Product Review

Onix Rocket RS850 Floor-Standing Speakers

August, 2005

Paul Taatjes



System: Modified Three-way, Vented
Drivers: One 1" Vifa Ring Radiator
    Tweeter, One 4" Aluminum Midrange,
    Four 5.25" Aluminum Woofers
Crossover: 1.5 kHz, 6 kHz
MFR: 36 Hz to 20 KHz ( 3 dB)
Impedance: 6 Ohms Nominal
Efficiency: 90.5dB @ 1 watt / 1 meter)
Dimensions: 45.5" H x 11.8" W x 15.6" D
Weight: 100 Pounds/Each - Shipping

MSRP: $1,999/Pair




In January, 2005, I had the opportunity to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for the first time. Although I saw a huge variety of new products, only a few struck me as being some that I wanted to be sure and review. One was the Onix Rocket RS850 floor-standing speakers. What really garnered my interest was meeting Mark Schifter and seeing the excitement and care he has for both his customers and his products.

Last year I got to audition the Onix Reference 2s and 3s that Kris Deering had on hand for review. I really enjoyed both speakers but was absolutely floored by the Ref 3s. I knew that the Reference line is voiced differently than the Rocket line and was curious to see what the Rocket RS850s would sound like in my home theater.

Out of the Box

The RS850s arrived very well packaged. The beautiful rosewood and ebony finish was protected by a large cotton sock. In addition, form fitting blocks and double boxing finished shipping protection duties. Also included in the box were heavy brass foot spikes and disks, and a pair of white cotton gloves. The finish is impeccable, and the gloves are included so you can install the speakers with nary a fingerprint if you so desire.


Everything about the speakers is beautiful. From the solid binding posts to the real South American Rosewood veneer (there is also an option for African Macassar Ebony), offset by glossy black end caps, these speakers are the epitome of the word "striking".

From my girlfriend to my acquaintances, everyone poured on accolades for the fit, finish, and style. I take it as a serious compliment to a piece of equipment when someone who is not into audio at all (and thinks $500 home theater in a box is too expensive), looks at a $1,999 pair of speakers and thinks it is a good deal, just because they look like furniture designed for an expensive home. That is the level of quality you get with the Rocket RS850s. They don't have a funky modern art type appeal, rather just timeless good looks that match with any décor and won't be out of style when everyone has 1080p. They are definitely speakers to be proud of.

The Design

The RS850 employs four 5.25 aluminum woofers, a 4 aluminum midrange, and a Vifa Ring tweeter. The tweeter handles 6 kHz and above, while the midrange gets 1.5 kHz to 6 kHz.

Now for the most interesting part: the four 5.25 drivers are cascaded. The crossovers are set up to have the top one handle most the upper end, while lower frequencies increasingly employ the lower drivers. This makes the front relatively narrow for the size of the speakers.

The sides of the speaker are curved leading to a wider rear. Besides looking great, this serves the purpose of allowing a relatively low tuned cabinet while being asymmetrical to limit standing waves. The rear of the speakers have a placard with the serial and model numbers, heavy duty gold plated binding posts, and two flared ports.


I arranged five RS850s in my home theater, for a matched configuration all the way around. There was a slight issue due to the speakers' somewhat imposing height (45.5) that required me to raise my screen a few inches. However, having identical speakers and a seamless soundstage was worth this small inconvenience.

Most of the time, I set my SSP to cross the speakers over at 80 Hz. The only exception was for a couple tests in full range to push the speakers and experiment in stereo. I have found relieving the mains and receiver from bass duty leads to the best sound in my room. If I have multiple bass sources that change depending on the recording, the room interactions are inconsistent, making my goal of even bass response at my listening position impossible. This also places the speakers at well above their - 3 dB point. It's something I think everyone should try out, no matter how capable your amp and speakers are. Sometimes it just works better.

The rear two speakers had to be placed much closer to the listening position than the front three. This was a necessity due to the configuration of my room (see photo below). Normally this would be more of an issue, but since I used two Pioneer Elite receivers (53TX and 59TXi) for much of the review time, the MCACC room correction really took care of many of the issues by correcting the response differences.

