SoundWare XS 5.1 review: SoundWare XS 5.1

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 speaker system is one of the most compact and stylish systems we've seen. It sounds much better than you'd expect given its size, and it's very affordable.

The Bad The Boston's cramped speaker-wire connectors are difficult to use. And if you don't need extremely small speakers, you can find better-sounding (and still stylish) speakers for the same price.

The Bottom Line The Boston SoundWare XS 5.1 is an exceptionally compact system and sounds great for its size--although larger systems sound even better.

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If you like to flaunt your home audio system, you're probably not going to buy the Boston SoundWare XS 5.1 speaker system. That's OK; it's not made for you. But lots of people who don't make home theater their hobby still appreciate a true surround-sound experience, and Boston's system delivers that at an incredible size and price. The SoundWare XS 5.1 sounds surprisingly good, and we say surprisingly because its five satellite speakers feel only a little larger than a baseball in your hand. Combined with the compact 100-watt subwoofer, it's one of the most decor-friendly speaker systems we've tested. Our one nitpick, designwise, is that the speaker connections are difficult to use, but you'll run into that problem only when you set the system up.

As good as the SoundWare XS 5.1 system is for its size, it can't defy physics. The Pioneer SP-PK21BS sounds much, much better, but it's also a much, much larger speaker system. And even if living room decor is your priority, you should seriously consider the larger (but elegant) Energy Take Classic 5.1 system, which sounds considerably better as well. However, neither of those systems can compete if space is at a premium, and the petite SoundWare XS 5.1 ($500 street price) is an excellent, affordable option with solid sound quality.

Design and features
The SoundWare XS is a six-piece system that comes with five identical cube satellite speakers and a subwoofer. The system we tested is black, but it's also available in white. Boston Acoustics also sells additional SoundWare speakers in a variety of colors for $100 each.

Boston SoundWare's satellite speakers
The Boston's cubelike satellite speakers are incredibly small.

The cube satellites are incredibly tiny, just 4.43 inches wide, 4.25 inches high, and 4.43 inches deep. Each one weighs just 1 pound. The speaker's rear is faceted, so instead of being a 6-sided cube, the SoundWare XS satellite is a polyhedron. Its 10 "sides" also make it easier to squeeze the wee speakers into corners. If you place it on a shelf the speaker can be angled up or positioned to fire straight ahead. Or wall-mount the little guys with the included articulating bracket so you can angle the speakers in toward the listening area.

Since the SoundWare XS satellites' perforated grilles aren't removable, it wasn't immediately obvious that the satellites are two-way designs. Due to their tiny size, there normally wouldn't be enough room to squeeze in a tweeter and a midrange driver on the front baffle. Boston's engineers worked around the space limitations by mounting a .5-inch tweeter on a small bracket in front of the 2.5-inch midrange driver. That's pretty ingenious. We can't say the plastic speaker cabinet is especially well-built, but it doesn't feel flimsy or delicate.

Boston SoundWare's satellite speakers
There is almost no room for angling speaker wire into the connectors.

The push-to-open, all-metal connectors recessed into the speaker's rear accept only skinny bare wires (you can't use banana plugs, spades, or pins). We found the connectors extremely awkward to use; you have to push with a fair amount of pressure on the connector to open the hole, then ever so gently angle the bare wire into the hole, and then release the connector. Once the wire is in there it tends to stay put, which was not the case with the spring-clips on the Klipsch HD Theater 500's or Bose Acoustimass 6 Series III's satellite speakers.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 (white)

Part Number: SNDWREXS51W
Low Price: $249.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Color white
  • Speaker System Type home theater speaker system
  • Nominal (RMS) Output Power 100 Watt
  • Amplification Type active subwoofer, passive satellites
  • Connectivity Technology wired
  • Type Speaker system
  • Speaker System Configuration 5.1-channel