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RBH Sound R-55E Floorstanding Speaker Review

By Steve Feinstein
RBH Impression Series Elite R-55E

RBH Impression Series Elite R-55E

  • Product Name: Impression Series Elite R-55E
  • Manufacturer: RBH Sound
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Review Date: September 19, 2018 07:00
  • MSRP: $ 2,000/pr. (Gloss black); $1,750/pr. (Phantom Black) Free Shipping
  • Buy Now
  • Design:                                                  6-driver, 3-way floorstanding vented
  • Crossover:                                            2nd-order (12dB/oct) @ 120 Hz, 3000 Hz)
  • Frequency Response:                         35 Hz-30 kHz ±3dB
  • High Frequency Driver:                       1" (25mm) Aluminized nano-silk dome, ferro-fluid cooled
  • Midrange Driver:                                  (2) 5.25" (133mm) Aluminum cone, rubber surround
  • Low Frequency Driver:                        (3) 6.5" (165mm) Aluminum cone, rubber surround
  • Sensitivity:                                            88 dB (2.83V @ 1 Meter)
  • Impedance:                                          6 ohms
  • Recommended Amplifier Power:      50 - 250 watts
  • Finishes:                                                Gloss: Piano Black or Phantom Black vinyl
  • Weight:                                                  55 lbs. (24.95 kg)
  • Dimensions:                                         WHD 8.19 x 47.25 x 11.73”
  • Warranty:                                               5 years

Pros

  • Smooth overall sound with better-than-expected bass extension from a mid-sized floorstander
  • Solid imaging with excellent inner detail
  • Can play very loudly without audibly objectionable distortion
  • Beautiful gloss black finish, especially notable at this price

Cons

  • Slightly forward upper midrange balance prevents speaker from being totally neutral
  • No bi-amp terminals if that is important to you
  • Wood screws/pilot holes instead of machine screws/threaded inserts for feet attachment

RBH R-55ERBH Sound  R-55E Introduction

RBH is a well-established audio company that was founded in 1976 by Roger B. Hassing (hence the initials RBH). They manufacture a full array of free-standing and flush-mount speakers, powered and passive subwoofers, small audio accessories and a limited line of specialty audio amplifiers. Their Status Acoustics 8T Tower Monitor speaker system is widely regarded as one of the premier passive speakers in the world and serves as the reference speaker system in the Audioholics theater system.

We decided to take a look at one of their more popularly-priced speakers, the Impression Series Elite R-55E tower. The R-55E is their top offering in their Impression series. The ‘regular’ Impressions have poly-mica cone drivers and a fabric dome tweeter and sell for $550-675 ea., depending on finish. The Elite versions step up to better-quality crossovers, aluminum cone mids and woofers and what RBH calls an “aluminized nano-silk” dome tweeter—essentially a fabric dome with a very thin deposit of aluminum on the fabric diaphragm. Although RBH doesn’t spell out what the advantage of this dome is over the standard fabric dome, domes with “vapor-deposited” metal over a substrate of fabric supposedly combine the stiffness/quickness of a metal dome with the smooth self-damped sound of a fabric dome. Plus, metal domes look cool and expensive. I’m sure RBH’s “aluminized nano-silk” tweeter is supposed to combine all these attributes.

RBH sells their speakers on a direct-to-the-consumer basis, with free shipping on orders over $50.00. They offer a 30-day in-home trial and will take back and refund the full purchase price of the speakers, as long as they are received in like-new condition. They will provide only partial credit if the items are received back with any shipping damage or missing parts/accessories. RBH does not pay the return shipping cost, however, and that could run some serious dollars. Add to that the very real possibility that an “amateur” home consumer may not pack them well enough to avoid shipping damage and the return process could prove to be a very expensive exercise indeed. It’s a shame that “good” retail brick-and-mortar audio stores are essentially defunct these days, because in addition to not being able to do in-person A-B speaker comparisons, consumers are now faced with having to repack and ship large speakers for return credit if they are unhappy with their purchase. Simply bringing them back to the store was a much easier proposition many years ago. But the times are what they are, and this is the way higher-end audio business is done today.

