Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Andrew Yang
- Published on 29 October 2009
Do you fault a Mini Cooper for being a Mini and not a Honda Odyssey or a Porsche 911?
In evaluating product, a question that is often unasked is "What is the reference?" Often times, particularly in audio or video, the question is unasked because the answer invariably is reality. How close does the product come to reproducing reality or the version of reality recorded onto the playback media? Alternatively, an entirely different reference might be established by the designer in which another aspect of the product takes priority. As the reference for the designer and the reviewer will rarely align, a reviewer is posed with the question of how to evaluate a product.
The Energy RC-Micro 5.1 is positioned as a premium home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) or lifestyle speaker system. If a lifestyle speaker is the reference, then how does the RC-Micro compare? What differentiates this system from those available from the mass market consumer electronic brands?
RC-Micro 5.1 Specifications
- Frequency Response
- Sats: 150 Hz - 23 kHz ±3 dB
- Subwoofer: 3 6Hz - 180 Hz ±3 dB
- Sensitivity: 88 dB
- Power Handling: 240 Watts Total for Sats and Center
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Tweeter: 0.5" (12.7mm) Hyperbolic Aluminum Dome
- Midrange: 2.5" (63.5mm) High-excursion Aluminum Cone
- Crossover Point: 3.5 kHz
- Subwoofer: 8" (20 cm) Injection Molded Cone with Ribbed Elliptical Surround
- Sat: 4.7" x 3.5" x 3.5"
- Center: 3.5" x 5.9" x 3.5"
- Subwoofer: 12.7" x 10.5" x 12.3"
- Sat: 1.6 Pounds/each
- Center: 1.9 Pounds
- Subwoofer: 16 Pounds
- MSRP: $999 USAS
- Energy Speakers
The RC-Micro is certainly one of the more attractive offerings in its segment. The cabinets are a well reinforced, engineering plastic. The piano black finish is very well executed given the cabinet material, and does much to visually elevate the RC from the masses. The left and right mains, and surrounds are identical all units. The center channel seems to have the same driver array as the other units, but has a slightly larger, horizontal cabinet.
The RC-Micro version of the ESW-C8 is constructed of MDF and finished in a matching piano gloss black. The speaker connections resemble miniature 5-way binding posts, but are instead high quality spring terminals. The compression spring is rather stiff, so a good connection can be made. The opening, however, is too small for anything thicker than 16 AWG. The subwoofer has provisions for stereo speaker and line level inputs. The speaker connections in this instance are the more conventional spring terminals.
Findings from the National Research Council (NRC) have formed the design basis for a remarkable number of speakers, including the RC-Micro. Simply, the findings suggest flat on-axis response, wide and even dispersion, and controlled first reflections, amongst others, are some of the critical factors in loudspeaker performance. This should translate into a large listening sweet spot, and flexible positioning options both of which are desirable in a lifestyle speaker.
As the RC-Micro is positioned as a home theater speaker package, my auditioning of the speakers predominantly used action movies for the source material.
Senseless violence or socio-political commentary? Either way,the film provides numerous scenes to test out a surround system. As one might expect, in the latest entry in the Rambo series, there are numerous gunfights, and explosions throughout the movie that make excellent use of the surrounds and the subwoofer.
A rather disparate cast (McAvoy, Freeman and Jolie), and aspiring director (Bekmambetov) bring a relatively unknown comic series to the screen. As is requisite for an action movie these days, heavy CGI, and special effects fill the entirety of the film. The action sequences are smaller scale than those in Rambo, but still provide great material to test a surround system. In particular the car chase sequence near the beginning of the film, and the shootout at the factory make good use of the surround channels.
The RC-Micro's provided very crisp imaging of the soundstage, this is expected of satellite speakers. What sets the RC-Micro apart from other offerings is both the clarity of the presentation, and the width of the soundstage. The presentation was quite consistent between seating positions, and the speakers did a good job of recreating the scenes in the movies. The subwoofer does a decent job of making its presence felt, but falls short of truly reproducing the lowest octaves. Not unexpected at this price or size.
The downside in having such small speakers, however, is the crossover point between the speakers and the subwoofer. Generally, 100 Hz or lower is a recommended crossover point between the speakers and the subwoofer, with 80 Hz being the recommendation from THX. Part of the rationale behind the recommendation is to reduce the localization of the subwoofer. This leaves a choice between a gap in the lower mid-octaves, and non-localized bass, or a fuller sound with the subwoofer readily localized. Testing out both scenarios left me preferring the second situation. Using a crossover point low enough to make the subwoofer difficult to localize resulted in a very thin presentation. Raising the crossover point to fill out the sound meant I was keenly aware of where all the mid to low frequencies were coming from, but at least the presentation was more complete.
The Energy RC-Micro 5.1 system is positioned as a premium lifestyle speaker. The priority list of product requirements usually starts with style and if price allows may include performance. The RC-Micro is a very attractive set of home theater speakers, and have substance behind the flash. The same cannot always be said for other products in the space. The standard limitations apply for small sub/sat systems, but the RC-Micro can hardly be faulted for these. In the context the RC-Micro is being evaluated, it performed very well, and provides a great home theater experience. My minivan float through corners, and takes forever to stop; then again my coupe cannot fit a washer and dryer in the back.