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Rocketfish Rocketboost RF-RBUSB RF-RBREC Wireless Audio Review

by March 26, 2012
Rocketfish Rocketboost RF-RBUSB and RF-RBREC

Rocketfish Rocketboost RF-RBUSB and RF-RBREC

  • Product Name: Rocketboost RF-RBUSB and RF-RBREC
  • Manufacturer: Rocketfish
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: March 26, 2012 04:45
  • MSRP: $ 64.99 ($99.99 RF-RBREC)


  • 2.4Ghz operating channel

  • 150’ range, line of sight

  • Adjustable antennas

  • 3.5mm input and output

  • IR remote

  • USB connector

  • Dimensions: 8-9/10" W x 1-3/4" H x 3-1/2" D

  • Weight: 1.1 lbs.


  • 42x2 W (RMS) into 4 Ohms

  • Signal-to-Noise Radio: 94dB (96dB in HD mode)

  • 5-way binding posts

  • Bass Boost option

  • IR remote

  • Dimensions: 8-9/10" W x 2-9/10" H x 7.4/5" D

  • Weight: 2.5 lbs.


  • Low price point for wireless audio
  • Ability to integrate with other Rocketboost products
  • Very capable amplifier for the price


  • Limited wireless range
  • Poorly designed software and iOS app
  • No line-in function on amplifier


Rocketfish Rocketboost RF-RBUSB RF-RBREC Introduction

Almost everyone can appreciate having a whole-home audio system, but not everyone has a home that is wired for audio or the ability to wire it. The number of truly wireless multiroom systems is rather limited (SONOS and Aperion’s Zona are the only reliable products that come to mind). Now there is one more contender, and at about 1/5 the price of SONOS to boot! Best Buy has thrown their retail power behind a system called “Rocketboost”. Rocketboost is a wireless platform that allows for uncompressed audio (48kHz, 16bit/24bit) distribution around the home. So far, Insignia (Best Buy's house brand), Rocketfish, and Onkyo are supporting Rocketboost technology. They currently offer it in a pair of headphones, an outdoor speaker, soundbar, subwoofer, powered bookshelf speakers, a TV… you get the idea. It is a pretty laudable goal to attempt to unify the audio throughout someone’s home, but many wireless systems have major flaws. Range, sound quality, operability, expansion potential, etc., and these things can make or break a wireless format. You might remember that Sony used to sell wireless surround speakers that worked off of infrared. As a result, every time someone got up and walked in between the sender and receiver the sound would drop out. Let’s hope that Rocketboost is a more promising technology than what has been cooked up in the past.

Overview and Features

transmitter receiver angledAlthough Rocketboost is incorporated into a number of wireless products, this review specifically focuses on the RF-RBREC amplified audio receiver/amplifier and the RF-RBUSB transmitter/receiver. The RF-RBUSB retails for $64.99 and can either send a signal to other Rocketboost products, or receive an audio signal. It supports a 3.5mm input, which makes it easy to connect with any audio source featuring an analog output. The signal input through the 3.5mm jack loops out through a 3.5mm output. This is a convenient feature as it allows you to hook up a source and loop it out to another device. I used this feature when hooking my iPhone into the transmitter then running it into my home theater receiver, this way my home theater is part of the whole-home system. There is also a USB input on the transmitter. The USB input is used to hook the transmitter up to a computer, allowing any audio source on the computer to be transmitted out to other Rocketboost receivers. Rocketboost has a control program that can be downloaded from their website and installed on either Mac or PC. There is also an app for any iOS devices, which can be used to control the entire system as long as the transmitter is hooked up to the computer with USB and the Rocketboost program is running. The RF-RBUSB also has a switch on back to enable or disable “Hub Status.” In any Rocketboost system, there has to be one, and only one, hub. A maximum of 9 devices can connect to a hub with a maximum distance of 150’ (line of sight) from the hub to a receiver. Overall, the RF-RBUSB is a full-featured and promising piece of equipment for $65.