RBH Sound Impression Series Overview and Demo YouTube Discussion

The Impression Series Elite R-55E we looked at is a $1000/ea. tower in gloss back. For real hi-fi aficionados like Audioholics readers, we’d consider that mid-priced. For the average Joe/Jane on the street whose idea of home music listening is to wirelessly stream background tunes from their iPhone to some $70 Bluetooth speaker, speakers that cost $2000/pr. are total insanity, a relic from another time, evidence of diminished mental capacity.

Note: RBH is currently running a 25% off promotion on ALL Impression series speakers.

In terms of similar speakers that’ve passed through my hallowed listening room over the last few years, the RBH R-55Es at $2000/pr. are a tad less than the B&W CM8’s at $2700/pr., the Atlantic Technology AT-1’s at $2500/pr, the NHT Classic Fours at $2700/pr, and the Paradigm Prestige 75F at $3000/pr. The RBH’s are primarily a direct-to-consumer mail-order product; the others are ostensibly brick-and-mortar products (sans the NHT's), so the RBH’s should have a little lower price without the retail “middleman” markup. I consider all of these speakers to be in the exact same price category and will make my comparisons on that basis.

Design Overview

The packaging was fully up to the task of protecting the speakers, since they arrived in perfect condition after the long trip from the Audioholics Florida office to my MA listening room. They’d been opened and re-packed, so the packaging was very slightly compromised. Two of the carton’s flaps simply came off when I opened them, because they were weakened from having been opened and closed a few times already.

The R-55E’s were double-boxed in two light-duty corrugated cartons. Frankly, I was quite surprised at the dainty nature of the cartons. The cartons were surprisingly thin-walled and I was skeptical as to how they’d done such a good job protecting the speakers.

I got my answer when I looked inside the inner carton: Running the full height of the carton were four curved foam inserts that hugged the speaker quite securely and provided a good deal of a safety margin “buffer zone” between the speakers and the outer surface of the outer carton. The cartons themselves were not tasked with doing the heavy lifting of protecting the speakers: the protection was accomplished by the foam holding the speakers quite firmly, a good 3+ inches away from the outer surface of the outer carton. Well done, nice design. Obviously very effective, without needing heavy battleship-type armored cartons surrounding the speakers.

One thing the cartons could have used was oval handholds to make moving and lifting the speakers easier.  I don’t know why all 4-foot+ tall speaker cartons don’t have handholds cut into them, other than the packaging designers simply didn’t think of it. Really no excuse, since many cartons do have them, so it’s not exactly a new idea. It would probably save the manufacturer money in the long run since there would be fewer dropped speakers and consequently less shipping damage claims.

Unlike the Paradigm Prestige 75F’s, which had a plain “stealth” outer carton and a nice 2-color-on-white inner carton, the RBH R-55E’s had a plain-Jane black print outer carton and a totally blank brown Kraft inner carton. Inthe final analysis, the customer doesn’t really care whether the cartons are fancy or plain, as long as the product is undamaged in shipping.

Outer carton.JPG  Inner carton.JPG

Outer Cartons (left pic) ; Inner Carton (right pic) 

thin wall carton.JPGCutting open the outer carton on its end, laying it on its side and then sliding out the inner carton is a job best done by two people. It’s easy to slide out the inner carton if someone is holding the outer carton still. I managed it by myself, but it was a little unwieldy. A nice white cardboard box nestled in the foam endcap containing the outrigger feet and spike hardware greets you upon opening the inner speaker carton. Nicely done. However, there was no documentation of any kind with either speaker. I think these may have been production-quality pre-production samples and the manual/feet instructions were just not included. As I mentioned, these speakers spent a short amount of time at the Audioholics offices in Florida before coming to me in MA, so perhaps those careless bums in Florida simply forgot to include the manuals. No matter. Attaching the feet/spikes is straightforward and intuitive and I certainly don’t need a manual telling me how to attach the speaker wire or how room placement affects the sound of a speaker. I am quite positive that factory-fresh unopened speakers have all the requisite documentation, so this is a non-issue. It would have been interesting to see how they presented and worded their instructions, however.

