Hands On: RSL Compression Guide Speakers

An old speaker company is reborn.

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I hear again and again how home theater dealers yearn for the good-old-days when consumers took audio seriously and would hunt out the perfect speakers for their home listening rooms. Today, these dealers will tell you that people want big, bright TVs and maybe a home theater-in-a-box system to complement it. They want compressed and streamed music in their headphones more than they want high fidelity.

One of these people might have been Howard Rodgers, except he decided to do something about it. In the ‘70s and ‘80s Rodgers owned a series of hi-fi stores in southern California called Rogersound Labs. In those stores he sold his own RSL loudspeakers—a brand that attracted a healthy following of audiophiles at the time.

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Eventually, the Rogersound Labs stores went away and Rodgers himself moved on to other things. One of those things was his own home theater—unfortunately he was unsatisfied with any of the speakers he could find on the market, so he went back to the drawing board and built his own. From the results came the new RSL speakers.

He liked his new designs so much, he started comparing them to other premium-level speakers. As Rodgers tells it, all that comparing convinced him he could make speakers to stand up against the best brands in the business, but for less money. Thus the beginnings of a new business emerged.

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Recognizing some changes in the industry since he last sold speakers, his new business model focuses on online sales rather than brick-and-mortar stores.

The new RSL speakers are based on the same proprietary Compression Guide (CG) technology used in his original speakers. Rodgers recognized that resonance inside a speaker enclosure can create havoc for your ears. His compression guide system is kind of like a cattle shoot for air within the speakers. Air will travel throughout the speaker enclosure from areas of high compression to areas of low compression in an attempt to prevent internal resonances from mucking up what the woofers and tweeters are trying to accomplish. Rather than just letting the air bounce around inside the cabinet until it’s worn itself out or escaped through the port (in vented styles), CG directs the air along a calculated route. The purpose is to create very clean, accurate sounding speakers.

Does it work?

Rodgers sent Electronic House a 5.1 system consisting of four RSL CG4s, one RSL CG24 for the center and one RSL Speedwoofer 10. The CG4s, the satellite speakers, are hefty for their size. The finish is an attractive gloss black with a metal mesh cover for the drivers that attaches magnetically. A horizontal opening at the bottom acts as the air port. The subwoofer is interesting because not only does it come with a remote for independently controlling the volume, but it also includes an external control box connected to the sub by a shielded Ethernet cable. The control box includes knobs for adjusting the volume and crossover frequency. The nice thing about this setup is that you can place the sub out of sight, but position the control box where you can aim the remote at it.

RSL recommends breaking in the speakers for about 40 hours prior to doing any critical listening, so I had this set hooked up for more than a week with jazz radio playing through them most days.

When I was ready to sit down and listen to some music, I first played some Sugarcubes. I love the range of Björk’s vocal acrobatics, particularly on the track Birthday. The RSL setup handled it all well, letting her nuances shine through without coloring them in any way.

I moved onto a Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Conner arrangement of Emily’s Reel. Here, the RSLs created a very rich, three-dimensional soundstage that seemed larger than such small speakers should be able produce. My daughter plays cello, so I’m often right next to the real thing. I was impressed at how authentically the system drew the cello for me in the air, making it deep and throaty without mushing up the woodiness of the instrument.

On movie soundtracks, the system also performed well. Once again I was impressed with the fullness of the presentation. The center handled vocal clarity and main drama without dominating the system. The subwoofer was clean, not railroad heavy, and the surrounds created a subtle ambiance but didn’t attracted too much attention to themselves.

One thing about the subwoofer—it’s got muscle. Don’t crank it up or you’ll blow the floor out of your room. Once I’d balanced it for my room, which involved turning it down significantly, it blended well, producing the right tones for the job cleanly without driving a train through the house.

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After spending a couple of weeks tossing a wide variety of music and movies through the speakers, I packed them up very impressed with what a $2,075 sub/sat system could deliver, especially considering the fact that I’d never heard of this company until Howard Rodgers called me on the phone to tell me about them. These are clearly speakers designed by a company that put a lot of thought, and heart, into them. They take a traditional approach, and tackle traditional problems, and add a little bit of innovation to create something new.

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