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Product Review - RBH Sound MC Series 5.1 Speaker System: MC-414-C, MC-6CT, MC-6C, and TS-12AP - January, 2002

Colin Miller


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Manufacturer's Specifications

MC-414C Center Channel Speaker

Frequency Response70 Hz-20 kHz (± 3 dB)
Sensitivity  91 dB (2.83 volts @ 1 Meter)
Recommended Power  20-150 Watts
Drivers  One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, Two 4" Aluminum Cone Woofers
Crossover Frequency  4 kHz
Average Impedance  4 Ohms
Dimensions 
6½" H x 14½" W x 9½" D
Weight
  13 Pounds
MSRP
 Black $379,  Cherry/Semi-Gloss White $419

MC-6CT "Main" Floor-Standing Loudspeaker

Frequency Response   40 Hz-20 kHz (± 3 dB)
Sensitivity
  88 dB (2.83 Volts @ 1 Meter)
Recommended Power
  50-150 Watts
Drivers
  One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, Three 6" Aluminum Cone Woofers
Crossover Frequency
  100 Hz, 3 kHz
Average Impedance
  6 Ohms
Dimensions
  40" H x 8¾" W x 12" D
Weight
 45 Pounds
MSRP
 Black $999/Pair,  Cherry/Semi-Gloss White $1,099/Pair

MC-6C "Bookshelf" Loudspeaker

Frequency Response   50 Hz-20 kHz ( ± 3 dB)
Sensitivity
  87 dB (2.83 Volts @ 1 Meter)
Recommended Power
  20 - 120 Watts
Drivers
  One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 6" Aluminum Cone Woofer
Crossover Frequency
  3 kHz
Average Impedance
  8 Ohms
Dimensions
  14½" H x 8¾" W x 9½" D
Weight
 17 Pounds
MSRP
 Black $719/Pair,  Cherry/Semi-Gloss White $799/Pair

TS-12AP Subwoofer

Frequency Response
  27 Hz - 180 Hz (
± 3 dB)
Amplifier Power
  180 Watts
Driver
  One 12" Aluminum Cone Woofer
Crossover Frequency
  40 Hz - 180 Hz (Variable)
Dimensions
 18¾" H x 16" W x 18¾" D
Weight
 60 Pounds
MSRP
 Black $849,  Cherry/Semi-Gloss White $889


RBH Sound, 976 N. Marshall Way, Bldg. 2, Unit 4, Layton, Utah 84041-7261; Phone 800-543-2205; Fax 801-543-3300; E-Mail egandb@rbhsound.com; Web http://www.rbhsound.com 

Introduction 

I’ve just realized that I may not be a very good reviewer.  While good reviewers are able to word their prose so as to seem quite technically adept without the benefit of comprehension, their greater virtue lies in the ability to go nuts over the latest novel, shiny object that gets sent their way.  Perhaps I never will know greatness as a writer.  I haven’t the energy for such fickle impressions.

Okay, somewhat seriously, have you ever noticed that while many imply an unbiased perspective and position of authoritative conclusions, the vast majority of product reviews render overwhelmingly positive conclusions, stated, sometimes, in those most embarrassing hyperbole?  It’s a fact, and I’m probably almost as guilty as the next hack.