The only nit I’ll pick about attaching the outrigger feet to the underside of the cabinet is that it’s done with wood screws going into pilot holes drilled into the cabinet’s MDF. It worked just fine, and even though this was (presumably) the second time these speakers’ feet were attached, the holes were not chewed up or too loose. Still, some speakers in this price/size range use threaded inserts and machine screws to attach their feet and those will never wear out. Wood screws going into MDF can only be done a handful of times before the holes become unusable. Very minor issue, but I need to point it out.

 Feet box in foam.JPG  Pilot holes on bottom.JPG

Foot Box Nestled in Foam Endcap (left pic) ;  Underside of Cabinet with Wood Screw Pilot Holes (right pic)

 foam in carton.JPG

Protective foam inserts in carton 

The speakers themselves were covered in a nice cloth bag to protect the cabinet’s gloss black finish. The grille was already attached to the speaker, not in a separate bag as with some other speakers. The grille frame was made from machined MDF, with nice attention to smooth inner surfaces and a good black paint job with no light spots or ‘misses.’ The grille attachment method was short metal dowels that push into small rubber receptacles on the front baffle. This is halfway between the really nice way of doing things (embedded, invisible neo magnets that grab reciprocal invisible magnets just under the speaker’s front baffle surface) and the clunky ‘old-fashioned’ way of doing it (big ball-ended plastic grille “trees” that push into large unsightly rubber receptacles.) Clearly, RBH didn’t want to spend the money to tool a plastic grille frame, nor incur the expense and added manufacturing complexity of the neo magnet grille attachment scheme. Their approach strikes me as a very good compromise. It saves money and it doesn’t scream “This is a budget speaker!” to the consumer. The grille is a non-event. It doesn’t impress you with its quality and cleverness and it doesn’t detract from the product’s aura and “feel.” It’s neutral, which is a win for RBH. I’ve made these kind of product decisions a thousand times at Bose, Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology. This was well done.

Grille pin.JPG   bag over speaker.JPG

Grille Frame with Small Metal Pins (left pic) ; Speaker in Protective Bag (right pic)

RBH R-55E Drivers and Cabinet

The R-55E is a 3-way design, with a triple 6 ½-inch aluminum-cone woofer section and an M-T-M MF-HF section with dual 5.25-inch aluminum-cone midranges flanking a 1-inch ‘aluminized nano-silk’ dome tweeter.

They have pretty good bass extension, definitely deeper and stronger than the B&W CM8 and Paradigm Prestige 75F. It’s a dual vented design; from my look inside the cabinet, all three woofers appear to share the same internal volume and the two rear ports serve to tune the entire bass section as one. Interestingly—and to RBH’s everlasting credit—there weren’t any foam cylinders included so the user could “plug one or more of the ports.” Many—too many—otherwise credible companies provide foam port plugs so the user can ostensibly change the speaker or subwoofer from a vented design to a sealed design.

That’s so bogus. A speaker designed to be vented can’t be made into a sealed speaker simply by plugging the holes. Not into a good sealed speaker. True acoustic suspension systems have drivers with completely different Thiele-Small parameters than a vented system. A real sealed system woofer has a far lower free-air resonance and higher compliance than a vented woofer, because in a real acoustic suspension system, it’s the trapped air spring in the sealed cabinet that provides the woofer’s restoring force, not the driver’s mechanical suspension (its surround and spider). If you simply take a vented woofer and block the holes, you’ll end up with a remarkably un-optimized system, with a far-higher bass cutoff than would be the case if it were an optimally designed AS system to begin with. I shake my head when I see vented systems offered with “port plugs.” RBH didn’t do that. Kudos to them.

