I started reviewing home theater speaker systems in 1991, way back when there were only one or two companies making a dedicated center speaker. Since then, hundreds of systems have passed through my various listening rooms, at prices from $50 (yep) to well over $500,000 (really). They've appeared in countless configurations, from huge tower speakers to satellite speakers the size of golf balls. Of all of them, the ones I most often enjoy reviewing are the ones that employ medium-sized, two-way satellite speakers and a subwoofer in the 10- to 12-inch range. They're usually easy to set up, the speakers usually blend well with the subwoofer, and the modest size of the woofers in the satellites tends to give them broad dispersion and a big, spacious sound. One great example is the Rogersound CG4 5.1 system.
The CG4 system is based around four 10.5-inch-high CG4 satellite speakers, each one with a four-inch, polypropylene-cone midrange/woofer and a one-inch, silk-dome tweeter. The horizontal center speaker is the 16-inch-wide CG24, which has the same drivers as the CG4 with the addition of an extra mid-woofer. Both models use Rogersound's Compression Guide design, which divides up the interior of the speaker cabinet to reduce cabinet resonance and ports the woofer through a thin slot.
Rogersound's Speedwoofer 10 subwoofer provides the bottom end. It's unusual in a variety of ways; in fact, the only "ordinary" part is the 10-inch woofer. The woofer is driven by a 375-watt conventional Class AB amp, instead of a high-efficiency Class D, G, or H amp as in almost all modern subwoofers. Why? Simply because chief designer Howard Rodgers thinks Class AB sounds better. Many audiophiles do, too. Like the satellites, the Speedwoofer 10 employs the Compression Guide design.
What's most visually distinctive about the sub, though, is the controls, which reside in a little box that can sit atop the sub and attaches via a standard Ethernet cable. The box has knobs for volume and crossover frequency. There's nothing technically special about the box, but it does make it easier to adjust the sub. It also makes it possible to use the supplied wireless remote, which controls the same functions as the knobs and allows you to make your adjustments from different parts of the room. The remote and control box can communicate even when the sub itself is hidden. The back panel has line-level and speaker-level inputs and outputs, plus switches for phase and power.
The CG4 is Rogersound's least expensive home theater speaker system, at $2,075 for the whole schmear (with free shipping in the 48 states and a 30-day return policy). You can also add two more surrounds for 7.1-channel sound; substitute timbre-matched in-wall and in-ceiling speakers for the left, right, or surround channels; and add one or more extra subs. All of the components are also available separately.
Setup of the CG4 system is about as easy as it gets with a 5.1 system. Put the little satellites on some stands, put the center speaker below your TV (or, if you have a projector as I do, on its own stand), and put the subwoofer wherever it sounds the best. In my case, that's in my "subwoofer sweet spot," a position along the front wall about four feet to the right of center. That's not necessarily what will sound best in your room, though. (If you want to find your room's "subwoofer sweet spot," put your subwoofer in your listening seat; put on a tune with a melodic, wide-ranging bass line; then crawl along the walls in the front half of the room to find the spot where the bass line sounds the most even.)
I used my Denon AVR-2809ci AV receiver only as a preamp/processor and used an AudioControl savoy seven-channel amp to power the speakers. I used the line input on the Speedwoofer 10 and set the crossover frequency on the sub as high as it would go (170 Hz). The four-inch woofers in the satellites and center speaker aren't bass monsters, so I set the subwoofer crossover point to 100 Hz to take some load off the little guys. This proved especially important with these speakers. With the industry-standard 80-Hz crossover point, a "sonic hole" opens up between the sub and the satellites/center, which makes voices sound somewhat thin and trebly.
I tried the sats and center with the metal grilles on and off (they are held strongly in place by neo magnets), and I decided to keep them on; they look better and arguably sound just as good with the grilles.
Guessing that this particular Rogersound 5.1 system would primarily attract the interest of home theater fans rather than audiophiles, I concentrated much of my audition on movie soundtracks.
One of my favorite tests to find out fast what a home theater speaker system can do is to play chapters three and four of Star Wars-Episode II: Attack of the Clones. This selection starts with super-deep bass tones portraying several flyovers of a spaceship; it proceeds into a high-volume explosion of that spaceship that's packed with subtle Foley effects; and then it moves into a scene in an office where various characters talk and music swells in the background.
What caught my ear first was the way the Speedwoofer 10 handled the spaceship flyovers. It really seemed to grab hold of my listening room the way a big super-subwoofer like the Hsu Research VTF-15H Mk2 does; I felt an awesome, slightly frightening shake in my chair. For a 10-inch subwoofer, this is excellent performance. It handled the explosion easily, giving me that same scary, edge-of-the-seat experience. When the drama moved to the Chancellor's office, I noticed that the conversation sounded extremely clear, no matter who was speaking. And the ominous low-frequency tones that run underneath the dialogue were easy to hear; with some small systems, they're mostly lost.
I didn't adjust the volume when I switched to the "Thanator Chase" chapter from Avatar. Unfortunately, the Panasonic Blu-ray player remembered the place I'd left off last time I watched this scene, and it started from there with the system volume cranked. The system jumped right into the chase instantly without even a hint of distortion--and, in the process, made me jump out of my chair. After I got the volume down a few dB and started the chapter over again, I noticed that the system had terrific imaging between the front and side speakers and that the relatively small surrounds had no problem handling the unusually loud and dynamic surround-channel content in this scene.
Longer-term movie watching, including VUDU streams of Moneyball and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, showed that the CG4 system can deliver awesome dynamics for its size while also creating a compelling sense of ambience and delivering dialogue with outstanding clarity and natural timbre. It was hard for me to accept that this system cost just $2,000; it sounded to me like a much larger system, yet it had the smooth midwoofer/tweeter blend you usually get by using a small four-inch driver.
When I switched over to stereo music, I got very good (although perhaps not as shockingly outstanding) results. Steely Dan's "Aja," an audiophile classic, sounded about 90 percent as good as it gets. The tune's bass line sounded extremely melodic and tight, and the tune had the big, spacious sound it should have. Imaging of all the instruments sounded precisely placed and natural. My notes for the live version of James Taylor's "Shower the People" said almost exactly the same thing, with the addition of the phrase "really digging this subwoofer!"
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...