Andrew Robinson began his career as an art director in entertainment advertising in 2003, after graduating from Art Center College of Design. In 2006, he became a creative director at Crew Creative Advertising, and oversaw the agency's Television Division, where he worked for clients such as TNT, TBS, History, FX, and Bravo to name a few. He now has one of the most popular AV-related channels on YouTube.
Once dubbed the R55Ti from EMP Tek (an Internet direct offshoot of RBH), the R-55E reviewed here takes what was great about its predecessor and elevates things a bit. In all honesty, the R55Ti didn't need "fixing," it just needed to be brought under the name that enthusiasts were already familiar with, RBH. The R-55E retails for $874.97 (seriously?) in Phantom Black (think matte black) and $999.97 apiece in a high-gloss black finish. Why the matte black finish gets its own "fancy" name whereas the more expensive gloss black offering is left without is mysterious to me, but I digress. Those who want their speakers to disappear in a darkened room and want to deal not with reflections will likely choose the matte... uh, Phantom Black option, whereas customers wanting their speakers to look as good as they sound will likely opt for the gloss.
RBH sent me the R-55E finished in gloss black, and I have to say, it's pretty damn glossy. The R-55E, despite being designed by RBH in Utah, is made in China. Earlier iterations that wore the EMP Tek badge were a bit hit or miss at times in the finish department. The new R-55E doesn't seem to suffer that same fate as my review units were blemish-free, and the paint job was beautiful indeed. The speaker itself is rather large, that is to say tall, measuring just under four feet at 47.25 inches. Width isn't too bad at eight inches and its depth of nearly 12 inches gives the R-55E a slender appearance. Its curved side walls also help in trying to disguise its physical size.
For such a physically large tower, it's not too heavy at 55 pounds. I'm not suggesting its cheap, or cheaply made, just that upon first glance you expect it to weigh more. Being nearly four feet tall, the R-55E does ship with some substantial, adjustable metal spikes that rest on the end of metal outrigger feet, which help to keep the speaker stable. Personally, I think the feet are as much a visual statement as they are a functional one, much in the same way a pair of cufflinks or a pocket square can take a nice suit from a 10 to an 11. Around back you'll find two bass-reflex ports just above the speaker's single pair of five-way binding posts.
Remove the pre-attached grill and you'll come face-to-face with the R-55E's six metallic drivers. The R-55E possesses three 6.5-inch bass drivers; two 5.25-inch midrange drivers, and a one-inch dome tweeter. The tweeter and midrange drivers are arranged in a D'Appolito fashion, whereby the tweeter rests in the center with a midrange driver above and below it for better coherence. All of the drivers, save for the tweeter, are aluminum, which is somewhat of an RBH staple. The tweeter, on the other hand, is of the silk dome variety, which may not be the most esoteric option out there, but it's a classic, and it works.
The R-55E's driver compliment gives it a reported frequency response of 35Hz to 30kHz with a sensitivity of 88dB and nominal impedance of 6 Ohms. Honestly, I was a bit surprised by the R-55E's efficiency rating, but it isn't difficult to drive by any means. RBH states that the R-55E can be driven to perfection with an amp (or receiver) possessing between 50 and 250 Watts of total power, which I think is a fair assessment. The R-55E possesses two crossovers, the first falling at 120Hz and the other at 3,000, which I'll get into later.
Along with a pair of R-55Es, RBH sent me a single R-515E LCR loudspeaker to act as a center channel. The R-515E retails for $349.95 in Phantom Black and $384.95 in gloss black. To visually match my R-55Es, my review sample R-515E was finished in gloss black. The R-515E is basically the top half of the R-55E, which is to say it lacks the trio of 6.5-inch woofers. It's a nice option for those looking to build a home theater around a pair of R-55Es.
Unboxing the R-55E is easy enough for one person, though be sure you have either high ceilings or enough floor space to get the box away from the speaker, as you have to account for double the speaker's height (four feet) when unboxing.
