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Published on December 31st, 2011 | by Greg


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.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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