Radiient Speakers

On February 10, 2006, in Review, Speakers, by Owen Rubin

Radiient Speakers Review


Every once in while I come across a new product or company that I think is doing some very cool stuff, and feel the need to talk about them. Radiient is one of these, and while not a Macintosh product, I felt a review of their new speakers was in order here, as their target audience is very similar to Mac users. Basically, people who can appreciate high quality start-of-the-art products.

A new startup based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Radiient, Inc., has introduced a new line of home theatre loudspeakers that are well worth a look and listen. The company brings a philosophy of unique design and simplicity of use to the complex arena of home theatres (like Macintosh to computers), and their first of many products is a groups of loudspeaker systems. Typically an area for very expensive equipment, Radiient wants to bring the high-end sound of excellent quality speaker systems into your home at a reasonable price point, and I would agree that they have done just that. Their overall mission it to make the very complex HDTV Home Theatre systems simple, easy to use, affordable, and fun, by “delivering products which sweep away confusing obstacles which make it difficult to fully enjoy the new generation of digital entertainment” says their website.

Founded by Jano Banks and David C. Buuck, both veterans of the consumer electronics field, they bring their past experiences to this new venture, and it looks like a good combination. David Buuck was formerly CEO and Board Chair of DVDO, Inc, a fabless semiconductor company that made chips for video processing and scaling, and can be found in such devices as the award-winning iScan™ image enhancer technology for HDTV (see http://www.dvdo.com/pro/index.php), which, by the way, I use in my system. Jano Banks is the co-inventor of the High Definition Multimedia Interface, better known as HDMI, which is showing up on just about every product that touches digital TV these days. Together, they hope to change the home theatre world forever. If these speakers are any indication of what they can do, they are off to a good start, and I for one, look for a long line of products at reasonable prices that are miles above anything else you can buy at a similar price point. As for their customer service, they want to be sure you are happy; so all products come with a 30-day “send it back” guarantee and free ground shipping to your home. This means you can try them out in YOUR listening environment and see if you like them. If not, you can just ship them back for a full refund!

Radiient makes three lines of speakers, The Calypso™, which comes in a 5 speaker set for $499; the Europa™, a set of bookshelf speakers for $199; and the high end Hyperion’s, which I had the pleasure of reviewing. The system I tested included two front speaker towers, a center channel speaker, and two surround channel speakers, all for $799. At that price, I was not expecting these to knock me off my feet. After all, I was putting them in place of my rather expensive Polk SDA front speakers, and a pair of JBL surround channel theatre speakers in the back, and I like the way my system sounds. But to my surprise, the sound of these speakers did knock me off my feet.

The cabinets are tastefully designed to easily fit most decors, with black lacquer bases, dark front wood, dark grill coverings, and light colored wood backs (although I prefer Cherry wood, and would like to see these available in a darker wood color as well.) The speakers arrived very well packaged and protected, and some small assembly was required for the front speakers before I could hook them up. The bottom black lacquer piece must be attached to the bottom of the speakers with a few screws, which was a bit nerve-racking as you screw several long screws into the bottom of the speakers. I also had to screw in the small metal pointed feet into this bottom, obviously designed to minimize sound transfer to your floor. The main front speakers stand 47” high, 8.7” wide, and 12.5” deep, and weigh in around 38 pounds each. This weight was an interesting problem while trying to carefully balance the speaker while attaching and assembling the bottom and feet and trying not to damage the finish at the same time. Given the size of the box it actually came in, I hope they will choose to simply attach this panel and feet at the factory so one does not have to wrestle with a 38-pound speaker in the future.

The main front speakers are a 4-way tower design with a coaxial midbass/high frequency drivers made from woven carbon-fiber driver cones (which are now showing up in some of the best speaker systems), coupled with a metallized silk-dome tweeter and super tweeter. Their web site says these tweeters are “ferrofluid cooling and integrated cast-aluminum horn structure”, which meant very little to me, but hopefully will tell you something. In any case, frequency response is claimed at 40 Hz to 35Khz, which is very respectable, and with the right audio content, might drive the dogs in the neighborhood nuts as well with such a high end response. While I did not measure true response, I did listen to some test CDs with sweeping audio tests, and noted full response from well below 40 Hz as well. Of course, I have no way to truly know if the speakers truly go as high as 35 KHz, and given that most human’s hearing falls off well below 20 KHz, this should not be a problem for anyone’s listening even if they only get 85% of what they claim here. As for the low end, I found I did not need a sub-woofer turned on to get great sound, but that low rumble you expect from big screen movies was not present with out one, and the addition of a sub-woofer (which I believe they will be selling as well) helped out a lot here. Front speaker impedance is 8 ohm, with a 90dB/w/m sensitivity, and can handle up to 160 watts RMS power.

