Product Review - RBH Sound Home Theater Speaker Package - January, 2001
RBH Sound Home Theater Speakers
One Fabric Dome 1" Tweeter, One 6 1/2" Aluminum Cone Woofer
Recommended Power: 20 - 150 Watts
MFR: 45 Hz - 20 kHz + 3 dB
Sensitivity: 87 dB/W/M
Crossover Frequency: 2,700 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Size:14 1/2" H x 8 3/4" W x 11 1/4" D
Weight: 22 Pounds Each
One Fabric Dome 1" Tweeter, Two 6 1/2" Aluminum Cone Woofers
Recommended Power: 20 - 200 Watts
MFR: 45 Hz - 20 kHz + 3 dB
Sensitivity: 90 dB/W/M
Crossover Frequency: 2,700 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
Size: 22" H x 8 3/4" W x 11 1/4" D
Weight: 22 Pounds Each
MSRP: $759 Each
Two Fabric Dome 1" Tweeter, Two 6 1/2" Aluminum Cone Woofers
Recommended Power: 20 - 200 Watts
MFR: 50 Hz - 20 kHz + 3 dB
Sensitivity: 90 dB/W/M
Crossover Frequency: 2,700 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
Size: 16 1/4" H x 14 1/4" W x 18 1/2" D
Weight: 40 Pounds Each
Two 10" Aluminum Cone Woofers
Built-In Power: 350 Watts Continuous
MFR: 21 Hz - 180 Hz + 3 dB
Variable Crossover: 40 Hz - 180 Hz, Variable
Size: 30" H x 13 1/8" W x 19" D
Weight: 76 Pounds
Only a short time ago, there was no Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1, and the best you could do was the stoic Dolby Pro Logic. Now digital 5.1 formats are the norm, and most audio manufacturers are releasing a 5.1 speaker system to meet the demands of an increasingly surround conscious consumer. With such a flood of speaker packages geared towards home theater that all tend to look similar, the consumer has the daunting task of determining which is the great buy and which is the over-hyped product of a slick marketing campaign. To do so is to search for a company that looks towards quality of components rather than marketing and assigns an attention to detail that is the exception to the rule.
This is where RBH sound steps into the fray. A lesser known manufacturer based in Utah, RBH has built on a reputation for making speakers that meet not only the requirements of function, but form as well. One look at the variety of hardwood finishes they offer tells you this is a company who is serious about their work. Even the packaging of their speakers is well thought out as I discovered when nine imposing boxes were carted into my home. As luck would have it, RBH decided to send a 5.1 selection from their signature series. Their website claims that the signature series was designed to perform as nicely for the crazed audiophile as it does for the home theater nut . . . a fairly common claim these days though rarely realized. Still, it was enough to pique my interest to see if this was the case.
A quick run down of the RBH lineup
The system RBH loaned us for review was a selection from their Signature Series, which constitutes their finest effort in loudspeaker design. For left and right main channels, RBH sent one of their bookshelf designs in the 61-se. A two-way design featuring a 1” silk dome tweeter by Vifa and a 6.5” aluminum cone woofer that I am told, thanks to Joe Hageman at Caster Communications, is designed and specified by RBH but is not actually manufactured in-house. The crossover is a second order electrical and third order acoustical. The 61-se employs chunky, high quality gold-plated 5-way binding posts that allow for both bi-wiring and bi-amping. The 661-se, used for center channel duties, has a similar driver compliment as the 61-se’s with the addition of a second 6.5” driver. It too is bi-wireable/bi-ampable. For the rear surround channels, RBH sent a pair of their 66-se’s. Fairly unique in design, they are trapezoidal in shape, with the same 1” silk dome tweeter/ 6.5” woofer as the L/C/R, but are mirrored on each side. In addition to their unique shape, they employ an interesting take on the dipole/bipole debate. The tweeters operate in a dipolar fashion, while the woofers operate bipolar. According to RBH, this is done to create spaciousness to the sound, while at the same time matching in timbre with the rest of the system. Unlike their siblings, the 66-se cannot be bi-wired/bi-amped.