I was a little surprised that the rear ports are not nicely flared to reduce the possibility of audible port chuffing at high SPLs. The ports are slightly smoothed around the periphery but not actually flared. Companies like RBH don’t tend to do a lot of custom tooling for standardized parts. (Tooling is the process by which 3D computer programs direct a cutter to bore out solid blocks of metal, so plastic or aluminum can be poured in to make custom parts. The creation of brand-new tooling is very expensive, so much so that smaller companies refer to “tool” as a “four-letter word.” Port tubes, woofer-midrange baskets, terminal cups, etc,--all of these kinds of things already exist from various suppliers, so there is no need for a company to incur the cost and create it from scratch. Full-flared port tubes exist in every manner of size and shape, so I’m surprised RBH didn’t pick one.)

Editorial Note by Shane Rich: Regarded Flared Port Tubes

While it would have looked nicer to incorporate flared ports, the velocity of air through the 2 standard ports of the R-55E is low enough at  MAX SPL’s that it just wasn’t necessary to use in this case.

Flared ports look good, but truth be told, at the SPLs where port turbulence might be audible, there’s “so much else going on” at that high volume that the listener likely would not be overly bothered by any audible chuffing. This is just one of those features that speaker manufacturers tend to include to satisfy all those get-a-life reviewers who pick on little details. Like me, I guess.

Did I hear any chuffing during my auditioning of the 55E’s? No. Would RBH have made a slightly more positive impression, visually, if they’d opted to spend another buck on a flared port? Yes, probably. Would they sell one more because of a flared port or sell one less because they don’t have it? Probably no change, either way, but it’d be a few bucks less profit times the number of speakers they sell. If they sell 5000 of these in year times 2 dollars less profit, that’s 10 grand less, right out of their pocket. That’s a lot of Internet ads or a nice raise for the Head Engineer, so he’ll stay with the company. Those are the kinds of real-world decisions product/marketing people have to make all day long. It’s not as easy as “outsiders” think, that’s for sure.

Port not flared or flush.JPG 

Port not flared, not flush-mounted

The cabinet itself is a 4-foot tall, slender tower with a wider front baffle tapering with curved sides to a narrow rear panel. The ports and terminal cup are on the rear panel.

My cabinets were finished in gloss black paint. The finish was beautiful—smooth, lustrous and expensive-looking, with no “orange-peeling” imperfections to mar the surface. Very nicely-done and quite impressive. The speakers themselves didn’t weigh as much as I thought they would considering their size—they’re 55 lbs., which is a little on the lightweight side for a 4-foot-tall tower with five drivers using large, heavy ceramic (not neodymium) magnets. The cabinet itself has a ¾-inch MDF front baffle (and I presume ¾-inch side and rear panels as well), plus two nice internal windowpane braces in the woofer section, between woofers 1 & 2 and 2 & 3. The braces themselves were ½-in MDF. The MF-HF MTM section was enclosed in a sub-enclosure of MDF, which also serves to brace the top portion of the cabinet. There was a generous amount of internal damping material to suppress internal cabinet resonances.

Windowpane brace.JPG 

Windowpane brace and internal stuffing
Note the twisted pair wiring to reduce undesirable mutual coupling.

There is a definite acoustic benefit to the cabinet’s curved side panels in addition to it just being a nice-looking visual design: The curved panels tapering to a narrower rear baffle mean that the speaker does not have large parallel interior walls. Non-parallel cabinet walls are inherently less prone to internal standing waves and other audible resonances. The curvature of the side panels also imparts great strength to that panel—more so than a flat panel of similar size—so the need for excessive panel thickness and over-exuberant internal bracing is lessened. A rectangular cross-section cabinet of the same height with thicker panels and more internal bracing would weigh perhaps 10 pounds more. The RBH cabinet is a “smart” cabinet and doesn’t need great bulk to achieve the requisite strength and freedom from resonance. The “knuckle rap test” on the big side panel revealed a mostly high-pitched and well-damped sound character, with the middle of the panel having a slightly lower tone and more hollow quality than the upper and lower portions.  But in no way did the cabinet have the “empty oil barrel” sound one hears from a thin-walled cabinet with minimal (or no) internal bracing. This is a solid cabinet, weight notwithstanding.