transmitter rea

Rocketfish RF-RBREC Receiver/Amplifier

amplifier angledThe second product reviewed here is the RF-RBREC receiver/amplifier, which retails for $99.99. It is meant to be used as an expansion product in an existing Rocketboost system. It allows someone to easily add music to a room by purchasing the amp and a pair of speakers. It cannot be used as a hub or a transmitter. There are also no inputs on the unit. The only thing on the back of the unit is a pair of speaker terminals and a power cord. Unlike most budget products, which use spring type speaker connections, Rocketfish opted to use full-sized 5-way binding posts. This is a nice touch because 5-way binding posts accommodate the use of banana plugs or spade connecters, as well as large gauge speaker wire. Another nice touch is the ability of the amplifier to drive a 4-ohm load. The unit is powered by a class D amplifier rated at 42x2 W (RMS) into 4-ohms. The features just might make up for the dismal build quality of the unit, which is nothing to write home about - the unit is made completely of cheap plastic. On the front of the unit is a power button, IR receiver, volume knob, bass button to boost bass output, and source button to switch between different transmitters on the Rocketboost network. One feature that would make this product much more attractive is the addition of an analog input and output. Even if the unit could not transmit audio to other units on the network, an analog input would allow it to function as a standalone amplifier for speakers. Furthermore, multiple units could be daisy-chained together to drive zone 2 speakers from an AV receiver’s zone 2 preouts. Still, it is hard to complain about a wireless 4-ohm stable amplifier for only $100!

amplifier rear inputs outputs

Software and iOS app

The quality of the software and iOS app is where the Rocketboost system allows HUGE room for improvement. The software has some bugs, a cluttered layout, and an anemic feature set. When the software first opens, you are given the option to either browse sources or receivers. This option seems unnecessary and confusing because some devices can be both sources and receivers. Once you select sources or receivers, you are taken to the main page (shown below). On the left hand side is a column showing your devices. On the top of the screen is a selection to choose between viewing sources or receivers, which will adjust what is displayed in the left-hand pane. My suggestion is to do away with this option and simply have all of the Rocketboost devices listed on the left-hand pane all the time. There is a settings tab where each device can be renamed, or grouped together so they play the same thing. There is also an option to disable sources because only 5 sources can be active at the same time on the network. Once you click on the device you wish to use, the center pane shows all of the options for that device. This pane is functional, but poorly laid out. There is no clear delineation between the different options so as to guide your eye along the screen. If you select a receiver, all of the sources you can listen to on that receiver are listed. Simply click on the source you would like, and it will start playing.

software screenshot

Other than changing the source you are listening to, all you can do is adjust the volume on the receiver. If the source selected is the transmitter connected to the computer, a few more options are available. The software interfaces with both iTunes and Windows Media Player, so you have the ability to play, pause, skip, shuffle, and repeat songs. You can select any playlists you have previously created in iTunes or Windows Media Player. You can also select Computer Audio as a source, which will send out whatever you are listening to on the computer. I used this feature quite often, as I would open Pandora in an Internet browser and stream it to my two Rocketboost amplifiers. Unfortunately, that is the extent of the control the software or app gives you and also where the major flaws start.

First, when the RF-RBUSB is hooked up to the computer via USB (as opposed to 3.5mm), it automatically becomes the default audio device on the computer, which disables the computer speakers. You can go into device manager (for Windows, it is different on Mac) and change the computer soundcard back to the default audio device, but then the Rocketboost transmitter is disabled. In order to have the computer speakers and the Rocketboost transmitter work at the same time, the computer speakers must be plugged into the 3.5mm output on the Rocketboost transmitter. This is a huge inconvenience, especially if you have spent money on nice computer speakers or a quality soundcard. If you take the time to hook up the system so both the Rocketboost transmitter and your computer speakers work, now you are stuck listening to the same thing on both systems. Let’s say that Rocketboost fixes the issue of disabling the computer speakers, you still won’t be able to listen to one thing through the computer speakers and send a different audio signal to the Rocketboost system . All of the sounds being played through the computer speakers are sent to the Rocketboost system, even if iTunes or Windows Media Player is the selected input on the RF-RBUSB. Let me explain, if you want to listen to Pandora on your computer speaker but listen to iTunes on the Rocketboost system, Pandora will be sent through to the Rocketboost system even though iTunes is selected in the Rocketboost software. Selecting iTunes or Windows Media Player as a source simply opens the program and gives you basic playback functionality, it doesn’t stop the other sounds on the computer from being sent to the Rocketboost system. This is a huge oversight!

Second, and this is my biggest complaint, there is no way to easily browse your music collection using the software or the iOS app. When navigating music, you can only view the song that is currently playing, or skip forward or back one song at a time. This makes it nearly impossible to navigate a music library and functionally limits the iOS app to pause and play. No one is going to pull out their phone, boot up the app, and press “next track” 300 times to find the song they want. Furthermore, the software relies on an external program, like iTunes, to actually handle playing the music. This means that the Rocketboost software is limited to the functionality of whatever software it is pulling music from. I think Rocketboost should take a page out of SONOS’ playbook here and have the Rocketboost software handle the entire music library. This would allow for a more seamless experience, it might even make the software worth downloading in the first place!

iPhone 1 iPhone 2

Finally, the last major flaw in the software is the lack of ability to power zones on or off with the software or app. Each Rocketboost device has to be powered on by hand or with the IR remote, and then it can be controlled wirelessly. If each device is left on all the time, then this isn’t a problem (this is how SONOS works). If you want to listen to music in a room, it isn’t that hard to walk over and turn on the amp, but if the amp is located in a different room than the speakers, it is a problem. In my home the USB transmitter was hooked up to the computer in the study, so if I wanted to listen to music in the bedroom I would have to go to the study, turn on the transmitter, start the computer, and run the Rocketboost software. After that process, I could go back to the bedroom and actually listen to music.

