Published on December 31st, 2011 | by Greg0
Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS SE 5.1: Boom Goes The Room
We know- it’s after Christmas. We missed the boat. You’re probably snug in front of your home entertainment system right now, watching Blu-rays and playing with your new tablet. Unless you waited for the specials, the deals, the likely price drops that always come after the holiday rush. Or you, like so many folks, received gift cards instead of big boxes.
After all, we doubt that most gift givers out there would pick up a really good sound system to set under the tree. Maybe your family received the Blu-ray player, or the video game console, or the big screen TV, or all of the above. But now that you’ve turned it all on and set it all up, perhaps the anemic sound is starting to get to you. Perhaps that small 2.1 system or the speakers built into your LCD aren’t cutting it. Pay attention, then: we’ve got just the thing.
The Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS Special Edition Home Theater 5.1 System might just be the cure for the winter blues. For instance, we really wanted to share our holiday Spotify playlist with our new neighbors, but didn’t really want to leave the house or anything. After setting this system up, we’re fairly confident that our music has inspired the entire block. Not only that, but we’ve set them up in two locations, and moved them across the country- and they still can shake the floors.
We haven’t tried out anything from Boston Acoustics before, but we have seen our fair share of 5.1 systems and other speakers. Some we’ve loved- inexpensive subwoofers from BIC have continued to hold up well, and our Orb Audio system still inspires looks of envy. But the SoundWare sets looks more like the Palo Alto Designs, with a cubic appearance that is nicely rounded and very compact. And they sound better than most systems in the price range, offering excellent highs, and lows that are impressively solid if not stunning. The mids were a bit muddy out of the box, but with a few tweaks and some burn-in time, we managed to get them sounding crisp and clear. The dual drivers in each speaker definitely helped- most other satellites offer a single driver, and very few can even get close to matching the tiny size of these.
Setup was simple, if not without a concern or two. Everything is nicely packed and packaged, mounting hardware is helpfully included, and the 8-inch 100-watt subwoofer is wisely raised a bit from the floor. The angle of the five separate speakers is interesting, and works quite well as long as you don’t have a setup with pre-existing mounts that would aim them too high. We had some issues with wiring though- no banana plugs, no heavy gauge wire, and the clips are pretty painful to use (though do stay put once in place). Also, there is just a single RCA input on the sub. Build quality is great though- whereas some speakers can feel a bit plasticky, or are made from cheap particleboard, the density and weight of these is a sign of durability. That said, audiophiles might want to look for something a bit larger- these are surprisingly small and certainly good-looking but aren’t likely to impress serious listeners with their depth. At the edges, the sound does fray a bit, something we noticed most at the very highest and lowest frequencies and when the volume was turned up.
One of the first things we test for is precision- using either of the recent Denon and Onkyo receivers we have on-hand and playing through some Call of Duty or Battlefield and seeing how involved we feel and how directional weapon fire is. This can make a big difference in play. The same is true with movies: listening to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we could hear calls from all sides. Five speakers will almost always sound better than two, and this is definitely true when spread out carefully and balanced with a good receiver- placement is essential, and definitely so with these fairly directional, small speakers. Musical tests were also satisfactory- pop and rock sounded bright and snappy, though acoustic tracks lacked a bit of sparkle that we’ve heard from other systems, and hip-hop didn’t quite have the oomph we like.
One note: the Special Edition appears to be pretty much the same as the normal edition, though it features a nicer, glossier coating on the satellites. If price is an issue, you can save $100 or so by picking up the slightly older model (and also opt for white if you like, as the SEs are only available in black). Also, for those who want 7.1, you’re in luck- extra satellites are available separately. At $600, the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS SE’sare some of the best-sounding and nicest-looking speakers this compact, and the expandability and range are nice bonuses.