Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Annual Editor's Choice Awards Recipients

It’s been a very crazy 2020, and I think most people are glad to see it end.  Along with it is a hope that 2021 will be better.  Because of the pandemic and so many having to quarantine, we focused most of our reviews on home theater products.  With it being the end of the year, it is now time for our annual Editor’s Choice Awards.  Every year we get some great products that come across my desk.  But only the best get our Editor’s Choice Award.  This is to further recognize those products that are listed below, along with links to the reviews for each.

Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8) Home Wi-Fi 6 Wireless System

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/11/asus-zenwifi-ax-xt8-home-wi-fi-6.html

 

Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless Copper Over The Ear Headphones

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/03/2020-annual-headphone-shootout-over-ear.html

 

Cobra 75 WX ST Remote Mount Full Featured CB Radio

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/04/cobra-75-wx-st-remote-mount-full.html

 

Cobra Elite Road Scout 2 In 1 Radar Detector and HD Dashcam

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/05/cobra-elite-road-scout-2-in-1-radar.html

 

Drop THX Panda Over The Ear Wireless Headphones

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/03/2020-annual-headphone-shootout-over-ear.html

 

Kenwood Excelon Reference DNX997XR GPS Navigation System

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/12/kenwood-excelon-reference-dnx997xr-gps.html

 

Master and Dynamic MW07 Plus True Wireless In Ear Headphones

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/04/2020-annual-headphone-shootout-in-ear.html

 

 

 

Master & Dynamic MW65 Over The Ear Wireless Headphones

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/03/2020-annual-headphone-shootout-over-ear.html

 

Mophie Powerstation Go Portable Powerbank Review

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/03/mophie-powerstation-go-portable.html

 

Outlaw Audio Model 7000X 7 Channel Home Theater Amplifier

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/08/outlaw-audio-model-7000x-7-channel-home.html

 

RBH Sound SI-615 Signature Series In-Ceiling Speaker

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/12/rbh-sound-si-615-signature-series-in.html

 

RBH Sound SI-663R Reference Series In-Wall Speaker

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/08/rbh-sound-si-663r-reference-series-in.html

 

RBH Sound SI-760R Signature Reference Series In-Wall Home Theater Speaker

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/12/rbh-sound-si-760r-signature-reference.html

 

Westone B50 Universal Series In Ear Headphones

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/04/2020-annual-headphone-shootout-in-ear.html

 

Westone ES70 Custom In Ear Headphones

http://www.stereowiseplus.com/2020/04/2020-annual-headphone-shootout-in-ear.html

While it’s been a crazy year, we have high hopes and cautiously optimistic for a better 2021.  Stay tuned in the coming year for more great reviews.  Thank you for reading.  And from our family at Stereowise Plus to yours, have a Happy Holidays!




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Sunday, December 20, 2020

RBH Sound SI-615 Signature Series In-Ceiling Speaker Review

If you’re a fan of home theater, in ceiling speakers are now more important than ever. For a long time, they have had an important role. In the past, depending on your room layout, in-ceiling may have been your only option for surround channels. But with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and the introduction of height channels, in-ceiling speakers have become much more important. Up for review today is the RBH Sound SI-615 in-ceiling speakers.

 

Unfortunately, with COVID-19, and all of the quarantines, you may have been doing a lot of binge watching. And this may have made you re-experience your home theater gear. It may not be to the level that you would like it be. If you’re like most people, you could go several years between upgrades. Believe it or not, Dolby Atmos has been available for consumers for over 5 years now. It may be time for you. Time does fly, I know.

 

Both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X encompass height channels. This takes surround sound to a whole new level, fully enveloping you in sound. There are speakers available that have a speaker on top, facing the ceiling.  It fires up so the sound hits your ceiling, bouncing back down at you, giving the perception of the sound coming from the ceiling. But the best solution for the best experience is to install in-ceiling speakers. Once deciding that ceiling speakers are the way to go, go to RBH!

 

I like going with manufacturers that have a long history and a proven track record. I also like high quality products that not only sound amazing, but are also very well made to give years of service. RBH Sound has over four decades of experience making great sounding products. If you want to “Redefine the way you experience sound”TM which is their Trademark, go with RBH. And based on your budget, they have a couple of models to choose from for ceiling speakers. Up for review today is their top of the line SI-615.



Features and specs:

Model Name:
SI-615
Series:
Signature In-wall
System Type:
In-ceiling 2-way Speaker
Frequency Response:
50Hz-20kHz (±3dB)
Sensitivity:
88dB (2.83V @ 1 Meter)
Recommended Power:
15-120 Watts
Woofer:
(1) 6-1/2" (165mm) Aluminum Cone
Tweeter:
(1) 3/4” (19mm) Ring-Radiator
Tweeter Protection:
Yes
Swivel Tweeter(s):
Yes
Crossover Frequency:
3,000 Hz
Crossover Slope:
12dB/Octave
Impedance:
8 Ohms
Cabinet Material/Color:
Black Frame
Grille:
Magnetic White Steel (Paintable)
Cutout Dimensions:
7-3/4" (197mm) Dia.
Finished Dimensions:
9" Dia. x 4-3/8" D
(229mm Dia. x 111mm D)
Weight:
3.65 lbs. (1.66 kg)
Warranty:
25 Years

 

The RBH Sound SI-615 came in a nice-looking printed box with photos and specs of the speaker. Opening the box revealed a well protected speaker held in place with custom cut cardboard. The speaker was in a white cloth bag, a nice elegant touch. Pulling out the speaker revealed a very well made speaker. Materials used in the construction are both metal and plastic. Quality of materials used was excellent, as was the fit and finish. The crossover components appear to be custom made, as the capacitors had the RBH logo on them. Also included was the manual, and cutout template for installation.

