Floor-standing Speakers

Boston Acoustics RS 326 Floor-Standing Speakers

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

Boston Acoustics does not have a stated break-in time for the RS 326s, but I gave them 50 hours of playback before doing any serious listening. To my ears, the RS 326s loosened up noticeably after the 50-hour mark, reaching their peak performance after about 100 hours. I also made a few adjustments to the speaker position during the break-in time. First, I moved the speakers a little closer to my rear walls, finishing up with 2 feet between the back baffle and wall. This gave the rear port enough room to breathe without creating boomy bass. I kept the distance from the side walls at 4 feet, which seemed to offer the best combination of imaging and soundstaging. I was not happy with the midrange during my first listening sessions, so I experimented with toe-in and found that I preferred the RS 326s with almost no toe-in at all. This smoothed out the midrange response a bit and also improved imaging. Finally, I experimented with the speaker grilles. While there was just a tad more treble detail with the grilles off, the midrange sounded better with the grilles on. My preference did not surprise me, as the RS 326s were voiced with their grilles on as this is how Boston Acoustics anticipates most owners will use them.

With the RS 326s situated, it was time for some serious listening. I started off with my go-to evaluation disc, Reference Recordings fantastic sounding Symphonic Dances (RR-96CD) on HDCD. This is a very dynamic disc recorded with a full symphony and requires a big sounding speaker to get it right. The RS 326s got it mostly right. Bass was incredibly punchy, with much more accuracy and depth than I expected given the modest 6-1/2 inch woofers. Treble was smooth, extended, and detailed but did not possess the air and life that I've heard from other speakers in my room. Dynamics were good, with the speaker coming alive on the more thunderous crescendos. Imaging and soundstaging were fair, but I have heard better. However, there were some definite issues with the midrange. Leading edges of brass and woodwind instruments had an exaggerated "bite" to them that I did not care for. While my ears are extremely sensitive in the midrange (particularly from 800 Hz to 5 kHz) and will pick up any trace of excess energy, there was a noticeable amount of extra zip through the RS 326s.

Having played classical and electric guitar my whole life, I decided to switch over to some guitar driven tracks to more adequately assess the midrange. I popped in Azucar (Avalon - B00000J6Z0) and queued up track 4, "Dusk."  I was immediately impressed with the quality and power of the bass kicks that start off this track, which made the RS 326 sound like a far more expensive speaker. However, as soon as the Spanish guitar started being plucked, I knew that something was amiss. The guitars used on this track are of the Spanish variety, which use nylon strings to impart a softer, warmer tone. What I was hearing was clearly brighter and more aggressive, as ifthe nylon strings were swapped out for steel ones. There was an initial harshness to each guitar note that should not have been there and I noticed a loss of the "woody" tone created by the guitar body.

To hear how electric guitar would sound through the RS 326s, I switched over to Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Little Wing" from The Sky Is Crying (Sony B0000027KO). Unfortunately, the same excessive energy on the attack of midrange notes was still present, though even more emphasized due to the wailing nature of Vaughn's Stratocaster. Higher notes sounded more natural, though they were still lacking a bit of air and sustain.

I wanted to hear some vocal tracks before passing final judgment on the midrange so I put Norah Jones Come Away With Me SACD (Blue Note – B00008WT49) into the Oppo, set the player to output 2-channel SACD, and keyed up track 7, "I've Got to See You Again."  Even with a smoother sounding SACD in the mix, the initial edge of each vocal possessed a sharpness that detracted from the velvety-smooth character of Jones' beautiful voice. Listening to the whole track, I also noticed that theimaging and soundstaging of the RS 326s was merely average. Norah's voice wasn't as solidly centered in space as I've heard from other speakers, nor did the soundstage give a great sense of depth or width. I didn't get that "you are there" feeling like I do with my current speakers or the Dynaudio X16s I reviewed a little over a year ago.

At this point in time I decided to give the RS 326s a full blown Audyssey Pro calibration through my Integra DHC-9.9 pre-amp to see if I could improve the overall sound. Prior to calibration (see the frequency response plotabove), you can see that there was a noticeable spike in output around the 1200Hz region of roughly 2-3dB compared to the frequencies above and below. This would certainly account for the extra "bite" I was hearing with certain brass, guitar, and vocal notes. There was also a noticeable drop in output around 550Hz, which could account for some of the missing life and body I was experiencing. Keep in mind that this frequency response graph was generated at the primary seating position in my room, so these graphs should not be compared to anechoic measurements. However, shy of a bass mode around 80Hz, my room doesn't have any particular anomalies, so I'm pretty confident that the excess presence region energy was generated by the speakers. Moving the speakers around to different locations didn't noticeably improve these peaks and troughs either. I typically remove the midrange dip that Audyssey Pro inserts by default, but with the RS 326s it could help tame the harsher tone through the presence region so feel free to experiment. I ran through the prior demo tracks with Audyssey engaged and noticed a definite improvement in the smoothness of the sound (see the post-Audyssey calibration frequency response plot above), albeit at a slight decrease in clarity and life. While I personally love what Audyssey room correction does for multi-channel and home theater sound, I still prefer my 2-channel listening to be done with no correction. With the RS 326s, the smoother sound far outweighed the slight loss of realism, so I left it on for the rest of my listening.

Since the RS 326 is a physically large speaker, I figured I'd give it a workout with some higher volume stuff. Metallica's "And Justice For All" (Elektra B000002H6C) has a host of monster tracks, my favorite being the almostentirely instrumental "To Live Is To Die."  While this recording is a bit on the harsh side, it is great fun nonetheless. I slowly cranked the volume level while watching my SPL meter. My ears gave up at about 100 dB, but the RS 326s could have kept on going. I couldn't detect any increased harshness at these high levels, and bass was absolutely punishing (in a good way). Given the relatively small drivers, I was very surprised to see the RS 326s hit this kind of output. To confirm that it wasn't a fluke, I queued up DJ Tiesto's signature "Adagio for Strings" (Nettwerk B00097DX6W) and cranked the volume again. 100 dB of output was easily reached, and I was amazed at how strong and powerful the filtered bass kicks were. I didn't sense any strain at all from the speaker at these incredibly loud levels, so if you are someone who really likes crank up their music, the RS 326s could be a good option. However, if the recording is brighter in nature, as most modern recordings are, the RS 326s could become a bit fatiguing.