Rounding out the review system is the 1010-sep subwoofer, featuring two 10” aluminum cone drivers powered by an internal 350 watt rms (into 4 Ohms) amp. The rear of the sub sports some very intimidating heatsinks, and that is a good thing, because after continuous use, they only became mildly warm. Both line and speaker level connections are available, as well as a detachable power cord which is sure to please. Included with the sub is a Y-adapter for those who wish to run a single line to their amp. Also provided are adjustments for phase, volume, and low-pass crossover (high-pass out to satellites is fixed). Another nice feature is the signal sensing auto-on option for lazy folk, myself included, who like to get their system going without leaving the chair. With double h-bracing and a 0.75” thick MDF cabinet, this is easily the largest and heaviest sub I have ever had to lug, and I mean lug, up the stairs. All speakers passed the knuckle rap test with the exception of the 1010-sep which had a less than dead response as compared to the others. This could be due to the sheer size of the beast though. Fit and finish on all speakers was excellent, including a very attractive cherry veneer (real wood, not vinyl) that I found refreshing compared to the black monoliths I am currently living with. RBH offers no less than 30 different real wood veneers for their speakers (prices shown are for the wood veneers, but if you want black, they are about 20% less expensive). This is the only company, short of Thiel, I know of that offers this level of choice to the customer.
I think it important to note that all five speakers were expertly packed. All were double boxed with substantial foam packing in critical areas. This may seem trivial, but for a potential consumer it is reassuring to see a company’s commitment to quality control. Believe me, I have seen far more expensive equipment packed far worse. It is this attention to detail that always stuck with me when reviewing the RBHs Set-up was relatively easy, with the subwoofer being tested in different locations, as is usually the case. I placed the 61-se’s 92” apart, 116” from the listening position and 31” from the back wall. Due to an alcove, the mains were not the same distance from the sidewall, with the left being 51” from the sidewall as opposed to the right which was 25”. The height of the tweeter’s center measured to the floor was 37.5”. The center was positioned directly between the mains on top of a stand, though its tweeter axis was a bit lower at 32”, still close enough in elevation for good timbre matching. The rears were the same distance apart as the mains, with their tweeters at the same elevation as well. Due to the lack of space on my rear wall, not to mention my inability to use power tools, I was not able to mount them above ear level. While some may find this beneficial, I did not, as it tended to collapse the soundstage. As I moved further away from them, the soundstage came back into the fold. As such, I would highly recommend placing them well above ear level and a fair distance from the listening position if circumstances permit. Last but certainly not least was the subwoofer. After going through many iterations, I settled upon placing it in the alcove 18” from the sidewall and faced the drivers so that they fired across the room. For this particular room’s dimensions and sound properties, this allowed for the most seamless blend with the mains, but your results will inevitably vary.
With regards to music . . .