 

 

Here’s the concern. There’s a lot of great sounding speakers. But they don’t sound the same, just like Celine Dion sounds different from Adele, for example. The difference is voicing. When you’re watching a movie, and a helicopter is flying, and you hear it fly from the front left to the rear right, you will hear the sound transfer from front left to center to ceiling to rear right speakers. So you want the front and rear and ceiling speakers to be the same, with the same drivers. That way they have the same voicing, so as objects like a helicopter moves across your sound field back and forth across the speakers, it sounds the same. This way it’s not distracting, and you stay caught up in your movie.

 

I had the chance to talk to Shane, the engineering guru at RBH Sound. I inquired into the design of the SI-615, and if they had a new model in the works with an AMT tweeter to go along with their Signature Reference series. He instantly understood my concern that it was about voicing. He advised that they currently don’t have an in-ceiling with an AMT tweeter. He further expounded that the ring radiator tweeter not only has a great sound and does not lose fidelity to the AMT. It also has a really wide dispersion, important in an in-ceiling design. The foot print of the ring radiator tweeter is small, working well with their design. And the sound signature is also similar. So, it incorporates well with the Signature Reference series. If you have an RBH Signature Reference series system, the SI-615 is the in-ceiling speaker to go with for height channels, to match the rest of your system.  I couldn’t wait to put it to the test.

 

I also really liked the rest of the design of the RBH SI-615. They use a nice aluminum driver with a fairly big rubber surround for good excursion, bumped back plate for extra excursion of the voice coil for better bass performance, and vented pole piece for cooling. On the front is the ring radiator tweeter that also pivots so you can angle it to the listening position. There’s even woofer attenuation to help, depending on your installation location. The internal wiring to the woofer is nice and beefy, and the gold-plated push terminals are of high quality, accepting up to 14 ga wire.  With the large magnet, I could tell they are designed to handle some power.  The magnet is at least twice the size of our previously reviewed Revel in-ceiling speaker.

 

I’m typically not a fan of the free-air design, but I understand why they do it. Speakers sound best in an enclosure. In-ceiling or in-wall speakers don’t always have a cabinet, hence the free-air design. You get the best sound when they sit in an enclosure, where two speakers can be designed for a specific amount of airspace. But you don’t always have room for an enclosure. If you do have room, RBH does offer a back can. In fact, they offer two, one is standard (7.84”)and one is short (3.58”). You’ll get better bass performance from the standard back-can, but if space is limited you can at least use the short back-can. And I’m even impressed with the back cans. They are well made of thick gauge steel, have a built-in foam gasket for a tight seal and the wire is soldered to the connection on the inside. The included poly fill helps performance with the small can size.  Having the can also greatly reduces sound leakage into rooms above.

 

RBH Sound takes great pride in their products. They are a premium manufacturer offering a range of speakers. The SI-615 is currently their top of the line in-ceiling speaker, using top of the line components and build quality. Use one of their back cans, and it’s even better. With SI-663R’s for the front and SI-760Rs for the surrounds and rears, these four SI-615’s seem to be a perfect fit as Shane had suggested. They look great and are built great, now let’s get them installed!

 

Installation proved very simple, and the manual was well written and easy to follow.  Although I hardly needed it, you may find it useful.  There are four feet on the speaker with a front facing screw.  Once you have the speaker wire connected at the back and the SI-615 held in place, you screw them in place.  Once you start with each screw, the foot will twist into place.  And with each turn of the screw, the foot is lowered into place until it is up firmly against the inside of your drywall holding the speaker firmly in place.  Now with them installed, lets see how they sound!

 

Listening tests- music

 

Rhapsody in Blue: Clarinet had very good resolution, sufficient to hear the woodiness of the reed, and tonguing technique. Piano sounded very dynamic and natural with nice low-level harmonics. The bassoon had nice texture and low-end extension. Brass was extremely dynamic and silky smooth and not too brassy. Tympani had nice dynamics, played with authority as well as good definition of the mallet on the pad.


Mayo Natono Piano Trio “Scabions”: as was stated in the review of the SI-663R and SI-760R, they performed extremely well with piano. I grew up around piano, and have been around it all my life, so I’m a bit of a snob with critical expectations with piano reproduction. And for a third time, I was floored with the piano performance. It was just a tad behind the performance of the SI-663R and SI-760R. But it was much better than I was expecting to hear from in-ceiling speakers. The ability of the SI-615’s to resolve the layers of harmonics have never been experienced by me with in-ceiling speakers to this level. The dynamics were also phenomenal, with excellent texture of the strings. The amount of resolution surprised me as well, being able to hear the slide across the bass. The pitch definition was very good and the low-end extension of the bass was about as expected with a short can, yet was still solid. I definitely did not miss anything from the AMT’s. The ring radiator tweeter performed in spades.

