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RBH MC-4C Bookshelf Speaker Review

by May 06, 2015
  • Product Name: MC-4C
  • Manufacturer: RBH
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarhalf-star
  • Review Date: May 06, 2015 08:00
  • MSRP: $ 529/pair
  • Buy Now

Woofer: 4” aluminum cone x 1

Tweeter: 1” aluminum dome x 1

Crossover Frequency: 3000 Hz

Sensitivity: 84dB (2.83v @ 1m)

Impedance: 8 ohms

Dimensions (W x H x D): 5.25” x 8.75” x 7.25”

Weight: 7.5 lbs. each

Finish: Real Black Oak Veneer

Sealed Cabinet Design

Resonance Damping Alloy Baffle (RDAB)

Threaded Inserts for Mounting

Magnetically Shielded for CRT video use

5-Year Warranty

 

Pros

  • Very accurate sound reproduction within its frequency range
  • Clean design with excellent fit and finish
  • High-quality components

Cons

  • MSRP is on the pricey side compared with similar offerings from competitors
  • Best-matched with a sub that has a fairly high frequency response

 

RBH MC-4C Introduction

The RBH MC-4C are a high-performance speaker in a very compact package.  They address the internal conflict in many of us; we want high-quality sound, but would rather not have to accommodate huge speakers to get it. Too often, small speakers represent a big compromise in sound.  However, with the RBH MC-4C, good things do come in small packages.

 RBH MC-4C Bookshelf Speaker Video Review

 

Unpacking and First Impressions

The speakers are very well packaged: double-boxed with the internal box cradled in foam and the speakers themselves wrapped and packed in Styrofoam.  

RBH MC-4C Deep Wood Grain

RBH MC-4C Deep Wood Grain

The black oak finish is something I haven’t seen before.  The finish is not smooth, rather the grain is deep and actually provides a texture to the finish.  Despite featuring the grain of the real wood veneer, I wouldn’t necessarily call the result organic, as the heavy finish, while flawless, makes the grain look a little artificial.  It’s certainly unique, and I personally like it because, in a variety of lights, the pattern of the grain really jumps out, even at a distance. 

RBH MC-4C RDAB Front Baffle and 4" Aluminum Woofer

RBH MC-4C RDAB Front Baffle and 4" Aluminum Woofer

RBH’s Resonance Dampening Alloy Baffle (RDAB) is a metal plate adhered to the front baffle.  Not only does it make the speaker look nice, but it is designed to increase audible performance by making the front baffle less likely to vibrate in sympathy with the drivers, not that resonance should be much of an issue.  Given the small size of the cabinet, and the ¾” MDF construction, a knock test revealed near-zero in the way of cabinet resonance.  The cabinet is also stuffed with fiberfill to limit resonance and interior waves.

RBH MC-4C Tweeter

RBH MC-4C 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter

Molded into the RDAB baffle is a waveguide with a 1” Aluminum dome tweeter.  The tweeter is surrounded by a protective wire grill.  The 4” aluminum dome woofer has a heavy rubber surround and is flush-mounted behind the baffle, with no mounting hardware visible or accessible.  It makes for a very clean look with great fit and finish, though if there is a need for repairs, you’ll need to ship them back to RBH as your screwdrivers at home won’t do you any good.

 

RBH MC-4C 1/4" Metal Grill Post

RBH MC-4C 1/4" Metal Grill Post

Many competitors offer flimsy plastic frames and posts on their grills.  The RBH MC-4C speaker grills are cloth over MDF that sit flush with the front of the speakers and feature sturdy, metal posts ¼” thick.   There is no chance these posts are going to break off, or even bend, and if manufacturers are going to use posts over magnetic grills, these metal posts should be the standard and show a continued focus of RBH on fit and finish.  The selection of high-end components continues at the binding posts which are heavy-duty, all-metal 5-ways that are also flush-mounted.  The crossover is a simple 6-component design that uses high-quality components.

RBH MC-4C Crossover

RBH MC-4C Crossover

Inset thread mounting points assure a sturdy connection when wall-mounting or fixing the MC-4C to stands.  The RBH MC-4C are a sealed design so they have a more gradual low frequency roll-off than ported designs and, with no rear-port needing room to breathe, can be mounted as close as possible on a wall.  That said, the crossover frequency between the speakers and the sub will still need to be fairly high.  To be safe when picking a matching sub, look for one like the RBH S-12 that is flat up to 150 Hz.  The crossover choices provided by my AVR were 120, 160, and 200Hz.  I found a crossover frequency of 160 provided the most seamless blend to my subwoofer.  You might also consider purchasing two small subs, placing them in close proximity to the left and right speakers, and running them in stereo.  This would give you full-frequency range response in a compact package while accommodating a higher crossover point, smoothing out low frequency response, and giving you the best stereo separation at high-bass frequencies.