Can I talk about cardboard for a moment? I despise Chinese cardboard, it's just the worst. There is nothing reassuring about the feel of opening a box from China. Also, despite "baking" in a Texas FedEx truck for most of an afternoon, the RBH boxes felt damp, which is a trait I notice in boxes coming from China. Thankfully, the RBH speakers arrived in perfect shape and the boxes were easy enough to hide away in a closet where I didn't have to look at them.
To install the included outrigger feet, I first had to lay each R-55E on its side across my ottoman and affix the metal plates to the bottom of the speaker itself using the included screws. I would have preferred to see threaded inserts awaiting me at the bottom of each speaker instead of painted over, pre-drilled holes; nevertheless, installing the metal plates was easy and straightforward. With the metal plates in place I screwed the substantial spikes into the ends (which were threaded) and went about placing and leveling each speaker.
The R-55Es sat in my room where all loudspeakers sit, about 90 inches apart (tweeter-to-tweeter), and on either side of my 65-inch LG OLED display. The R-515E sat atop my electronics cabinet just below the bottom edge of my TV. I powered the R-55Es with my Crown XLS DriveCore 2 series amplifier, which I connected to my Marantz NR1509 AV receiver's stereo preamp outs. The center speaker drew its power directly from the Marantz. Source components included my newly acquired U-Turn Audio Orbit turntable, a Roku Ultra 4K/Ultra HD streaming player, and my trusty DuneHD Blu-ray player/media server . Everything was connected using cables from Monoprice.com, with the exception of my speaker cables, which came by way of an old pair of Transparent The Wave speaker cables.
I set everything up in under an hour, re-ran Audyssey via my Marantz and began enjoying the R-55Es the very same day (no, I don't believe in burn-in).
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
I began my evaluation of the R-55E with an all-time favorite album of mine, Nirvana's Nevermind (Geffen) on 180-gram vinyl. Through the R-55E the opening track, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," had all the dynamic grunt this grunge kid could ask for.
The scale of the performance was positively huge. The sheer width of the R-55E's soundstage was more akin to a wall of sound, the kind one would experience at a live show, versus a meticulously crafted diorama of the performance space. While some audiophiles may shriek at the notion of a speaker not producing the most nuanced portrayal of the musicians in virtual space, this reviewer doesn't, for it's okay for a speaker to be bombastic when the material calls for it. Oh, and the R-55E can play loud... really loud. It is only at the absolute extreme (peaks in excess of 105dB) does the R-55E give up the ghost and begin to break down and become a bit shrill and grainy along its upper registers, but you have to really punish those drivers to get them to cry uncle.
I really did enjoy the R-55E's presentation of the first few tracks of Nevermind, but I did begin to notice something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Despite all the dynamic fervor and forward-but-not-aggressive top-end, there was something missing. The bass was taut, fast, and plenty deep, and yet it lacked punch. While bass and lower mid-bass had plenty of snap, it seemed to lack a bit of weight. Like the impact was there, but the recoil was not.
To test this, I put on a less congested and chaotic recording than Nevermind, opting instead for Alanis Morissette's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (Maverick). The (international) follow up to Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, Infatuation Junkie wasn't quite the runaway train that Pill was in terms of commercial success despite it being a much more well-rounded album. On the track "Unsent," the initial few chords played by the acoustic guitar told the tale as they rang with all the delicate nuance and reverberation one could want in a speaker of the R-55E's class, and yet, the supporting weight and air seemed a little lacking.
I was playing the R-55E full-range, which is to say I wasn't using a subwoofer. Down low, at the extremes of the R-55E's capabilities, I found its bass to be quite satisfying and plenty deep. But it was as if there was a driver missing between the three 6.5-inch bass woofers and the two 5.25-inch midrange ones. I know I've spent the last two paragraphs harping on this, and I'm doing so only because the rest of the R-55E's performance was so infectious and so good, that with the absolute right source material, this omission stood out. Vocals through the R-55E, especially Morissette's, were nuanced, with terrific coherence and air; not to mention rock-solid placement, dead center of what was, again, a vast lateral soundstage. But for true, full-range performance, one that had absolute weight and grounding throughout, I felt a subwoofer was necessary.