Junior Wells- Why Are People Like That: Vocals sounded extremely natural with excellent texture of the timber. The bass played with authority and good low-end extension. Drums were also very dynamic and played with very good impact and authority. Harmonica was silky smooth with excellent dynamics, harmonics and extremely natural sounding. Cymbals were also really crisp and clean.

Disturbed- Sound of Silence: Vocals were pleasantly raw with excellent texture and timber. The piano came through really well and was very natural sounding. Strings were really smooth with great harmonics. The acoustic guitar was so crisp and clean, being able to actually hear the pick against the strings. The tympani also played with good impact, depth and authority.

For you gamers- Sugaan Essena- Jedi Fallen Order: Drums had really good dynamics, impact and played with a lot of authority. Vocals were nice and raw with a ton of resolution of the texture and timbre. The lute was also crisp and clean, with sufficient resolution to hear the bow slide across the strings.

 

 

And I must say, I was also very surprised with their performance. Although I’m not sure why, since I have experienced first-hand the stellar performance of the SI-663R and SI-760R. These are RBH speakers after all. I just wasn’t expecting this level of performance from in-ceiling speakers. During multiple of these music tracks, I was surprised with the soundstage. I was hearing not only a wide soundstage, but a very deep one as well. If you think you can find a better sounding in-ceiling speaker for the money, I wish you luck. The level of dynamic, resolution and size of soundstage make them perfect for height channels in a home theater. I must also say that I’m really picky about my music and sound. Unfortunately, some guys have to go in-walls or in-ceiling to make their wife happy (The wife Acceptance Factor).  Whereas I would always require either bookshelf or tower speakers. That was until now. Put a pair of these in each of your rooms for a whole house system, that would sound awesome!

 

 

Movie Listening

 

Ready Player One- Race Scene: The revving of all the different engines had excellent pitch definition of the midbass and bass, thanks in part to the stiff aluminum cones and excellent control of the motor structure thanks to the large magnet. And the firework going off to start the race showed nice dynamics. And all of the tires screeching, cars crashing showed even more impressive dynamics that were so life-like. Especially the King Kong part, it was so easy to get caught up in the movie, it was so enjoyable!

Spiderman: Far From Home- Ferris Wheel Scene: The roars of the fire monster had nice low end extension and real depth to them. Combined with all of the other explosions they provided the kind of dynamics and resolution I was used to paying a movie theater to get. Vocals were smooth, natural, with excellent texture. And the crackling of the flames was really crisp and clean, like a real camp fire.

Greatest Showman- Never Enough: Her vocals were so extremely silky smooth the resolution revealed the layers of texture of her timbre and dynamics she was able to portray. All of the emotion of her performance was portrayed so passionately it was almost magical. You feel like you were right in the audience. And as the song builds and builds the S1-615 handles it without a hint of strain.

I am turning into a believer of RBH Sound speakers. After reviewing the SI-663R and SI-760R, I expected good things form the SI-615’s. Yet I was still surprised, as they performed better than I expected. They are being used in a full 7.1.4 system as the height channels, and the voicing did prove to be similar to the SI-663R and SI-760R, with a fluid seamless soundstage among all the speakers. They are a perfect fit for height channels to be used with any of the Signature Reference series being used for fronts/surround/rear speakers.

 

Having said that, they sounded so well and performed so well, I could also see them being used in all channels of a surround system where only in-ceiling speakers can be used. They would sound great in a whole house system, or as a pair in a den, living room, or any room where you want quality sound hidden from view. I also highly recommend the use of one of their back cans as well. I recommend standard back-can if you have the depth for it, otherwise the will do great. You lose a little of the low-end extension with the short can, but I feel it’s worth it.

 

Whether you are looking for height speakers in a surround system or ceiling speakers for music in another room, the RBH SI-615 should be on your short list. Not only is it an excellent sounding speaker, it is also very well made for years of use and includes a 25 year warranty. And with a lengthy history of over 40 years, you can rely on the warranty. While not cheap, you do get what you pay for, and for their sound and performance they still provide a great bang for the buck and are worth every penny. Based on it’s design, features, quality and performance the RBH Sound SI-615 has earned our Editor’s Choice Award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website and www.rbhsound.com.




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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Kenwood Excelon Reference DNX997XR GPS Navigation System Review

When it comes to car stereo receivers, there are a lot of quality options. If you want a high-quality receiver that has great features, look to Kenwood. And if you want top-of-the-line features and a big bang for the buck, look at Kenwood’s Excelon Reference Series. Up for review today is their DNX997XR. It’s their top-of-the-line DVD Receiver with built in GPS, and it’s a powerhouse! Check out it’s loaded specs.

 

Features and specs:

6.8" High Definition Monitor with Capacitive Touch Panel

Android Auto™ & Android Auto™ Wireless

Wired and Wireless Apple CarPlay™

High-Resolution Audio Wireless

Wireless Mirroring for Android

USB Mirroring for iPhone and Android

4 Camera Inputs / HD Rear Camera Ready

Built-in Bluetooth, HD Radio & WiFi

3 Preouts 5V

Garmin Navigation with 3D Terrain View

 

Capacitive Touch Panel:

Clear glass display with swipe functionality that provides superior picture and touch panel control.

Customizable Multi Widget:

Customize your Home Screen by selecting four shortcut/ information widgets. Widget options can include album art, clock, compass, photo frame, visualizer, and more.

Wireless Mirroring for Android:

Solution for seamlessly displaying and controlling your smartphone apps on a screen without cables on select Android devices.

USB Mirroring:

USB Mirroring via USB for iPhone & Android, 2-way Touch Control for Android.

4 Camera Inputs:

Optional camera connection method for up to 4 cameras in various configurations.

HD Rear Camera Input:

HD Rear Camera (CMOS-740HD) can be connected for High Definition viewing.

Parking Guide Lines:

Parking guide lines (requires installation of compatible backup camera) that enhance the effectiveness of a backup camera.

Dash Cam Link:

Dash Camera (DRV-N520) can be controlled and viewed from the touchscreen.

3 Years Map Care:

KENWOOD offers 3 years map updates enabling you to keep up to date. Download the latest maps online to an SD card and insert to your navigation system.

Lane Assist:

Lane Assist guides you to the correct lane for an approaching turn or exit, making unfamiliar intersections and exits easy to navigate.

Photo Real Junction View:

Garmin Photo Real Junction View shows what complex interchanges look like before you arrive.

3D Terrain View:

Garmin navigation feature that displays 3D map contours, providing realistic terrain perspectives.

Dual Phone Connection:

While you are connected through Bluetooth, with a touch of a button you can switch between two phones.

High Quality Sound Parts:

High quality sound parts (custom-made or carefully selected capacitor, etc) are adopted to provide superior sound quality.





The Kenwood DNX997XR came in a great looking color printed box. Opening the box revealed a well-protected receiver held in place by custom molded Styrofoam. Unwrapping the plastic, showed a well-made receiver, made mostly of metal with some plastic on the front. Quality of materials used, as well as the fit and finish, was excellent. All of the rear connectors were very solid. Also included was all of the connectors, keys and instructions. This is their top-of-the-line model, and it showed.

 

It starts with the display and you won’t find a better one than the HD display found on the DNX997XR. In fact, good luck finding a display this good on a receiver from any other manufacturer. The HD 1280x720 pixel resolution display is nothing short of breathtaking! So not only will your DVD’s look good, you can even load some HD movies on a flash drive. The eye candy will have you smiling from ear to ear.

 

The Kenwood DNX997XR is so loaded with so many sources available, it’s a car receiver that reminds me of a home receiver, where there are so many connection options. Thanks to the optional steering wheel adapter, I was even able to get the use of all of my steering wheel controls. Very nice!  In-fact, it doesn’t matter what content you want to watch or listen to, DVD or CD check. AM/FM, even HD radio, check. Flash drive or SD card for audio and also video, also check. You are also covered with audio services such as Sirius XM, and through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you also have access to your streaming services, such as Spotify and Pandora. You can use the dual USB connectors for your flash drive content. Apple Car Play and Android Auto can be used wirelessly through wi-fi. Whatever your content, enjoy it while you’re on the go. There’s even wireless mirroring for Android, and True Mirroring through USB connection for both iPhone and Android and 2-way touch control for Android.

 

The Kenwood DNX997XR also has you covered for use by multiple users. There is Dual Phone Connection. Being connected through Bluetooth you can easily switch from one phone to another. So while I may have my phone connected, my wife could switch to hers. There’s also Kenwood Music Mix, which allows you to connect up to 5 Bluetooth devices. This means that if we’re going somewhere as a family, the kids can turn on some music from their phones.

 

If you’re familiar with Kenwood, then you’re probably familiar with some of their traditional audio features. These include built-in crossovers, 13 band EQ, and even time alignment. Amazingly, the crossover can even handle a 3-way component system! There is also an arsenal for different sound controls with Bass Boost, Loudness, Drive Equalizer +, Space Enhancer, Supreme, Realizer, Stage EQ, and Front Focus. Additionally, there is zone control. All of this helps you get the best sound and functionality based on your system, vehicle and sound performances of course this functionality lets the family enjoy their content as well!

 

Now that we know that the Kenwood DNX997XR has all the features anyone could possibly want in a car receiver, let’s see how it all comes together. The HD display is gorgeous. Whether you are just listening to the radio, or following the map for the GPS, or watching a movie, the image is always stunning! Going through the settings for the initial setup for the crossovers and other settings was very simple and intuitive. And working with the widgets to customize the look of the display was really cool.  I like the weather one.

 

Programming in my favorite radio stations was equally very simple. While radio performance is typically nothing to get too excited about, the DNX997XR performed very well. I love the HD radio! Both regular AM/FM radio sounded as well as expected. And the built-in antenna did a good job of pulling in the signal. It was the HD Radio however that’s the game changer. HD Radio did sound so much better with CD quality sound.

 

The CD/DVD transport similarly performed in spades. It’s nothing to get too excited over. It’s a standard feature, found on almost all receivers. CD/DVD transport is an important feature. As expected, the transport performed great, with CD’s and DVD’s.

