AT A GLANCE
- Rigorously balanced sound
- Plays surprisingly loud
- Easy, excellent sub/sat blending
- Sats can be a bit power-hungry in larger rooms
Given its low cost, solid dynamics, and impressive neutrality, it would be tough to find a better or more honest small speaker system for the price than RSL’s latest.
When it comes to loudspeakers, how big is big enough? How small is too small? What size is j-u-u-ust right? Speaker buyers have been asking these questions, and speaker makers have been answering them, ever since a certain Brand B shook the world years ago with micro-sized satellites employing 2.5-inch drivers that struggled to reach down to 200 hertz, mated with similarly challenged Lilliputian subs. Physics notwithstanding, buyers took to them in droves—and since then, the race to the bottom, cubicvolume-wise, has been on.
RSL Speakers, no stranger to the trend (though with a history of fine results), has debuted their most recent answer in the form of a new, compact design, the CG3. RSL, originally known as Rogersound Labs, was reborn a few years back with the introduction of the CG4, a small bookshelf design that met with wide approval, including from me in these pages (review at soundandvision.com). The CG3 is slightly smaller and (at an individual price of $135) substantially cheaper than the CG4 ($250), employing a samedimensioned but visibly different (and presumably less costly) driver complement: 4-inch woofer and 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. Like its predecessor, the CG3 exploits the California firm’s proprietary, labyrinth-like “compression guide” enclosure to reach a claimed –3 decibel point of 100 Hz—pretty good for a speaker that’s sized like a portly half-gallon milk carton. The new model also shares the same “upside-down” tweeter-underwoofer layout, engineered in part to accommodate the diagonal plenum inside that bifurcates the internal volume to create the compression guide and feed the slot-shaped port on the bottom. You can see more about how and why this works on RSL’s website.
RSL shipped us what the company calls the CG3 5.1 system ($1,079), which includes a foursome of CG3s for the left and right front channels and the surrounds. The equally new CG23 (also available separately for $200)—a woofer-tweeter-woofer version of the same design—serves as the center channel. That speaker can function either horizontally or vertically for LCR duties. Filling out the system is the 10-inch Speedwoofer 10S ($399 alone), whose fine bona fides have already been established in these pages by my colleague David Vaughn (July/August 2016 issue and soundandvision.com). As an online purveyor, RSL sells its products with free shipping to the lower-48 states and a 30-day risk-free guarantee wherein they’ll refund your purchase and pay the return shipping as well.
Both the CG3 and the CG23 provide solid (if inexpensive) multi-way binding posts, making the use of most any speaker wire or terminator easy, while the subwoofer supplies the usual line-level inputs on RCA jacks. After swapping over my connections, I placed the front CG3s on adjustable stands, positioning the woofers at about seated ear-level, and I put the CG23 center on my usual low stand just below my 55-inch Vizio’s bottom edge.
The Speedwoofer 10S went in my well-proven subwoofer location, a couple of feet to the right of the right-front speaker, and the surround CG3s on my high shelves flanking the listening position, angled back a bit to wash reflected sound along the walls. The CG3 includes your choice of a keyhole slot or a threaded insert to facilitate wall hanging, but while its limited low-frequency output makes proximity to a wall less egregious than is true of most other box speakers, it still sounded obviously better balanced a few feet from the wall.
Small Is Beautiful
When I reviewed the CG4 a year and a half ago, I was very favorably impressed by both its sound and its market value. The new model is very similar—indeed, the CG3 is essentially a down-sizing (and down-pricing) of the overall CG4 design— with similar wood-composite construction and a simple but attractive black-gloss lacquer, the only color offered so far.
The diminutive CG3 is clearly intended (and marketed) for use with a subwoofer in a minimum 2.1 configuration, though I spent some time listening to them (as I usually do) in stereo full-range to get a handle on their sound. I found them to be utterly neutral, matching my long-term (and long-discontinued) Energy Veritas 2.3 reference speakers to near perfection over a range of music. I have a CD of excerpts ranging from Beethoven to the Beach Boys, from solo instruments and voice to choir and percussion, and everything in between, and on track after track, the CG3s were peas in a pod above 80 Hz or so. The Energys displayed the slightest advantage in transient snap and cymbal shimmer, as I’d expect from a speaker costing (were it still available) nearly 10 times as much.