Since this is a 5.1 speaker system and not a 2-channel audiophile rig, why bother analyzing its performance in stereo? Well, I know of very few people who can afford the space - let alone the equipment - for two separate dedicated listening rooms. Secondly, with the advent of DVD-A and multi-channel SACD, our 5.1 systems will at some point be for music too. Even without DVD-A though, most people use their home theater for 2 channel music listening, so stereo performance is of paramount concern. To get an idea of how the RBHs could handle vocals and intense dynamic swings, I selected what has become a reference for me as of late: Bjork’s second effort Post. The first track “Army of Me” came through as I am accustomed to with my Definitive Technology rig. Bjork’s scathing vocals were clean, clear, and with a minimum of artificiality. One listen and you could tell the tweeters of the 61-se, oem’d by Vifa, are of high quality. Maybe it is my love of fabric tweeters, but there is just something about a silk dome tweeter that is difficult to resist. Highs were engagingly natural through the 61-se but not to the point of glossing over detail or softening the sound. Sibilants, while not as harsh as most systems, were still evident but not as bothersome as they can be. I suppose you could say the RBH “rounds the corners” on such program material. It is important to note that this rounding lessens as the system is pushed to its limits. At high levels, the system took on a bit of an edge in the treble, but this is to be expected given the 61-se driver compliment and the fact that I live with the Definitives which play about as loud as a human can stand. When I hooked up the sub to augment the bass of the 61-se, this effect was reduced though not entirely removed. At more sane listening levels, I found the 61-se to be a capable performer on music, especially when mated with the 1010 sub as its lessened the burden placed on the 6.5” woofers and created a nearly full range two-channel environment. This was evidenced on track 2 of Post, “Hyper-ballad”, as the song opens with an intensely deep synthesizer bass tone that has made many expensive subs flap in the wind. Not so with the 1010-se, as my room swelled with one of the clearest renditions of that tone that I have ever heard. Thankfully being an admirer of tightness over output, I had set the volume to about 9 o’clock or else my room's superstructure might have collapsed.
But it was not just the deep bass that the 1010 did right. It was more than capable of delineating bass lines in a very convincing manner. Bjork just loves her synth bass, so this was an evaluation made in heaven as the sub took all of her bass vignettes in stride and just belted out what it was being fed. It is rare that you hear a sub that can do the definition thing while also being able to extend to the lower depths, but the 1010 pulled it off. However, the last half octave, 20 Hz - 30 Hz, was not as powerful as I like. To be honest, there is very little program material that ventures into this select range, and I never got the sense I was being cheated in the deep bass department, so this is really a minor nit. One could suggest larger enclosures, thicker enclosures, larger drivers, larger amplifiers, etc., but that increases the price and becomes a different product entirely. The 1010 performs well for its intent and cost.
On a knuckle rap test, the 1010-se responded with a slightly more hollow reverberant thump, as opposed to the other speakers dull thud. I was told by RBH that the 1010-se employs double h-bracing, but to further test this I played some particularly deep bass passages at a generous level and did feel some vibrational resonance from the cabinet. This is not to say the sub’s quality of build is substandard or that any of this was noticed on program material, because it was not. It is just that I feel it important for the prospective buyer to be aware of this. (Note from Editor: Resonant thumps on subwoofer enclosures are common. Subwoofers tend not to have fiber damping material in the box, as that reduces the bass output.) That said I felt the 1010-sep to be one of the finest subs I have heard. With the exception of its limits in the deepest regions, I found it quite capable. “It’s Oh So Quiet” has to be the quintessential test track, as it possess nearly every aspect of a musical performance in one clever package. Once again the combo of the 61-se and the 1010-sep shined, and blending a sub with mains is not an easy engineering task. I was most impressed with the system’s ability to handle the tremendous dynamic swings of the song while still sounding composed and at ease. This ability to handle multiple sounds at varying levels is quite difficult, but the trio managed to resolve the cacophony of horns and vocals of the track quite well.
The one area where I felt the 61-se’s to be a bit lacking was in the soundstaging department, specifically depth. While I felt the width of the soundstage to be convincing on a majority of recordings, Mr. Bungle’s California illustrated its inability to throw an immensely deep one. On tracks that exhibited information - whether it be musical cues or sound effects that previously occurred thirty feet off-mike - they now sounded as if they were ten or fifteen feet away. It should be noted that I am used to the bipolar sound, which throws an exceptionally deep, some might say artificial, soundstage. Those more akin to direct radiating designs may not find this to be a source of contention. That said, the music placed within the soundstage had good specificity to the point where I could place instruments and vocals within different planes of sound, with each sound occupying a realistic space. Judged solely on their own, the 61-se’s were able transducers that did more things correctly than they did wrong. Though I feel that they were lacking dynamically without the aid of a subwoofer, I could see many an audiophile who could live with them and not feel the need for any bass augmentation. Judged as a whole with the addition of the 1010-sep sub, I would say you could spend a good deal more and not get as relaxed and natural a sound as this trio provides, not to mention a nearly full range performer for less than that of a floor-standing design.