 

One of the more exciting features for me was the Hi-Res audio, especially wireless Hi-Res audio. I was able to connect my LG V40 ThinQ wirelessly, and listen to my Amazon Music HD service. Not only did the display show the song info, but it sounded oh so good! And here is where the Kenwood DNX997XR really shines. The XR Reference series uses the best internal components. Listening to my favorite tracks that I have heard a thousand times, I was impressed with the sound I heard. The receiver proved to be extremely transparent, yielding the same sound that my favorite tracks are supposed to have. I have the best top of the line components in my reference system, that features German Maestro’s best 3-way components in the front, Alpine Type-X components in the rear, Image Dynamic subs and Audio Control DSP/Crossovers for a fully active system. With best of the best components, I had high expectations for the DNX997XR and hi-res audio. And it had me grinning ear to ear. Let’s see how it sounded.

 

Electric Light Orchestra- Mr. Blue Sky

               Drums had excellent dynamics and extra definition. Cymbal was really crisp and clean, being able to hear the impact of the stick on the cymbal. And what sounded like cowbells but was actually beating against the iconic fire extinguisher had good impact, depth to the sound, and pitch definition. The violin and cello were smoother than honey being able to hear the bow going across the strings. Vocals were also extremely smooth with excellent texture and timbre. But what really took my breath away was the wide and deep soundstage that came through that seemed to be coming out all across my windshield and even my hood!

 

Tonto- Africa

               Kick drum right off the bat had excellent fullness of the depth and authority. Cymbals were extremely crisp and clean, being able to hear the strike of every impact. Vocals had excellent harmonics, really showing the resolution of the timbre with great texture that was silky smooth. The recorder was similarly smooth like honey, with excellent air! They apparently had a full percussion section as not only did the cow bell come out loud and clear, the congas also had excellent full resolution of the pad and the marimba even had great definition from the wood for its tone, and the decay of the gong coming through loud and clear. Piano sounded very natural. And this was an excellent example of providing a huge soundstage that was wide and deep. There were a lot of different instruments, but they all came through clearly. I felt like I was right there in the recording studio with the artists, yet I kept getting pulled away by visions of being on the African plain.

 

Queen- Bohemian Rhapsody

               This track really showcased the soundstage, with the precise imaging of the vocals across various locations of my windshield. The layers and layers of resolution of timbre and texture of the vocals gave harmonics that were such aural bliss it was off the charts. The highlight of this track was the quality of Freddy Mercury and the vocals of his fellow artists. But the other instruments also came through equally well. The piano sounded very natural with the striking of the strings. Cymbals were crisp and clean. Drums had great depth and played with authority. And the decay of the gong after being struck came through beautifully. Listening brought back memories of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. I felt like I was right there with the band during the recording.

 


I listened to multiple of other tracks as well. And the same theme came through – a sound that was transparent to the source material, with a huge soundstage. I had never heard that depth of soundstage before with Guns and Roses: Paradise City! Sure a lot of this is a tribute to my reference gear, but truth is, it all starts with a quality source unit/receiver. Kenwood had always done a great job with their Excelon Series. But they truly elevated their game with their fairly new Reference Series and need to take a bow for it. They did an impeccable job with the execution of hi-res audio, even wirelessly! If you haven’t jumped onto hi-res audio, you must! So Delicious!!

 

The execution also continued with the Android Audio and Android audio wireless. I’m the one who mostly drives my truck. But sometimes my wife does, and sometimes we’re together. And there are times when the teenagers also join us. So being able to connect multiple android devises for music, or mirroring really came in handy.

 

I also can’t forget about the built-in Garmin Navigation. I loved the 3D terrain view feature. The line assist and Photo Real Junction View really came in handy when there are a bunch of lanes in the interchange along with the voice prompts, to keep you or get you in the correct lane, really came in handy in multiple occasions. The split screen view for half map and half music controls/display was awesome as well. Kenwood did a great job integrating Garmin with the receiver. And I never had any problems with Garmin not getting me to the right place. It’s easy to think that a car radio with navigation is no longer necessary thanks to our cell phones. But the truth is, it’s so much safer!

 

Kenwood did a phenomenal job with the DNX997XR! Thanks to its transparency and quality of execution of hi-res audio, whether you have a $500 or $10,000 system in your vehicle, you will get every ounce of quality your system is able to deliver. There is so much usability with its other features as well, the DNX997XR is designed for everyone. Based on its design, features, quality and performance, the Kenwood Excelon Reference DNX997XR GPS Navigation System has easily earned our Editor’s Choice Award. The $1299 MSRP isn’t cheap, but is worth every penny.  If you have the means, don’t just walk, run to get one. The eye and ear candy are off the charts. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at www.kenwood.com.



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Sunday, December 6, 2020

RBH Sound SI-760R Signature Reference Series In-Wall Home Theater Speaker System

I love high quality audio. I’m a musician and also being raised around the piano with my mom, I have an ear for quality audio. But I also want to support products being made here in the US, which is important to do in our current economy. With most home audio gear being made overseas, that’s getting more and more difficult to do. And when it comes to home audio speakers, whether it be for regular audio or for home theater, it’s nice to be able to do in-walls. But most in walls don’t come with an enclosure so the audio quality is not what it can be. With electronics you also tend to get what you pay for. Fortunately for those who are looking for quality high-end home audio, there is a company offering made in America products that are known for their quality home audio gear. Enter RBH Sound, high performance audio products manufacturer that has been “redefining the way you experience sound”TM for over 45 years. Today we will be reviewing their SI-760R in-wall speaker.