Of course, on the low end, the much larger, three-way Energys produced more and deeper bass. But RSL’s half-pint was delightfully free of the hump in response above their woofer rolloff that small speakers like this often employ in an attempt to fool the ear into thinking it’s hearing more fundamental than is actually there. They sounded distinctly lean, tight, and defined over the range of their usable response: strong to 100 Hz and fading below perhaps 80 Hz.
They also played impressively loud, even without a sub and in my fairly large studio, so long as I gave them enough power. Driving them to ample clean level in my space required much of the reserves of my 150-watts-per-channel amplifier—though again, this was without a subwoofer taking the strain off their bottom end. Still, the CG3s proved to be, subjectively at least, fairly low in sensitivity: 2 or even 3 dB or less than many other current bookshelf designs. So they will require decent amplifier power to show their best. [Editor’s Note: After Dan submitted his review, we recorded 84 dB sensitivity for the CG3 in our quasi-anechoic measurements and 85 dB for the CG23, specified from 500 Hz to 2 kHz. Although that’s probably in the medium-low range among all speakers, technical editor Mark Peterson calls that about average for small speakers like this, which naturally can’t fill a room as easily with their 4-inch woofers. Nonetheless, we measured well under RSL’s published specs, which are 87 and 89 dB for the CG3 and CG23, respectively (within an unspecified frequency band).—RS]
The CG3s’ honest bass rolloff made achieving a tight, musical blend with the Speedwoofer 10S child’s play, or so it was in my room. Truth to tell, I simply turned on the sub, set a 100-Hz high-pass crossover on my pre/pro for the CG3s, and adjusted level to taste. That was it: None of the usual fiddling with subwoofer phase seemed necessary, nor did fine-tuning the placement, crossover, or level. And the match was virtually perfect, such that James Taylor’s “Line ’Em Up” (Hourglass), a near-ideal recording for checking subwoofer mating, delivered its very richly balanced lower bass without tubbiness or boom. I ultimately went to an 80-Hz crossover, which worked well for my room (and my taste), but this would be near the lower limit for the CG3s, and some rooms will undoubtedly work better with 100 or even 120 Hz. (At the latter setting especially, subwoofer placement becomes critical, to avoid “pulling” bass instruments and voices toward the sub, and blending often becomes trickier.)
Small, but Still Big
In multichannel duty, the CG3/CG23 array proved a fine small-speaker layout. The two-woofer, horizontally positioned center speaker made an acceptable but not faultless tonal match: In direct comparisons of center versus dual-mono on announcers and such, the CG23 showed a distinct addition to male-voice weight or chestiness, as well as a less prominent but still audible emphasis on female-voice sharpness. Neither coloration was enough to draw attention in full-system listening—and certainly not in normal entertainment movie/TV viewing—but both were obvious enough in direct comparisons. On the plus side, the CG23 sounded virtually identical on axis or up to nearly 35 degrees off axis (other than the inevitable reduction in top-treble air)—hardly universal among horizontal dual-woofer center speakers. So viewers relegated to the end of the sofa or a side chair should still enjoy tonally solid sound. [Editor’s Note: RSL clarified for us during our fact-check phase that the minor difference in tonal balance between the CG3 and CG23 that our reviewer heard is intentional, noting that “the CG23 is designed to slightly favor the range that makes dialogue more distinct”— a characteristic that about half of its customers prefer and which prompts that group to often to use three of the larger LCR monitors (at least in the previous CG4 line) across all three front channels.—RS]
I briefly borrowed one of the surround CG3s to try a matched-trio front array. This worked very well indeed, and I think I might recommend it where space and layout permit. RSL also obligingly sent me an extra CG23, so I could try a pair in a vertical stereo array. Full-range two-channel playback sounded closely matched to that of the CG3s, but with about a half-octave more usable deep bass and several decibels greater peak-level capacity, so I think an all-CG23 front layout would also be worth consideration.
