As a scientifically minded person, I find few things quite so satisfying as being proven wrong ... and few speaker systems in recent memory have delighted me quite as much as RSL's new $1,478 CG3 5.2 home theater speaker system.
You might think that I'm hinting at a poor first impression of the new speaker lineup, but that's not the case. At least not exactly. To be quite blunt about it, my initial thoughts upon unboxing the quartet of CG3 bookshelf speakers ($135 each) and CG23 center speaker ($200 each) could best be summed up as, "Oh." The cabinets, while sporting a lovely piano-black gloss finish, don't stand out in any particular way for speakers their size: 9.5 by 5 by 6 inches for the bookshelves and 16 by 6 by 6.4 inches for the center. The binding posts, while perfectly functional, appear to be standard Parts Express offerings. The drivers--four-inch Kevlar cones and one-inch silk-dome tweeters--certainly look lovely enough, but they could best be summed up as "tried and true" from a design perspective.
None of this should be considered a slight, of course. It's simply to say that anyone who has tested a decent amount of small- to mid-sized speaker systems will take one look at RSL's CG3 speakers and be reasonably confident in his or her assessment of their performance, without even hooking up the speakers. Given that they fit quite nicely between compact satellite systems and larger bookshelf offerings in terms of overall size, one's brain logically expects performance capabilities situated between those two broad classes, as well.
The one variable, of course, is the cigarette-shaped port lining the bottom of the bookshelves (and the sides of the center), the only outward indication of some pretty nifty internal technology--namely, RSL's patented Compression Guide, which allows internal sound waves to compress and expand in a very calculated way to minimized cabinet resonance. It's the same technology found in the company's Speedwoofer 10S subwoofer, two of which are included in the CG3 5.2 package. (I already reviewed the 10S sub in a standalone review). The technology is also found in the GC4 system that we reviewed a few years back.
Even my experience with the Speedwoofer 10S, though, didn't quite prepare me for the performance of these unassuming looking little speakers.
Setup of the system proved to be straightforward and uneventful, except that I elevated the front channels a few inches--mostly to compensate for the fact that I normally rely on significantly larger bookshelf speakers in my bedroom home theater system.
I used Anthem's MRX 1120 AV receiver to drive the RSL system for the duration of the review, although I did make some tweaks to its Anthem Room Correction setup throughout the process. Upon first running ARC, I studied in the in-room measurements and decided (against the advice of the software itself) that the speakers could handle an 80-Hz crossover point just fine. It only took a bit of music listening to realize, though, that such a crossover point was asking just a weensy bit much of the CG3 bookshelf speakers' four-inch woofers. A 100-Hz crossover point resulted in a much more seamless blend between subs and sats, not to mention the fact that it jibed with ARC's recommendations, as well as the speakers' reported frequency response on RSL's website.
As mentioned above, the CG3 5.2 system comes with a pair of RSL Speedwoofer 10S subs, each of which was positioned beneath and just to the outside of the front left and right bookshelf speakers. Custom-made interconnects bridged the gap between receiver and subs, and I used Monoprice Choice Series 12AWG speaker wire to connect the bookshelves and center speaker.
One thing worth pointing out is that I did set ARC's Max EQ frequency slightly higher than usual, at 600 Hz. This served to smooth out a slight (~3 or 4 dB) dip in in-room performance right around the 500-Hz point in the front left and right speakers, as well as the surrounds. Above that point, the in-room response of the speakers clung remarkably tightly to ARC's target curve, such that there wouldn't have been much if any EQ applied even if I had allowed it. For more thoughts on room correction and why I set a limit on EQ when I can, see my article Automated Room Correction Explained.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...