The RBH 5-i’s are a great pair of small bookshelf speakers. They made my favorites liven up wherever I sat in my office space at home. They are especially enjoyable up close in the listening sweet spot.  When paired with a sub, I had lots of 2.1 fun.

Each speaker was shipped separately within an inner box generously cushioned on foam top and bottom as well as braced with Styrofoam on all four long edges. I’m sure I could’ve dropped a cinderblock on the packages and not touch the speakers at all. (Though it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have one nearby).

The speakers themselves were wrapped in thin covers to protect the finish and were very  snug inside their inner boxes. If I had used a box cutter to open them, I would have carved into the speakers, giving them (and me) scars for life. Thankfully I had the good sense to open each box gently.

I slid the speakers out of the inner boxes and unwrapped them.  At  just under 11 lbs. each, they’re hefty little buggers – the enclosures being made from HDF. I set them down to give them the initial look. I felt myself nodding in  approval and slowly saying the word “nice”  - stretching it out with extra “i’s”  in the middle.

I held each one up the light, slowly turning them left and right, around and over, just marveling at the white matte finish. It is seamless all the way around. I admired how the speaker’s baffle edges are rounded off giving a smooth transition from front to sides.

There’s a 1.5” tuning port on the back and two short, 5-way binding posts mounted in a recessed oval enclosure. I have big hands so turning those proved challenging when I was inserting bare wire. Easy fix: I switched to cables with banana plugs.

The covers are not plastic but cloth-covered MDF, having a small RBH button logo on the bottom. They come in about .5 in on each side, giving a pleasing contrast with the finish. They were magnetically attached which I thought was a really neat detail – I see larger, more expensive offerings from other manufacturers that still use pin-held covers!

After removing the covers, the aluminum driver and cloth tweeter presented themselves.

I was immediately struck by two things: the phase plug in the center of the midrange driver and the tweeter mounted above it in a very shallow setting.

From what I understand, a phase plug helps the driver manage upper mid-range frequencies with greater control. Paired with the tweeter crossed over at 3000 Hz which is not sunken into a large wave guide, it became immediately apparent that the focus here is on getting the midrange and upper frequencies just right and well spread out. This makes sense to me seeing as one of the roles they can play is as the rear speakers of a 5.1 surround setup.  RBH specs show that they’ve designed the 5-i frequency response to be between 70 and 20k Hz.  While the best seat is the listener’s sweet spot, I was pleasantly surprised that I could sit in different locations in the office and the off axis sound change was negligible.

So, how would the 5-i’s do on their own or as part of a 2.1 desktop or small room system?

I first tried them out in my office. I joined 14 gauge wire to the 5-i’s binding posts and then to my Yamaha RX-477. This used to be my primary AVR before I upgraded (with an eye towards using separates) in the main room. (Besides, it fit perfectly inside the typewriter storage compartment of my old school secretary’s desk.)

Once everything was connected, I launched Apple music and played a variety of favorites.

I found that acoustic selections were really enjoyable through these:

·         “Question” by the Old 97’s

·         “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel

·         “Kathy’s Song” covered by Eva Cassidy

The guitars were clear and 5-i’s brought out of the textures of plucking, picking and strumming that draw you into these songs. The 5-i’s handle vocals really well.

I played “Longing” from Tan Dun’s “Hero”  soundtrack with Itzhak Pearlman as the featured violinist. This piece goes all through me with its long mournful notes. The 5-i’s allowed me get all of the details right down to the crisp whisper of his bow’s friction as it moved across the strings.

Being a Classic Rock fan, I played Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac. I loved how these speakers presented the variations in Stevie Nicks sultry and scratchy vocals.  Of course, I’ve heard this song many times before but hadn’t picked up on the nuances in her tone and phrasing that were revealed by the 5-i’s. That involuntarily raised my eyebrows, and I could feel my myself mouthing “wow.”

The lyrics were sung over rich bass and drums but I noticed they were less pronounced than I remembered.

When I played Please Forgive Me by David Grey, the 5-i’s caught the texture of the shuffling snare drum, the echoing piano chords and David’s soulful pleas. When the electronic percussion dropped during final part of the song, the 5-i’s faithfully gave the beat though it was clear that they are team players working best with complimentary equipment.

So, I added the sub and unleashed a few songs with hooks and grooves that absolutely compel me to dive in (and increase the volume). The speakers blended in with the sub beautifully. During this time, I was enjoying the 5-i’s so much I forgot I was “evaluating” them.

Some of what I played:

“Drop Dead Legs” by Van Halen - 1984 – I love Alex’s work on the drums on this track as well as Eddie’s grinding rhythm punctuating David Lee Roth’s hubris and heat. The strutting solo at the end is just awesome.

“Got to be More Careful “ –  John Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen – Pin Your Spin - a foot tapping, lower lip biting, meaty New Orleans funk led by John Cleary on piano that’s all attitude. I loved how snappy it sounded through these!

“Short Skirt/Long Jacket” – by Cake - a tune I picked up while watching the “Chuck” television series. The baseline is just infectious. The 5-i’s sent out the drums, vocals, and trumpet with vigor.

Speaking of… I played 1993’s Infectious Grooves’ title track, an urgent funk and thrash mix that is attacking one minute and slick and stylish the next – the 5-i’s gave a great rendering of both the crunch and the funky finesse. These little guys can handle getting cranked up.

Finally, I played “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from the Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers and lost myself when the lyrical first half morphed into the that famous jam session with guitar and sax swirling around each other. It was mesmerizing.

I disconnected the sub so I could check out how the 5-i’s handled FL/FR/phantom center duties and they did not disappoint.

I watched a few episodes of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime Video. Environmental sounds at airports, train stations, city streets were realistic. The 5-I’s rendered dialogue clearly. The direction of conversations and placement of objects in space and in the “center” were good (though I imagine adding the RBH dedicated center would really have solidified that. In fact, it occurred to me that if these two were this good by themselves, the whole 5.1 Impression Series has got to be killer!)

I turned the sub back on to handle the low end and went back in. Again, there’s a point when conscious listening turns into participation and I crossed that point and thoroughly enjoyed what I was hearing.

The bottom line? These little marvels sound great!

They are well constructed and very attractive (particularly in white). They bring out the best in many of my favorites and when partnered with a sub, they are just so Niiiice!

-Miguel Quiñones