Insane high-end speakers carved from pure unicorn horn by Apollo himself are all well and good if you can afford them, but what about mere mortals with only a meagre budget to play with? Don’t they deserve spectacular sound quality, too?
Well according to Roth, yes they do. That’s why the British audio brand has unleashed the OLi RA speaker series, which aims to deliver classy home cinema sound at a price that won’t break the bank.
The RA of the name stands for Richard Allen, a respected speaker designer of some 20 years and the brains behind the Arcaydis and EB Acoustics brands. Allen has lent his expert lug-holes to these new Roth designs in a bid to tease out the best possible performance for the money. It’s a canny move – cash-conscious buyers get an affordable speaker system with the seal of approval from a guy who knows his audio onions.
This third-generation OLi range features two floorstanders, the RA4 and smaller RA3, plus two bookshelf models, the RA2 and RA1 (£400, £300, £150 and £100 per pair respectively). The £100 C30 centre and £250 KH30 subwoofer complete the lineup.
You can chop and change as you please depending on room size and budget, but we’ve plumped for a 5.1 setup with a pair of RA4s at the front, RA1s on surround duty plus the centre and subwoofer. That comes in at a wallet-friendly £850.
Standing 962mm tall at the front of the system is the flagship RA4, a surprisingly well-crafted speaker for the money. The cabinet is reassuringly hefty and there are no visible seams or screws, just a single solid chunk of sonic goodness. The styling is distinctly modern. It’s slathered from head to toe in a smooth matt black finish, with curved edges that cry out for living room acceptance. To make it even more discreet, Roth supplies magnetic grilles that snap snugly onto the front (when some brands still employ fiddly plugs on much more expensive designs). If you prefer them naked then the cones, phase plugs and surrounds all blend in with the cabinet’s finish. It’s a good look.
This two-way speaker features two 6.5in woven fibreglass hybrid drivers for midrange and bass (compared with 5.25in drivers in the RA3s), plus a 1in silk dome tweeter.
The C30’s matching finish and curves ensure aesthetic consistency across the system, and its driver array includes two 5.25in cones and a 1in tweeter nestled between them.
At only 231mm high, RA1 is the range’s most compact bookshelf speaker and leaves a small, manageable footprint. It’s based on Roth’s previous OLi 10, employing a 4in driver and 1in tweeter. Close inspection of the cabinet reveals more of the same solid, robust build quality and suave styling, which is remarkable given they cost a mere £100 per pair.
In terms of spec and cosmetics, the KH30 subwoofer doesn’t let the side down. Its heavy build quality surprises considering the £250 price tag, while its curvy edges and matt finish again match the rest of the system.
It’s a front-firing, fairly compact affair, with an 8in woofer that can be covered up with a magnetic grille. The rear panel offers the usual array of controls and inputs, including volume and crossover knobs, and a phase reversal switch.
When it comes to performance, the OLi RA system punches so far above its weight it makes David vs Goliath look like a fair contest. Listening to the system belt out a boisterous blockbuster like Star Trek: Into Darkness, it seems preposterous that the whole lot retails for under a grand.
What struck me immediately is the size and scale. The movie’s wild opening scene shows Kirk and Bones fleeing the Nibiru natives against the backdrop of an erupting volcano, and fittingly the OLis generate an explosive soundstage that’s alive with big dynamics and quick, confident effects distribution.
As the pair dash through the jungle, the natives’ spears zip past the camera and split tree trunks with a piercing crack, while the deftly-handled score lends momentum and drama.
And when Spock finds himself stranded inside the volcano, the Roth cabinets put you right in there with him – massive waves of rumbling, growling lava rise up and fill the front of the room, while the RA1s whip up a swirling vortex of hissing flames behind you.
The floorstanding RA4s deliver these sounds with drive and control, while their impressive bass extension ensures a deeper and more fulsome sound than the sort of compact speakers you could buy for the same price. They comfortably handle loud volumes, too.
Some might find the RA1’s rear stage a little small by comparison, but their presentation is crisp and precise and you could always step up to the RA2s if you want a little more oomph.
I also had the benefit of hearing the system in action with RA1s installed at both front and rear, and although the soundstage is admirably punchy and engaging, the step up in depth and dynamics when switching to the bigger RA4s is remarkable and well worth the extra £300.
Also impressive is the system’s integration. An even tonal balance across the soundfield means effects are ushered seamlessly between channels, while the sub’s punchy low frequencies fuse tightly with the other speakers. Just one incongruous element could yank you back to reality, but thankfully the OLi RAs' coherent sound keeps you immersed and entertained.
But what astounded me most for the money is the system’s crisp, expressive high-frequency presentation. Every scene is dripping with detail, such as the hissing water as the Enterprise rises out of the sea or the chirping jungle wildlife on Nibiru. Despite this, the sound isn’t overly clinical – it’s merely the icing on a very rich and delicious cake. Treble sounds natural, not thin or spitty, and lends a pleasing sense of subtlety and texture. This is most clearly heard in dialogue, right down to the hiss of an ‘S’ or the pop of a ‘P’. The rich, treacly growl of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice is a particular treat.
This 5.1 array is surprisingly musical too, handling a 96kHz/24-bit FLAC of All Will Surely Burn by Sons of Kemet with panache. It picks out plenty of detail in this chaotic jazz arrangement, from the leading edges of snare drums to crashing cymbals, while the saxophone, trumpet and rattling percussion are cleanly separated. Called upon for a house party, these won't disappoint.
I won’t pretend Roth's OLi RA package trumps the dynamics, insight and musicality of bigger, pricier floorstanding systems, but its authoritative, detailed sound is good enough to scare most of the similarly-priced competition.
The fact you can even buy a system with such well-made floorstanders for this price is remarkable in itself, all of which makes the OLi RAs astoundingly good value for money. At this price there are plenty of packages to audition, but these certainly deserve your attention. It's also currently Roth's only speaker range – perhaps it should release some more...
Roth OLi RA 5.1
Price: £850 Approx
Highs: Great build quality and styling; remarkably detailed sound; good dynamics and seamless integration; fantastic value
Lows: Comparatively small rear soundstage; plenty of competition
Drive units: 2 x 6.5in woven fibreglass hybrid drivers; 1 x 1in Black Diamond silk dome tweeter
Enclosure: Two-way, rear-ported tower
Frequency response: 40Hz-20kHz
Power handling: 150W
Dimensions: 215(w) x 965(h) x 325(d)mm
Drive units: 1 x 4in woven fibreglass hybrid cone; 1 x 1in silk dome tweeter
Enclosure: Two-way, rear-ported bookshelf
Frequency response: 80Hz-20kHz
Power handling: 50W
Dimensions: 151(w) x 231(h) x 153(d)mm
Drive units: 1 x 4in woven fibreglass hybrid driver; 1 x 1in silk dome tweeter
Enclosure: Two-way, rear-ported
Frequency response: 100Hz-20kHz
Power handling: 80W
Dimensions: 530(w) x 180(h) x 203(d)mm
Drive units: 1 x 8in woofer
Frequency response: 40Hz-500Hz
On board power: 200W
Remote control: No
Dimensions: 298(w) x 298(h) x 343(d)mm
Connections: Stereo phono inputs; speaker -level outputs
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