 There are several reasons for this that I’ve noticed

  1. Reviewers depend heavily on manufacturers and their rep firms for product samples.  Because of this, it’s not uncommon for reviewers to not publish negative reviews out of courtesy, or simply to avoid the aggravation of what might follow.  It sounds like a coward’s way out, but it happens, and considering that most people want to read positive reviews to reinforce existing opinions, as opposed to collecting a variety of perspectives, negative subjective observations are rarely taken as seriously as positive ones.  Besides, like mama said, if you can’t say anything nice . . . .  I’ve yet to take this route (blame my mother, but don’t tell her about it), but I can understand it as practical under some circumstances.
  2. Audio/Video media, be it printed or electronic, depends very heavily on advertisers, primarily the audio/video industry itself.  Although I’ve never been pressured to give a good review for the sake of a buck at Secrets, there have been publications that admitted a no-negative publication policy.  In other words, bad reviews are bad for business.  Lucky for us we don’t make much money anyway.
  3. The third, which applies to me as much as I can help it, is that many reviewers have some say as to what comes their way.  Since a thorough evaluation requires quite a bit of time and effort, these privileged noblemen (HA!) take pains to see that they end up reviewing that which they will most likely enjoy.  In other words, we try to review only what we want to play with.  Speaking for myself, I simply don’t have the time, energy, or the inclination to go around granting free trial periods of my time.  I already have to steal a couple hours here and there to flatter my ego with a review or feature article.  One might say, “Well, that’s your job!”  That person may pursue that particular job description, and I’ll do this.  If somebody appreciates my effort, terrific.  If not, at least we didn’t waste any trees.  In my own defense, I try to only apply praise as warranted, and do so in proportion.  It’s not a good way to get quotes in printed advertisements of the products we review, but I hope that it adds value for the person who actually invests the time to read the review.  If I’m not jumping up and down, it’s not because the product isn’t as good as another that received preposterous accolades from others, but rather that I’m just really tired.

This review will not be a departure from my characteristically sunny disposition.  RBH earned my silly grin, and I’m not about to hide it out of some misplaced sense of dignity.  My impressions of these speakers were positive from the beginning, even before the review set arrived.  If I didn’t have a notion that they’d have done well, I wouldn’t have asked for them.  Should they have happened to just suck upon arrival, despite my efforts cull the herd, I’d probably quit right there out of laziness and offer “the courtesy of not publishing a negative review” as an excuse.  I know, I know, I’m a horrible, poor excuse of a reviewer, actually admitting that, almost as bad as the mainstream vecks who tow the line for the man.  Well, sorry for my low moral standards. 

Not to get on a negative kick, because thankfully I’ve become a great judge of character, or at least had the benefit of a little history. 

Way back when, before I became so wise and wizened, I encountered RBH through a  prior product review with Secrets, RBH MC Series Package 5 Loudspeaker System, October, 1999.  JJ set me up by, “Hey, want to review some speakers that use all metal drivers?”  Sure, what the heck.  I was young then, conceivably had a few spare hours over the next couple months, felt a little reckless, high on Vance Dickason’s latest “Loudspeaker Design Cookbook,” so I went for it. 

Metal drivers, eh?  I’d heard a lot of dogma regarding the supposed unilateral superiority of metal drivers, and while I admit that they do have particular advantages in terms of stiffness to weight ratio, as always, it’s the quality of the whole design that determines the end result.  In short, I was primed to rip into some meat if the goods didn’t pass inspection.  But the little buggers won me over.  Not only did they sound nice, they were genuinely respectable, and when I found out how much they cost, I had to inhale. 

Fast-forward to last winter’s Consumer Electronics Show (January, 2001).  I finally met the people behind the product, one of whom was Darren Egan.  I have this unsupported, unscientific hypothesis that good people build good products.  At the show, I conceded to Mr. Egan that the MC series package they had sent me was up to par, and he then introduced me to what RBH could do without the constraints of size or cost - the Titus model from Status Acoustics (their cost-no-object line) - really big, really gorgeous towers.  My Lord, sweet, precise, and bottom octave majesty to turn non-believers into cream cheese.  My opinion of Mr. Egan rose an order or magnitude over the space of 5 minutes.  “Want to review a pair of those?” he asked.  “Uh, well, if I had a place to put them, but I don’t, and if they fell onto somebody . . . .”    Did I mention two kids, two dogs, two cats, two snakes, and occasional relatives of all sizes in addition to the old lady (old used of course as the euphemism for spiritish, sexy, and always endearing, lady implying high character) and myself? 

