Luminous ‘bling’ aside, the controls are simple, with an on/off switch, an input selector and two bass and treble buttons which toggle the volume control between master volume and bass/treble volume respectively. The one area where Sony has gone a bit light is on the sockets. Beyond the two non-standard connectors for the satellite speakers, we get a pair of stereo phono inputs for the main source at the back, plus a single 3.5mm auxiliary input and a headphone socket. This makes a certain amount of sense if you’re hooking up a games console, media player or Blu-Ray/DVD player as your main source, but it’s weird to hook up a set of desktop PC speakers to your PC using the slightly messy auxiliary input at the front.
Note that mention of hooking up a games console, however, because games and movies are where the SRS-DB500 system’s strengths lie. It’s not that Sony has produced a bad system for listening to music; far from it. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of clarity and detail produced by those underwhelming satellites, and with punchy, pop or rock material the output really isn’t bad at all. The system creates a fine, wide soundstage with great positioning, and both Radiohead’s There, There and Massive Attacks Inertia Creeps sounded brilliant, with good instrument separation and lots of impact.
However, the more music – and the more varied the music – you listen to, the more you become aware of the system’s limitations. There’s sibilance to cymbals and a boxed-in note on jazz piano, brass or orchestral strings. Vocals and acoustic guitars sound great, but listen to something more complex or dynamic and the sound takes on an odd, processed edge.
Most of all the bass, while powerful, isn’t actually that well defined. That cavernous bass you come across in so many Massive Attack tracks works well, but the acoustic bass in the Bill Evans Trio’s working of Some Day My Prince Will Come lacks focus. Too Far from your Weapon, my highlight of The Dead Weather’s Horehound, has a swampy atmosphere, but the lack of precision translates to a lack of bite.
Plug in your PS3 and put in a game, however, and it’s a very different story. I took the SRS-DB500s for a quick spin through THQ’s heavy metal take on Zelda, Darksiders, and the results were incredible, the mighty blade of the game’s anti-hero, War, slicing through zombie flesh and demon bone with a heroically gory chop and crunch sound, while the noise of wind, distant moans and ambient gurgling created an incredibly immersive experience. If – like me – you spend more of your gaming time sat in front of a desktop monitor than in front of a TV, then the SRS-DB500s are easily good enough to make you wonder whether surround sound isn’t over-rated.