The center channel is a two-way designed speaker designed to sit horizontally in a midbass/tweeter/midbass driver configuration. Again, the use of woven carbon-fiber driver cones for the mids, and metallized silk-dome tweeters for the high end. This speaker easily handled anything I could throw at it, and again, sounded significantly brighter with much better imaging than the Polk center channel I replaced. Frequency response is claimed as 60 Hz to 20Khz, perfect for a center channel speaker, with the same impedance and sensitivity as the main channels. This speaker will handle 120 watts RMS, measures 7.6” high, 17.75” wide, and 10.25 “ deep, and weighs 16 pounds.

Finally, the surround channel speakers are a two-way “book shelf” sized speaker system with the same specs and drivers as the main channel speakers, and can handle up to 150 watts RMS each, measure 14.38” high by 8.75” wide and 12.5” deep, and weigh 16 pounds each.

But the true test was in the listening. I picked a number of different movie DVDs and some of my favorite music CDs, and cranked up the home theatre for a test drive. My first impression was very good. I found the frequency response to be excellent, and the overall presence and imaging of this system was far superior to my existing Polk SDA and center channel system, and on par with speaker systems I have heard that cost ten times as much as these. However, I found the sound tended to be slightly bright for my tastes, and while I run my Polks flat, I did need to reduce the high end a bit on my amp to compensate for the brightness of these speakers. I chalk some of this up to the fact that I do not like typically bright sounds, and perhaps I picked the Polk speakers for exactly that reason. However, after a bit of fumbling with the treble control on my amp, I found the sound very pleasant. All that said, I did find it easier to hear the dialog in movies with these speakers than I do with my own, and that brightness might be part of the reason. I easily grew to like the sound of this system, and am not eager to give them back any time soon.

I was also very impressed with the overall image quality of the sound. By this I mean that the speakers tended to disappear as sound sources, leaving an ‘image’ of sound that stretched from wall to wall without seeming to come just from the speakers. The overall listening area was not restricted to a few hot spots as some speakers create, and for me, this is a real plus. Anyone sitting on the couch in any position heard an excellent image.

When it comes to the surround channels, I was not as happy. In a typical set-up and for most users, they will work great and sound good. They have excellent response and sensitivity, and did an excellent job of playing surround material very clearly. However, in a THX style surround system, you are not supposed to throw the sound “straight out” into the room from the sides, but rather aim it forward and backwards along the wall. The idea is to make the walls disappear, rather than sound like the surround sound is coming through two windows in the walls. (See http://www.thx.com/mod/techlib/speakers.html for more on this.) For most listeners, this will never be an issue and these speakers are great, but for a high-end home theatre, I would have loved to see a set of surround speakers for this package designed to the THX Diffuse Surround speaker design, which would truly make these awesome for the high-end room.

I did also try these as “back” channels as well in a typical Dolby Pro Logic set up where the surround speakers are behind the listener rather than off to the side. In this set up, these speakers worked amazingly well, delivering clear and crisp surround material. I suspect in a Dolby Digital 7.1 set up, which has both side and back speakers, four of these speakers will sound great.

All in all, I consider myself blown away at the sound produced from this full set of speakers that cost well less than just the cost of most good center channel speakers alone which do not sound better. For the dollar, this is a true bargain, and I look forward to more cool products from these people. If you are looking to build that home theatre on a budget, you will not find a better sounding speaker for the price in my opinion.

About Owen Rubin

Owen Rubin was one of the first people to program arcade video games for Atari a long time ago, and designed arcade video games for almost 15 years. He later joined Apple where he worked on both hardware and software projects, and was the key player on the MacLC, bootable CD, several pieces of Mac system software, as well as a contributor to many other CPU projects. He later worked for Pacific Bell to lead the design of services for the first commercial broadband system in the US, and then went on to be the lead researcher of broadband for Paul Allen's Interval Research. Since then, he has been an executive at a number of startups in security and semiconductors, and is currently the CTO of Edison Labs, a startup focusing on helping commercial clients write and develop mobile apps, especially for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad.

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