RBH MC-4C Sound Quality Tests

I powered the RBH MC-4C with the Yamaha RX-A2040, a new, high-end AVR. They were connected with 12-gauge, Blue Jeans speaker cable. The mains were perched atop 24” of cinder-block and all channels were used with Auralex Mo-Pad isolation pads and aimed at ear level. When used with an SVS PB12-NSD subwoofer, the MC-4C Studio HD were crossed over at 160Hz as recommended by the Yamaha YPAO setup. In surround, 3 RBH MC-4C were used for the fronts, with JBL Control One as rear channels. No auto-EQ was used. The room is lightly-treated, 13x14’ with a vaulted 9-14’ ceiling, and has lots of openings to the rest of the house.

Music

With regard to bass response, the MC-4C performed as you’d expect exceptionally compact speakers to perform.  Like any sealed speaker with a 4” woofer, they’ll sound a little thin and bass-limited if you’re not using a subwoofer, so though I did a little listening at a variety of distances in a variety of rooms with the speakers running full-range, 90% of my listening was with a subwoofer.

Ani DiFranco - Red Letter Year

Ani DiFranco - Red Letter Year 

I started with stereo listening and fired up a high-definition copy of Ani DiFranco’s Red Letter Year from HDTracks.com.  On the track “Present/Infant”, a variety of percussion including tambourines and shakers take turns keeping the 2s and 4s.  The MC-4C had good high-end detail which keeps each instrument distinct in the mix.  In my big space, I found the MC-4C were clean and clear throughout Ani’s vocal range at moderately-high volumes.

 The RBH MC-4C produced clean and clear vocals even at moderately high listening levels.

Looking for a good mid- and low-frequency test, I moved on to “Way Tight” which feature a nice guitar and bass interplay.  The MC-4C captured the crisp, snappy finger-picking and the woody body of the guitar.  Ani’s unique vocal gesticulations, from breathy fadeaways to sibilant stings, are on full display and the MC-4C carried them with a natural presentation that stayed true to the lifelike, almost under-produced performance.

My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand

My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand

For something with a little more studio orchestration, I put on This is My Hand by My Brightest Diamond.  This album wastes no time setting the tone with the opening track “Pressure”.  It’s hugely dynamic with varied instrumentation.  Showing off the good center imaging the MC-4C, the Rat-a-tat-tat of the marching band-style snare work was captured in a cohesive image, with just a little bounce between the channels.  They did sound a little “small” compared to my standard, larger speakers.  In the measurements, we’ll see that the highest frequencies dip a bit at 30 degrees off center, which, I think, when combined with the limited bass response, makes them more localizable in stereo listening if you aren’t seated exactly center.  I found, compared to my larger speakers, that I preferred them spaced a little closer together which made for a slightly smaller, but more cohesive soundstage.
 
As I pushed the volumes towards triple digit peaks, the booming kick drum and synth bass line felt a little disconnected.  I’m not certain I’d perfectly dialed in the integration between the low-mids from the sub and the rest of the spectrum being reproduced by the MC-4C. At those volumes, there may have also been a little low-frequency compression from the smaller woofer, but short of missing a touch of low-frequency weight, there was nothing else left lacking.  There was no distortion or other nastiness, it’s just that small speakers aren’t designed for high 90 decibel playback.
 
The following track, “Before the Words”, features less separation between the individual elements, weaving a more dense tapestry of a “beating-heart” kick drum, swelling brass, unison vocals and guitar, and a galloping bass line.  Here again, the MC-4C proved especially adept at handling high-dynamics with composure as I pushed the overall volume, with my sound meter showing peaks around 96dB.  As the elements rise and recede, high frequency detail never turned brittle, and bass stayed clean.  With the MC-4C reproducing good clarity of all the instruments, I never felt the bass-managed MC-4C were out of their element.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - All This Useless Beauty

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - All This Useless Beauty

Switching to male vocals, I cued up “All This Useless Beauty” from the Elvis Costello album of the same title.  It’s notable for being the last album featuring the full Attractions lineup including bassist Bruce Thomas.  Steve Nieve’s twinkling piano work has great air with MC-4C really capturing the resonance of the right-handed, high-octave counter-melody.  Costello’s vocals, never known for their polish or lack of emotion, are conveyed, strain by squeak, right up to the final outro.
 
“Complicated Shadows” puts Pete Thomas’ drum work on full display giving him ample opportunity to show off his rock chops with lots of improvised tom work and big swinging cymbal hits during the instrumental breaks.  The MC-4C have a nice mid-frequency presence which lets you really feel the tautness of the skin stretched over those toms as Pete’s sticks snap off.

Surround/Movies

I used the MC-4C as the front three main speakers on Gravity, a movie that has a very active sound design with lots of pans, off-center dialog, huge orchestration, and all channels being used for discrete cues.  Set in the vacuum of space, both sound and silence are important to the telling of this story, so speakers need to be able to reproduce low-level detail as well as high-level impact.  The movie opens with a full-range cacophony that builds to wall rattling levels.  As the MC-4C hits the sonic apex, 97dB at my listening level, I was a little worried for these compact speakers, but they handled the swell graciously.

