Our esteemed readership has asked that Hifi Pig conduct more reviews of equipment at the budget end of the hi-fi world, so, herewith below is my own perceptions of a diminutive loudspeaker called the Roth OLi RA1 bookshelf model.
Roth AV Ltd hail from Colnbrook near London, or more precisely, under the flight path to and from Heathrow Airport. Established in the year 2007, the range since launch has undergone several revisions and updates, leading to the RA1 bookshelf speaker found here under evaluation.
I have seen many small speakers other than the Roth OLi RA1 for sure, but few with such simple uncluttered lines in the design that is not unattractive. The cabinet has radiused corners and the review sample is finished in what Roth say is a matt finish, but I would say more akin to a ‘silk’ finish in a black colour. It is also available in a white finish I believe. Cabinet dimensions are 231mm x 151mm x 153mm (HxWxD), with a full frontal grille having an acoustically transparent fabric covering, attached by hidden magnets in the enclosure carcass, so are easily removable. The speakers can be wall mounted if so desired and Roth Audio thoughtfully provide the brackets in the box to enable that. Surprise, surprise, they actually fit onto a standard width bookshelf. Yes indeed.
These speakers weigh around 2.4Kg each which is considerably lighter than most other speakers of this size.
The RA1 is equipped with a 4 inch bass driver unit of hybrid fibreglass weave construction and a 1 inch silk dome tweeter which makes up the driver array. Sensitivity is said to be 82dB, with an impedance of 6 ohms and a power handling of up to 50 watts, with the frequency response also quoted by Roth to be 80Hz to 20KHz. None of these parameters have been verified by Hifi Pig. The bass is loaded by a rear facing Reflex port. Connections are via a single pair of binding posts which will accept 4mm banana plugs, spade connectors, or bare wire terminations.
It is said by Roth that Richard Allen of EB Acoustics was involved in the design process of the OLi series speakers.
So, the next query to face was whether to stand mount, wall, or shelf mount the speakers, so I chose to mount them on tall stands around 2 inches or so from the rear wall.
I don’t really know what I expected from these small speakers to be truthful when I took them out of the box. Their light weight didn’t inspire me that much at first and a rap on the cabinet with the knuckles didn’t sound all that inert to me either, but on the other hand I still got the perception that a lot of thought and care went into their design, so it would be wrong to dismiss them out of hand solely from their physical parameters. Listening to them however proved that assumption to be correct.
I played Fink’s “Sort of Revolution” CD and was pleasantly surprised just how good they sounded. Not perfect by any means but still a convincing performance and that is what I like the most when reviewing “budget” components, because in amongst that huge range available there are one or two little gems waiting to be discovered. Treble performance of the RA1’s was clear and lucid, with Ride cymbal strikes sounding realistically metallic and faithful, albeit with a trace of fizz at the extreme top end but not enough to detract from a very pleasing listen. Bass as you would expect didn’t plumb down into the lower registers, far from it in fact, although timing was spot on and again, rather convincing so you were never really bothered by the absence of the lowest octaves, unless the recording focused on bass alone which emphasized the shortfall. Midrange was again only slightly coloured and had a propensity to ‘quack’ occasionally with the wrong music played through them, but vocals came across as natural with a good range of tonal timbres, especially female vocals. That to me is the hallmark of good design where the designer has voiced the speakers to obfuscate their innate limitations and produce a speaker where it does nothing to offend or annoy the listener – no mean feat in itself.
Back then to the Fink CD, the title track has a deep propelling bass line and kick drum pairing through most of the track which is very good at highlighting any timing errors and for experiencing any ‘bleed’ between the two instruments playing simultaneously. Some speakers are prone to booming and losing control during these bass excursions, but the RA1’s held it together very well. I could clearly hear that the kick drum had a soft face to the beater, which given the small size of the 4 inch speaker cone was again rather remarkable and even better than that, the bass guitar actually had a deep sounding growl to it. Fink’s guitar playing never get lost in the mix and his squealing finger work on the frets sets your teeth on edge at times, but that is exactly what I expect from this album, so part of it’s charm. That 82dB sensitivity figure also meant the volume control had to be turned up a notch or two on the amplifier to compensate and also care had to be taken not to go too far round as the RA1’s would sound very loud quite early on the volume range, although I stopped well short of actually bottoming out the drivers. Talking of which, I didn’t see a lot of physical movement from the bass driver either, as you might expect from a physically small cone.
Imaging and soundstage was spot on, with terrific depth and width, instrument placement being very easy to pinpoint and there was no drifting either.
Time now to give the RA1’s a bit more of a work out and so into the CD drawer went Porcupine Tree’s “Deadwing” album, my favourite torture CD. Bit harsh you may think, but as a reviewer you have to highlight for the benefit of the readership what the speaker’s performance envelope is and if the RA1’s survive this then Dominic can only be impressed on your behalf. At the start of the title track there is the noise of an underground train pulling into a station, with squealing of the train brakes that either comes across as realistic or some vague disjointed squeaking type noises, followed by hearing the passengers alighting. The RA1’s provided a clear rendition of the train pulling into the station and the passengers alighting. Then the music starts getting raucous and hectic in a raw recording, which is where blending and muddling can set in, but no, the little RA1’s stuck to the plot, albeit with a lack of heft and power from the bottom end, but of course that wasn’t at all unexpected. At 6 minutes 40 seconds into the track there is a long low set of bass guitar plucks that has to be very deep and “roll” out of the speakers not just emerge and much to my surprise the RA1’s made a pretty good job rendering that sound, but again without the low end power that other (read larger or more expensive here) speakers can muster. The remainder of the album is just a series of tough sonic obstacles to jump over and in truth the Roth OLi RA1’s gave a good account of themselves despite their size.
