Thermaltake CircleFire: VU Meters for PCs in 2004

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!

100 thoughts on “Thermaltake CircleFire: VU Meters for PCs in 2004

  1. You think if someone modded these to have pass through and upgraded meters it would be a cool interface?

  2. could be useful to save a power outlet or otherwise make use of the monitor space to keep an eye on gain thresholds – if I wanted to feel like doc the international spy

  3. This would make a sense for extreme or recreational overclockers today, temp sensor, clock dial, voltage meter totally fast and furious style hahaha

  4. The case my one i7 rig is in still has a 5.25" drive bay drawer and a Cooler Master Musketeer in it for some analog meter goodness

  5. I very much enjoy these videos Clint! Thank you for your review, calming videos and professionalism.

  6. Would be nice to have a modern version for system temps and fan speeds, an alternative to rgb.
    They probably meant for you to use it with a splitter.

  7. "Anything goes" is basically anything put out by Thermaltake; their 1999 Fireworks-made logo is a good indicator of just how classy they are!

    I used to work in the computer case industry and during that time, literally every computer case Thermaltake put out was either a poor, thin-metalled copy of a popular case (Coolermaster stuff, usually) or some mesh-covered boy-racer-micro-penis-engorging monstrosity which had zero chance of generating any positive pressure for the exhaust fans.

  8. Looks like you should be able to turn the peak meters around, if my eyes don't deceive me it's just one wire per LED going to the PCB. 🙂

  9. It seems like the red LED is simply a power on light. The bottom LED on the left meter is always turned off and blank.

  10. If you like vu meters, i have a music player called vuplayer and it has digital vu meters. Its not my program but if you like vu meters you can check it out

  11. Ooooooow… I always wanted this back at the day hahaha… 😀
    It's so horrible and expensive 60 dollars wow…. aaah.. great time.
    Thanks for thie awesome video !!!

  12. It's disappointing that this device dose not have IED or blue tooth. As I remember in 2004 MXT or RISC architecture pc hardware had just barley become adequate to substitute a desktop in the office and it was basically a hardware race to create extremely mobile computers with desktop function. Clearly PC is not meant to be a smartphone but image how things would be different if circle fire was sold to Google and thus Google goes on to create gaming pc at competitive price while android. Atleast as a smartphone is never a thing and everyone would have cheap fiber instead of fake celluar fiber.


  14. I had a Cooler Master one. It had input and output for audio and 3 VU meters, 2 for sound levels and 1 for hard drive activity and 2 volume sliders to adjust left and right channel volume. It was awesome, even if it didnt remember the LED colour choice.

  15. I see some 5.25 thermaltake add- on like that. The name of the add-on is " Thermaltake X-ray. It have a cigarrete lighter. Silly….

  16. i wish there was still modern equivalents of stuff like this.. I absolutely LOVE(d) having all the dials and ports and expansions and cards and lights and meters and etc etc etc on my PC's.. Now all we have is boxes with glass side panels.. All cadses look roughly identical. Theres nothing that stand yours apart form the rest. and theres very very few ways to customize them anymore without doing completely custom mods. Im not trying to break out the dremmel and hot glue gun and rivets.. Im trying to have professional looking meters and what not in my case that are just slide em in the slot, plug em into the mobo, install software sometijmes, and there ya go..

  17. My brother's Thernaltake case does the same "pass the wire through the back and plug it into the motherboard again" thing for its front USB 3 ports. Which is stupid.

  18. I like how the packaging proclaims the single speaker as "stereo". I'm curious if the VU meters actually accurately display stereo? Does the "Lift Dail Display" only show the output of the left channel?

  19. Hey that's pretty neat looking! Perhaps there is a way to disconnect the wire going to that one red LED on the left, then it would look symmetrical. Also, get that splitter, if your computer speakers are turned up enough, that internal speaker is mostly irrelevant. Those needles will not jump around so much at lower headphone volumes. But if you forgot your speakers going to a LAN party, then you could use the built-in speaker. Nice. Thanks for the video!

  20. Hi LGR, U should try the Cooler Master Musketeer 3 front panel add on with audio tube. I had one of those back a few years and it sucked despite looking cool!

  21. loving LGR, it has inspired to break out the old PC beige boxes in the garage roof. Mostly old Pentiums but identified a PII, Cyrix 6×86 and a unknown box yet with turbo button
    and led numbers which might get a wood grain make over like the one on here. Cheer LGR, keep up the good work.

  22. I'd buy it to mod it, use some Erector Set strips, painted to match the case, to mount the face plate in front of my Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live!/X-Fi Drive bay so it would flip up or down so I could still access the plugs and knobs on the front. I'd omit the craptastic speaker and fix the VU meters to actually read correctly and loose the flames.

    A long time ago, you could get stupid things like these from CyberGuys or TigerDirect. I used to have: and at one point, they both sucked eggs…

  23. Now I want a drive-bay gauge cluster that shows stuff like how much of the CPU and GPU resources are being used. Basically the sort of data you could find out from Task Manager or those gaming overlays but without having to cover parts of your screen.

  24. Good sign the speaker has a simple cable to remove, and you could buy one of those cheap spliter plugs to get you your port back on your sound card allowing you to keep the circlefire connected while using good speakers 😀 it'd also look better without on the flames on the front

  25. the whole pc building market is built on gimmicks. Its funny to see how old gimmicks that were cool in the past look absolutely ridiculous now.

  26. This sparks the interest in building my own addon with my own vu meters. with just a flick of the wrist i did find a kit on ebay for such a project. Not a pc dedicated kit, but looks to me to be a diy project kit for really anything you want, for only under 20 bucks.

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