The drivers were conventional, straightforward designs. Unlike the Paradigm Prestige 75F that I reviewed last year, RBH doesn’t use any special tweeter lenses or woofer surround geometries, and so they don’t waste our time with any laughable marketing fodder like “Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA™) Tweeter Lens” or woofers with “Overmolded Active Ridge Technology (ART™). Bless their hearts.

The woofer has a large ceramic magnet, a stamped-steel frame, and what looks to be a 1-ince voice coil. This is plenty large for a 6 ½-inch driver, and remember, there are three of them, so power handling will be just fine. Also, since the input power is being split between three drivers, no one of them is being driven too hard, which keeps the distortion low, even at high SPLs. The aluminum cone was light and stiff and seemed nicely damped by the rubber surround when I gave it the oh-so-precise “fingernail flick” test. (It takes years of training to perfect that. It’s not for amateurs.)

  woofer and magnet.JPG

Aluminum cone 6 ½-inch woofer

The tweeter was simply a conventional 1-inch silk dome, with a very faint spray of something silvery on it. Is it actually aluminum or just silver paint? Impossible to tell. RBH calls it an "Aluminized nano-silk dome,” so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it’s a thin layer of aluminum. A tweeter like this with a thin “vapor deposit” of metal over a fabric substrate supposedly combines the stiffness and pistonic accuracy of a metal dome with the smooth, non-resonant character of self-damping cloth. The highs were smooth and detailed without being harsh, so whatever it’s made of, it does its job well.

All three woofers work in tandem to cover the bass range. Measuring the actual piston diameter in the generally-accepted manner of mid-surround to mid-surround yields a tick less than 5.5”, so the driver’s radiating area is just shy of 242 inches. Three drivers x 242 in = 722 inches total bass radiating area. For comparison, a standard 10-inch woofer with a 9-inch piston is 642 inches and a standard 12-inch woofer with a 10.5-inch piston (assuming a nice beefy surround) is 872 in. So the 55-E has an effective woofer “size” somewhere in between a 10 and 12-inch woofer, which should yield some nice bass weight and punch. And it does, as we’ll see later in the listening tests.

The M-T-M upper frequency section is notable for its very low 120Hz woofer-to-midrange crossover frequency. Remember, if the driver’s diameter is smaller than the wavelength of the frequency it’s reproducing, the dispersion is very wide. If the driver is larger than the wavelength being reproduced, the driver will “beam” its output forward like a flashlight.

Such a low W-to M crossover is very desirable when using large-diameter woofers, since a 12-inch woofer (10.5” piston) will get very directional by around 1200Hz. (Do the math: 13560 /piston diameter = Critical Directional Frequency, or CDF.) Crossing over an octave lower than the CDF (600Hz for a 12-inch woofer) is very good design practice. That will make the speaker almost omnidirectional in the forward hemisphere, over a nearly 180˚ angle.

The lower the woofer crossover frequency, the larger value inductor (“woofer choke”) you need in the crossover. They get really expensive as you go below 300-400Hz or so. Chokes for a 120Hz passive crossover are hellaciously expensive, if they’re good chokes.

This is a very strange design choice by RBH. Because the woofers are only 6 ½-inches in diameter, their horizontal dispersion will be wide right past 2400Hz, with a CDF of 1200Hz. There is no need from a directivity standpoint to “get the woofers out of there” by 120Hz. They could easily have crossed the woofer section over at 500-600Hz without any acoustic penalty and saved a lot of money on woofer chokes—probably more than enough to have afforded nicely flared port tubes.

