RSL C34E In-ceiling Speaker Reviewed

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RSL C34E In-ceiling Speaker Reviewed

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Rogersound Labs started building speakers in 1970. This was a time before digital downloads, before Class D amplification, and--yes-- 13 years before the Compact Disc exploded on the audio scene. This was a time when turntables ruled, and we actually listened to the entire album in the track order the artists chose to take us along with them on their musical journeys (I'm thinking Thick as a Brick, Tommy, and Fragile). Brands that populated the boutique audiophile stores (my favorite back in the day was Lyric Hi Fi on Lexington Avenue in New York City, which is still open and doing very well) and even the Hi-Fi on the highway mini-chains (Crazy Eddy and Druckers, to name two) included Thorens, Marantz, Nakamichi, Phase Linear, Revox, Sherwood, Sony, Dynaco, Technics, Sansui, Dual, Teac, Pioneer, and McIntosh. Loudspeakers were made by companies like JBL, Altec, Klipsch, Acoustic Research, KLH, Rectilinear, Advent, Boston Acoustics, and (you guessed it) RSL.

Howard Rodgers was the company's founder and president until it was sold in 1989. He subsequently re-purchased RSL in 1992 and re-launched it in 2010. RSL's products have always been about the sound first and foremost--about connecting with the customer and making great-sounding loudspeaker systems at affordable prices. I received a pair of RSL's new C34E in-ceiling speakers for review, which are just $125 each. These speakers are engineered for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (or any home theater sound format), as well as for stereo music in a whole-home application--that is to say, they are full-range speakers suited to tackle even stereo-summed-to-mono duties in small spaces.

What's different about the C34E compared with many other in-ceiling options out there? Plenty. The adjustable-angle tweeter is horizontally centered and vertically sits slightly above the dual fixed-angle woofers. This design creates a lateral, phase-coherent driver alignment that results in natural, pleasingly even frequency delivery. This is a major advantage over designs that place the tweeter in front of the woofer, which blocks certain frequencies. The speaker uses dual 4.5-inch polypropylene woofers (each is 16-ohm, which nets an eight-ohm total impedance) and a single 0.88-inch cloth dome ferrofluid tweeter. Ferrofluid dampens the impedance at resonance to effectively lower distortion, smooth frequency response, and increase thermal power handling. The adjustable tweeter also allows greater placement flexibility, in case the optimal location has an air duct, a vent, a beam, or other issue. RSL recommends that you rotate the circular enclosure to aim the drivers toward the primary listening position. Most ceiling heights will allow for a sweet spot of more than one person.

The C34E has an onboard 6-dB/octave first-order crossover. I could write an entire article on crossovers; if you are interested, there's good information here and here. Brent Butterworth's excellent article on first-order crossovers is a must read if you want to go even deeper. Suffice it to say, RSL took the purist audio path option: no electrolytic caps, only air core coils ... which isn't inexpensive, but the results are a system with silky highs, clear midrange, and plenty of bass response.

Originally designed to be a great-sounding stereo speaker, the company quickly realized that mounting the C34E in an in-ceiling format provides a perfect full-range solution to meet the requirements of Dolby Atmos (and a superior option for DTS:X, as well).

The Hookup
The C34E's circular cut-out measures 10.13 inches with an overall 11.63-inch diameter, and the C34E has a relatively narrow depth of 3.88 inches--allowing it to be installed in ceilings with minimal depth clearance. If you have living space above the ceiling into which you will be installing these, it is recommended that you use insulation around the installation opening. Home Depot sells UltraTouch Denim insulation that is eco-friendly, fiberglass free, and doesn't break up and get into places it shouldn't ... and it works quite well to keep the sound out of the living space above. If there is just an attic above, then leave the space open to provide extended bass response. The C34E is edgeless and has a paintable, magnetic grill.


RSL sent the pair of C34Es in a ported, wood car stereo kick box-like enclosure so that I wouldn't need to cut holes in my ceiling to conduct a proper evaluation. I initially evaluated them as I would a stereo bookshelf pair, comparing them with my reference two-way bookshelf and three-way tower speakers, with and without a sub.

I also wanted to audition them as Atmos speakers. I have 16-foot ceilings in my Atmos-enabled home theater, which uses Definitive Technology's DI 6.5LCR in-wall speakers for left, center, and right duties and four DI 6.5R in-ceiling speakers for the height channels. Supplementing the Definitive speakers are side and rear surrounds from DAS and an M&K 12-inch subwoofer that I've owned for years. To substitute the RSL C34Es into the equation, I was able to rig them just below my rear height speakers, unscrew the Definitive doglegs, disconnect the speaker wire, and reconnect it to the RSLs. Later, I did the same with the mid-height channels and played the same content again in all-stereo mode to see how they performed as a whole-home audio solution.

So, how did they perform? Read on.

Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

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