Fast forward some more, past some confusion about what models, how many, and to whom, and we have this collection, the same basic series as my first meeting, but different models, save the center channel, arriving at my house quite some time later, eventually prodding me to get on with my promise.  Some promises are a pleasure to keep, even a year after the fact.

Now, On With the Show

It seems, now, appropriate to proceed to the part of the recipe where I get into a quick overview of our subjects, front to back, top to bottom, inside, out, and so forth. 

All of the MC series are available glossy white, black, or beautiful cherry veneers.  The veneer quality approaches the best I’ve seen, regardless of price, not only with a pleasant sheen, but a seamless skin.  I noticed that the veneer is applied a little more carefully than the review set of yore, though those weren’t shabby either.  The overall build quality of the cabinets matches the finishing - quite solid, with enough heft to hurt somebody.  In this price range, such a level of craftsmanship is rare. 

Rear connections on the combination are high-quality gold-plated binding posts, beefier than normally found on most speakers, and a nice touch.  Dual-sets of binding posts with supplied shorting straps offer bi-wiring/bi-amping options as well. 

Aside from the aluminum diaphragms, the drivers in any of the speakers don’t look particularly exotic, but good drivers don’t need to.  Most of what makes a driver good or bad for a particular use isn’t visibly obvious.  You can see the aluminum cones, and we know that aluminum can be stiff and light, which sounds entirely like a good thing, but the success of implementing the metal diaphragm depends on other parameters.  For instance, since metal is stiff, it bends less easily, but it still bends.  What we really want to avoid is vibration, which will be inverse to the damping of the driver's diaphragm.  What the stiffness really does is push the frequency at which the cone will start to “break up” and ring (vibrate) higher, hopefully out of the operating range of that driver, so that the designer might easily avoid the vibration of the diaphragm with the crossover, implying that stiff cones often reap the benefits of steep crossover slopes by simply avoiding cone vibration altogether.  However, if not carefully damped and/or the crossover does not adequately attenuate output in the range where the cone will eventually exhibit vibration, certain very stiff cones, regardless of composition, can exhibit some very nasty breakup characteristics, the subjective quality of which will depend on the personality of the driver, but in all cases are undesirable for the sake of transparency. In other words, because the metal cone resembles a bell in composition and shape, it can ring like one.

My point, although the rubber surround of all the woofers most likely contributes to decent damping of any standing waves on the cone, is that just looking at the cone doesn’t tell you so much.  I could go further and say that listening to the typical sales pitch about “proprietary techniques” that accompany the presentation of most speakers isn’t very useful either, but we can’t get into that now.  I could go on a tirade about senselessly over-built magnet assemblies, built to impress visually or on a spec sheet, that simply spill their magnetic fields into the environment and do nothing to improve performance, but I’ll stop there.  All I’m saying is that impressive-looking doesn’t equate to impressive-sounding, and that any general statement about technology usually carries a bunch of qualifying statements to keep that statement true.

The drivers are, for what it’s worth, very pretty.  In fact, I enjoyed staring at their soft glow so much that I left the grilles off.  Then my niece decided to help “break in” one of the woofers by putting big dents into it, several times, with God knows what.  After we had a little conversation, without any crying I might add, and RBH generously supplied a unit to swap out, the grilles stayed on for the remainder of the stay.  If she does it again, she gets a “Pow Pow!” (just kidding).

The tweeters have a feature usually found in in-wall designs: the pivot.  Not only does the pivot allow the user to aim the tweeter at a listener from non-optimal placement, but it also allows the listener to modify the radiation pattern and frequency response of the treble, optimal speaker placement or not, to tweak the loudspeaker's response to taste.  I never thought to engage in subjective alteration of the sound until Joe Hageman, a big-shot PR guy, suggested it.  Go figure, a marketing guy with something useful to say?  Like I said, an exception to every rule. 

