in piano performance that it should be.
At this point, the T10s had shown me all they needed to when it comes to music. They are perfectly nice to listen to but if you value clarity in your music, you’ll have to opt for a more expensive set. However, it isn’t all about music so next on the TR speaker review hitlist was a (s)three hour(/s) short stint of Team Fortress 2 to test gaming performance.
Although I’d always prefer to use headphones for any kind of competitive gaming session the T10s proved a worthy casual substitute. Explosions, gun fire, and the shouts and screams of team members and adversaries are all delivered with ample gusto and the atmosphere is suitably enveloping. For more subtle games that intermingle atmospheric music, story-driving dialogue, and environmental sound effects, the lack of clarity can leave you a little lost but, again, in this situation I’d much rather be immersing myself fully by using a set of headphones anyway.
It’s much the same story when watching movies as well. Volume and bass are surprisingly strong and drive louder sections along nicely but intimate scenes can be a struggle to keep up with as conversation gets lost in the swelling romantic music.
All of which is pretty much what you would expect for a set of speakers costing £30, and this really is the point. At this price you must accept compromises and on the sound quality front there definitely are some. However, when you consider the overall package, which includes a nice quality two metre gold plated stereo jack cable, there’s not much more you could ask for.
Don’t let the ‘T’ naming trick you; the Creative Inspire T10s aren’t in the same ball park as our favourite stereo desktop speakers, the Creative Gigaworks T20s and T40s. However, considering their bargain bin price, there can be little to complain about. If you want an affordable set of 2.0 speakers for your home office or living room PC these fit the bill nicely.
Score in detail