The Sound

Alive. That one word probably best describes the sound from the RS850s. The first thing I noticed about these speakers (other than their stunning good looks) was the huge soundstage they threw. Not only would I hear outside the width of the speakers, it would extend right past the walls. They are fairly efficient speakers (90.5 dB 1 watt/ 1 meter) which really helped when I gave them some juice.

At different times these speakers were driven Pioneer Elite 53tx and 59TXi receivers and Thule PA350B amplifier. It makes sense that I could get dynamic sound from the flagship 59TXi and the separate Thule PA350B amp, but what about the mid-priced 53tx? Well, I put them in full range with no sub, and cranked some Metallica's And Justice for All in stereo. I pushed to deafening concert-like levels (a very hot recorded -5 dB) and not a whimper, just crisp and clean with impact and stunning dynamics. Of course my room isn't huge (the speakers were about 10 feet from the listening position) but it really showed how well even a modestly priced receiver could work.

AV123 has the -3 dB spec listed as going to 36 Hz, but as you turn the volume up, this number will likely move higher. If you need your main pair to go lower (or play at higher levels below about 45 Hz), I would suggest adding a subwoofer, such as the Rocket ULW-10 ($899/pair) or the new Rocket UFW-12 ($1,099 including digital room correction).

Like I mentioned in my Pioneer Elite 59TXi review, I finally reached a point of true emotional sound in my room. The room correction of the 59TXi finally let the speakers sound like they should at my listening position, and the RS850s delivered the goods. My existing speakers have a touch of sibilance when pushed hard, but overall are quite transparent and an excellent value. What the RS850s do is play louder and cleaner, with a larger soundstage. Even at higher volumes, I had no listener fatigue. I remember when my friends were over auditioning some DVD-A discs (Lawrence Juber Guitar Noir and Big Phat Band XXL), they were floored. The dancing bass line was there, the frantic horns on XXL's "Hunting Wabbits" were in my room. People who normally would not consider spending more than $1,000 for their whole system were suddenly thinking differently.

If you frequent forums, you have no doubt heard that Rocket speakers are laid back. I think they actually are closer to being neutral. At first, nothing really jumped out at me, the bass wasn't really that strong, there really wasn't a good sense of air on the upper end. The problem is that many of us are used to speakers being a bit bright. But that is not high fidelity. It gives the sound some zing, but it is not accurate reproduction. When you first hear good hi-fi, it does sound dull. But, what you are hearing is precision, not a bunch of distortion that gives you an "effect". In other words, high performance audio takes some getting used to. That was the case for me and the RS850s, and once I was "there", I realized there is no returning to such things as too much sibilance.

In the case of the Rockets, any sound problems I had initially were due to the room, so it got a lot better when I used the auto room correction in the receiver. Out of curiosity, I took a series of calibration runs from the listening position (3 meters) and at 1 meter. The results (average of 3) are below:

Frequency Hz 3 Meters 1 Meter
64 0 dB 0 dB
125 -4.0 -1.0
250 +1.0 -0.5
500 -0.5 +2.0
1k -2.5 -1.5
2k -4.5 -1.5
4k +2.5 -2.5
8k +4.0 -0.5
16k +1.5 -1.5

Yikes!!! It looks like my ears weren't deceiving me. At my listening position, I was getting a shortchanged everywhere above 4 kHz with an extra helping at 2 kHz. Notice the change when the measurements were near field (1 meter) and the room had far less effect. The correction factors (in other words, at 3 meters and 4 kHz, the auto room correction software added 2.5 dB of boost to flatten the response) are quite large and even go from positive to negative for the upper frequencies. I think these numbers speak for themselves; my room is less than ideal and is coloring the sound. So, if you want the best out of any set of good speakers, do something about that less-than-ideal room.


These speakers look and sound wonderful. They created sound in my home theater that I never dreamed was possible. With a great price and no nonsense return policy, the RS850s are an easy decision to try out for yourselves.

- Paul Taatjes -

Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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