Gravity

Gravity

The RBH MC-4C produces a large and accurate soundstage in small listening spaces.

At 10 minutes in, the primary incident of the movie occurs, and we’re treated to a bounty of dialogue coming from every direction, movement-matched pans, and a soundtrack that mirrors the onscreen tone as the focus expands and contracts around the characters.  With all of this going on, the MC-4C integrate with each other perfectly creating seamless pans, even with critical dialog.

Gravity Still

Motion picture still from the film Gravity

Just for giggles, I put the MC-4C into duty as surround channels, which is no doubt where they will find a home in many systems, and thought they were right at home there thanks to their accuracy and compact size.  For dynamic movie content in a larger room, if you’re looking for RBH mains, I think you’ll want to consider stepping up to a full-sized bookshelf like the RBH MC-6C or tower speakers.  However, in a smaller room like my 12 x12 office, the RBH MC-4C offered a large, accurate soundstage, so if you have a smaller room, don’t be afraid to use the MC-4C, with an appropriate subwoofer, as a high-quality, full-range sound system.

RBH MC-4C Measurements and Analysis

The graph below shows the frequency response of the RBH MC-4C HD on-axis (red), 15 (blue) and 30 (purple) degrees off-axis horizontally, 15 degrees off-axis above (green) and below (yellow) the tweeter, and an average of these responses (black) at 1 meter, smoothed 1/12 of an octave, and offset for easier viewing.  All measurements were taken in room, so keep in mind that the low-frequency response is affected by room modes.

RBH MC-4C Listening Window

RBH MC-4C In-room Frequency Response (1 meter measurements, 1/12th octave smoothed)

on-axis (red); 15 (blue) and 30 (purple) degrees off-axis horizontally, 15 degrees off-axis above (green) and below (yellow) the tweeter, and an average of these responses (black)

The RBH MC-4C produced exhibited an exceptionally flat frequency response.

Notice the exceptionally flat response from 1k upward.  The accuracy of these speakers, even off-axis, is really impressive.  The speakers were placed on 24” stands, so the distance between the woofer/mic and the floor is roughly the same as the wavelength of the 300-400hz suck-out, thus, this measurement anomaly due to floor bounce should be ignored.  The only issue is the step drop in the last half-octave at 30 degrees or more.  For those of us that can still hear 15kHz and above (watch your volume levels and get a nice set of earplugs people), this might translate into a little less “air” in the high frequencies throughout the room.  Compensate by using a moderate amount of toe-in.
 
Here is the average response (black) spliced at 300Hz with a near-field woofer (red) measurement for a more accurate picture of the bass response.

RBH MC-4C Avg and Nearfield

RBH MC-4C Listening Window Average (Black) and Wofer Near-field (Red)

All previous measurements were taken with the grill off, while I did the vast majority of my listening with the grill on.  In the graph below, you can see on-axis measurements with the grill on (blue) and off (red).

RBH MC-4C Grill

RBH MC-4C Grill On (Blue) and Off (Red)

RBH MC-4C Conclusion

Sometimes manufacturers skimp on their small speaker designs assuming that a customer who wants the best quality sound will always buy larger speakers, and those buying small speakers are looking to spend as little money as possible even at the expense of quality.  RBH recognizes that this is not always the case, and there is a large customer base that wants both high-quality sound, and a compact package.  The RBH MC-4C is the small speaker for customers who put a premium on appearance and want to make as few sonic compromises as possible.  The MC-4C offer great sound, especially when mated with a capable subwoofer, and stand out with polished finish details, and high-quality components.

 Despite the MC-4C is a small speaker, RBH did NOT skimp on its design.

The only downside to the speakers is the cost.  Sure, for $529/pair, you’re getting high-quality components, exceptional fit and finish, and notably accurate sound reproduction.  But, the small speaker category is getting crowded with low-cost options from well-regarded names including classics like the NHT SuperZero and newcomers like the SVS Prime Satellite.  RBH will need to rely on the MC-4C superior fit and finish to get in your room, and the quality of their sound reproduction to keep them there.

 RBH MC-4C Bookshelf Speaker Video Review


MC-4C Review
MSRP: $529/pair

RBH Sound
382 Marshall Way
Layton, Utah 84041
http://www.rbhsound.com
Toll-free: (800) 543-2205

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
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStar
SoundstageStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarhalf-star
About the author:
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Marshall is an Educator by trade, and currently lives in Oregon. He was lucky enough to grow up in a musical household, and though the AV equipment wasn't the greatest, it was always on. His dad introduced him to Queen, Paul Simon, and Sgt. Pepper's, and his mom played Lionel Richie and Disney Soundtracks. When Marshall was 14, his uncle passed down a pair of JBL towers and Marshall finally had his own system. Having enjoyed podcasting and video production over the past 10 years, Marshall is happy to be contributing at Audioholics.

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