However, all of this evaluation was carried out in my smallish listening room with plasterboard walls and a suspended floor which has an inherent “warmness” to the sound, which of course means if you have a listening room of say 12m2 or more with solid walls and floor, then you probably will arrive at a different set of conclusions regarding the sound. I took the Roth speakers round to Dan’s place because he has a much larger listening room than mine with solid walls and floor but they sounded completely different again. They were overwhelmed by the size of his room unfortunately and didn’t give of their best there.
In the right environment, these speakers truly shine and give a bigger and better performance than you would expect from such a diminutive loudspeaker. Treble and midrange performance was a joy and even with only a 4 inch woofer, bass was both musical and articulate, with only the lowest registers lacking outright weight and power. No matter, the designer has still managed to cram a hell of a lot of music resolving abilities into this small package and so now I am bursting to tell you about the best part of the entire review, the price. A mere NINETY NINE POUNDS so they really are affordable.
Kindly note the value for money score is the highest I have ever awarded to any product, so with that goes an automatic recommendation from me and if Hifi Pig had a “Best Buy” category then these loudspeakers would certainly feature as such.
Sound quality: 8.5/10
Value for money: 9.9/10
Recommended for: Small listening rooms like a study, a den, or a bedroom where they don’t need to fill a large volume with their sound. Within their performance envelope they are truly a fine speaker.
Having scored over 8.5 overall these loudspeakers went to Stu for second review and possible Outstanding Product award.
I do a lot of my day to day listening whilst sat at my desk and generally leave critical listening for evenings when I can fire up the main rig without disturbing others in the house/village and so when the diminutive little Roths turned up the natural place to put them was on my desktop and use them nearfield….and there they sat for a couple of months attached to a little ninety nine quid Amptastic amplifier and a Schiit DAC (also less than a hundred nicker).
As always with these second reviews I’m not going to go into nearly as much detail with regards construction and the overall sound and readers should see these second reviews as more of an overview that concentrates on either affirming or disagreeing with the first reviewers findings.
Construction-wise the little OLis are not the best I’ve seen, but for the £100 asking price it would be churlish to moan and there are nice touches like the magnetic front covers and the nicely rounded off corners. They are a bit palsticky feeling, but overall they are solid enough and look rather fetching appearance-wise i reckon, particularly when the front cover is off to reveal the drivers. Let’s face it, for the asking price you are not going to get the highest level of fit and finish, but Roth have done a good job here…i also like the simple method for getting them on the walls (which is where I suspect many will use these speakers for rear duties in an AV set-up.).
They’re a bit coloured and they’re not perfect but they are more than acceptable for the money and, like I said, they sat on my desktop for a fair old while and I have no complaints. Bass is adequate, tight and I never really found it lacking for casual listening to my usual electronica and techno program…OK, you’re never going to get a night-club experience from these let’s face it, but they’re really pretty good for the size of the enclosure and price-point. I really enjoyed the bass presentation…i don’t like flabby bass at all!!!
At the top end they do break up a little, but again for the type of listening I was doing with them I hardly noticed it unless I was listening out for it.
On material such as female vocals the midrange proved to be very nice and this is to the Olis credit as it is in this midband that many will look out for flaws. Again we’re not talking state-of-the-art here and there are colourations and limitations, but for the money…. There is colouration here and I’d put this down to the cabinet being a little light-weight.
In the nearfield setup the imaging and whatnot was really very good (as you would expect) and I’d quite happily use these little speakers every day of the week.
I listen pretty loud even at my desk and the Olis managed to satisfy by craving admirably, even with the little Amptastic amp in the set up. Push them too hard and they show their limitations which should come as no surprise.
What does a hundred notes buy you these days? OK, what it gets you is a night out at the cinema, a meal and a couple if drinks…or, it get’s you a smashing little set of speakers that will do a fine job on your desk top or in a small room…or as rear satellites mounted on the wall in an AV set-up.
Where I reckon these speakers may well find their niche is with the teen music lover looking to go beyond their headphone and phone set up and wanting to make their first move into a proper set up. In this bedroom situation they will be great. Mounted on a desk or on the wall and fed with a good signal (like from the Schiit DAC and Amptastic amp I used) I reckon you’ve got a pretty cracking little starter set up for the aspiring young audiophile.
At a hundred English pounds the Roth OLi’s represent great value for money, a decent enough sound and are really rather good fun. Yes, they are limited in what they can do in absolute terms, but look at them in the right context and with decent budget sources then they’re a fab little speaker that I have no problems in recommending…and they only miss out on outstanding by a gnats what’sname!!