In the market for a pair of low cost bookshelf designs? Paul rigby reviews the RBH R5Bi speakers
You might not be too familiar with the name: it doesn’t have the familiarity of Wharfedale or Mission or the more recent headline grabbing abilities of Q Acoustic, for example, but RBH is a hard-working, respected outfit from the USA which has been in business since 1976 making in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, on-wall speakers, freestanding speakers, subwoofers, outdoor speakers, amplifiers, volume controls, installation accessories (brackets, back cans, stands, etc.) and 70V speakers for commercial applications.
Taken from its new Impression range, the R5Bi bookshelf speakers are aimed at the budget sector and feature a fabric-domed tweeter spanning 25mm. High power handling is taken care of via magnetic liquid cooling while a polyswitch, sitting inside the crossover, acts as a current limiting device. An aluminised 133mm poly-matrix cone midrange woofer sits underneath.
Available in a high-gloss Red Burl or Black Ash. Spanning 175 x 324 x 203mm and weighing in at 3.4kg, the design offers a 85db sensitivity.
Beginning with vinyl, I listened to Gary Numan and the track, Me! I Disconnect From You via the LP, Replicas, reissued by UK outfit, Vinyl180.
Hearing the first strains of the combined analogue synths mixed with organic instruments, I was impressed by the RBH’s insightful approach to detail. The speakers delved deep into the mix to extract a host of information. That detail which was ‘in plain view’ was enhanced and etched so that the presentation removed any uncertainty and all information was revealed to the ear. To do this, the treble was rather pinched, being rather pushed at you rather than flowing naturally while the midrange was a little clinical in its form, being squeezed and carved which meant that there was less of a naturalistic air to the midband and more of a constructed feel to the music. Nevertheless, none of the music was hidden and even relatively shy keyboard runs were laid bare to the ear.
Bass was impressive in terms of its speed and impact. The lower frequencies smacked you in between the eyes and left you reeling even before you realised what had happened, such was the crisp nature of the bass impact and its effective punch power. The clinical aspect of the lower frequencies did aid the precision, giving the organic drum set an almost laser-like direction in where and when each strike occurred.
Similarly, bass guitar was easily tracked. This song tended to subdue the bass guitar, often giving it less focus and physicality and reducing it to a mere tone in a background. The RBHs were having none of that, though, they allowed the bass guitar a measure of form and structure, providing a character that added to the richness of the soundstage. Complimenting that feature, the instrumental separation was excellent, the space in between each instrument added to the relative grandeur of the music. The soundstage remained rather dry and cool, adding to the Numan-esque, robotic presentation.
Moving to Earl Coleman and the low frequency baritone of jazz singer, Billy Taylor, from the original album pressing of Love Songs (Atlantic). Singing the balladic track People, the sense of detail extraction continued here, although the accompanying flute was a little forward in tone, especially during crescendos. Taylor’s delivery might have been rather dry while his echo-chamber reverb additions were a little mechanical and lacking in too much emotion or flavour but his singing was accurately portrayed with an admirably precision that set itself apart from the backing band.
Percussive rim shots were crisp with no smearing. The ear could easily hear the beginning and the end of the strike with relative ease. Even the piano, which was set quite low in the mix, was lifted off the floor of the soundstage by the RBHs to allow the ear to follow the delicate piano touches that added welcome touches to the song.
In terms of lower frequencies, the upright bass was easily tracked by the ear. Again, no blurring was evident, the R5Bi speakers tracked this instrument with aplomb.
Turning to CD now and Gene Clark’s The Way I Am from the new Lost Studio Sessions 1964-1982. The sense of precision was accentuated via this digital format, honing the detail and giving the strumming guitar a sense of accuracy and correctness. There was a certain discipline in how the midrange was offered to the ear, although there was also a touch of brightness in the upper midrange. That said, the sheer neatness in and around the soundstage, the lack of any sonic loose ends and the meticulous nature of the presentation not only added to the pace of the music and the performance but enhanced Clark’s diction, making him sound like he had had a good night’s sleep and that he was full of energy, vim and vigour and couldn’t wait to get working. He sounded sharp and on top form. The RBHs offered a firm and refreshing sound quality to the sessions.
The sonic presentation of the R5Bi speakers is rather divisive in terms of it’s sound signature. This is a Marmite design. That is, for some users, that will mean an instant dislike of the bright aspects of the midrange. Others, though, will adore the clear and concise nature of the detail. The speaker’s personality is sharp and clinical in nature and digital is terms of its brisk nature. If you like your sound crisp, clinical, edgy and accurate, all of your detail presented clearly to the ear and your bass sharp with bass impact and punch, then the R5Bi speakers will demand a demo.
RBH R5BI SPEAKERS
Tel: 01488 73366
GOOD: accuracy, bass impact, detail, insight, instrumental separation
BAD: dry midrange, clinical presentation, little emotional engagement, slightly forward mids
Origin Live Sovereign turntable
Origin Live Enterprise 12” arm
Transfiguration Proteus cartridge
Icon Audio PS3 phonostage
Leema Elements CD player
Aesthetix Calypso pre-amp
Quad ESL-57 Speakers (with One Thing panel upgrade)
Mission MX-2 speakers
Mordaunt Short Aviano speakers
Vertex AQ and Atlas cables
All vinyl was cleaned using an Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner