Gamertell Interview: Polk Audio’s Mark Suskind talks about the HitMaster monitor

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I recently spoke with Mark Suskind, Polk Audio’s Vice President of Product Line Management about the company’s new HitMaster stage style audio monitor.

The HitMaster is being marketed as a gaming accessory that will add an extra element of realism to music games including Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Essentially a complex speaker system in one box, the HitMaster is built much like those floor monitors musicians use to monitor their performance on stage.

“There’s been something like 45 million copies of Rock Band and Guitar Hero games sold… and most people are using the progressively poor quality flat-screen sound or poor PC audio,” said Suskind. “We wanted to let people have the total experience when playing these games and feel like you are on stage. This helps create that experience.”

Available for $99, the HitMaster is a single-point 80 watt stereo speaker with two 2.5 by 5.5 in. horns with two 1 in. neodymium tweeters surrounding a 6.5 in. woofer. The cabinet measures 14 in. wide, 9 1/2 in tall and 8 1/2 deep, comes with a handle and weighs approximately 13 lbs.

And, yes, the volume knob actually goes to 11.

“That one is my thing. There’s this movie [This is Spinal Tap] and I always thought it’d be fun. I started doing that a while ago with our subwoofers.”

Suskind quipped that Polk’s engineers did a lot of “beta testing of their own,” (read: they love to game, too) continually tweaking the system for optimum performance.

The HitMaster’s total frequency response is rated at 40Hz to 20kHz and it includes left and right RCA inputs and outputs, allowing a daisy chain of speakers. if you are afraid of the system blasting away your neighbors, parents or loved one, that “11” setting isn’t quite as deafening as the seemingly silly setting implies, putting out 103 dB (measured at 8 to 10 feet away).

“We wanted it loud but not excessive and we wanted to keep it a $99 product. Make it too loud and parents would take issue.” Suskind further explained that allowing the speaker to pump out much more and you’d experience “audio fatigue and noticeable artifacts” in the sound.

It also includes a 1/8 in. input jack which means you can also plug in your favorite MP3 player which has also lead to the HitMaster being used in some surprising ways.

“You can always come up with a few uses but you never really know how it will be used once it gets in people’s hands,” Suskind explained, also suggesting that it can be used as a high-end iPod speaker. “One person told us they use it for presentation purposes instead of crummy speakers on a PC or laptop… It has a handle so we’ve been told people take it from room to room in their house as they need it. It’s also being used for satellite and cable setups. It’s been used for Karaoke machines because the built-in audio is not very good.”

Thank to the RCA input and output ports, you can use a second set of speakers or daisy chain HitMasters. “We had 11 connected together at CES this year,” Suskind said.

But if you are thinking you can hear only your track when gaming, like Slash hearing only his riffs on stage, forget it. But don’t blame the speakers.

While the PS3 and Xbox 360 offer more than simple left-right audio output, Suskind explained, the Wii doesn’t and, even so, consoles are usually outputting simply split mono audio. If you want to monitor the mic in one and the guitar on another, for example, it’s a no go. “The audio is mixed in the game so it cannot be separated.” Besides, if you wanted surround sound, you’d need a speaker 30 to 40 inches wide and would probably pay a heck of a lot more for it.

“This is a real product. It’s not a toy,” said Suskind, pre-emptively dispelling the belief that every game accessory is a plastic play thing. “This has solid construction, corner protectors and a steel mesh grill over the speakers.” It has a hefty handle for a reason.

Also, by giving it an active audio system with RCA ports, the HitMaster can be used with any current game console. If you want to split the the left and right channels between monitors you’d simply use one cable per monitor.

The good news is that, if you do decide to invest in a HitMaster, you may get to use it for years after you put down your axe.

“Loudspeakers never really break,” said Suskind. “We have some that have lasted 30 years, so this will likely outlive the [game controller] guitars.”

Site [Polk Audio HitMaster]

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