One method to work around the poorly designed software and app is to hook an airport express, or similar device, to the 3.5mm input on the Rocketboost transmitter. With this configuration the Rocketboost system is essentially turned into an Airplay system. But then the price of this system climbs into the area where it has to compete with more, and probably better, competition.

Rocketfish Rocketboost Listening Tests and Conclusion

For critical listening tests I hooked up the Rocketboost amplifier to my Martin Logan Theos speakers in my main theater, and my Martin Logan LX16 speakers in my bedroom. Although most people will likely be using the Rocketboost amplifier for background music, I wanted to see how it performed on a quality set of speakers. The amplifier was able to resolve fine detail in music and maintain clear separation between instruments. I drove the amp as loud as it would go but it never went into clipping. That's good. The one area the amplifier showed that it is a budget product was with dynamic swings. It simply was not able to provide the power needed for large transients; although it never showed any audible distortion, it did compress the dynamic peaks. I didn’t notice this on my LX16 bookshelf speakers, presumably because they are an easier speaker to drive than the large electrostatic hybrids. This shouldn’t be cause for concern when the amp is being used for background music, but if it is used to power large rear speakers in a surround sound system, it might be an issue. The overall power the amp could deliver was impressive for its price and weight. When listening to relatively compressed music, like mp3s or Pandora, I never had an issue with output on either set of speakers. The amp delivered plenty of power, but when I fed the amp lossless FLAC files, it couldn’t reach loud volume levels

During the listening tests I did have occasional sound dropouts and interference, but for the most part it was bearable. The wireless range seems suitable for 2 level homes, nothing larger, because Rocketboost is not a mesh network. In mesh networks, like ZigBee or Zwave, each additional device acts like a wireless extender, expanding the overall range of the network. With Rocketboost, like a typical wireless router, there is only one transmitter. The farther you are from the transmitter, the lower the signal strength and the higher the chance of audio dropout. To help counteract this, Rocketboost did include a signal strength meter in the software, which is a nice touch.

IR Remote

Both the transmitter and the amp come with an IR remote control. Many budget products have poor IR range, but both Rocketboost products worked well with the supplied remote. The manual states that the remote will work for up to 23’ away and a 30 degree angle. I never had an issue with being too far from either product that the remote wouldn’t work. I also found the 30 degree angle to be rather conservative, as I was able to move off to about an 80 degree angle and the remote still functioned. This may have been because the IR signal bounced off objects in the room or because I was not 23’ away from the device when I tested the maximum angle.

remote control

The remote has two buttons for volume. The “Device” volume button will only adjust the sound on the device it is pointed at. The “Stream” volume button will increase the volume of the actual stream, consequently increasing the volume on each device listening to that stream. I found these volume adjustments to be annoying for a few reasons. First, every time volume + or – is pressed once, the volume is adjusted between 2db and 4db. This is a large volume change, especially considering that most receivers can work in 1/2db increments. Second, the increment wasn’t consistent, at times the volume would adjust 1db, other times 4db, sometimes somewhere in the middle. This made it difficult to set background music to the desired volume level. This is likely a function of the default IR repeat setting of the remote.


Although both the RF-RBUSB transmitter/receiver and the RF-RBREC receiver/amplifier are both solid products, the poorly designed software and app keep the system from shining. Are there better wireless multiroom solutions out there? Yes, take a look at SONOS! Are there better wireless solutions for the price? I don’t think so. Overall, the system works reasonably well for the price. With a few refinements (READ: fix your software and app, and add a line-in function on the amp), this system could work amazingly for the price. As of this review, I would only recommend the system if you have some speakers lying around that you would like to use for music. If you want to build a solid wireless whole-home system, you should probably look elsewhere.

7601 Penn Avenue South
Richfield, MN 55423-3645


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

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
About the author:
author portrait

Cliff, like many of us, has always loved home theater equipment. In high school he landed a job at Best Buy that started his path towards actual high quality audio. His first surround sound was a Klipsch 5.1 system. After that he was hooked, moving from Klipsch to Polk to Definitive Technology, and so on. Eventually, Cliff ended up doing custom installation work for Best Buy and then for a "Ma & Pa" shop in Mankato, MN.

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