X

Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 photos

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

Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg

Matthew Moskovciak

See full bio
33903065_OVR1.png
1 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

Boston Acoustic SoundWare XS 5.1

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 surprising because its five satellite speakers feel only a little larger than a baseball in your hand. Combined with its compact 100-watt subwoofer, it's one of the most decor-friendly speaker systems we've tested. Our one nitpick, design-wise, 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.

33903065_SPEAKERS.JPG
2 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

Tiny satellite speakers

The cube satellites are incredibly tiny, just 4.43 inches wide, 4.25 inches high and 4.43 deep. Each one weighs just one pound. The speaker's rear is faceted, so instead of being a six-sided cube, the SoundWare XS satellite is a polyhedron, so it has 10 "sides" to make it easier to squeeze the wee speakers into corners. If you place it on a shelf the speaker can be angled up or 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.
33903065_BK.JPG
3 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

Speaker connectors

The push-to-open, all-metal connectors recessed into the speaker's rear-end 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.
33903065_OVR2_copy.jpg
4 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

Subwoofer

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).
33903065_BKA.JPG
5 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

Subwoofer, back panel

Really small speakers like these sound best with very high subwoofer-to-satellite crossover settings, so we experimented a bit with the AVR-1912's bass management system before settling on a 200Hz crossover setting.

Also, we found that keeping the subwoofer volume higher than average, relative to the satellites, really helped the overall sound balance. Of course, the exact crossover and subwoofer volume settings vary, depending on room size, acoustics, and taste. The subwoofer's volume control was very sensitive, so even very small movements made a big difference in bass volume. With speakers as small as these, setup details can make or break the sound. Also, we'd recommend placing the subwoofer within 4 or 5 feet of any of the three front speakers to help ensure the best possible sound.

33903065_SD.JPG
6 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

Subwoofer, side view

33903065_DT.JPG
7 of 7 Sarah Tew/CNET

Wall mounting hardware

Boston includes plenty of hardware for wall-mounting the small speakers.

More Galleries

59 Weird Objects Seen on Mars, Explained

More Galleries

59 Weird Objects Seen on Mars, Explained

62 Photos
2022's Best TV Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

More Galleries

2022's Best TV Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

95 Photos
The 42 Best Games on Nintendo Switch

More Galleries

The 42 Best Games on Nintendo Switch

43 Photos
Meyers Manx 2.0 EV Reimagines the Classic Dune Buggy

More Galleries

Meyers Manx 2.0 EV Reimagines the Classic Dune Buggy

13 Photos
Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

More Galleries

Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

82 Photos
2024 Hyundai Ioniq 6 Prototype Hits the Road in South Korea

More Galleries

2024 Hyundai Ioniq 6 Prototype Hits the Road in South Korea

20 Photos
2023 GMC Canyon Is a Mean Off-Road Machine

More Galleries

2023 GMC Canyon Is a Mean Off-Road Machine

59 Photos