So I grabbed one.
The only sub I had on hand was Monitor Audio's W-12, which was on loan from my review of that speaker system. Placing it into the mix and feathering it in ever so slightly made all the difference in the world.
Sadly, upon pulling up RBH's website, there is no matching subwoofer to accompany the R-55E, or any of the other speakers in the Impression line.
Thankfully, RBH does make a bevy of subwoofers, both passive and powered, that will mate just fine with the R-55E, and that also pose similar, if not the same value proposition.
Moving on to movies, I fired up director Peter Berg's latest, Mile 22 (STX Films) starring Marky Mark sans his Funky Bunch. I chaptered ahead to the sequence where our heroes' motorcade is ambushed on busy city street. With my system's volume set just south of Hold My Beer, I watched as the R-55Es let the chaos reign. "OMG," was the note I jotted down in my notebook as I grinned like an idiot at every bomb blast, bullet hit and ricochet, and sparkle of shattered glass. The R-55E didn't miss a damn thing, nor did it shy away from making the sound as important as the action unfolding on screen. The presentation was both big and nuanced, yet it never favored any one slice of the total frequency band. That is coherence. There was a slight difference in scale between the presentation put forth by the R-55E and the R-515E I was using as a center, but this is not uncommon and something I've experienced with speakers costing way more.
The R-55E was simply a beast when tasked with providing cinema-like levels of SPL and sonic impact without any of the fatigue that one often experiences in commercial theaters that are turned up too loud. But more than providing just a wall of sound, the R-55E still managed to be composed and surprisingly nuanced. The silk dome tweeter had loads of detail and top-end sparkle without becoming too hot or shrill when pushed. In fact, when it did reach its limit, it simply rolled-off rather than tear itself apart, which is good.
Moving on to the drama-comedy, The Big Short (Paramount). the very first thing I noticed was the sheer immediacy and presence of the characters' vocals. In a way not too unlike horn speakers found in commercial cinemas, there was a sense of speed and attack to even the dialog that bordered on live. It was if the R-55E (and R-515E) bypassed the microphones or recording process altogether, opting instead for a direct feed to the actors' vocal chords, for the dialogue really did feel organic with a true, in-room presence that sounded more conversational than playback. In fact, the whole presentation felt "alive" and immediate, as the R-55E's sound is not something you can simply have on in the background. No, it commands your attention, but does so because there's just something about it that is appealing, familiar even, and not because it's shouting at you.
What the R-55E is, is old-school. It's an old-school, American speaker. One that we all would've rushed out to buy and brag about before we became obsessed with bullshit like "inner-detail," whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. The R-55E is a fun speaker. One with a bit of a forward, lively sound that while never fatiguing, also doesn't take itself too seriously, and as a result you don't have to take yourself, or the hobby, that seriously. It's a speaker that reminds us of the fun we're supposed to have when we're listening and enjoying our favorite films.
The R-55E has only two real drawbacks as I see it. The first being its slightly anemic lower mid-bass, right at or around its crossover point (120Hz), and the second being its size and lack of finish options.
While guests to our house never commented on the speaker's lack of weight in the low midrange, I noticed it and at times, more so during strict two-channel listening, and it bugged me. If you're looking at the R-55E as a home theater or media room speaker where it will be fed a steady diet of Hollywood blockbusters and such, you needn't concern yourself with this as much, for the slight mid-bass suck isn't as noticeable--especially when using a subwoofer. But if you're thinking about building a modest two-channel system around a pair of R-55Es, do take note and perhaps take RBH up on their 30-day in-home trial period before fully committing. Of course, one can augment the R-55E's bottom end and perhaps overcome the mild crossover dip by applying some custom EQ, or definitely by adding a subwoofer, but as the R-55E stands there is a slight disconnect between the bass and midrange drivers.
