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Energy RC-Micro 5.1 review: Energy RC-Micro 5.1

Energy RC-Micro 5.1

headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

5 min read

Energy is big on small speakers, and it always has been. That's what we were thinking as we set up the RC-Micro 5.1 ($1,000)--it took us back to when we reviewed the original Energy Take 5 satellite/subwoofer system in 1997. That model took us by surprise precisely because Energy's engineers had banished the severe performance limitations of very small satellites and subwoofers. The little Take 5 speakers had the sort of clout we'd only heard from systems with satellite speakers that were 50 percent larger. The Take 5's matching S-8 subwoofer was also an exceptional performer.

8.6

Energy RC-Micro 5.1

The Good

Beautifully finished, piano black 5.1 channel home theater speaker package with five incredibly tiny, two-way satellites matched with an outstanding 8-inch, 240-watt powered subwoofer; excellent sound quality, especially considering the small size.

The Bad

The speakers' spring connectors accept only the skinniest bare-wire ends or pins; may strain at very high volumes.

The Bottom Line

The Energy Speakers RC-Micro 5.1 speaker system delivers superb sound quality from incredibly tiny speakers.

Over the intervening decade, Energy continued to refine its small systems, issuing an updated version of the Take 5 known now as the Take Classic. Not content with just small, however, Energy opted to go for downright tiny. The result is the RC-Micro 5.1, which includes satellite speakers standing a mere 4.7 inches tall. Energy is hardly the first manufacturer to go that small, but it's one of the select few to make a great-sounding speaker of that size. The problem is that really tiny speakers tend to sound small and exhibit a boxy/nasal character. Oh, and really tiny speakers can't make much bass, so unless they're perfectly matched to the right subwoofer, the pairing sounds "thin," with uneven bass response. The six-piece RC-Micro 5.1 System handily avoids those pitfalls. It sounded equally accomplished with movies and music.

The speakers and subwoofer
How small are the speakers? The four jewel-like RC-Micro satellites measure just 4.7 inches tall by 3.5 inches wide by 3.5 inch deep, a size that barely contains the unusually small drivers: a 0.5-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a 2.5-inch aluminum mid-bass driver. Each speaker weighs just 1.6 pounds.

The center speaker uses the same drivers, but they're housed in a slightly larger cabinet (3.5 inches tall by 5.9 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep) that weighs 1.9 pounds. Both speakers feature Energy's proprietary Convergent Source Module (CSM) technology that was originally developed for the company's flagship Veritas series speakers. CSM positions the woofer and tweeter in the closest possible proximity to one another so they sound like a single source; the gambit is said to increase overall dispersion.

The 240-watt ESW-CS8 subwoofer has a down-firing port and a front-mounted 8-inch injection-molded woofer. The driver utilizes Energy's Ribbed Elliptical Surround--the rubber "rim" that surrounds the woofer cone has molded-in ribs--which Energy claims lowers distortion and allows the subwoofer to play louder than more conventional designs. A blue LED behind the front baffle's grille lights up when the sub is on. The sub isn't too big--just 12.7 inches tall by 10.5 inches wide by 12.3 inches deep--and it weighs a modest 16 pounds. Standard connectivity options are on board--there are stereo speaker level and stereo RCA line-level inputs, the latter of which doubles as an LFE input.

The entire RC-Micro 5.1 system is finished in piano black, and each component has removable black, cloth grilles. The satellites and center channel speaker can be wall mounted with either their keyhole slots or threaded inserts.

Our biggest gripe: the satellites' tiny push-to-clip connectors accept only the skinniest bare-wire ends or cables terminated with pins. We would've preferred the more upscale and flexible five-way binding posts.

Anyone in the market for small speakers such as the RC-Micro should also check out the systems from Energy's sister company, Mirage (both are part of the Klipsch family). The stylish Mirage MX 5.1 goes for $1,200, while the Nanosat 5.1 system can be had for less than half that.

Setup
The RC-Micro 5.1 System didn't require a lot of fussing to get the best possible sound. Once the subwoofer and speakers were wired up, we turned the sub's crossover knob all the way up to its maximum setting (150 Hertz). In order to adequately blend the sound of the satellites and subwoofer, a receiver with adjustable crossover makes all the difference (not all of them have that capability). Meanwhile, if your receiver has an auto setup feature, it may not select the proper crossover setting. Best to confirm that it's correct, and--if not--manually reset the crossover. For instance, on our test receiver (the Denon AVR-1909), the 120Hz setting sounded best to our ears.

As we set up the RC-Micro 5.1 system we noted one small problem: the satellites tended to move about as we played movies and music. The movement was caused by the wires tugging the smooth-bottomed, lightweight speakers out of position; a bit of double-backed tape on the bottoms (or some generic stick-on rubber feet) will keep the speakers where they're pointed.

Performance
We used the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Blu-ray to stress test the RC-Micro 5.1 system with a modern Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. We quickly learned the wee systems handled even the most torturous scenes, like the ones where Indy (Harrison Ford) and his crew go over a series of waterfalls in an amphibious vehicle. The whoosh and thunder of the falls came through loud and clear--a remarkable feat for a system as small as the RC-Micro 5.1.

The sound was so open and dynamically alive we weren't thinking about the speakers' size. Dialog was full-bodied and articulate; again, we didn't hear the sort of cramped, cupped-hand coloration endemic to tiny center speakers. Even better, the front and surround satellites worked well together, so they created an immense, room-filling soundstage. That quality contributed to the RC-Micro's ability to mimic the sound of a larger system.

Indeed, the speakers sound great, but it was the way the subwoofer so seamlessly meshed with those speakers that put the RC-Micro 5.1 at the head of the pack. With most very small systems, we zero in on their missing mid-bass, which tends to thin out the sound on movies and music. Not this time, though--if anything, it was the opposite experience.

So far so good, but could the system play music without betraying the satellites' wee dimensions? Piano jazz would be a tough test, so we played a couple of tracks from Mike Garson's Jazz Hat CD in stereo, and came away mightily impressed with the sound. Garson's grand piano was all there, the low notes had plenty of weight, and the middle and upper registers were clear. We might quibble about the satellites' lack of upper treble sparkle, but the overall sound was well balanced.

John Mellencamp's Life Death and Freedom CD also fared well, up to a point. The sound at moderately loud volume was good, but nudged higher, we could detect the sats straining and the sub's composure went south. Reducing the overall volume restored our faith in the RC-Micro 5.1's abilities.

Summing up, Energy's RC-Micro 5.1 is simply one of the best-sounding, mini, packaged speaker systems we've heard to date. It's highly recommended for movies and music, and easily justifies its $1,000 price tag.

8.6

Energy RC-Micro 5.1

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 9
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