RBH Sound offers a couple different speaker lines depending on your ear & budget. We will be covering their Signature Reference Series, which is their top-of-the-line series. They have several models within that line depending on your needs. The SI-740R is at the start of the line, which encompasses a single tweeter and a single woofer. The SI-760R is an MTM design featuring a single tweeter between two woofers. Next is the SI-663R which adds an additional tweeter and woofer so you have two tweeters in between three woofers. Depending on your room size, you could use throughout or you could use SI-760R’s for the fronts and SI-740R’s for the sides and rears. For larger rooms you could use SI-663R’s for the fronts and SI-760R’s for the sides and rears. Your room size would determine which configuration is best for you.

 

We are in the process of finishing our basement.  Since our basement includes a large theater room which will house our reference gear for reviews, we were in a unique position. We do a lot of product reviews, however, it’s hard to find reviews for in-wall speakers. Since this is the position we are in, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to review some in-wall products. With everyone having been quarantined due to the COVID-19, has been an increased interest in home theater gear.  So, we figured the timing was perfect. Given the heritage of RBH Sound, the sound quality and dynamics of their multi-award-winning lines, they were on our short list. In addition, we were looking for speakers that excel in music and home theater, and made here in the US products.  RBH had everything we were looking for, so we turned to them for their top-of-the-line Signature Reference Series. We went with their SI-663R’s for front LCR, SI-760R’s for surrounds and rear surrounds, SI-615’s for in-ceiling height channels, and their brand new SI-1212 sub for a 7.1.4 setup.  We recently reviewed their SI-663R Signature Reference Series in-wall for the fronts, and today we are reviewing their SI-760R’s for the surrounds and back surrounds.

 

Features and specs:

Model Name:  SI-760/R

Series:  Signature Reference In-wall

System Type:  In-wall/LCR 2-way Speaker

Frequency Response:  60Hz-20kHz (±3dB)

Sensitivity:  90dB (2.83V @ 1 Meter)

Recommended Power:  75-250 Watts

Woofers:  (2) 6-1/2" (165mm) Reference Aluminum Cone Woofers

Tweeter:  (1) 4.72" X 1" (120mm x 25mm) AMT

Tweeter Protection:  Yes

Swivel Tweeter(s):  No

Crossover Frequency:  2,700 Hz

Crossover Slope:  24dB/Octave

Impedance:  6 Ohms

Cabinet Material/Color:  Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)/Black

Cabinet Finish:  Black Enclosure

Baffle and Grille:  Baffle Black; Grille Black or White. Enclosure Sold Separately.

Fabric Grille Dimensions:  10" W x 22-1/16" H

Metal Grille Dimensions:  10-1/8" W x 22-1/8" H

Baffle Dimensions:  8-1/8" W x 20-1/4" H (206mm W x 514mm H)

Enclosure Dimensions:  14" W x 28" H x 3-1/2" D (356mm W x 711mm H x 89mm D)

Weight:  34 lbs. (15.20 kg)

Warranty:  5 Years

 

There was no flashy packaging that the speakers came in, as is typically found in retail stores. RBH only sells through authorized dealers. The dealers showcase the speakers and demo them, so you know what you’re getting with RBH, it’s about the sound, not flashy color printing to catch your eye, which is understandable. The speaker came in a standard thick cardboard box with the manufactures name and serial numbers printed on the box. Opening the box revealed a well protected speaker held in place by custom molded foam. As I pulled out the speaker, I discovered a cloth grill securely held in place wrapped in plastic wrapping. The speaker baffle was securely screwed in place into the enclosure for shipping. Everything about the speaker system screamed quality. This is their top-of-the-line model and it shows! The enclosure is made of HDF and solidly assembled. My knock test confirmed it is very solid. Unscrewing the speaker baffle and taking it out of the enclosure, I was able to see the dampening fill inside the enclosure as well as the internal bracing for increased stability. The enclosure is extremely well made and is tuned to the individual drivers for that model, so you get the best sound possible, even with them being in-walls. Next, I turned to the baffle, drivers and crossover network.  Here I was greeted with the same quality. The Baffle that housed the drivers was a thick half inch HDF painted black with a smooth texture. The woofer was 6 ½ inches with rubber surround and black aluminum cone with phase plug. As I looked to the back of the driver, I could see the use of a thick cast aluminum basket with a large magnet that had an extruding back plate of the magnet for increased range of the voice coil offering increased travel in order to yield better dynamics and power handling capacity. The use of the phase plug also helps the motor structure and voice coil for increased cooling and power handling capacity, as well as sonic benefits in the higher octave ranges. Also included were mounting screws, installation instructions and cardboard piece to cover the opening during drywall installation.