The MC-6C and MC-6CT look identical if you only pay attention to the first 12" from the top, each sporting a 6 ½” woofer to complement the same pivoting tweeter.  What the MC-6CT offers and the MC-6C lacks, aside from the tower-style cabinet, are two additional woofers that operate below 100 Hz.  Interestingly, the specified low-end cutoff for the Tower version lies only a few Hz lower than the MC-6C’s specified low-end range of 50 Hz.  I should note that the specifications are deceiving in that regard. 

The MC-414C has at least one of the same parents as its brothers, except that it uses an MTM arrangement (this means two midrange drivers <M> with a tweeter <T> in the middle for <MTM>) in order to provide a slim profile with smaller 4” mid-bass drivers, while still maintaining similar output capabilities.  Even with itty-bitty 4” drivers, this center channel’s no wimp.  I usually have concerns about center-channel speakers using MTM driver arrays, as horizontal lobing (getting loud, then soft, then loud, then soft, as you move side-to-side) immediately comes to mind, but in the case of the MC-414C, it didn’t seem to be very much of a problem with most theatrical material in social settings.  Perhaps because the drivers are so small, and the acoustic centers of the two woofers are closer than other MTM arrangements due to the smaller diameters, the decreased acoustic distance between drivers and the small cone diameters alleviates the horizontal nasties that many MTM center channels suffer.  The dual 4” woofers in the MTM array won’t have as even a horizontal dispersion as they would have were the woofers mounted right next to each other, or better yet above each other, but when you get right down to it, I’m the only one in the house who really cares that much, and the middle is MY spot.  For those who want a really even horizontal dispersion, the MC-414C is small enough to turn on end in most situations.

All of the above “full-range” speakers use a sealed alignment (no port or passive radiator), while the subwoofer opts for bass-reflex (two ports 3” in diameter and 13 ½” long) tuned to 27 Hz.  I mentioned earlier with the first MC series review that there’s some sense with this philosophy of different alignments for different tasks.  Bass-reflex systems really get advantageous at the very bottom of the audio range. 

While many manufacturers use ports for the cheap increase in extension that they can provide smaller speakers, the port has compromises below its operating range, particularly in that the drivers will begin to “unload” much below the tuned frequency, so that low-frequency input will cause the cone to move dramatically but with very little acoustic output.  Since the output of the port starts to equal that of the cone but in the opposite direction as frequency falls below the tuned point, it can result in greater distortion, as well as the sharper 24 dB/octave roll-off, compared to the relatively mild 12 dB/octave roll-off of sealed systems.  Because a small speaker will rarely have the capacity to voice the lowest octave, it becomes very likely that it will see substantial content below its tuned frequency with most full-range signals, and suffer more than its sealed counterpart when fed any dynamic low-end content.

When it comes to a subwoofer, or for that matter a truly full-range speaker, a port becomes much more potentially beneficial, with less in terms of drawbacks.  Not only does it extend the frequency range available within the given box size/efficiency parameters and lower distortion by “loading” the cone at and above the tuned frequency, thus minimizing cone excursion and distortion, but because of the low tuned frequency inherent to the requirements of voicing the lowest frequencies, it becomes unlikely that the woofer will ever see substantial content in the range where the port would become of greatest liability.

The RBH TS-12AP subwoofer, in addition to the 180 watt amplifier inside, offers a variety of adjustments and hookup options, including line-level inputs and outputs, a phase reversal switch, an Off/Auto Sense/On switch, variable low-pass crossover frequency, and level adjustment.  Oh, I almost forgot the most important part.  The power cord is of the IEC detachable variety, allowing the user to substitute the ridiculously expensive after-market cable of choice.

For more information on the ins and outs of bass reflex, we have a great article entitled How a Hole-in-the-Box Works - A Big Dig into Bass Reflex

All this conjecture equates to technical nonsense when you get past the hypothetical, because the proof is in the pudding, pounding, or whatever metaphor you like. 

While a theoretically ideal loudspeaker remains utterly neutral, real physics requires loudspeakers with different design approaches to come in different sonic flavors.  That’s just reality.  If you don’t like the physics, then yell at a physicist about it. 