Would there have been a little midrange interference between the three woofers in the vertical plane if they had taken them all up to 600Hz? Perhaps just a tad. Probably none whatsoever up to 300Hz. Crossing over at 120Hz—while theoretically laudable—was probably not the best real-world cost-of-goods decision RBH could have made.

Editorial Note by Shane Rich: Regarding Bass Crossover

I’m personally not a fan of a crossover point on the woofer that high, even if it is a 2nd order filter as long as the midrange drivers support lower frequency response (which is the case for the R-55E).  There is there is still too much midrange energy from the woofers that negatively affects the imaging. I chose to implement a 1st order filter on the R-55E bass drivers at 120Hz. 

Response by Steve Feinstein:

RBH has a valid point about the first-order woofer slope. 120Hz at 6 dB/oct means the woofer is only down 6dB at 240Hz and still only 12dB down at 480Hz--yes, the woofers will still have some audible output well into the midrange. Plus, 1st-order slopes preserve coherent phase, so there is no potentially distracting phase shift right in the heart of the sensitive vocal region of the midrange.

The M-T-M section itself is the classic “D’Appolitto” array, with 12dB/oct mid-to-tweeter crossover slopes. This design gives a very solid image, centered at the tweeter location and it imparts some intentional vertical restriction to the sound. Again, without getting too technical here, the vertical dispersion of an M-T-M is determined by the combined vertical dimension of the mids, in this case about 14 inches. That means the CDF for the M-T-M is around 970Hz. The desirability of restricting vertical dispersion is to reduce the amount of reflected “scatter” off the floor and ceiling to maximize intelligibility, while maintaining the widest possible horizontal dispersion for excellent listening area coverage.

The drawback is slightly erratic far-field power response and a noticeable change in spectral balance depending on whether the listener is standing or sitting. Indeed, when standing up, the mids of the R-55E took a step back and when sitting (with the listener’s ears vertically-aligned with the M-T-M array), they sprang forward. Exactly as an M-T-M design dictates they will.

The tweeter uses a large-diameter ceramic magnet, which limits how close, physically, the tweeter can be mounted to the two midrange drivers. Had the tweeter used a small neodymium magnet (with finned heatsinking to make up for the loss of thermal-dissipating mass that the large ceramic magnet provides), then the combined vertical dimension of the M-T-M array could have been reduced to about 12 inches, increasing the CDF to 1130Hz and delivering a little wider and more uniform dispersion. Not a huge issue, but one wonders why RBH choose to use an old-styled ceramic magnet tweeter.

Editorial Note by Shane Rich: Regarding Tweeter Power Handling

We've found tweeter power handling is definitely superior with a larger ceramic magnet vs a small neodymium which is why we made this design choice in this case.

woofer-tweeter RBH.png 

Rear view of midrange and tweeter, showing large ceramic magnets

There is only one set of binding posts, at the bottom of the rear panel. The terminal cup is not flush-mounted with the surface of the cabinet, another indication of selective cost-cutting on RBH’s part. The ends of the posts do not have the usually-required plastic CE (European) safety plugs, like I’m used to seeing. My guess is that RBH doesn’t sell into the EU market, so there is no need for those annoying plastic caps here in the U.S. If you want to use banana plugs instead of bare wire to connect the speaker wire to the posts, you’re free to do so. The posts themselves have a nice-sized hole to accept bare wire and that’s how I connected them, with 14-ga wire. Nice, easy, and secure. The ”bi-amp” feature in speakers is very close to audio snake-oil in my estimation. The actual audible benefit of so-called “bi-amping” or “bi-wiring,” especially when you’re still going through the speaker’s internal passive crossover is highly debatable, to say the least. I’d venture to say—with an extremely high degree of confidence—that simply moving the speaker’s location by six inches closer to or farther from the wall behind it will cause a far more definite, audible difference than “bi-amping,” especially if the amplifiers involved (a single full range or two for bi-amped) are not pushed into distortion. However, that’s a can of placebo worms best left unopened in this review.