 

The tweeter is just as impressive. RBH now uses an AMT tweeter, or air motion transfer tweeter. It’s basically a folded ribbon design tweeter. Based on the design it has a much larger surface area which provides higher dynamics and handling as well as a rich, smooth, plush sound providing a resolution and airiness that has to be heard to be believed. Some manufacturers are able to deliver on that signature sound better than others.  The popularity of AMT’s has increased in recent years and can be found on speakers in a wide range of price points.  But again, you get what you pay for. And with the RBH design, they are able to maximize the quality of the delivered sound.

 

I continue to be impressed with RBH’s designs when I looked at the crossover network. My attention is instantly turned to the sizable wiring. I’m used to seeing 20-18-gauge wire between speakers and crossovers, but here it looks like they are using 14-12-gauge wire. Again, the speaker appears to be designed to handle a lot of power to deliver the dynamics of gunfire and explosions often found in home theater content.  All of the crossover network internal components such as the coils, capacitors, and resistors house RBH’s name on them so they appear custom made and to be of very high quality. The push connectors are gold plated and also high quality.

 

All in all, RBH has a very special product on their hands with their Signature Reference Series of speakers. The quality of all the individual components, be it the tweeter, the woofer, or the crossover network, all scream top-of-the-line. The only potential negative that I can see on them is the lack of attenuation for the tweeter or boundary compensation as is found on some in-wall models, however, this is typically set by your receiver during set-up, so this is likely a non-issue.  These could be nice to have, depending on your speaker location. There is also an option for a magnetic metal grill on the SI-760The grill they do have, being a cloth cover, does give a level of sophistication or class that you don’t usually find on in-wall speakers.

 

In regards to the installation, the speaker design was also extremely thoughtful! There is a mud ring around the edge of the opening where the baffle is mounted to separate the baffle from the drywall. The sides of the enclosure have a few thin foam pieces on the side that help hold the enclosure in place while you are determining the exact height to mount them at, and holding in place, while securely screwing them to the location.  The baffle is also raised ½ inch higher than the enclosure. The entire enclosure is 3 ½ inches thick so it fits perfectly in between the studs that are 16 inches off center. After they are mounted and the drywall, installed, the enclosure is covered up to the mudring, leaving just the speaker baffle flush with the drywall. This way when your walls are completed with drywall, tape, texture and paint, the speakers are flush with the rest of the wall. The paper cover that goes over the opening for the baffle is very thoughtfully included to help keep any construction debris from getting inside the enclosure. And having the speaker baffle and enclosure being two separate pieces, there is zero concern about any of the drivers being damaged during the construction process of the wall.

 

Now that the install process is complete, it’s time for the listening tests. The listening tests will be comprised of  different music genres as well as selected movie scenes. We will test these SI-760R’s both by themselves, as a stereo left and right pair for their performance in that scenario as well as speakers in the sides and rear of a 7.1.4 configuration. The height channel in-ceiling speakers being RBH SI-615’s and sub being the RBH SI-1212. The fronts of the 7.1.4 configuration being the SI-663R’s.

Listening Test:

Music:

Rhapsody in Blue- Clarinet had excellent air with excellent texture and woodiness of the reed. Piano sounded very dynamic with excellent harmonics and naturalness of the strings. The bassoon had very good texture and depth of tone. Brass was extremely dynamic and smooth without being too brassy.

 

Mayo Nakano Piano Trios “Scabious”- Provided an enjoyment I’m not used to having with speakers and piano. Having grown up around piano, it’s one of my favorite instruments, even though I don’t play. I’m a clarinet and sax player. But my mom would play almost daily.  She spoiled me with her playing and now I love hearing my wife play her baby grand. This is where a big part of my ear for music and sound came from. So, I’ll admit, I’m extremely picky when it comes to hearing piano through speakers. Also saying that it is hard to recreate the full natural sound of a piano from a speaker, is a huge understatement. I have yet to hear a speaker system be able to recreate the full sound as if you were standing next to a baby grand being played. Having said that, I have heard a few come extremely close, even $50,000/pair tower speakers that have come up short. And I know this is being EXTREMELY picky!  So, when I was listening to some piano tracks, my eyes got big and I did a double and triple take! How close did they sound to the real thing? I did this first with the SI-663R’s, and I’ll put it this way…I had to have my wife sit down and play for a few minutes for me, to confirm what I was hearing. And no, the RBH SI-760R’s were not able to fully recreate the piano as if you are standing next to one. But the sound they did recreate, was so close to the real thing, RBH is practically giving these away for their price. I won’t name names, but I have heard tower speakers at twice the price not sound as good. And these are in-wall! The piano should not sound this natural on any speaker, let alone an in-wall! Let me rephrase. Classical music connoisseurs WANT speakers to be able to sound like the real thing. It’s just almost impossible, which is why I am so impressed with the performance of these RBH Signature Reference Series. The sound signature found on the SI-663R’s fortunately carried over to the SI-760R’s.  The richness in the tone of the strings, the depth of resolution in the harmonics, and dynamics, I could actually hear the hammers contact on the strings. It gave me goosebumps!  The level of dynamics of the SI-760R’s was a bit less than the SI-663R’s.  And its volume output was also a bit less.  But that’s expected with the SI-760R’s having one less tweeter and woofer.  The resolution and sound signature however were the same.

