NZXT Relay

NZXT wants to give you a complete interactive audio ecosystem, and they've managed to pull it off quite successfully.

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NZXT is best known for their PC hardware, but also wants to deliver everything you need on the audio side. They have done this with a total combination system, the Relay series, which consists of components that interact with each other. In practice, this means a headset, a subwoofer and speakers connected to a headphone stand with integrated DAC and volume control. All this for a total price of less than £550.

When you lift the headphones from the stand, the sound automatically switches to the headphones and when they are placed back, a solid click is heard, and the speakers take over. It may sound trivial, but it's perhaps the only feature I've really missed in PC audio.

NZXT can't be accused of being flamboyant in any way; you can choose between white or black. The product names are also delightfully conservative, with creative names like 'Subwoofer' and 'Speakers'. Thank you.

NZXT Relay Speakers + Subwoofer

The speakers are a rather surprising product; £230 buys you a pair of active speakers, but only one of them has an amplifier module, so they have to be connected with the corresponding speaker cable and some very solid speaker terminals that could easily be found on real speakers. The speakers are small but surprisingly good sounding. They have automatic power on, subwoofer output and both RCA and jack (TRS) inputs, and there are quite a few cables included.

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I was quite nervous about the connection to the subwoofer as I thought that there would be electrical noise since the cables are quite close together and unshielded, but no, there was none of that. They have a large rubber base that covers the entire underside and there are even screw threads for those who want to mount them on an arm; this also allows them to be used for surround or other purposes. However, there is no integrated power supply, it is external, but quite standardised. Despite the price, there's a 3" fibreglass midrange that takes care of everything below 1600Hz, and the tweeter is made of silk as standard, but is only 0.79". The cabinets are even made of MDF and not just plastic as I expected, and there's a small 80 Watt Class D amplifier module to handle, well, the amplification. The frequency response is rated at 70Hz, which is a bit high for a 3" midrange, but with the speakers so close to the listener, it's probably a good thing they're not designed to play 130dB.

These are really good PC speakers from a non-Hi-Fi manufacturer, and for £230. They are highly recommended; there is well-resolved reproduction, no, there isn't huge bass, but there is actually both dynamics and extremely clear voice reproduction on everything, and voicing-wise it all comes together brilliantly, and they don't take up much space.

This brings us to the Relay Subwoofer. Subwoofer might be a bit of an over-exaggeration; it's a woofer with a 6.5" pulp midrange driver, 140 Watt Class D module, and an MDF cabinet, and it's obviously a bass reflex cabinet to make the most of the limited space. I like that it has its own volume and phase control, but there's no way to precisely set the crossover frequency. I know it starts at 50Hz and ends at 150Hz, but there's no kind of indication on the knob to give you an idea of where you are. In addition, there is no way to actively divide the small speakers. Of course, it makes the most sense for many to crossover at 70Hz, where the speakers stop, but to spare them, 100Hz or maybe 120Hz would have been better. Without any kind of active crossover between the two, well, there aren't that many options. It definitely gives a bass boost to the sound, and the small unit is fast and accurate and mounted in an enclosure that is small and compact enough to fit under most tables. However, I think the price of £120 is a little high, especially with the lack of active crossover and the poor tuning options. For that price you can get a 'real' 10" subwoofer for Hi-Fi use, which, all other things being equal, can move significantly more air.

The headphones are called the Relay Headset, and they are both hi-res certified and quite cheap considering they are 40mm Neodymium units. I found them for £80 - and they're worth every penny. I wish NZXT had also made them in a wireless version, but these are currently the absolute best wired headphones in this price range. They even support DTS: Headphone X, and the 'sacrifice' is that they don't play the deepest bass, as it's filtered out, but this means that the rest of the reproduction is surprisingly clean, detailed and not least nuanced without too many errors - this is exactly how I think affordable headphones should be made - bravo.

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NZXT Relay Speakers + Subwoofer

The final component is the brain of the whole thing. SwitchMix is a headphone stand with tactile function and DAC with volume control. It works on its own, but the system is designed to be mounted on the bottom of the stand with fine cable routing. However, for some reason you can't get it in a large size, like the subwoofer.

The volume control is a large rotary knob on top of the DAC with associated small diodes, a tried and tested but also incredibly useful system where there is a fader/slider button to switch levels between chat and in-game audio. It's a very tactile click when the headphones are lifted or placed on the stand, and it's well thought out and it works great. Everything is made with neat cable channels and the DAC also has a built-in amplifier for the wired headphones. But I'm actually quite unhappy that I can't tell what it's amplifying. I also can't find out what DAC circuitry is used, other than that it's 24-bit and supports DTS 7.1 audio. However, a signal-to-noise ratio of only 90dB reveals that it's probably not the latest top-shelf model. It works fine and the sound quality is reasonable for the £120 it costs, but I'm astoundingly annoyed at not being able to figure out what innards are actually inside, and I could do with some more power in the amplification, I want to be able to play louder than the set allows me.

It's all tied together with NZXT's CAM software, which I've long had a slightly strained relationship with because it takes up a lot of space on the computer, but it can also do a lot, and is actually a total software solution if all your audio and fans are from NZXT, and there are all the settings you can dream of within it.

£550 may sound like a lot, but it includes real speakers that you can also use in the living room, a subwoofer, headphones, DAC, headphone amplifier and a stand. I would have liked that final touch and the option to add a wireless headphone instead of being forced to use a cable, but it's very much in line with the fact that NZXT's mice and keyboards are also only available wired - but you should try them as they're surprisingly good quality.

So, we end up with a 9, but if you can keep the price roughly at the same level and make the small improvements that I at least miss, NZXT can potentially dominate the PC audio market, because this is a frighteningly solid and competent first bid for a total audio solution.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
overall score
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HARDWARE. Written by Kim Olsen

NZXT wants to give you a complete interactive audio ecosystem, and they've managed to pull it off quite successfully.

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