In January, 2005, I had the opportunity to attend the Consumer Electronics Show
(CES) in Las Vegas for the first time. Although I saw a huge variety of new
products, only a few struck me as being some that I wanted to be sure and
review. One was the Onix Rocket
RS850 floor-standing speakers. What really garnered my interest was meeting Mark Schifter and
seeing the excitement and care he has for both his customers and his products.
Last year I got to audition the Onix
Reference 2s and 3s that Kris Deering had on hand for review. I really enjoyed both
speakers but was absolutely floored by the Ref 3s. I knew that the Reference
line is voiced differently than the Rocket line and was curious to see what
the Rocket RS850s would sound like in my home theater.
Out of the Box
The RS850s arrived very well packaged. The beautiful rosewood and ebony
finish was protected by a large cotton sock. In addition, form fitting
blocks and double boxing finished shipping protection duties. Also included
in the box were heavy brass foot spikes and disks, and a pair of white cotton
gloves. The finish is impeccable, and the gloves
are included so you can install the speakers with nary a fingerprint if you
Everything about the speakers is beautiful. From the solid binding posts to
the real South American Rosewood veneer (there is also an option for African
Macassar Ebony), offset by glossy black end caps, these speakers are the
epitome of the word "striking".
From my girlfriend to my acquaintances, everyone
poured on accolades for the fit, finish, and style. I take it as a serious
compliment to a piece of equipment when someone who is not into audio at all
(and thinks $500 home theater in a box is too expensive), looks at a $1,999
pair of speakers and thinks it is a good deal, just because they look like
furniture designed for an expensive home. That is the level of quality
you get with the Rocket RS850s. They don’t have a funky modern art type
appeal, rather just timeless good looks that match with any décor and won’t
be out of style when everyone has 1080p. They are definitely speakers to be
The RS850 employs four 5.25” aluminum woofers, a 4” aluminum midrange, and a Vifa Ring
tweeter. The tweeter handles 6 kHz and above, while the midrange gets 1.5
to 6 kHz.
Now for the most interesting part: the four 5.25” drivers are cascaded.
The crossovers are set up to have the top one handle most the upper end,
while lower frequencies increasingly employ the lower drivers. This makes
the front relatively narrow for the size of the speakers.
The sides of the
speaker are curved leading to a wider rear. Besides looking great, this serves
the purpose of allowing a relatively low tuned cabinet while being asymmetrical
to limit standing waves. The rear of the speakers have a placard with the
serial and model numbers, heavy duty gold plated binding posts, and two
I arranged five
RS850s in my home theater, for a matched configuration all the way around. There was a slight issue due to the
speakers' somewhat imposing height (45.5”) that required me to raise my
screen a few inches. However, having identical speakers and a seamless
soundstage was worth this small inconvenience.
Most of the time, I set my SSP to cross the speakers
over at 80 Hz. The only exception was for a couple tests in full range to push
the speakers and experiment in stereo. I have found relieving the mains
and receiver from bass duty leads to the best sound in my room. If I have
multiple bass sources that change depending on the recording, the room
interactions are inconsistent, making my goal of even bass response at my
listening position impossible. This also places the speakers at well above
their - 3 dB point. It’s something I think
everyone should try out, no matter how capable your amp and speakers
are. Sometimes it just works better.
The rear two speakers had to be placed much closer to the listening position
than the front three. This was a necessity due to the configuration of my
room (see photo below). Normally this would be more of an issue, but since I used
two Pioneer Elite receivers (53TX and 59TXi) for much of the review time,
the MCACC room correction really took care of many of the issues by
correcting the response differences.
Alive. That one word probably best describes the sound from the RS850s. The
first thing I noticed about these speakers (other than their stunning
good looks) was the huge soundstage they threw. Not only would I hear outside
the width of the speakers, it would extend right past the walls. They are
fairly efficient speakers (90.5 dB 1 watt/ 1 meter) which really helped when
I gave them some juice.
At different times these speakers were driven
Pioneer Elite 53tx and 59TXi receivers and Thule PA350B amplifier. It
makes sense that I could get dynamic sound from the flagship 59TXi and the
separate Thule PA350B amp, but what about the mid-priced 53tx? Well, I put them
in full range with no sub, and cranked some Metallica’s And Justice for All
in stereo. I pushed to deafening concert-like levels (a very hot recorded -5
dB) and not a whimper, just crisp and clean with impact and stunning
dynamics. Of course my room isn’t huge (the speakers were about 10 feet from
the listening position) but it really showed how well even a modestly priced
receiver could work.
AV123 has the -3 dB spec listed as going
to 36 Hz, but as you turn the volume up, this number will likely
move higher. If you need your main pair to go lower (or play at higher
levels below about 45 Hz), I would suggest adding a subwoofer, such as the
Rocket ULW-10 ($899/pair) or the new Rocket UFW-12 ($1,099 including digital
Like I mentioned in my Pioneer Elite 59TXi review, I
finally reached a point of true emotional sound in my room. The room
correction of the 59TXi finally let the speakers sound like they should at
my listening position, and the RS850s delivered the goods. My existing
speakers have a touch of sibilance when pushed hard,
but overall are quite transparent and an excellent value. What the RS850s do
is play louder and cleaner,
with a larger soundstage. Even at higher volumes, I had no listener fatigue.
I remember when my friends were over auditioning some DVD-A discs
(Lawrence Juber Guitar Noir and Big Phat Band XXL), they were floored. The dancing bass line was
there, the frantic horns on XXL’s "Hunting Wabbits" were in my room. People
who normally would not consider spending more than $1,000 for their whole
system were suddenly thinking differently.
If you frequent forums, you
have no doubt heard that Rocket speakers are laid back. I think they
actually are closer to being neutral. At first, nothing really jumped out at me, the bass wasn’t
really that strong, there really wasn’t a good sense of air on the upper
end. The problem is that many of us are used to speakers being a bit bright.
But that is not high fidelity. It gives the sound some zing, but it is not
accurate reproduction. When you first hear good hi-fi, it does sound dull.
But, what you are hearing is precision, not a bunch of distortion that gives
you an "effect". In other words, high performance audio takes some getting
used to. That was the case for me and the RS850s, and once I was "there", I
realized there is no returning to such things as too much sibilance.
In the case of the Rockets, any sound problems I had
initially were due to the room, so it got a lot better when I used the auto room
correction in the receiver. Out of curiosity, I
took a series of calibration runs from the listening position (3 meters) and
at 1 meter. The results (average of 3) are below:
Yikes!!! It looks like my ears weren’t deceiving me.
At my listening position, I was getting a shortchanged everywhere above 4
with an extra helping at 2 kHz. Notice the change when the measurements were
near field (1 meter) and the room had far less effect. The correction
factors (in other words, at 3 meters and 4 kHz, the auto room correction
software added 2.5 dB of boost to flatten the response) are quite large and even go from positive to negative for the upper
frequencies. I think these numbers speak for themselves; my room is less
than ideal and is coloring the sound. So, if you want the best out of any
set of good speakers, do something about that less-than-ideal room.
These speakers look and sound wonderful. They
created sound in my home theater that I never dreamed was possible. With a
great price and no nonsense return policy, the RS850s are an easy decision
to try out for yourselves.
- Paul Taatjes -