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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.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
Utah-based RBH Sound has been producing audiophile-grade speakers since 1976. From hulking floor-standing models to small, lifestyle-oriented surround arrays, the company is known for robust construction, advanced technology, and vivid sound quality. And despite the lofty expectations of its pedigree, the $1,495 CT-MAX (Compact Theater to the Max) 5.1 surround speaker system does not disappoint. The small but oh-so-sturdy satellites and capable subwoofer performed admirably with music and movies. When paired with a suitably high-end A/V receiver, the RBH CT-MAX will rock your home theater to its foundations. The RBH CT-MAX system comes with five C-4 Mini Monitor satellites and the MS-8.1 subwoofer. The MS-8.1 is more than adequate for small to midsize home theaters, but we opted up to the larger MS-10.1 sub, which boosted the retail price to $1,944, for our sizable room. The C-4 satellites are finished in tough black or white powder-coat paint and can be positioned horizontally or vertically. There's something about the way the aluminum drivers peek through the perforated metal grilles that adds a touch of mystery to the design. If you're running a 6.1- or 7.1-channel surround system, additional C-4s are available for $229 each.

The bulging cast-metal satellites are small--damned small: the chunky C-4 measures just 11.75 inches wide, 5 inches high, and 4.5 inches deep. It weighs 8 pounds, and the unyieldingly solid, cast-metal cabinet feels like it could survive a nuclear blast. RBH offers black or white wall-mount brackets and floor stands for the satellites (sold separately).



The Good

Small but solid cast-aluminum cabinets; sophisticated metal woofer design; audiophile-grade silk dome tweeter; capable 8-inch subwoofer.

The Bad

Hard-to-reach binding posts; bad match for bright- or harsh-sounding receivers.

The Bottom Line

The Compact Theater MAX's vivid sound and unrestricted dynamic freedom click with home theater and music.

RBH's more affordable CT-series 5.1 system is similar but uses a C-4 only as a center speaker, with smaller front and rear left/right satellites, and a smaller subwoofer.

The C-4 satellite speaker features a pair of RBH's proprietary 4-inch aluminum woofers and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. The drivers look similar to RBH's other dished aluminum woofers, but they're new designs, crafted specifically for these smaller models. RBH's aluminum woofers not only look pretty, they also combine high strength with low mass. Aluminum is a cool material that naturally pulls heat away from the woofer's voice coil, which improves sound quality and reliability.

The C-4's all-metal binding posts are recessed into a small cup, and we could barely get our fingers around the connectors to tighten them.

The RBH subs mirror the cast-metal sats' rounded aesthetic, but a knuckle rap revealed them to be solidly built medium-density fiberboard (MDF) boxes. The MS-8.1 boasts not one, but two 8-inch woofs--one forward firing, one downward firing--and there's a large port on the left side of the cabinet.

First impressions count for a lot around here, and right off the bat we were floored by the little speakers' purity. The C-4's crystal clarity adds much to the system's overall sound quality. Matthew Shipp's adventurous piano jazz CD, Equilibrium, exhibited a see-through transparency of sound that's rare in compact speaker systems. The drums were fully formed and alive-sounding, the cymbals airy, and the percussive sound of the piano's hammers hitting metal strings came through fully intact. The stand-up bass emerged from the petite C-4s with the weighty attack of the real thing; yes, they were ably assisted by the mighty MS-10.1 subwoofer, but its contribution was tastefully understated. The CT-MAX wasn't the least bit shy about rocking out. Bouts with everything from the Rolling Stones to P. J. Harvey had the sort of effortless kick we associate with larger high-end speakers.

Next up: the MAX unleashed the swaggering fury in the Hidalgo DVD. This Middle East-meets-Western's orchestral music score sounded fabulous, and the DVD's stampeding horses, steam-powered trains, and blasts of gunfire erupted with visceral authority. When a fierce desert sandstorm raised hell, we could almost feel the grit blowing from the little speakers. Bass was well served by the MS-10.1 subwoofer--it managed to plumb the depths, and still perfectly mesh with the nimble satellites. The system has what it takes to fill even moderately large home theaters (up to 500 square feet).

Our one concern about the CT-MAX was that its high-resolution sound might be too much of a good thing with bright-sounding receivers, where the RBH's detail might cross the line over to harshness. But with any of the better Denon, Harman Kardon, or Marantz receivers, RBH's CT-MAX will blow you away.



Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8