Tested: RSL Speaker Systems 5.1 Theater System Page 3




Beginning as usual with full-range (sub-less) stereo listening, I found the CG4 to be a very neutral, well-balanced small satellite. The little two-way produced enough bass for plausible music listening but seemed almost devoid of the 100-Hz bump (and precipitous roll-off below that frequency) upon which so many compact designs rely to cry, “Bass!” Instead, the RSL sats sounded tight and honest, even if decidedly shy of real bottom end.

However, the CG4 is engineered for a sub-supported layout, and with the Speedwoofer 10 dialed in, music sounded extended and powerful, though no less controlled. I ran through my usual roster of vocal, brass, string, and percussion tracks without finding a wart worthy of mention. The CG4 was accurate and well defined on voices and instruments, without any distinct coloration or bias. I found its sound to be open, crisp, and perhaps just the tiniest shade “forward” over the top octaves, but still even and unforced, making for an airy, detailed presentation.

In fact, the RSL proved to be one of those unassuming designs that, while dutifully impressing on all the “I’m-paying-attention” auditions, failed to really get my attention until the arrival of some daily-use a-ha moment. In this case, it was the revenge-fantasy film Harry Brown. With most sub-compact “value” systems, I’m usually reminded, early and often, of the fact that I’m listening to a compromise solution, and various audio shortcomings will subsequently pull me, however momentarily, from the story. With the RSL system — well, I just wasn’t. I was halfway through Harry Brown’s credits before I realized that the RSL system had simply delivered the cinema-sound goods, left, right, and center (and surround).

Whatever I played, the system continued to deliver clarity and unforced detail. It would be hard to find music timbrally denser than John Corigliano’s Chiaroscuro for Two Pianos Tuned a Quarter-Tone Apart, whose arsenal ranges from ghostly echoed single-note lines to clangorous, bells-run-amok explosions. Yet the RSL system’s presentation of this piano-palooza was clearly drawn, with a relaxed, natural transparency that never sounded metallic or harsh.

I did not note any dramatic sense of front-to-back depth in my room, but lateral stereo imaging was both continuous and precise. Listening to the Corigliano (and other music) in surround proved satisfying, too. The surround-channel CG4s did not “flashlight” ambient sounds, while the front pair locked up with the center CG24 to form a truly seamless front stage.

I have plenty of old favorites that showed me a sub able to score well above average for a 10-inch design in terms of both extension and output. The Speedwoofer 10 did not stumble on the cannon shots from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, did not tunelessly rumble on avalanches and explosions, and gave an impressive account with both big-bass orchestral and live rock music.

Not too surprisingly, the CG4 will not play infinitely loudly. As drive levels neared the limits of my 150-watts-per-channel amplifier, the RSL sats voiced their unhappiness by sounding audibly grainier on the biggest transients. So, while the CG4/Speedwoofer 10 combo should deliver clean headroom to spare in any but the largest spaces, it’s probably not going to become the first choice of metalheads.