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Product Review
 

Onix x-ls Bookshelf Speakers

August, 2006

Jared Rachwalski

 

Specifications:

● Drivers: One 1" Fabric Dome Tweeter, One 6.5" Paper
    Cone Woofer

MFR: 55 Hz - 20 kHz 3 dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
● Crossover Frequency: 1.75 kHz, 2nd Order
Efficiency: 87 dB/W/M
Dimensions: 13.5" H x 8.5" W x 12.125" D
Weight: 17 Pounds/Each
● MSRP:
$219/Pair USA Plus Shipping

AV123

www.av123.com

Introduction

I'm cheap. And anyone who knows my dad knows just where I get it from. Along with a frugal appetite I also inherited fallen arches and a love of music. So it goes without saying that I look for great bargains to add to my system, and hopefully I do not have to walk far to get them.

When I started hearing the enthusiastic response to Mark L. Schifter's (AV123.com) new bookshelf speaker, the $219/pair x-ls by Onix, I was intrigued. Looking at the x-ls on paper it has the makings of a high quality speaker with a well-built cabinet, carefully chosen components, and designed by highly regarded people. Looking at the x-ls in person confirms the first point; the sound confirms the second and third points.

The Design Team

It is one thing to have a powerhouse like AV123 behind a new pair of speakers, it's another to have a highly regarded builder such as Danny Richie design the speaker. Danny runs a little company called GR Research that helps budding DIY audiophiles build or buy incredibly affordable speakers. He has been doing this professionally since 1995 and has designed countless top quality speaker systems. Danny and Mark have been working together for the last three years, and it is great to see such a successful product coming from their partnership. We reviewed GR Research's AV1 Mini-Monitors in 2003.

From my brief emails with Danny, it became apparent that the design goals for the x-ls were basically to build a speaker with high-end sound and low-end price. Although this is probably the same goal for most speaker designers these days,  the x-ls achieves those goals without a doubt.

The Design

The x-ls features a custom built Peerless mid-driver and a specially designed tweeter. The crossovers have air core inductors using high purity copper. The woofer inductor is 16 gauge, while in the tweeter, inductor is 18 gauge. These are not some random components chosen from a catalogue. All the parts were picked and built to be both affordable and high quality. This again is another unheard of practice when designing a budget speaker and it shows in the final product's great sound quality.

Built of properly braced " MDF and real wood veneer, the x-ls is finished in either soft white shadow maple or smooth satin black. I have yet to see a sub $250 speaker at the local Hi Fi shop that uses real veneer and looks this good.

The use of " MDF is almost as important as suitable bracing. When a driver moves, some of the energy created causes the sidewalls of the box to flex. This flexing is wasted output that would be much better utilized as sound energy. One way to prevent this is to use thicker wood. Another (and more cost effective) way is to brace the walls of the enclosure. This physically prevents the walls from moving. The more bracing, the better, and the x-ls has plenty with seven braces per enclosure. The only real drawback to thicker MDF and more bracing is weight. At 17 pounds, this speaker is not easy to throw around, and be sure you have a sturdy pair of stands to hold them.

The size of these speakers was surprising to say the least. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of speaker offered at $219/pair. All the wood adds up to a speaker that is as deep as it is tall.

The white shadow maple is as light color as the name implies. Not everybody is a fan of this light color, so there is another option, satin black. Both of the finish options are high quality and a treat to look at. This is definitely not your typical  low cost special.

The Sound

For those of you who read reviews solely to hear how the product performs and could care less about why, I will jump right in with the good stuff. It goes without saying that these speakers perform much better than one would expect, given their ridiculously low price. That doesn't mean that they are the "best speaker ever" or that they could run with speakers "costing 10 times as much". I'll leave that kind of hyperbole to the other audio mags. Instead, I'll focus on what makes these speakers so special. Firstly, they are not shrill, bright, or fatiguing. If anything, they are somewhat laid back. A change from my easily excitable Paradigm bookshelfs - although not nearly as laid back as my single-driver FR125s, which give new meaning to the word "mellow".

The x-ls midrange is very accurate and presents the speaker's greatest strength. They sound very natural and warm which is a good thing for a speaker of this price. The bottom end is light, so it does help to add a subwoofer if you like deep low bass. However, I listened to the x-ls by themselves quite a bit and was quite pleased at the overall sound in a simple two-channel setup.

I tested theses speakers in a two different configurations. The first was in my office using the computer as a source and a Rotel RB1092 for power. I compared the x-ls with my single driver speakers built around the wonderful FR125 driver. This is a full-range driver that is remarkably revealing. The finished DIY price was quite close to that of the x-ls.

Admittedly the weak point of the system is the Windows kernel mixer and the lo-fi sound card. But, even with these bottlenecks, the sound quality produced by this setup was surprisingly clean. This is really a near-field setup and is best used for analyzing the midrange purity (the strong point of the FR125s).

The x-ls were very enjoyable to listen to with no offending colorization of the sound. They had a brighter top end than my reference computer speakers (that do not have a tweeter), yet it was never fatiguing. The bass is very hard to criticize with this setup due to the desk surface re-enforcing the output. I found them to be a tad bass heavy in this setup compared to my full range speakers; however nothing detrimental. Imaging was spot on as it should be in the nearfield (if it weren't, something would have been terrible wrong). The only downside to them in a computer setup is there sheer size. The 13" depth meant they stuck out farther than my 17" CRT monitor which did eat up some desk space.

The second configuration was in my main system that uses a Marantz sr5300 receiver, Panasonic DVD player, and an Onix XCD 88 CD player. As well, the main system also contains a custom built Sonotube sub, Paradigm Focus bookshelves, Paradigm surrounds, and Paradigm center. When compared to the similarly priced Paradigm Focus, I found that the x-ls was a tad laid back. The speaker sounds mellow compared to the Focus, and that took some time to adjust to. This was only a detriment when trying to blend with the rest of the Paradigm speakers. On their own they were very musical and transparent.

Bass was more powerful than my Paradigms and would satisfy most listeners in a small room. In my larger open living room, the x-ls benefited from the subwoofer and easily blended with it. Sound wise, these speakers are a definite bargain, and I would not hesitate to recommend them even if they were more expensive (see note to Canadian readers, below).

Conclusions

The x-ls is an absolute bargain at $219/pair. From the top quality parts, to the well designed cabinet, this speaker makes it easy to get into the hi-fi game. The sound is much more refined and polished than one would ever expect for the price; it's an absolute joy to listen to. I can recommend this budget speaker pair to my cheapest friends and still sleep well at night.
 

- Jared Rachwalski -

For our Canadian readers it must be noted that there are several additional costs:

  • $14.97 Duty

  • $51.04 Brokerage fee

  • $34.34 GST on the speaker price

  • $50.00 shipping

  • $25.00 currency conversion

The total price to my door for 1 pair of Onix x-ls speakers was $374.35 which puts it in the same price market as the Polk Rti4, Axiom M3ti and the Paradigm Focus.

Associated Equipment:

Marantz sr5300

Onix xcd88

Paradigm Focus

Rotel RB1092

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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