I'm cheap. And anyone who knows my dad knows
just where I get it from. Along with a frugal appetite I also inherited
fallen arches and a love of music. So it goes without saying that I look for
great bargains to add to my system, and hopefully I do not have to walk far
to get them.
When I started hearing the enthusiastic response to Mark L. Schifter's
(AV123.com) new bookshelf speaker, the $219/pair x-ls by Onix, I was intrigued.
Looking at the x-ls on paper it has the makings of a high quality speaker
with a well-built cabinet, carefully chosen components, and designed by
highly regarded people. Looking at the x-ls in person confirms the first
point; the sound confirms the second and third points.
The Design Team
It is one thing to have a powerhouse like
AV123 behind a new pair of speakers, it's another to have a highly regarded
builder such as Danny Richie design the speaker. Danny runs a little company
called GR Research that helps budding DIY audiophiles build or buy
incredibly affordable speakers. He has been doing this professionally
since 1995 and has designed countless top quality speaker systems. Danny and
Mark have been working together for the last three years, and it is great to see
such a successful product coming from their partnership. We
reviewed GR Research's AV1 Mini-Monitors in 2003.
From my brief emails with Danny, it became
apparent that the design goals for the x-ls were basically to build a speaker
with high-end sound and low-end price. Although this is probably the same goal for most
speaker designers these days, the x-ls achieves those goals without a doubt.
The x-ls features a custom built Peerless mid-driver and a specially designed tweeter. The crossovers
core inductors using high purity copper. The woofer inductor is 16 gauge,
while in the tweeter, inductor is 18 gauge. These are not some
random components chosen from a catalogue. All the parts were picked and
built to be both affordable and high quality. This again is another unheard
of practice when designing a budget speaker and it shows in the final
product's great sound quality.
Built of properly braced ¾" MDF and real wood
veneer, the x-ls is finished in either soft white shadow maple or smooth satin
black. I have yet to see a sub $250 speaker at the local Hi Fi shop that
uses real veneer and looks this good.
The use of ¾" MDF is almost as
important as suitable bracing. When a driver moves, some of the energy
created causes the sidewalls of the box to flex. This flexing is wasted
output that would be much better utilized as sound energy. One way to
prevent this is to use thicker wood. Another (and more cost effective) way is to
brace the walls of the enclosure. This physically prevents the walls from moving.
The more bracing, the better, and the x-ls has plenty with seven braces per
The only real drawback to thicker MDF and more bracing is weight. At 17
this speaker is not easy to throw around, and be sure you have a sturdy pair
of stands to hold them.
The size of these speakers was surprising to
say the least. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of speaker offered at
$219/pair. All the wood adds up to a speaker that is as deep as it is tall.
The white shadow maple is as light color as
the name implies. Not everybody is a
fan of this light color, so there is another option, satin black.
Both of the finish options are high quality and a treat to look at. This is
definitely not your typical low cost special.
For those of you who read reviews solely to
hear how the product performs and could care less about why, I will jump
right in with the good stuff. It goes without saying that these speakers
perform much better than one would expect, given their ridiculously low
price. That doesn't mean that they are the "best speaker ever" or that they
could run with speakers "costing 10 times as much". I'll leave that kind
of hyperbole to the other audio mags. Instead, I'll focus on what makes
these speakers so special. Firstly, they are not shrill, bright, or
fatiguing. If anything, they are somewhat laid back. A change from my easily
excitable Paradigm bookshelfs - although not nearly as laid back as my
single-driver FR125s, which give new meaning to the word "mellow".
midrange is very accurate and presents the speaker's greatest strength. They
sound very natural and warm which is a good thing for a speaker of this
price. The bottom end is light, so it does help to add a subwoofer if you
like deep low bass. However, I listened to the x-ls by themselves quite a bit and was quite
pleased at the overall sound in a simple two-channel setup.
I tested theses speakers in a two different
configurations. The first was in my office using the computer as a source
and a Rotel RB1092 for power. I compared the x-ls with my single driver
speakers built around the wonderful FR125 driver. This is a full-range
driver that is remarkably revealing. The finished DIY price was quite close
to that of the x-ls.
Admittedly the weak point of the system is the
kernel mixer and the lo-fi sound card. But, even with these bottlenecks,
the sound quality produced by this setup was surprisingly clean. This is
really a near-field setup and is best used for analyzing the midrange purity
(the strong point of the FR125s).
The x-ls were very enjoyable to listen to
with no offending colorization of the sound. They had a brighter top end
than my reference computer speakers (that do not have a tweeter), yet it was
never fatiguing. The bass is very hard to criticize with this
setup due to the desk surface re-enforcing the output. I found them to be a
tad bass heavy in this setup compared to my full range speakers; however
nothing detrimental. Imaging was spot on as it should be in the nearfield
(if it weren't, something would have been terrible wrong). The only downside
to them in a computer setup is there sheer size. The 13" depth meant they
stuck out farther than my 17" CRT monitor which did eat up some desk space.
The second configuration was in my main system
that uses a Marantz sr5300 receiver, Panasonic DVD player, and an Onix XCD 88
CD player. As well, the main system also contains a custom built Sonotube
sub, Paradigm Focus bookshelves, Paradigm surrounds, and Paradigm center. When
compared to the similarly priced Paradigm Focus, I found that the x-ls was
a tad laid back. The speaker sounds mellow compared to the Focus, and that took
some time to adjust to. This was only a detriment when trying to blend with
the rest of the Paradigm speakers. On their own they were very musical and
Bass was more powerful than my Paradigms and would satisfy most
listeners in a small room. In my larger open living room, the x-ls benefited from
the subwoofer and easily blended with it. Sound wise, these speakers are a
definite bargain, and I would not hesitate to recommend them even if they
were more expensive (see note to Canadian readers, below).
The x-ls is an absolute bargain at $219/pair.
From the top quality parts, to the well designed cabinet, this speaker makes
it easy to get into the hi-fi game. The sound is much more refined and
polished than one would ever expect for the price; it's an absolute joy to
listen to. I can recommend this budget speaker pair to my cheapest friends
and still sleep well at night.
- Jared Rachwalski -
For our Canadian readers it
must be noted that there are several additional costs:
The total price to my door for
1 pair of Onix x-ls speakers was $374.35 which puts it in the same price
market as the Polk Rti4, Axiom M3ti and the Paradigm Focus.