Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Greetings and today on LGR we’ve got a delightfully silly piece of PC gaming hardware from the mid-2000s. This is the Thermaltake CircleFire 5.25” Professional Multimedia Kit. Er, sorry, “Muti-Media” kit. Hehe, yeah... So this undoubtedly professional addon is from the “anything goes” era of PC case mods, and what better way to garner attention at a LAN party than the CircleFire! It’s got dual backlit VU meters, a built-in chrome-plated speaker, two LED peak meters, and a fiery hot rod paint job! [laughs] Ahh this is just perfect. It was released in late 2004, no surprise there, and sold for about sixty US dollars, give or take five bucks depending on which retailer you got it from. And yeah, there were tons of things along these lines back then, from Thermaltake and otherwise. Most often drive bay kits like this were for things like controlling fan speeds, adjusting case lighting colors, and adding memory card slots and the like, all stuff that’s still pretty commonplace. But then you’ve got things like the CircleFire, an addon for your sound card that not only gets your PC more attention at LAN parties, but provides “a profession multi-media front panel, combine speaker, dancing meters and shining LEDs.” Despite the broken English and dubious build quality on first inspection, I was immediately drawn to the CircleFire after covering the NewQ Gold graphic equalizer a while back. I’ve always found these drive bay addons particular amusing, especially those that involve audio in some capacity. And really, show me something with stereo VU meters and/or peak displays, and my interest is immediately piqued regardless. The fact that it slides into a 5.25” drive bay just takes it to the next amusingly nerdy level for me, so yeah, let’s open this up and see whatcha get! First up is the A1994 CircleFire unit itself, which is a good bit shorter in length than an optical drive and much lighter in weight at just 310 grams. Though the enclosure is all metal so that’s nice. The component box is next, which is indeed a box of components. Including a bag of mounting screws, a metal PCI slot bracket, and a couple of audio cables. One for analog CD audio, and the other for plugging into your sound card’s 3.5mm audio jack. This bracket though, this confuses me somewhat. The cutouts match the back of the CircleFire and it has screw mounts that could hold a small PCB, but obviously that’s not what you’re supposed to do here. So let’s check the user’s manual real quick and, well. It seems they do want you to use the bracket, but only as a spot to thread the 3.5” audio cable through to reach your sound card. Seriously. Yeah, the idea is that you plug both cables into the back of the main unit here, with this one going to your CD-ROM’s 4-pin audio header and this stereo cable going through this horizontal cut-out on the bracket and into your sound card’s audio output. [chuckles] Oh Thermaltake, why. My guess is that they had a bunch of these brackets already for some other project, so they said screw it. Good enough! Anyway, at this point the installation is dead simple but I guess I’ll show it because why not. If only to look inside the LGR Dream XP Build once again, which has already been upgraded with the Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum and its own lovely drive bay expansion. Unfortunately I’m outta drive bays at this point, so we’ll just take out the DVD drive for now, which is fine since these don’t even have an analog audio header so there’d be nothing for that cable to plug into anyway. And yeah, turns out it was quite an unusually tight fit getting the CircleFire into the drive bay, like it’s about a couple millimeters too large or something. The only thing left to do now is to install that cheap metal bracket, string the audio cable through the system, and finally connect it to the X-Fi card. Tada. Ugh, yeah no. I gave it a shot, but looking at this configuration hurts my very soul. Besides, I’ve got these nice little rubber openings on this case so I’m just gonna use those and put my original bracket back in place so it actually looks kinda sorta half-decent. And with that, it’s time to power it on for the first time! [computer turns on, fans whir to life] [startup beep] Heh, nyah that’s not a great sign. We’ve got a red LED lit up on the left channel peak meter, nothing showing on the right, and then there’s the Windows startup sound. [distorted XP startup sound plays] Not only did that sound pretty awful, but it seems the bottom red LED on the right channel over there doesn’t light up at all. [system dinging sounds] I did open up the box to see if anything obvious was broken, disconnected, or otherwise out of place. But nah, no luck there. The LED stubbornly refuses to work. Oh well, here’s what the insides look like, so there’s that. There’s a SONiX Technology SN8P1704 microcontroller in here, for those of you who care. And would you look at that, the bracket would definitely fit the ports on this PCB if it wasn’t