Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Speaker System
Shape’s Mightier Than Size
Gaze back into the mists of time, and you’ll find that the earliest loudspeakers were boxes with nothing but right angles. This shape lends itself to efficient manufacturing techniques and is still used for most speakers. However, speaker designers have rebelled against the box for some time. Now that they have injection-molded plastic at their disposal, they can make speakers in just about any shape. Of course, plastic speaker enclosures also lend themselves to efficient manufacturing techniques, so some of the most interestingly shaped speakers are also among the most affordable.
That brings us to the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 speaker system. The press release refers to its shape as a polyhedron. After I read the Wikipedia entry on polyhedra, I was convinced that my powers of geometrical description wouldn’t suit the occasion. But while I am a poor excuse for a geometer, I do have just enough brain cells to count things. By my count, the SoundWare XS satellite has 10 sides divided by rounded edges. That would be four more sides than a cube or a rectangular solid.
The satellite’s shape gives it tremendous versatility for placement or mounting. If you let it rest on any of the right-angled edges that surround its grille, the speaker fires straight ahead. If you tip it back on a different edge, it can fire at a forward and upward angle. This would be ideal for placement on a low table supporting a pedestal-mounted flat-panel TV. Of course, this softball-sized speaker is also small enough to mount on the wall with the supplied omnidirectional brackets. Its shape makes it especially suitable for mounting in corners and at the wall-ceiling boundary. This is a go-anywhere speaker.
With its 2.5-inch woofer, the SoundWare XS is the smallest generation of the SoundWare dynasty. Two larger members of the product line include the original SoundWare, with a 4.5-inch woofer, and the SoundWare XL, with a 6.5-inch woofer.
To fit the SoundWare XS’s 2.5-inch woofer and 0.5-inch plastic-diaphragm tweeter onto a 3-by-3-inch baffle, Boston mounts the drivers coaxially—with the tweeter in the center of the woofer. With coaxial mounting, the output of both drivers reaches the ear simultaneously, even for off-axis listeners. It can also cause coloration, although this was rarely noticeable in practice. The drivers sit behind a nondetachable metal grille. Beneath the metal is a porous plastic scrim. It’s there partly to protect the drivers from moisture (although these are indoor-only speakers) and partly to camouflage them for aesthetic reasons. Boston makes it a point to design every part that goes into its speakers.
An 8-inch down-firing subwoofer is part of the SoundWare XS 5.1 package. Although its shape is less complex than that of the satellites, the rectangular-solid sub shares their pleasing rounded edges. Controls are sparse—it just has the usual volume and crossover dials, a phase toggle, and a single RCA-type line-level input. When I placed the sub in its usual spot, the narrow 1-inch feet sank into the rug, and my curious fingers could feel the driver’s surround touching the thickly padded rug. So I placed the sub on a board. I do this with a lot of subs, although I rarely mention it.
The SoundWare XS 5.1 system was a little harder to set up than it should have been, but its speaker terminals are nice and sturdy. They are neither binding posts nor wire clips, but something in between—a sort of spring-loaded binding post, or a post-shaped wire clip. I’ve recently seen these in a few other products. You can push down on the gold-plated cylindrical terminal to insert a bare wire tip. One problem is that the hole in the post is too small for the 12-gauge cable I normally use. Another problem is that the terminals are deeply recessed into the speaker. This is probably done to keep the cables from jutting out and spoiling a wall mount.