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Listen Up!


- Episode 31 - November 29th, 2004

Evaluating multimedia speaker systems is no easy task. You not only have to account for variables such as source material, speaker position, room ambience, subwoofer placement, volume level, and so on, which ain't trivial, but you should also have a reproducible method for measuring frequency response and sound pressure levels.

My "lab" isn't set up for that, which is one reason today's episode will not include stuff like that.

The second reason is that last week MacInTouch ran a fabulous review of the very speaker system I'm about to recommend, the RSL Digital Fidelity One, which compared it with a system that costs twice as much (Logitech Z-2300). Their review includes all the charts and graphs and frequency responses you'd expect from a reputable reporting organization. There's even a nice letter from Howard Rodgers, owner of Rogersound Labs, complimenting MacInTouch on their reporting.

Now, here's my story: Someone on a Web site or mail list recommended the RSL speakers a few weeks ago. The name rang a bell and it turned out that this RSL was Rogersound Labs, the very same Rogersound Labs I knew and loved as a kid in Los Angeles. RSL had a bunch of retail stores and great long-copy ads every Sunday in the L.A. Times. Each week they'd describe, in great detail, why RSL offered better speakers for less money (because they designed and manufactured them). I remember lusting over some JBL Studio Monitors and buying similar RSLs for half the price. The speakers rocked and I was tickled pink about the deal.

So when I saw the new RSL Digital Fidelity One 3 piece multimedia speaker system, with its introductory price of just $59.95 + S/H, I had to know if the same old RSL magic was at work.

I won't bore you with the system specifications; if you're interested in that type of thing, you have to read Specifications (and a few words of caution) on the RSL Web site. Suffice it to say the RSL Digital Fidelity One system includes a subwoofer (a big box usually placed under the desk) and two small "satellite" speakers, one with a power on/off button and volume controls. It's not the most attractive speaker system I've seen, but it's far from ugly. See for yourself:

photo courtesy Rogersound Labs
(Click for a larger image)

My current multimedia speakers are Tapco (by Mackie) S5 Reference Monitors; Future Music Magazine says, "On first listening to the S5s, I was impressed by the amount of subtle high-end detail that was revealed; when listening to acoustically recorded music in the room, ambience seems to come to life, allowing the music to sound much more realistic."

Alas, while I love these gorgeous $500 semi-pro studio monitors to death, they're almost certainly overkill for most users. However, since they were on my desk, they became the de facto comparison system.

photo courtesy Tapco by Mackie
(Click for a larger image)

Here's how the testing was done: I have an A/B switch I used for comparing multimedia speaker systems when I was writing GarageBand For Dummies. The Tapco S5s were set as Speaker A and the RSLs as Speaker B. After adjusting both systems so their levels and speaker positions were as neutral as possible, I then asked a wide variety of friends, neighbors, kids, friends of kids, and delivery people to give me their opinion. I had them sit in my chair and choose a song or two from my iTunes library. They'd listen; I'd wave my hand and switch systems, whispering "Speaker A" or "Speaker B." Using this elaborate methodology, I surveyed more than a dozen everyday people; you may find what they told me shocking.

While most of them preferred the more expensive Tapco S5s (and who wouldn't?), a handful told me they thought the RSL Digital Fidelity One system sounded better. And most of the people who preferred the Tapco system said the other speakers were "a close second," or "pretty darn good, too."

After a lot of A/B switching of my own, I prefer the Tapco S5s. They are tight and punchy without being boomy, with clear and well-defined mids and highs. But the RSL Digital Fidelity Ones were eminently listenable and pleasing to the ear, and sell for a mere fraction of the price of the Tapcos.

Last but certainly not least, RSL offers an unbeatable no-risk guarantee:

If you don't agree that the RSL Digital Fidelity One is the greatest sounding multimedia speaker system at anywhere near the price you paid......

Return them in 30 days and receive:

  • Your purchase price.
  • All Shipping and handling charges.
  • We'll even arrange for freight back to us at no cost to you!

Your out-of-pocket cost for trying them: Zero! Nada! Zip! Zilch! Nothing!

The bottom line, at least in my opinion, is that the RSL Digital Fidelity One speaker system is a rockin' good deal, especially at the current introductory price of $59.95 + P/H (about $15 to my office).

And that's all he wrote.

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit

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