 

Junior Wells: Why are People Like That- Vocals were extremely natural with excellent timbre and texture. Bass had very nice low-end extension. Drums had great impact and dynamics. Harmonica was extremely crisp, clean, smooth like honey, and dynamic. Cymbals were crisp and dynamic.

Disturbed: Sound of Silence – vocals were nice and raw with excellent timbre, texture, and resolution.  Piano sounded very natural as did the strings.  Acoustic guitar was so crisp and clean, being able to actually hear the plucking of the strings. The tympani also had very nice dynamics and impact, hearing the hammer hit the pad.

For you gamers: Sugaan Essena- Jedi Fallen Order- The strings on the lute were extremely crisp and clean, being able to hear the bow as it ran across the individual stings. Drums had amazing dynamics and impact. Vocals were extremely raw with excellent resolution of the texture. The sound stage shocked me even further, with it actually being holographic, it was so wide and deep!  I felt like I was standing right next to the band in the recording studio.

Movies:

Ready Player One- Race scene- The various engines with their revving and throttling, had excellent pitch definition of the bass and midbass.  The stiff aluminum cones provided excellent control for the excellent output and dynamics for movies. The level of resolution was phenomenal! Even at extremely loud reference levels, the sound was excellent.  I loved the dynamics of the firework as it exploded to start the race. All of the tires screeching, and crashing, all sounded amazingly lifelike with the appropriate dynamics the SI-760R’s were able to provide. And when King Kong is running to the finish line, you feel like you’re in the movie!

Spiderman: Far from Home, Ferris Wheel scene- The fire monster roars had real power and depth to them. The dynamics of the explosions were so lifelike that I questioned if I’d need to go to a movie theater again. At least I wouldn’t need to, since I get movie theater quality sound at home. Spiderman shooting his webs, also sounded really crisp and clean. Even the cracking of the flames sounded like a real campfire.  This was also one of the things that I had noticed, the striking resolution.  I had watched this movie at least a dozen times, and the detailed resolution provided was easily noticeable without needing to listen for it.

Greatest Showman- Never Enough Song scene- The silky smooth harmonics of her timbre were portrayed so masterfully in layers of texture. And as the passion in the song continues to build and build, with every note, her voice is remarkably portrayed. It sounded so good I just wanted to crank up the volume to get more of that awesome sound.  And the louder I cranked it, it was as if the speakers responded…is that all?  Crank it up more!

I had very high expectations for RBH Sound, based on their reputation and my previous experience with them.  I have reviewed a lot of speakers, and have listened to a lot more.  There are times that my expectations were exceeded.  But rarely am I surprised.  With the RBH SI-760R, I was both.  My expectations were exceeded, and I was surprised.  It’s difficult to design a speaker system to perform with the same sound quality and energy found in a movie theater.   But the RBH Sound SI-760R performs equally well for both movies and music!  That is much more difficult to design.  Vocals were so silky smooth, the highs from the AMT tweeters were so crisp and clean with lifelike dynamics that were not overly bright.  I expected a phenomenal performance for movies, but I was surprised by the music performance.  I was taken back by the piano performance sounding so natural, and it’s imaging and soundstage.

 

I was expecting good imaging, but I wasn’t sure about the soundstage.  Both imaging and soundstage exceeded my expectations.  Imaging was excellent, and they threw a large and deep soundstage.  The soundstage wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t as holographic as I have heard from some large tower speakers.  But the SI-760R is also an in-wall speaker at a fraction of the cost of those other tower speakers (no names given).

For the ultimate in-wall home theater system, we can full heartedly recommend a combination of their Signature Reference Series of any of these models, depending on the size of your theater room.  In working with RBH Sound, we provided them the dimensions of our reference room, and they gave their recommendations for configuration of a full 7.1.4 system.  And we are glad for it.  RBH was very easy to work with, and they have a network of dealers eager to help you design your system, to get the most out of your hard-earned cash.  Our system is comprised of three SI-663R’s for the front left, center, and right, four of the SI-760R’s for the surrounds and surround backs, four SI-615’s for the in-ceiling height channels, and SI-1212 in-ceiling/floor subwoofer.  And we couldn’t be happier!  Just to warn you though, while the sound quality will swallow you into the movies like it hasn’t before, be prepared to listen to more music than you expected.  Yes, they sound that good!  And the value for your buck is killer!

 

It’s really easy to think of the word synergy after reviewing these RBH speakers, the definition of synergy is the whole being more than the sum of the parts. With the design of the enclosure being so install friendly as well as having the enclosure being tuned to the drivers and the quality of the drivers themselves really provided a speaker that has to be heard to be believed. While it’s not perfect, missing a couple items that would be beneficial for in-wall speakers such as tweeter attenuation and boundary compensation, it comes pretty darn close. In rating them I give them two big thumbs up and two big toes because I don’t have more than two thumbs. I think Ferris Buller said it best when describing the Ferrari 250 GT California, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it!” We may have to rethink having an award higher than Editor’s Choice because that’s what these deserve. Plus there’s also the warm fuzzies for buying American, knowing you are supporting local jobs. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at RBHsound.com.  Also check out our other review of the RBH Sound SI-663R, and stay tuned for the reviews on the SI-615 in-ceiling speakers, and SI-1212 in-ceiling/in-floor subwoofer system. 




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