|RBH Compact Theater CT-5 / CT-7|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Wednesday, 01 May 2002|
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Music and Movies
The next thing to do was to play something and have a listen. I started with Alan Parsons’ DTS CD On-Air, because it includes a gorgeous instrumental with a hefty bass end on "Cloudbreak" that would be good for setting up the sub level. Well it certainly did that: the bottom end on the track came through loud and clear and easily enabled me to get a better setting for the sub level. There was a fine punch to kick-drum beats and a full and rounded bass sound. I also noticed that the top end was very crisp and clean and that surround localization was exceptional. This is what you would expect from small speakers that behave more like point sources and "smear" the image less than units in which the drivers (or cones thereof) subtend a significant angle. I was, however, conscious of the fact that the bass was all at the front of the room – in the corner, no less. My system is set up kitty-corner (at about 45 degrees to the walls) to minimize standing waves, and my sub is in the corner behind the TV. My normal system, however, also puts bass through the main front pair, bringing the bottom end out into the room more. This, coupled with the fact that there is absolutely no bass in the surrounds, made me more conscious that the bass was more center front than usual, albeit this is perfectly reasonable, as that’s where the bass is panned.
Despite the improved imaging I was noticing over my regular system, I also know that conventional 5.1 mixing techniques do not really allow for anything like accurate localization outside the front stage. Around the back you get something, but down the sides of the speaker array there is virtually no serious localization unless you turn your head. There are ways around this, however, that have been known for years, and there are now high-definition discs out there that use them to great effect, notably the award-winning Swing Live album from Chesky Records. The Ambisonic technology used on this album permits accurate localization almost anywhere in the room. I used the SACD version, playing the 4.0 mix that is in the hi-res multichannel area of this hybrid disc.
Sure enough, the ambience and acoustics of the New York jazz club in which this outstanding album was recorded leaped from the speakers, which in fact disappeared from consciousness, especially with eyes closed. This is something that few if any regular 5.1 recordings can achieve, where sounds tend to get sucked into the speakers, except for those across the front stage. I would suggest that what you want from this kind of recording is for the technology involved to disappear and take you to the venue, and that’s just what I experienced, despite the fact that my speakers, while in a respectable ITU arrangement (a pro audio standard for 5.1 speaker setup) for movie sound, are not ideally positioned for music listening (I would prefer a rectangle of some kind with me in the middle). A good surround recording played back correctly can literally overlay the acoustic of your listening room with the recorded acoustic environment – so much so that you are transported, and that’s just what happened here.
Talking of movies, I brought out "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" on DVD, and set it up for DTS 5.1 replay. Obviously, a 5.1 movie soundtrack uses the center front extensively for dialogue, and in this case also for several of the (mono) pieces of music used in the film. Here, the extra oomph of the C-4 dual-woofer unit came into its own, with very clean and full performance, coupled with excellent intelligibility and accuracy.
I then played a DVD-Audio disc, Les Brown and his Band of Renown 1936-2001, "Session #55," expecting that some of Jane Monheit’s excellent vocals would provide another kind of test for the center channel. Not so: like many 5.1 music albums, the CF on this disc is very muted (presumably it’s just quietly there so that consumers don’t get worried it’s broken) and the front stage relies on traditional stereo’s "virtual center" for more integrated overall localization. The album sounded great, with a very lively mix and a smooth sound overall, enhanced by the cleanness of the top end on the RBH monitors. Again, front-stage localization was exemplary.
More or less anything I played on these speakers sounded good. The bass was firm, smooth and rounded, very much like the source material (in cases where I’d heard the material in the studio), and there was no lack of power. The MM-4s and the C-4 exhibit negligible audible distortion even if you push them – I played "Galliarde," the first track from the CD version of Dutch rock band Trace’s 1974 first album, at high level and only annoyed the neighbors: the RBH system didn’t even squawk.