55E term cup.JPG 

Binding Posts in Non-Flush-Mounted Cup

Set-Up

I set up and listened to the Impression R-55E’s in a two-channel music system. The room was a small-to-medium sized 17 x 14 x 8 ft. These are very good-sounding dimensions, since the length (17) is a prime number, and the height (8 ft) is not a whole number multiple of either the length or width. Therefore, these dimensions do not lend themselves to troublesome, additive bass/room resonances. The room has six 2 x 3 ft acoustic wall treatments staggered around the four walls; one centered on the front wall, two each at different heights on the side walls, and once centered on the rear wall between the two windows. There is a large sectional couch for seating and the floor is carpeted. Overall, the room is just slightly on the dead side of neutral, and it sounds excellent: solid, uniform bass, good imaging and detail, very little “ringing,” but live enough to let the speakers blossom out and fill the space with organic sound. Excellent recordings, especially of small-scale ensembles like jazz trio or solo piano, can sound almost live in this room. I have tremendous confidence that this room allows equipment to sound as good—or bad—as it can.

The 55E’s were set up about 1 ½ feet from the wall behind them and about 2 ½-3 feet from the sidewalls. I experimented with placement by moving them closer to the wall behind them, but found that the balance got a little ‘tubby’ when the speakers were within about 6 inches to a foot of the wall. The speakers have good horizontal dispersion and toe-in was modest—perhaps 5º or so. Set up this way, the speakers threw a very solid, well-defined image with a good phantom center. As I’d mentioned, there was a bit of difference in their spectral balance when listening seated vs. standing. The M-T-M design restricts the vertical dispersion to a marked degree (presumably intentionally), and it’s noticeable when standing.

Associated Equipment

The rest of the system is simple but straightforward, and very high quality. The pre-amplifier/power amp combo was Parasound’s New Classic 2100 pre-amp and 2250 power amp, rated at 200/385 watts per channel 20-20k, into 8/4 Ω loads, respectively. The RBH’s are rated at 6 ohms, so we’ll say that there is an easy 270 watts per channel available for them here.

The CD player was the NAD 545 with Burr-Brown DACs. Considering the modest size of the listening room, this is more than enough clean, distortion-free power to ensure that the electronics never intruded upon the listening sessions in a negative way. Speaker wire was simple 14 ga. twisted-end, inserted into the holes in the binding posts. Basic Monster interconnects between the pre/power and the CD/pre. Nothing lunatic-fringe about the connectors and speaker wire, and more importantly, nothing that could even remotely be considered a defining or distracting influence on the sound.

Initial Listening Impressions

Like a lot of people in this business, I have listened to a lot of speakers over the years. Reviewers and designers alike develop an acute sense of critical hearing when it comes to evaluating a speaker’s sound. In the very recent past, I’ve had some really excellent mid-sized mid–priced floorstanding speakers pass through these parts, such as the Atlantic Technology AT-1 (Stereophile-recommended for several years, Class B up to $20,000/pr., with their revolutionary H-PAS bass technology), the standout B&W CM8, the NHT Classic Four and most recently, the Paradigm Prestige 75F. All of these speakers are similar in size, price and general acoustic quality. I’d be happy with any of them on a day-to-day basis.

The bass line of the music was strong and clean on the R-55E towers.

But they’re not the same. They have their individual character, their strengths and weaknesses, their particular colorations. Now along comes the RBH Impression Series R-55E. How does it stack up, both in an absolute sense considered on its own and in comparison to other speakers of similar size/price that I’ve heard?

Two things struck me upon first hearing the 55E’s and they stayed with me the entire time. One good, one not as good.

