Thonet & Vander Rätsel BT 2.1 Speaker System Review

Pop quiz: What image first comes to your mind when you hear Bluetooth speaker system? Is it a small, portable, single-cabinet pseudo-stereo box with meager amplification? Would it blow your mind to imagine a Bluetooth system that’s actually a 2.1 desktop system, complete with two stand-alone two-way speakers, a separate amplifier/control box and yes, a separate subwoofer? Take a look at the Thonet & Vander Rätsel BT 2.1 Bluetooth system with a 75-watt. Sadly, I’ve gotten so accustomed to tiny little Bluetooth speakers that my mind was suitably blown.

Rätsel translates loosely to riddle or mystery in English; the only mystery is why more people haven’t heard of this brand. German-based Thonet & Vander are relatively unknown in the US market, but a product like the Rätsel BT (MSRP: $249) deserves some attention. There are certainly other Bluetooth systems on the market but this one is simple, attractive, and provides decent playback. Although it has a Bluetooth receiver, it is a wired and powered system, so you’ll need to run AC power to the main box and wires from that box to all three speakers. Thonet & Vander also produces a non-Bluetooth Rätsel, but it has less power, so there isn’t much advantage to that version.

The main control box houses an amplifier plus all connections and controls, although many are duplicated on the included remote control. Speaker connections are on the back, as is the main power switch. There are two sets of RCA inputs on the back as well. A gold-plated 3.5mm to RCA connector cable is included. The instruction material mentions that the first set of RCA inputs is for lower-powered signals out of an MP3 or laptop headphone output, and the “Aux” RCA inputs are for stronger signals, such as the output of a DVD or CD player.

On the front of the control box is a mute button along with bass and treble tone controls. The bass control is pushed to initiate Bluetooth pairing. The system also supports NFC pairing. There is a large volume control knob that doubles as input selector, a 3.5mm aux input and a headphone output. The power output is 72 watts RMS with 32 watts going to the subwoofer and 2 x 20 watts for the satellites. All controls are doubled on the remote, but there are also controls for track playback that aren’t echoed on the main box.

The two satellite speakers each house a 3” mid-range driver and 0.5-inch tweeter. The mids are made from lignin cane fiber, derived from sugar cane. Sweet! The literature mentions that the tweeter is on the other side of the mid-range driver. They’re both on the front of the satellites, so I’m not sure what the manual means by that. Each speaker measures 10 x 4 x 4.4 inches.

The subwoofer uses a 6.5-inch woofer that is also made of the same lignin cane fiber as the midrange driver with a rear bass reflex port. It is a passive subwoofer, so it’s quite lightweight and can easily be positioned for optimum performance. The subwoofer measures 10 x 10 x 14.4 inches.

The sound of the system is rather refreshing. Perhaps I’ve been reviewing too many small single-unit speakers, so I was thrilled to get real stereo separation from a system designed to playback from a phone. It plays fairly loud to fill a small room. Although it’s rated down to 30Hz, it’s not an extremely tight-sounding bass, but there is plenty of low-end impact. I do appreciate the ability to adjust tonal balance. The system has an overly bright sound in the upper midrange when playing female vocalists and male vocals with a higher register (Robert Plant, Ed Sheeran, Train); backing down the treble just one click helped smooth that out. The extreme high-end treble feels slightly veiled at softer volumes.

Listening to the new Jeff Lynne/ELO release really showcased the system—the string arrangement had a clear, clean sound. The Rätsel BT sounds best played loud; at softer volumes, the high-end drops down and the system sounds rather muddy. Crank it up for the best sound.

This isn’t a perfect system, but the complaints are minor. The included speaker cables are rather short, less than 5 feet. I set mine up on the desk of my office, so the cables were okay for me, but this could be a problem for others—a minor problem, at that. The Rätsel doesn’t use proprietary cables, so any speaker cable will do. In fact, I would suggest stepping up to a slightly thicker gauge cable. Another gripe is that the Rätsel uses Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. A newer version of Bluetooth should have been used—it is 2015, after all.

The Rätsel BT won’t replace a full-blown stereo system, but it should replace small portable systems that people are using with their phones and computers. If you need portability, sure, get your sound to go. But if you’re connecting your laptop or desktop to speakers, give this a shot. It’s simple to switch between the Bluetooth connection if you’re listening to your phone back to your computer if you’re watching YouTube content. If you don’t try the Thonet & Vander Rätsel BT, try anything with real stereo speakers and a sub. Looking for a way to get better sound out of your computer or phone? Get the Rätsel BT; mystery solved.