…and now the Cinema
The demands placed upon a speaker for home theater reproduction are quite dissimilar to those of music. Severe dynamics are common, and the stress they place upon a speaker can be more than enough to cause a problem. As such it is difficult to find a system that performs well for movies and music. The RBH package was definitely up to the task when used in the 5.1 environment. Let us begin with the ubiquitous Omaha Beach scene in “Saving Private Ryan” (DTS) as it has become a reference for evaluation, and rather boring now that I have seen it 73 times. Needless to say the shining performance came from the 1010-sep which absolutely refused to overload and bombarded me with wave after wave of bass attack. The most impressive aspect of its performance was its ability to start and stop on a dime with very little overhang. Each bomb blast had a distinct impact followed by another rather than a continuous blur of distorted bass. In this regard, I was more apt to believe the explosion was occurring in my room rather than being aware of some device chugging away in the corner. There really is no substitute for the visceral impact a subwoofer provides. It draws you into the film and transforms movie watching into an experience.
Not to be left out, the center and rears fulfilled their job dutifully too. The center speaker is easily the most taxed link in the chain in that it handles the bulk of dialogue and is the linchpin in transitions from left to right. The 661-se was quite adept in this regard. Transitional sound effects were quite convincing, and of course this was aided by the similar driver complement and near even tweeter alignment with the mains, as the center barely changed in timbre from one speaker to another. Vocals were handled very naturally and evenly on “Saving Private Ryan” which is a good thing when it comes to some of the hotly eq’d soundtracks that are being put out these days. When are these sound engineers going to realize the differences between mastering for a home and a theater? The rear speakers excelled as well, throwing a wide and detailed soundstage that created a convincing sense of space behind me. As with the mains though, there was that same treble hardness that entered into the sound at aggressive volumes. While this may not be as pertinent on music, which generally places less demand upon a speaker, it is so when it comes to movies. Again temper this with the fact that it occurred at fairly high levels and that I am accustomed to the insane spl’s of my Definitive rig.
Where I felt the RBH system sounded particularly excellent was on my DTS music DVD of “Mozart”, produced by Naxos. The only way to describe the sound would be to say that it was extremely smooth and natural with well integrated bass. On the few notes where there was any information in the lower registers, it was nearly impossible to determine that the sound was emanating from a speaker at all. It seemed to simply project outwards into the soundstage and hit with incredible nuance and weight. I was originally planning on using the DVD as a means to break-in the system, but I found it so involving, I elected to listen to that selection more than I did any other. I could go into detail on the RBH’s performance with Roy Orbison’s “Black and White Night” in DTS or the Eagle’s “Hell Freezes Over”, but I would be reiterating the same exemplary performance found on the Mozart DVD.
As a whole, I can honestly say the RBH was an very enjoyable system to listen to. Its ability to sound very relaxed and natural far outweighed the treble hardness I found at higher volumes, though this was cured to some degree with the addition of the subwoofer. If you already have a good home cinema system but are looking for a sub to add to the mix, I would highly recommend the 1010-sep. Its performance in nearly every regard was first rate, the sole exception being that last half octave or so. It really managed to balance the fine line between in your face bombast and musicality. It is the one item of the group that I would prefer not to send back and believe me that says a lot, because I love good bass. Throw in the fact that they are affordable along with the great looking veneer, and you have a system that can compete with any at or above this price point. Did it meet their self-proclamation of excellence in music and movies? I’d have to say it does. The RBH line is one that I feel you should thoroughly investigate.
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba-SD-9000 DVD Player
Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature
Tara Labs and Monster Interconnects and Speaker Cable
Plateau Speaker Stands
Lovan A/V rack
- Chris Montreuil -
© Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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