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.
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.
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.
The Boston subwoofer is a rather plainly finished dark gray box, though rounded edges soften the look. It has an 8-inch woofer and port mounted on its bottom panel. The built-in 100-watt amplifier features BassTrac circuitry that is said to reduce distortion, and the amp has just a single RCA input (there are no speaker-level inputs).