Given their size and price, it’s a pleasant surprise that the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS SE satellites use a two-way design, featuring a 64mm woofer and a 13mm tweeter, rather than a single driver. Their frequency response is quoted at 150Hz – 20kHz, with power handling up to 100W.
The subwoofer uses a 203mm (8in), downward-firing bass woofer, driven by a 100W amplifier (250W peak). Frequency response is 50-150Hz, and the BassTrac circuitry is designed to deliver deep, distortion-free low frequencies. On the back of the subwoofer you’ll find a few controls for fine tuning, including a volume dial, polarity switch and crossover frequency dial.
This all adds up to a wonderful movie performance that belies the system’s peanuts price tag. The sats and sub are perfectly matched, offering a tight, unified sound that packs a powerful punch. But there’s real subtlety as well as strength – one of the many things that separates this from the sort of cheap one-box system you might pick up in the supermarket.
The train crash scene in Super 8 really lets the SoundWare XS flex its muscles. As the train hurtles past the station where the kids are filming, there’s a chest-thumping depth to its engine and wheels pounding the rails, while the warning horn blast is loud and purposeful without making your ears hurt.
And when it derails, the carnage is conveyed with thrilling dynamism, easily achieving the necessary sense of scale. Explosions are big and punchy with little flab from the sub and debris scatters far and wide around the soundstage in crisp, controlled bursts. As it subsides, the delicate crackling of fire reminds you of its excellent high-frequency reproduction.
It’s remarkable that speakers of this size can turn this scene into something so epic in scale, but that’s exactly what it does – and one of several reasons why we’re so impressed by it.
What also deserves praise is the versatility of the speakers. They’re the quintessential jack of all trades, equally at ease firing out frenetic surround effects as they are handling sweeping orchestral scores or speech. There’s no dedicated centre channel, yet dialogue is delivered with outstanding clarity and presence during busy scenes.
The soundstage is spacious, with clear and well-defined effects inside it, never leaving you in any doubt about where they’re coming from. We can’t grumble about the subwoofer either. It is fast, responsive and supports the satellites without overpowering them. Bass hits are tight as a drum, without the lag and boominess of passive designs.
And though it’s unlikely to tingle the spines of hardcore hi-fi nuts, it also does a decent job with music. The system’s timing with complex, fast-paced rhythms is excellent, while vocals have a smooth character and high frequencies are light and airy. The sub keeps pace nicely too, important if you’re a fan of uptempo tunes with lots of kick drums.
The Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS SE really doesn’t make life easy for people in the market for a compact 5.1 speaker system. Like packages from KEF, Cambridge Audio and Tannoy before it, SoundWare XS blends stylish, distinctive design – which, crucially, leaves a minimal footprint on your living room – with accomplished sound quality that’s not only powerful but detailed and balanced to boot.
What might give Boston the edge over its rivals, however, is the price. It can be yours for well under £250 if you shop around online, which is absolutely superb value for a system that boasts such satisfying build quality and performance.