A full-system workout on the soundtrack of a big-budget film, such as the Dolby TrueHD mix of Pan, proved impressive. Dialogue was clear and intelligible but naturally voiced, while a solid front-stage image of ambience, music, and effects from the flanking CG3 pair was fully evident on scenes like chapter 3’s Lost Boys/pirates chant. In the back, the surround CG3s performed much as I expect any competent small two-ways to do when arrayed as I did these, to wash a bit along the side walls. Which is to say: entirely acceptable in timbral terms, free of any obviously audible cues that might draw attention from the screen, and with workable doses of ambience and acoustic space.
I can fully endorse David Vaughn’s judgment last year that the Speedwoofer 10S is a cut-rate superstar. RSL’s 10-incher delivered unexpected slam down well below 35 Hz on soundtrack cues such as Apollo 13’s blast-off, which it delivered with impressive scale—especially given that my frame of reference is a hulking SVS PC-12 Ultra. And on material even lower, such as a hi-res file of a Buxtehude pipe-organ chorale setting with a low G pedal tone at about 26 Hz, musically productive fundamental tone was perfectly audible. One of my favorite subwoofer tests is Lou Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wild Side” played at reference-level-plus—with the front speakers disconnected. A prominently mixed string bass (the lower of the track’s two basses) slides obligingly back and forth between D and G (roughly 75 and 50 Hz), a range that will encompass the maximum output of nearly any subwoofer. Thus, port chuffing, peak/dipping, slapping, or cone breakup will be comparatively easy to hear. The Speedwoofer 10S displayed modest port noise—but only at levels beginning approximately 5 dB above THX reference, a result that earns very high marks in my book and makes the noise entirely inaudible in a fullsystem setting. I had to work hard to stress it.
Small Is Good, Cheap Is Better
It is axiomatic that there’s never a good time to be poor. Who knows this better than an audio journalist? But what a great time it is now to be an audiophile of limited means! In the past few years, we’ve seen a parade of superb, entry-level/serious-sound loudspeaker designs from near and far that have rewritten the rules for the penurious audiophile. RSL’s
CG3 and CG23 are the newest, the smallest, and among the most affordable arrivals, but they give up very little in sonic refinement or range to any predecessors—including RSL’s own CG4 array—and they lose only a few tablespoons of peak level in dynamic impact against larger brethren. For anyone with an oyster-tight budget and limited space, they’re an unimpeachable choice.
- CG3: 4 in Kevlar cone woofer (1), 1 in silk dome tweeter (1); 5.1 x 9.5 x 6.4 in (WxHxD), 6 lb
- CG23: 4 in Kevlar cone woofer (2), 1 in silk dome tweeter (1); 16 x 6 x 6.3 in (WxHxD), 10 lb
- Speedwoofer 10S: 10 in aluminum-frame high-excursion woofer; 350 watts RMS; 15 x 16 x 16.75 in (WxHxD), 40 lb; optional wireless transmitter; line-level RCA input (2), line-level RCA output (2), speaker input (2)
- Price: $1,079, online-direct (CG3 front, surround, CG23 center speaker, SpeedWoofer 10); CG3 alone: $135 ea.; CG23 alone: $200 ea.
Satellite Sensitivity: 84 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz
Center Sensitivity: 85 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz
This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the CG3 satellites (purple trace), 10S subwoofer (blue trace), and CG23 center channel (green trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured with grilles at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and scaled for display purposes.
The CG3’s listening-window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +2.78/–2.93 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The –3dB point is at 96 Hz, and the –6dB point is at 73 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.69 ohms at 232 Hz and a phase angle of –38.94 degrees at 154 Hz.
The CG23’s listening-window response measures +4.89/–2.14 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal responses measures +4.92/–2.50 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3dB point is at 54 Hz, and the –6dB point is at 47 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.31 ohms at 216 Hz and a phase angle of –33.69 degrees at 4.1 kHz.
The 10S’s close-miked response, normalized to the level at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower –3dB point is at 30 Hz and the –6dB point is at 27 Hz. The upper –3dB point is at 127 Hz using the LFE input.—MJP