Adding a subwoofer of course does add to the overall cost of the R-55E's ownership proposition, but for those employing the R-55E in a home theater system a subwoofer is practically required anyway. But the R-55E's practical need for a sub does raise questions about whether or not you need a speaker as large as the R-55E. One could perhaps purchase five matching R-515E center/LCR speakers and save a little money, while obtaining pretty much the same sound. Either way, this mild criticism of the R-55E shouldn't deter you from auditioning it, for it is pretty much its only caveat, all things considered.
The second issue I have, or I think consumers will have, is a lack of many finish options. While black is the color of the day, options like matte white, rainbow colors, and or other options can pique interest with the speaker-buying masses. My fiance commented more than once about how the R-55E's visually dominated the room despite looking slender enough. I'm not suggesting RBH bring back the faux wood finish of the previous generation, but for a brand known for their finish options (historically speaking) the choice between matte and gloss black is a bit limiting.
Competition and Comparisons
My home has been awash with $2,000-a-pair loudspeakers as of late. The R-55E faces stiff competition among its peers, beginning with Monitor Audio's Silver 300 Series towers. At pretty much the same price, there's no getting around the fact that the Monitor Audio speakers simply look better. They do, and they offer you a bevy of finish options. In terms of sound, that is a different story, for I found the Monitor Audios to be a bit laid back and dark in comparison to the R-55E. That doesn't make the R-55E better or the Monitor Audio speakers worse, it just makes their signature sound different despite their asking prices being (basically) the same.
Another speaker vying for attention against the R-55E, and one also stemming from Utah, is Tekton Design's Lore Be. Retailing for a little less than a pair of R-55Es, the Lore Be has a few things the R-55E doesn't. First, there's no denying the coherence a single 10-inch driver brings to the party (not to mention one fewer crossover points), which the Lore Be possess in spades. Second, the Lore Be has a beryllium tweeter (hence the Be), that I don't think is necessarily better than the simple, silk-dome found with the R-55E, it's just different. I do know this, audiophiles love themselves some beryllium, so its inclusion on the Lore is likely going to catch an eye or two on paper, but again, I wouldn't say it's outright better. As far as looks go, the R-55E looks far more sophisticated compared to the squatty Lore Be.
Of course, one would be remiss not to also mention stalwarts like Paradigm, Bowers & Wilkins, GoldenEar, SVS, and even ELAC when discussing brands making speakers hovering around the $2,000 a pair price point. Needless to say, you have more than a few choices with which to choose from, but the R-55E definitely belongs among its competition and should be on your short list of speakers to audition.
At $1,999.94 a pair in gloss black, the R-55E Impression Series floorstanding speaker brings a lot of performance and value to the home theater space. Possessing a sound that is lively and downright fun, whilst never becoming too forward, or worse fatiguing, is a one-two punch this reviewer appreciates. I do. I like a speaker that isn't too serious, and that can rock out and play up to 11 without falling apart.
Are there more refined tower loudspeakers at or around the R-55E's asking price? Sure, without question, but few that can match its sense of scale when called upon to recreate a true cinema-like presentation. Moreover, if you feed it a solid 100 or so Watts, the dynamic feats the R-55E's aluminum drivers are capable of are nothing short of fantastic. Yes, there is a bit of a suck around the R-55's lower crossover point that with music is more noticeable and perhaps an issue, but where I think this speaker shines is in a home theater, where you'll have a subwoofer (or two) to round things out.
As a home theater speaker, the R-55E provided me with nothing but smiles. In truth, it belongs on my short list of consumer speakers that do more to bridge the gap that rests between a commercial cinema experience and a home one, a list that includes a commercial-grade speaker in the JBL 3677. If I were in the market for a (largely) full-range tower speaker that was as at home in a dedicated theater space as it was a living room, but wanted either space to sound more like my local multiplex when watching movies, I'd likely start by auditioning the R-55E. I'd start there because chances are it's where my journey would also end, for it only takes one blockbuster action film to fall in love with this speaker.
• Visit the RBH Sound website for more product information.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speaker Reviews page to read similar reviews.
•RBH Sound SV-661R Bookshelf Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.