Face Off: 3 Speaker Systems Around $3,500 What Do You Think?

What Do You Think?

Unlike Face Offs of the past, this roundup of ensembles in the $3,500 price range proved to be less of a challenge than I had initially expected. There's no doubt in my mind that the RBH speakers were the clear victor of the group, followed by the Polk system and then lastly by the Klipsch ensemble. In the end, I found it difficult to note what I liked about the Klipsch speakers over the others . . . and I am left with nothing. The Polks versus the RBH system is a different story. Sure, I rated the RBH setup more favorably, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't purchase and be happy with the Polks. Again, the RBH ensemble is extremely user-friendly in that not a lot of time needs to be spent setting it up. The Polks, on the other hand, would be tough to beat after a day or two of "dialing them in." The Polk system is definitely capable of blowing the roof off your home, while the RBH speakers can more or less sweet-talk you into a purchase.—Clint Walker

When all the dust cleared, the RBH system was the clear-cut winner on my list. This can probably be boiled down to my belief in the philosophy that the sins of commission are far greater than the sins of omission in the realm of audio. Improving a system's sound is far easier when it simply lacks certain elements, such as the RBH ensemble's lack of consistently punchy, well-defined bass, versus a system with inherent design flaws—cabinet colorations, poorly executed crossovers, etc. The RBH setup has a nice foundation of dynamics, resolution, and consistent timbre that creates a very satisfying sound now and can be successfully improved upon over time—as most quality systems can. The Polk and Klipsch systems aren't bad, but both definitely needed some tweaking. Dialing-in the Polk speakers' internal subwoofers with the outboard sub is going to take some time and a lot of trial-by-error experimentation. The Klipsch system was a bit bright for my tastes and had the weakest center channel of the three. Integrating horns successfully into a multipurpose speaker can be tricky business, as well.—Chris Lewis

I've learned a lot of audiophile words in my short time here at Home Theater—words like imaging, soundstaging, low-frequency response, laid-back, bright, revealing, etc. And, while I can tell you in theory what each of these things means, I was concerned that I'd be a bit lost in this Face Off . . . and that my novice ears would ultimately betray me. I mean, on the one hand, I'm a person who absolutely loves music and a great Dolby Digital 5.1 movie soundtrack. On the other hand, I don't want to think too much about the specifics and become too much of a "critic." I want to be able to sit back and enjoy the entire presentation without noticing whether each instrument is coming out of the appropriate speaker, which is probably why I liked the RBH system the most in this Face Off. The Klipsch speakers were way too revealing for me. I found it distracting. Also, I wasn't impressed with the center channel's performance on music or movie tracks. I enjoyed the Polks a lot more but thought the bass was muddy and overwhelming. The RBH system seemed to offer the best of both worlds—a well-blended, deep soundstage for music and a full, enveloping surround experience for movies. Since I was lucky enough to sit in the sweet spot, I had no problem with the direct-radiating surrounds, feeling instead that the RBH setup created the most effective surround presence. In the end, I was relieved to discover that everyone pretty much agreed with my selection, and I think that says something about the RBH system's ability to attract both the average listener and the audiophile. I guess these novice ears ain't so bad after all.—Adrienne Maxwell

I've never been a firm believer in the idea that you need separate speakers for movies and music. As far as I'm concerned, sound is sound, and a speaker that sounds good for one source should sound good for another. Unfortunately, this Face Off didn't help that theory very much. I found a clear delineation between the set of speakers that sounded good with music and the one that sounded good with movies. In this case, I found the RBH system to sound smooth and laid-back yet clear and detailed with music. I wasn't, however, blown away when we played the movie demo. Not that the speakers sounded bad—they just didn't have the same punch that the Polk speakers did with the same demo. Maybe movies do need a different set of speakers. To a certain extent, the Klipsch speakers did equally well with both sources, although not as well in either case as the RBH system did with music or the Polk ensemble did with movies. If I had to choose one, I'd go with the RBH system. I like the look of the speakers and the solidity of the subwoofer. In the end, I place music as more of a priority.—Mike Wood