crammed into this little box, so it makes me wonder what else Thermaltake used these parts for. Anyway, back to testing things out. And at least the VU meters seem to work! Sort of. Let’s go ahead and try playing some music and see how that goes. [“The Years We Had” by Magnus Ringblom plays] [music volume changes with varying distortion] Heh, you know. All the warning signs and red flags indicated this thing would be terrible. And it is! The CircleFire is very clearly a gimmick, a kind of case mod toy not to be taken seriously. So why am I still disappointed? Misguided optimism strikes again. Right, so, the Thermaltake CircleFire. It technically works. The speaker outputs sound, the VU meters bounce to the music, the LED backlighting does its thing, and the peak meters react to sound. There’s also a volume button for switching between three slightly varying levels of amplification, and a color button for cycling through seven preset colors, with an eighth option putting all on them on an endless rotation. The problem is that everything sucks. Let’s start with those peak and VU meters, which I hesitate to call them that now that I’ve used them. For one thing, the peak meters are upside-down, going from red on the bottom to green on the top. That makes absolutely no sense! [chuckles] And the VU meters, well, they don’t react or move like any VU meters I’ve ever seen. These kind of meters are supposed to have a comparatively slow response and ignore the signal peaking, providing a sort of average volume unit level to indicate overall how loud the audio is. But uh, yeah just look at these things. There ain’t nothing indicating average levels of volume here, it’s just bouncing all over the place at normal volume, it’s useless at slightly lower volume, and pure chaos at high volume. Then there’s audio playback itself. Getting anything to play through this speaker and not sound like hot garbage is a serious challenge. In order to achieve output that isn’t distorted into oblivion or completely blowing out the meters, there’s a tiny window of acceptable volume where you can just barely get it sounding decently and making things react in a way that makes a little sense. And that’s a relatively low volume indeed, around 18 to 25 percent, with anything much higher or lower making the CircleFire rather useless. Even then though, you wouldn’t want to use this speaker for any kind of half-serious purpose. It’s a two watt plastic circle that does the absolute bare minimum in terms of sound reproduction, though I guess they were pretty restricted in terms of what they could even use in a space this small. There’s also the fact that there’s no passthrough on the CircleFire, which is a problem if you want to use the meters but don’t want to use the built-in speaker. Unlike other drive bay audio devices like the NewQ gold, which feature a breakout cable with inputs and outputs around back, the CircleFire only works using a single 3.5mm audio cable. So you’re stuck using that awful speaker no matter what unless you provide your own splitter around back to send audio to both external speakers and the CircleFire. I suppose it does its job of providing sound decently enough in certain situations though, like if you’ve brought your computer over to a friend’s place and forgot to bring speakers or headphones, or just can’t be bothered to hook either of those up. But still, it’s a tinny, mono speaker that sounds like trash, so I hope you’re playing something that’s not relying on positional audio of any kind. Left, right, center, it’s all the same and it all sounds dreadful. [Unreal Tournament 2004 plays] -"You have won the match!" So there you have it. Barring that one red LED not lighting up for some reason, the Thermaltake CircleFire achieves its goal of being a speaker with some colorful meters and Guy Fieri flames that you can stick in your computer case to quote, stand out from the crowd at LAN parties. But as far as being a “professional multimedia device,” haha, don’t be ridiculous. Despite knowing better, I still hoped that at least those analog VU meters would do something halfway useful in terms of providing visual representation of volume levels, but of course not. The meters simply dance around haphazardly and remain only somewhat in sync with what’s passing through the speaker, resulting in an experience that’s amusingly novel at first glance but doesn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny once you look at it for even a few seconds. And seeing how hard it was to find one of these to begin with this will likely not be useful information to anyone at all. But hey, that’s just how it goes on LGR. Outdated computer accessories and retro technology that no one asked to see, but here it is anyway. ["Pineapple" by Yomoti plays] And if you liked what you saw here then do check out my previous videos on things you can stick in a computer case, or perhaps subscribe to keep track of similar stuff I do in the future, with new videos arriving every week. And as always, thank you for watching LGR!