Setting up the Logitech Z-5300e set is quite easy. After positioning the speakers, you connect them, the control module, and your computer sound card or game console to color-coded jacks located on the subwoofer. Power on, and you're basically good to go. Conveniently, the speakers come with preattached stands. The swiveling stands facilitate placing the speakers on a desk or wall-mounting them. We always recommend the latter for more permanent installation. Although the front and center speakers perform well when placed on a computer desk, your best option is to wall-mount the left and right speakers a few feet behind your listening position. One caveat: The speaker cables are hardwired to the satellites, and the wires for the front left and right speakers are only 6 feet long. What's more, the control module's cable is only slightly longer. As a result, you really have no choice but to stash the subwoofer directly under your computer desk.
You'll need a sound card with 5.1-channel analog audio output to get discrete multichannel surround sound from the Z-5300e. That said, you can play sources with as few as two channels, for example, James "Blood" Ulmer's, Blues & Grass stereo-only SACD, and use the Z-5300e's upmixing feature (Logitech calls it Matrix) to distribute the audio through all the speakers. Unlike some higher-end multimedia speaker systems, such as Logitech's own Z-5500 Digital, the Z-5300e speakers don't have digital audio inputs, nor do they come with an auxiliary audio input. As a result, you can't connect a second device, such as an iPod, to the Z-5300e set directly. On a more positive note, Logitech includes a plug adapter for connecting the speaker system to a game console.
Although adequate, the Z-5300e set's control module won't win any design awards. To convey the status of settings, the control module uses red and green LEDs rather than a more revealing text display. With the control module placed flat on a computer desk, the volume-level LEDs were visually obstructed by the volume knob. The control module might be more ergonomic if it could stand partially upright. In its default mode, a silver knob adjusts the overall system volume. Pressing the Selector button selects the subwoofer, the rear speakers, or the center speaker for level adjustment. The control module also includes a power button, a Matrix button (to activate the aforementioned upmixing feature), and a headphone minijack input.
Logitech says the Z-5300e has 280 watts of total system power, which is ample juice for most applications. In fact, when we played Guns N Roses' raucous "Nightrain" at maximum volume, the speakers got ear-splittingly loud without breaking up. Each of the front and rear speakers receives 35.25 watts. The center speaker gets a little extra power (39 watts) to help dialogue stand out in movies and games. Each of the satellites has a single 2.5-inch driver; 100 watts is on tap to push the subwoofer's 6.5-inch driver.
Across the board, the Z-5300e set delivers respectable but not superb performance. Buena Vista Social Club's Afro-Cuban track, "Chan Chan," didn't sound as convincingly three-dimensional as it does with better systems, including Creative's slightly pricier GigaWorks ProGamer G500 ($249). The Z-5300e's middle-of-the-road treble performance won't give you a headache with excessively bright sound. The somewhat thin midrange didn't convey as much texture for vocals and acoustic instruments as we'd hoped for, but the results were acceptable for this price range. The subwoofer sounded boomy and plodding rather than tight and agile when dishing out bass lines in "Chan Chan" and other music. The speakers do have a little background hiss, but it's noticeable only when the speakers are idle or with very cleanly recorded, quieter audio tracks.
In the Jurassic Park DVD, dialogue appropriately stood out from the mix. The rear speakers did a decent job of creating an enveloping soundstage. In the Tyrannosaurus Rex scene, when the massive dinosaur snapped a high-tension steel wire on an electrical fence, the wire whizzed from the front right to the rear right speaker, but the transition wasn't as seamless as we'd heard during the same moment with Creative's G500 system. As you'd expect, the surround speakers facilitated easy enemy tracking in Half-Life 2, but we wish gunshots would've had more low midrange and punchy bass percussiveness. The dinosaur's footsteps in Jurassic Park and explosions in Half-Life 2 sounded too undefined. Because boominess is a common problem with bandpass subwoofers, like the one Logitech uses here, we weren't exactly surprised.
In the end, the Logitech Z-5300 speakers performed about as we'd expected for the price, but we'd spend a fraction more for Creative's competing ProGamer G500.