I’ll blow my load right now and say that the MC series are not simply Titus’ in smaller boxes for less money.  Not only would that be untrue, by my fellow staff at Secrets would change the club handshake without telling me.  The Titus’ at the show exhibited a level of refinement, precision, and poise that few can even approach. 

I would say, however, that there is one parameter where the MC series has preserved a good deal of the performance found in its more elaborate cousins: midrange clarity. 

Generally speaking, as a group, the current RBH review set reminds me a little of the venerable and classic Yamaha NS-1000s, the big, big, adopted brothers of the NS-10s that dominate the professional near-field monitor mass market.  The NS-1000s, using a beryllium dome midrange driver, have a mid-band clarity and dynamic presence that I have often found exhilarating.  Similarly, the MC series follows suit along these lines, with their own angle.  The midrange presentation of the MC series is very clear and articulate, with an excitement and drive that makes the listener lean forward into the music or soundtrack, and drag out recordings from storage to hear what life can be pulled from old favorites.  To say it modestly, I enjoyed this facet immensely, almost to guilt, except that I don't subscribe to guilt as such for philosophical reasons. 

For instance, though I enjoy the implementation of reverb (laid out spectacularly by the MC-6C and MC-6CT’s ample reproduction of depth and spaciousness within the soundstage), throughout Sting’s “Brand New Day” CD, his vocals can sometimes get a little buried in the mix with some loudspeakers.  RBH’s MC family brought him forward without a hitch. Vocal enunciation, crisp and exact, was simply beautiful, with perhaps a bit of bite at the upper midrange or lower treble.  These guys aren’t shy, and I don’t slight them for that. 

I think that when RBH decided on which direction to swing in their design choices, they voiced the speaker towards peppy as opposed to leaning towards inoffensive but dull (I'm sure glad someone invented adjectives way back when).  I applaud their judgment.  Given an option between the two, I’d go with the first almost every time.  Nevertheless, while this can bestow fabulous results through matching equipment and source material carefully, I imagine some listeners, with some electronics, might find the quality somewhat over-the-top.  As someone used to the generally smoother response of soft-dome tweeters, I initially found the extra zip of the aluminum tweeters a little pretentious.  Hold on though!  After some play time listening, adjusting location, and fiddling with the pivot of the tweeters, in the end aiming the tweeters away from me, while keeping the midrange driver aimed dead on, the zip and spice mellowed out to a palatable cinnamon, as opposed the habanero I first bit into (a California hot pepper of renown) - quite enjoyable with a lot of music, even enticing.  Once settled in, sibilance still remained pronounced, but didn’t fatigue.  A little sizzle, but no searing.  With some time, patience, and experimentation, these speakers sound very nice indeed.

An example of where the MC-6CTs combined with the TS-12AP excelled is Morphine’s “Cure for Pain” album.  The dynamic exuberance of the MC-6CTs, combined with the bottom-end umph of the TS-12AP, let the bass jump on its own, distinguishing the attack from decay without confusion, while taking the room with it in the aftermath. 

If I might revisit the “Brand New Day” album, what also struck me about the MC-6CTs was not only the sheer expansiveness of the soundstage, but the way that the set didn’t unilaterally expand every sound to do it, rather letting many an image rest between or near the speakers, with a very definite presence, exhibiting a great deal of spatial contrast

I quickly switched out the tower versions for the MC-6Cs, and to their credit, they maintained much of the same sonic characteristics.  However, I did notice that some of the lower midrange body and impact lacked in comparison to their tower counterparts, no matter how I tried to compensate with the subwoofer.  Not to make a sweeping generalization, but in this specific case it seems that the tower versions might edge out their smaller relatives in ways more than just a few Hertz on the spec sheet.  Not to presume, but if, by coincidence, you’re wavering between the two models for left and right channels, let me push you in the direction of the towers, and by all means, get the sub too.

