RSL CG5 Bookshelf and CG25 Monitor/Center Channel Reviewed

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RSL CG5 Bookshelf and CG25 Monitor/Center Channel Reviewed

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I began my critical evaluation of the RSL CG5 system with the 5.2-channel setup detailed above: four CG5 bookshelves, a CG25 configured horizontally as the center, and two Speedwoofer 10S subs. The listening material of choice was the new Amazon Prime Video adaptation of Hanna (originally a 2011 film starring Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana; now an eight-part TV series). The first episode begins with a claustrophobic interior shot. Clock ticking. Soundstage tight and intense. An exterior shot quickly follows. Sparse woods. Heavy breathing. Thrown keys. The sound mix here is honestly more compelling than the visuals, and the CG5 system delivers it all beautifully, not just in terms of tone and timbre, but also in the depth of the soundstage. There's a real sense of space here that's palpable. In addition to the wonderful neutrality, this system delivers a level of depth and detail that's far above par for the course with a package in this price range. The series also gives the speakers a chance to shine in the dynamics department, especially in their ability to deliver gunfire with startling impact.

Of course, what many an RSL fan will likely want to know is how the CG5 speakers compare to the CG3 speakers, given their differences in both size and price. There's the obvious, of course: given the larger cabinets and larger woofers, you'd expect better low-frequency extension. And yes, you can cross these speakers over with the sub at a much lower point, resulting in a more seamless transition between them and an overall sense of more omnipresent bass.

Other than that, the speakers sound remarkably similar. So much so that I decided to start mixing and matching speakers from the CG3 and CG5 lines, as detailed above. Overall, they're a wonderful timbre match, and about the only combination I wouldn't recommend would be using a CG23 as a center speaker in a system comprised of CG5-line speakers otherwise. If you're gonna go big in any way, go big with the center speaker.

Getting back to the sonic differences between CG3 and CG5, though, two things stand out as particularly noteworthy. One, there's a subtle but appreciable difference in the refinement of the midrange frequencies between, say, 500Hz and 2,000Hz. At first listen, the midrange of the CG5 and CG25 comes across as a little reserved by comparison. But that's not a fair descriptor. The midrange is pretty much perfectly balanced with the bass and treble. It's simply smoother and even more neutral.

Two, the dispersion of the newer, larger speaker is both wider and more uniform by comparison with the CG3. I typically give the CG3 bookshelves a good amount of toe-in, but this wasn't necessary with the CG5s. (It's worth pointing out, though, that my first reflections in this room are pretty well treated; if that's not the case in your room, some degree of toe-in may still be a good idea.)

Moving onto a few of my go-to center speaker torture tests (y'all know them all by heart at this point: Cloud Atlas, The Fellowship of the Ring, etc.), the CG25 more than proved its worth. I typically don't like M-T-M center speaker designs, preferring instead center speakers in which the tweeter is elevated. But the RSL exhibits almost none of the problems inherent to most horizontal center speakers. You'll hear none of the "picket fence" effect--more accurately described as lobing or combing--that often plague similarly designed centers. If there's any criticism to be aimed in the direction of the CG25-as-center-speaker, it's that when positioned horizontally, its dispersion isn't as wide and even as that of the CG5. If you sit reasonably on-axis, this won't be a concern. Move to the periphery of the seating area, though, and you might notice that the center is less of a spot-on timbre match for the bookshelves as it is for those sitting toward the sweet spot.

The upside to all of this is that if you can't place your center speaker on the same horizontal plane as the left and right fronts--perhaps due to the position of your TV, or maybe due to the design of your furniture--the CG25 does have pretty fantastic vertical dispersion when configured horizontally, which can have the affect of making voices seem more connected to the lips moving on the screen.

All of my surround sound testing with the CG5 system, whether I employed CG5 bookshelves for surrounds, some combination of CG5s and CG3s, or just CG3s in the rear of the room, pointed toward the same conclusion: RSL has a wonderful dynamic, tonally neutral, wonderfully wide-dispersion system on its hands here that absolutely rocks with everything from atmospheric world-building (the Mines of Moira sequences in Fellowship of the Ring) to balls-to-the-wall action (the showdown between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren toward the end of The Last Jedi).

The only struggle I'm really having in this department is that all of my notes from this portion of the review are about the movie soundtracks themselves. The CG5 system injects so little of its own personality into the equation that it's hard to cook up evocative descriptions. The speakers give what they're given. They don't add much. They take very little away. Honestly, with the lights down low and no notepad in my hand, I kinda start to forget that they're there. As wonderfully cohesive as the CG3 5.2 system is, adding the CG5 and CG25 to the mix--even if only for the front soundstage--simply results in such better integration with the subs, and such enhanced authority with the bass, that one starts running out of nits to pick altogether.

Much the same could be said with music. Employing a pair of CG25s in a stereo configuration does give you a little more punch and a little more oomph than simply relying on a pair of CG5s. But even the smaller speakers in this line deliver such delicious dynamics and detail that it's hard to recommend stepping up to the larger, more expensive LCRs unless you simply have a larger room.

With "Ventura Highway" from America's Homecoming album (DVD-Audio, two-channel mix, 192/24), I was particular impressed with the way the speakers delivered the intertwining picked acoustical guitars in the left and right channels, with the strummed acoustical guitar mixed pretty rock solidly in the center. Joe Osborne's bass also plays around right in the crossover region between subs and satellites, giving one a good sense of how the system as a whole integrates. Absolutely no complaints there. But what stands out most from my listening is how the mix seems unconstrained by the positioning of the speakers themselves. In terms of depth and--to a much larger degree--width, the sound goes where the sound wants to go, with no real regard for where the cabinets are placed. In this respect, as in most, the RSL CG5 system punches way, way above its weight class.

