Best Bookshelf Speakers I've Heard Yet
Dec 14, 2007 (Updated Dec 15, 2007)
Review by noahjenda
Rated a Very Helpful Review
WHY BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS?
Recommend this product?
I've got a tiny Manhattan apartment, and huge speakers are simply not practical. I gave my up old pair of JBLs when I moved here, and figured I would have to suffer with mediocre sound because of my space limitations. Floor standing speakers simply wouldn't work. My only option was bookshelf speakers, and my expectations weren't very high when I began my quest at the local audio stores.
I spent a good hour comparing various bookshelf speakers. I used two classical CDs for testing: a string quartet to listen for separation between instruments, clarity, degree of natural sound, balance and other subtleties. Then I used an orchestral performance with lots of brass to check for distortion, power and low bass response. I don't listen to a lot of rap or anything with artificially enhanced bass so I wasn't looking for that kind of thumping, bone-shaking low end but I did want speakers that could reproduce a tuba or string bass with accuracy.
SPEAKERS CONSIDERED AND TESTED
The speakers I spent the most time testing were the Bose 301-V, JBL Arena Venue Series, Klipsch RB-81, and the smaller Polk Audio RTi4 speakers.
The JBLs were surprisingly weak in sound for their size. While they do have 6" woofers, the bass response was unimpressive and the balance between mid and high range frequencies wasn't as clean as I'd like. The Klipsch have 8" woofers and plenty of bass, but the horn used for the high frequencies sounded extremely unnatural and tinny. It was particularly noticeable on the string quartet recording - it just sounded artificial. The Bose were the worst of all. Even with 8" woofers, the sound was extremely muddy and unbalanced. Neither the string quartet nor the orchestra sounded natural on the Bose speakers.
When I tested the Polk Audio RTi6 speakers, I was overjoyed.
The biggest surprise for me was the rich, natural sound: the string quartet absolutely came alive and the orchestral recording had plenty of punch. I chose the RTi6s over the RTi4s because the difference between the 6 1/2" and 5 1/4" woofers was really noticeable. The RTi6s had the most lifelike sound - clean, clear highs, warm mid-range, and more bass than I expected from speakers this size. No, of course they don't have the bottom end of speakers with 10" woofers, but I didn't have the space for speakers that big anyway.
SIZE AND PRICE
The RTi6s were the perfect size to fit on my shelf: 14-3/4" H x 7-3/4" W x 14-1/4" D. They weigh about 20 pounds each and have a bracket for easy wall mounting.
The price was quite reasonable. They aren't the newest model from Polk Audio in this size, so you can find them at an excellent price if you do your homework.
Even the look of these speakers is nice: most bookshelf speakers in this price range are all plastic, but these come finished with real cherry wood veneers.
LISTENING AT HOME
I've found that speakers can sound very different in a big empty room at the stereo store than they do in a small, cluttered room in a tiny apartment. In this case, the RTi6s sounded even better when I got them home. I've got them sitting on shelves about 48" off the floor and with only about 2 1/2 feet in between them: hardly the perfect setup, but that's all I can do with the tiny space I've got. However, the stereo imaging is amazing, with great separation between channels and crystal clear sound.
When I play a jazz CD, it's like I've got a table next to the stage at a club. My 70's funk CDs have plenty of bass, and World music CDs with lots of percussion absolutely shimmer with each cymbal hit. Acoustic music is full of warmth, and acappella vocals are so realistic that it seems like the singers are in the room with me.
The Polk Audio RTi6 speakers greatly surpassed my expectations for the sound that bookshelf speakers could deliver. Don't let the small size of these speakers fool you: they sound as good or better than many larger, more expensive speakers. If you've only got a little space for your speakers, I don't think you can do much better than these RTi6s (especially for under $300.)
From the Polk Audio web site:
Mid/Woofer: 1 - 6-1/2" Diameter (16.51cm)
Polymer Composite Dynamic Balance Cone with Rubber Surrounds
Tweeter: 1 - 1" Diameter (2.54cm) Silk/Polymer composite dome
Overall Frequency Response: 40Hz-27kHz
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended Amplifier Power: 20-125 w/channel
Efficiency: 89 dB
Crossover: 2.8kHz, 12dB/octave high and low pass
Inputs: Dual (bi-amp) gold plated 5-way binding posts
Acoustically inert MDF cabinets, finished in Real Cherry Wood or Real Black Oak veneers.
Floating anti-diffraction grilles minimize grille diffraction for spacious, 3-dimensional imaging.
Magnetic shielding for safe placement near video sources.
Mylar bypass capacitors in the crossovers extend high frequency response and improve detail and transparency.
Dual, bi-ampable gold-plated 5-way binding post inputs (with wide holes for large-gauge bare wire connections) for the most secure connections and the most versatile wiring applications.
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Amount Paid (US$): 230
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