I watch Disney movies A LOT.  To be honest, I like most of them.  "Toy Story" is probably one of my favorites, in terms of not only the story, but the sound track.  The MC series, led by the MC-414C, and supported by the muscular TS-12AP, took off like a bus on nitro-methane.  The basic character of the speakers in general benefited the intelligibility of dialogue, and their dynamic disposition brought the most demanding sound effects to life like a firecracker. 

In fact, a movie which I’ll soon get sick of, “Fly Away Home” had a scene in the beginning with a bull-dozer.  Unlike nuclear explosions, the sound of heavy machinery is something that most of us city folk have a real reference for.  The TS-12AP portrayed the sheer immensity and size of that hulking machine without flinching, causing my eyes to shift nervously around the room and consider how different a real bull-dozer just outside my house would sound.  A little, but not too much. 

Going back to music, I should say that I really like low frequency content.  Not in the bloated, ridiculously exaggerated context that we often experience with typical demonstrations geared to show off subwoofers, but simply the additional presence and space that low frequencies allow a recording to convey.  While the TS-12AP didn’t stay as taught as one of my so far favorite commercially available home auditions, M&K’s MX-700s, the output always remained clean, controlled, and offered a fair amount of subtlety as well.  To the TS-12AP‘s credit, it could pound harder for less money.  Most importantly, so long as you set the TS-12AP up correctly, it didn’t sound like a sub, but just seemed to provide the bass that would otherwise be lacking.  Although its strongest points, in my opinion, lie in its considerable brawn, the TS-12AP also qualifies as a very acceptable subwoofer from a “musical” standpoint.  There’s a bit of deft with that heft, so to speak.  Make no mistake, this “little guy” is a gem. 

Now, I couldn’t retain “Cool Reviewer Guy” status if I don’t pipe out some pesky comment to balance out what would otherwise be an entirely positive review.  I mean, yeah, I think the package as a whole performs extremely well, and I hope that I can leave that impression as the dominating thought.  However, if I went completely bananas over the MC series, what incentive would I leave RBH to let me borrow something from their Signature series, or God help me, Status Acoustics? 

So, here it goes.  If I could put in an order form for a couple of unreasonable requests, I’d ask that they refine the treble to the level of their more expensive speakers without compromising the detail, presence, or dynamic and spatial contrasts that the speakers excel at.  I’d also ask that the subwoofer take on the greater dexterity that the Titus’ exhibited, along with the utterly sick deep bass extension (as opposed to the simply impressive low-bass output that the TS-12AP already possesses), without sacrificing the unabashed slamming ease that the TS-12AP exudes.  While you’re at it, don’t raise the cost at all, because the build quality in exchange for the asking price embarrasses a lot of the competition, and if you could hold the line on the price tag, that aspect could only get better!  In short, give me the world in exchange for a penny.  Unreasonable, yes, but my career demands it.

Conclusion

All in all, I’d have to say that the MC set, as is, made me a pretty happy camper, and I have no doubt they could do the same for others.  If you’re one of those people who seeks other motivated individuals who do everything as if it were the spice of life itself, or just want to listen to some nice speakers, pay attention to these ‘uns.  You might have more fun than with a bathtub full of chocolate syrup.  Perhaps not, but it’ll be worth the effort either way.

 

- Colin Miller -

Equipment used for comparison, reference and pleasure:

JVC XLZ-1050 CD Player
M&K MPS-2510 (LCR) Studio Monitors
M&K S-85 & S-80 (Rear) "Satellite" speakers
Aragon 8008BB Dual-Mono Power Amplifier
Aragon 8008X3 Three-Channel Power Amplifier
Onkyo TX-DS989 Digital Receiver
Yamaha RX-V995 Digital Receiver
Toshiba SD-2109 DVD Player
Audio Control Rialto EQ providing EQ and X-over to...
Dynaco ST-400mkII 2-channel amplifier driving...
NHT 1259-based subwoofers (only 2 for now)

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