With Anaïs Mitchell's "The Wedding Song" from her folk opera Hadestown, I was frankly staggered by the CG5s' ability to capture the unique tones and nuances of her vocals. Mitchell's distinctive, high-pitched, almost breathy voice is tough to render well. Any appreciable imbalance of frequencies, any notable edginess in the treble, and she almost starts to sound comical. But the CG5 duo did her more than justice, and also sang well with the overdubbed vocals of Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver). On a whim, I switched the processing of the Marantz receiver during this track from stereo to Dolby Surround, almost as a dare. A gauntlet. A challenge thrown in front of the CG25-as-center-speaker. "Do your best with this," I'm sure my face said as I made the switch.

To my delight, the CG25 when plopped on its side is such a close timbre match for the CG5 that I actually kinda ended up liking the mix better in faux surround than in stereo.

The Downside
In my aforementioned review of the Marantz SR8012, I made a passing reference to the fact that I was able to push these speakers to the point of struggle with the volume knob turned up enough. It's worth exploring that a little more here, because there's a good bit that I left unsaid in that review (given that it was about the receiver, not the speakers). 

It's true that in the first episode of Our Planet, with the volume turned up way higher than any sane person should ever turn it, I did start to hear some cabinet resonance in the loudest of scenes. The speaker itself began to make its presence as a physical, electroacoustic device known. But I was already reaching for the volume button anyway.

More concerning, though, is what I heard when really seriously cranking "Thick as a Brick (Pt. 1)" from the Jethro Tull album of the same name. At the onset of the subito forte passage about three minutes into the track, I managed to bottom out the woofer in the CG5, with no real prior indication that the speaker was reaching its limits.

Again, I need to stress this point as much as I can without bolding, underline, and italicizing the text: I was playing it loud. Too loud. Stupidly loud. And I almost hesitate to put this in the downside section for exactly that reason. Simply put, it would be entirely valid to read this and say, "Yeah, but the speaker played clean as hell right up to the point where it started to fall apart. That's kinda awesome." Indeed, it is. Very awesome.

I just want you to know that, unlike most speakers I've reviewed in this general budget range, the CG5 gives you very little indication of when it's being pushed past its comfort zone--no real compression, no real distortion--until allofasudden... "CLACK!" With more of a slow crescendo like you get with Our Planet? Sure. There's a little warning. With highly dynamic music like "This as a Brick"? Nope. The breakup point seems to come out of nowhere.

I also want to be clear that I'm not saying the woofers shouldn't have bottomed out with that level of input and with material so dynamic. Physics is just physics. All I'm saying here is that with the RSL GC5, you have to trust your ears a little more than normal, and be a little smarter with the volume control, because the speakers aren't going to start pushing back until it's almost too late--for both them and your eardrums. This isn't a criticism, per se, so much as a caveat.

The good news is, the drivers suffered no damage as a result of all this kerflooey, and have played beautifully in the weeks since. The only harm done is that I had to run an extra load of laundry.

And for what it's worth, this caveat does not apply to the CG25, at least not in my experience. I unplugged the CG5s, sat up a stereo system with their larger and more sensitive siblings, and cranked "Thick as a Brick (Pt. 1)" to the high heavens once more, and couldn't bottom out the woofers no matter how hard I tried.

Comparison and Competition
Putting all of the pieces together--price, design, performance, etc.--I'm going to have to say that the speaker that most closely competes with the RSL CG5 is Aperion Audio's Verus III Grand Bookshelf Speakers. I think the Aperions might appeal to shoppers whose aesthetic tastes run a little more toward the traditional, whereas the RSLs are more likely to appeal to those with more modern sensibilities. In terms of performance, the Aperions are a little more sensitive, but the RSLs have smoother, more refined midrange, and they exhibited none of the slight chuffing that I heard with the Verus III.

Add a center speaker to the mix and the value proposition shifts slightly. The RSL CG25 is only $500, whereas the Aperion Verus III Grand Center is $699. Both have admirably uniform off-axis response, but the Aperion's horizontal dispersion is slightly wider. The RSL, on the other hand, is a better timbre match for its accompanying bookshelves.

Another system that I would consider a pretty reasonable match is Paradigm's Premier series, with the larger Premier 200B bookshelf ($499) and 500C center ($799) being probably the closest analogue. Honestly, I think the RSLs look a little sexier, especially in white, but the Paradigms do have a perforated phase alignment lens protecting the tweeter, making them a somewhat better choice if you like your speakers au naturel. You can read a full review of the Premier floor-standers here.

As I hinted at in the intro, I wasn't quite prepared for how beefy the CG5 speakers would be, especially after living so long with a much daintier RSL system for so long. What's clear, though, is that no matter what kind of speakers the company produces, you can always depend on a few key commonalities: great clarity, great dynamics, wonderful neutrality, and incredible value. 

With the CG5 system, RSL has also upped the ante in terms of aesthetics, as well as a few key performance upgrades like even more refined midrange and even better dispersion. Whether you go whole-hog with a full CG5/CG25 system, or mix and match CG3 speakers into the equation to save a bit of space (and a good bit of money), I think anyone would be happy with this system. Unless, of course, you try to push the CG5 past its capabilities, as I did. In which case it doesn't matter because you'll be deaf sooner rather than later.

Additional Resources
• Visit the RSL website for more product information.
• Check out our Bookshelf Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• RSL CG3 5.2 Home Theater Speaker System Reviewed at

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HTR Product Rating for RSL CG5 Bookshelf and CG25 Monitor/Center Channel

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