RS450 Listening Tests and Conclusion
Overall, I found the RS450s to be an exceptional speaker. Usually, when I set up new speakers, I notice the biggest differences from my reference Axiom M22ti(s ) right away. A/Bing the speakers just solidifies my opinions. With the RS450s, I was a bit flummoxed. The high end sounded a tad smoother with a bit more extension and there was a more bass in comparison to my reference speakers. I was hearing linear, articulate, and well-controlled sound.
As I told a friend, writing a review about a bad speaker is like writing a review about a car that randomly ejects people when you roll down the windows - there's plenty to talk about. What do you say about something that performs well - other than just that? Well, read on...
Listening Tests: Movies
In a two channel setup, multi-channel listening tests have limited value. Still, I wanted to see how the speakers would handle some of the LFE that makes a home theater such a desirable investment. I wasn't expecting a $900 pair of "floorstanders" to replace a well placed and calibrated subwoofer but I did want to see if I could have an enjoyable movie experience without the benefit of a sub.
Based (loosely) on the game of the same name, Silent Hill is an atmospheric movie that gets a lot of things right - except pesky things like a coherent plot and a satisfying ending. Personally, I liked this movie for its ability to set a creepy mood and for some incredibly tense scenes. Some might say that the pace is too slow but I found it just right, allowing the viewer to agonize over what was about to come popping out from behind the next door.
I first watched this movie without a sub. I didn't want to taint my non-sub experience with the memories of what the Axiom EP500 would provide. Not knowing what was possible I thought the movie seemed to have enough bass. Sure, I never felt the bass but I sure heard it. Of course, once I went back and enabled the sub, I felt what I was missing. There is really no substitute for a good sub with movies. Compared to my Axiom M22ti (s), they seemed to have more bass but you are definitely going to want to invest in a sub for movie playback.
Listening Tests: Music
I spent the majority of my listening time demoing different two-channel music. I tested the RS450s full range (no sub), full range (with sub), and set to small (crossover at 80Hz with sub). I don't think I needed to set the crossover so high, during two channel playback - I thought 60Hz sounded nearly as good. But for multi-channel playback, a global crossover was too low at 60Hz. Plus, I had used the Onix R-DES to calibrate my sub using the 80Hz crossover and I didn't want to lose those benefits.
Lorna Hunt - All in One Day
I like this album for a number of reasons but I find it well suited for reviews because of the husky female vocals and the acoustic instruments. I've spent a lot of time with this album and know it quite well. The RS450s presented an accurate soundstage and conveyed Hunt's voice convincingly. It's hard to say that her voice was "lifelike" without ever hearing her live but I detected nothing artificial about the presentation of the vocals or the instruments. There is an airy quality to the recording that, to me, is indicative of a live performance. The noise floor is detectable but not distracting. The RS450s presented both the good and the bad of the recording. I A/Bed them with my reference speakers and found the presentations to be extremely similar. The Vifa Ring Radiator tweeter in the RS450s seemed a bit more forgiving at the top end giving a bit more extension than my Axioms.
Yello - The Eye
I hope you're not tired of reading about this album because I'm going to write a lot more about it in future reviews. It just has so much going for it from a review standpoint. I don't think I'd recommend it for casual listening, but for a reviewer, it is an invaluable tool. I first played Track 6, "Junior B." Again female vocals dominate in this slow, methodical techno track. What is nice is the bass run that slips down near subsonics at a few points in the song. Here it was obvious that the RS450s really require a subwoofer for best reproduction of two-channel music. You could easily hear the difference between the rendition of this song with and without a sub - the bass run just ends way too early without. Other than that, I was completely impressed with the reproduction of this track.
While I spent a lot of time on all the tracks, the final track, "Planet Dada (Flamboyant)", has some amazing imaging possibilities (with the right speaker). I've heard this track played on $20k+ electrostats and I felt like my head was going to explode. Of course, if I moved my head two inches to the left or right the imaging collapsed. Playing this track at a fairly reasonable volume (or unreasonable if you ask my wife) I found the imaging and soundstage to be both convincing and wide. I have a double recliner in the center of my theater seating (the better for snuggling with my better half) which I sit in the middle of during listening tests. I was able to move from on side of the double recliner to the other without significant harm to the soundstage and imaging. The imagining was very good and the soundstage was tight and controlled.
Rusted Root - When I Woke
I've had this album for a number of years and have enjoyed it to no end. Sure, it stinks of Phish and Dead but the female vocals really make it for me. I hadn't listened to the album for a very long time until I watched Ice Age with my son recently and noticed Rusted Root on the soundtrack. I dug it out and gave it a listen, remembering why I liked it so much. Now it is back in regular rotation. The first song, "Drum Trip", is mostly a percussion solo that is very demanding on a loudspeaker. All the drums and the different levels really taxes a speaker's ability to keep up. The RS450 was no slouch and handled it well with no hint of strain or lag. Cymbals crashed and faded while drums remained tight and quick. Everything sounded alive and realistic.
The sixth track, "Beautiful People", is a "love it or hate it" kind of song. Personally, I land squarely in the former camp. There is a huge range of volume, not to mention an extremely strong alto and soprano performance. The female vocals are each anchored in one of the speakers while the male vocal is centered in the soundstage. I actually used this song quite a bit in determining the proper toe in of the speakers. Too much and you couldn't locate the female vocals properly. Too little and the male vocal seemed too diffuse. Behind all this is a nice recorder riff that has that hollow/airy sound that is characteristic of the instrument. The RS450s performed admirably on all aspects. I was extremely impressed with these speakers' ability to maintain a coherent soundstage with all the different elements going on at the same time. The Rockets performed so well, I had to listen to the track again... and again... and again...
Wow, so what have we learned today? That Rocket makes a beautiful speaker? Well, we already knew that. If their speakers are half as good looking as the pictures on the AV123 website, the speakers would satisfy all but the most critical. Esthetically, I can find nothing to fault the Rocket RS450s on. They are simply gorgeous. But this is about sound folks - and the Rockets deliver in spades. Tight accurate bass, controlled highs, stunning midrange - the Rocket RS450 delivers on all counts. If I had to sum them up with one word it would be linear. Linear and accurate. OK, two words. Linear and accurate and gorgeous. Three! Three words. OK, this is harder than it looks. If you were going to order stands for your bookshelves anyways, the RS450 provides a speaker with stellar performance, fantastic esthetics, and unbeatable WAF. Most mid-fi receivers will drive these speakers to respectable levels though you may want to invest in a solid pair of monoblocks or a stereo amplifier to help these speakers realize their true potential. Regardless, you won't be disappointed with the Rocket RS450s. They sound as good as they look, and they look great!
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
- — Excellent
- — Very Good
- — Good
- — Fair
- — Poor