Surround sound has long been a flaky issue on the Macintosh. Macintosh audiophiles have had their spirits lifted with the release of the SoundBlaster Live, only to have them sink as driver updates and Mac OS X support fell slowly into obscurity. Now, with the promising release of cards such as the M-Audio Revolution, the future of surround sound on the Mac has a chance -- if only Apple will promote the technology in Mac OS X.
With such a tumultuous history, a buyer will necessarily take a risk if he or she purchases a surround-sound speaker system, expecting his or her games to come alive with two-dimensional audio. However, as I learned with the JBL Invader, one need not have full-blown surround-sound support to enjoy the comforts of a 4.1 system.
The JBL Invader, a set consisting of four speakers and a subwoofer, is a surround-sound system of an otherworldly design, in the tradition of the JBL Creature. However, while its performance is certainly noteworthy, it may not justify the $180 this system will set a buyer back.
Tour de FourThe JBL Invader is a 4.1 system: four speakers, two placed in front and two placed in rear, surround the listener with sound, while a subwoofer provides rumbling bass and a full bottom-end.
The four satellites are tall ellipsoids, pockmarked with two vibrating membranes, balanced on a hemispherical stand. They are finished in a metallic silver color. On the front-right speaker, a featureless silver volume knob protrudes from below the bottom membrane. Beneath it is a green power LED. The subwoofer, mostly cubical, has separate treble and bass volume controls and a silver and black finish.
Wiring the system is a snap. All speakers plug into the subwoofer via RCA cables, color-coded by position. The subwoofer has two eighth-inch stereo outs, for the front and rear audio channels. Also included is an adapter that allows the user to plug both front and rear channels into a single audio out (for use with Macs without an audio card installed). When using this adapter, the front and rear channels are duplicated, so both pairs of speakers are playing the same audio.
One tiny annoyance I noticed immediately was the lack of a notch on the volume control. The volume control has no indicator letting one know how near to zero or full volume the knob is set at. While it's certainly something buyers will be able to cope with, it's still a bit of an irritation occasionally.