The very first thing that struck me was their bass response. I liked it very much. The bass was quite obviously deeper and stronger than the Paradigm 75F or the B&W CM8.  The bass line of the music was strong and clean on the R-55E, giving a sense of a solid underpinning at all times and giving the listener a sense of confidence in the speaker’s ability to handle difficult bass passages that came its way.

The other trait the 55E’s possessed was one I was less enthused about: They were a bit bright. There’s no other way to say it—they were a bit bright. “Bright” can mean different things to different people, so let me elaborate. The speakers did not have that certain “nasal” or “papery” midrange coloration that’s all too common to most speakers, especially at or below this price. The brightness here was higher up, in the upper midrange. It wasn’t so much an annoying edginess, per se, as it was a forwardness or slight over-emphasis. The speakers were not at all grating or tiresome—not in the least—but to an experienced listener, you knew that the added prominence of the higher mids, even though it could be revealing and even pleasing at times, was not totally accurate. Again, this was not lower-to-mid midrange “honk.” It was blissfully free of that. This was upper-midrange brightness.

The advantage of evaluating speakers in the same listening room with identical electronics compared to the same reference speakers whose response is well-known and widely documented is that you can look back on your notes and listening impressions and derive some very valid apples-to-apples judgments, since you’re only changing a single variable in the entire process—the speakers under test. Everything else remains constant, so the process and conclusions follow the scientific method and can be considered valid and dependable.

The 55E’s slight brightness was apparent throughout my time with them. Every cut in every musical genre revealed this trait. I have to admit, once a sonic peculiarity makes itself known, it becomes really obvious, even if it’s actually quite subtle. It’s like a faint squeak in a car that drives you nuts even though none of your passengers notices it in the slightest. Traits like bass extension and treble dispersion are pretty objective—the speakers either respond strongly to that 32Hz organ note or they don’t. You can either hear that subtle triangle strike sitting way off axis or you can’t.

But a slight midrange coloration—in this case a very slight upper-mid brightness that the speaker imparted to all the program material I played—that’s harder to define in objective terms, but it’s no less obvious in subjective terms.

It’s important that the reader not get the wrong impression here: the 55E’s are fine speakers—smooth, musical, free from any obvious distortion even at high SPLs, and great-looking. Their slight brightness is less objectionable than the lower-midrange “honking” that afflicts many other speakers. On everything I played— pop, jazz, classical, vocals, everything—the 55E’s were commendably detailed, lively and enjoyable.

As I intimated earlier, I was impressed with their bass. Their bass was clean and well-defined and appropriately weighty, with a nice sense of rhythm and pitch definition, never thumpy or one-notey. I do have to raise my eyebrows at RBH for their 35Hz low-frequency spec. A true, honest bass response down into the mid-30’s is pretty deep for a full-range passive speaker of modest size and price (like these). Actually, it’s astonishing for a full-range passive loudspeaker. The very best home loudspeaker from a bass standpoint in the ‘old days” (1960’s-1970’s) was the Acoustic Research AR-3a. I own a perfectly-restored pair, as part of a vintage 2-channel audio system. Their mid-high frequency response is almost cartoonishly reticent by today’s standards, but their clean, tight, distortion-free bass that extends to an honest -3dB @ 35Hz is still quite excellent. And it’s a known commodity. The 55E’s didn’t have anywhere near the same deep bass extension as the 3a. Much like the almost laughable “27Hz” rating for the NHT Classic Four that I reviewed, the 55E’s bass was strong down to the mid 40’s. That’s very good-to-excellent bass response for a full-range passive loudspeaker. The 55E had bass that was noticeably deeper and stronger than the B&W CM8 and the Paradigm Prestige 75F, playing the same CDs in the same room with the same equipment.

Overall imaging was quite nice, with a satisfying sense of three-dimensional depth and a soundstage that seemed to extend past the left and right speakers when the program called for it. The narrow front baffle and inward-tapering side panels minimized the early reflections and the speakers had a notably unboxy quality to their sound.

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