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Microsoft Sound System 80

by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Microsoft is a favorite whipping boy these days, but the truth is that this company is still innovative and continues to release some very fine products.

The new Digital Sound System 80 (DSS80) speakers are the newest addition to Microsoft’s hardware lineup. Microsoft has given the $249 MSRP DSS80 speakers a list of features that would be at home on a high-end audio system.

DSS 80 Features and Technical

  • 10-band equalizer
  • 80-watt amplifier
  • Philips wOOx subwoofer
  • Synchronized hardware and software controls
  • Microsoft Surround Sound
  • Automatic standby/sleep mode
  • Magnetic shielding to minimize video interference from speaker output
  • 3-D Positional Audio Capability
  • Connections for TV's and home audio systems
  • Biamplified stereo satellite speakers and monaural subwoofer
  • Power output: subwoofer - 44 watts, satellites - 32 watts, 16 per channel.
  • Frequency Response: 40Hz to 20Hz
  • Smart Amplifier Technology™ employing high-efficiency Class D power conversion.

The rated power output of the subwoofer is 44 watts to a 5.25 inch active woofer, the passive radiator is six inches. Each of the satellites uses 3 inch full range speakers at 16 watts, and the sys frequence response is 40 Hz to 20 kHz. The subwoofer crossover is at 160 Hz, -18 dB/octave. At ll pounds this is a substantial unit.

The Digital Sound System 80 is the first fully digital speaker system designed for the Universal Serial Bus. In fact this system gives you the option of connecting to your sound board, or bypassing your sound board completely. You can actually install this system to USB with no sound card on board. (The sub-unit houses a dedicated Digital Signal Processor.)

If you are one of those people who have just upgraded to a shiny new PCI board like the SB Live!, you can plug this system into your card to take advantage of the EAX technology (the stereo cable is supplied). But if you choose to go USB, you will have the cleanest sound you've ever heard, and the simplest install (with no sound board to install, and the advantage of a free PCI slot. WIN98 detects the system on start up and loads the drivers).

This may be one of the hottest systems for simulation fans this year, because you can actually adjust the bass from the satellite on your desk. If you aren't getting enough kick from your afterburners or if the throaty roar of your Merlin engines doesnt' impress you, crank up the bass. The subwoofer on this system is the best I've heard to date.

Ten band EQ in software.

On the top of the right satellite there are controls for adjusting the speakers. You can set the level of the main speakers and subwoofer volume as well as put the speakers into "sleep mode". There is also a mute button and power indicator light. (The speakers automatically go into sleep mode after 10 seconds without a signal. I haven't decided if I like this or not. Most of the time it's not a problem, but I think it could be).

Click to continue . . .


DSS 80

Oddly, Microsoft omitted a headphone jack on the speaker, something that is present on some comparable systems like the PCWorks FourPoint system.

The subwoofer uses patented wOOx technology from Philips, and produces very crisp bass that doesn't distort at high volume levels. The first time I ran the system I wasn't sure how high the volume was cranked and on system start up the SB Live! default "thunder" file almost blew the roof off my office! The wOOx based subwoofer uses a 5.25" active woofer and a 6" passive radiator to deliver this pounding bass response.

On top of the wOOx technology, the subwoofer also includes Dynamic bass boost to provide a solid bass response at lower volume settings. From what I have heard it's very effective.


It's worth questioning the value of USB for a hard core gamer, since you will be bypassing your soundboard with it's special APIs and effects. While the DSS80 has it's own surround sound mode, it can't compare to the four speaker modes offered by the SB Live! extensions. Moreoever, USB audio doesn't work with DVD movies; you must have a sound card in place for that application. In fact, if you use any CD audio your CD-ROM drive has to be IDE/EIDE and support Digital audio extraction, no SCSI here!

What's the answer? A four speaker USB system would be preferable. Meantime, just plug this system into your SB Live! for some thunderous sound.

However, I'm also wondering about CPU utilization. Since DirectSound acceleration is handled by the DSP on the new sound boards like the SB Live! and the MX300, it could be handed off to the onboard DSP for the DSS 80. But I suspect that, like the TB Montego, the onboard DSP doesn't handle DirectSound acceleration and in fact it's handled by the CPU. Stay tuned for more info on this question.

For top sound quality, ease of installation, and a space saving sound system, this is a great choice. If you aren't concerned about four speaker surround and don't already have a fancy sound board like the SB Live!, this could be the system for you!


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Last Updated December 3rd, 1998

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