The Roth OLiC20 centre speaker is the workhorse of the system, delivering all-important dialogue that drives the plot forward, and as such it’s equipped with the tools to make sure it’s heard. It’s a two-way design, employing two 5.25in woven fibreglass woofers and a 1in black diamond silk tweeter in between them. It can take up to 125W of power and achieves a claimed frequency response of 55Hz – 20kHz.
As for the OLi10s, these are also two-way speakers with a single 4in woven fibreglass hybrid woofer and the same 1in silk dome tweeter as found in the centre speaker. The use of similar drivers across the range means the entire system is tonally matched, which is crucial if you want to really lose yourself in a movie soundtrack – if the sound varies from speaker to speaker, it can ruin the illusion. The OLi10s handle up to 100W and reproduce frequencies from 60Hz up to 20kHz.
Finally, the KH20 is an active, forward-firing sealed subwoofer, packing an 8in PolyCel woofer and a 150W amplifier. The rear panel features volume and crossover dials, the latter adjustable from 80 up to 160Hz. There are two phono inputs, one labelled ‘LFE’ to receive signals from an AV receiver, while the Line input caters for other equipment without surround processing but with a subwoofer output (such as a TV).
It sounds superb on paper, but in practice Roth’s performance is greater than the sum of its parts. It offers fabulous sound quality for such a wallet-friendly price, achieving the difficult balance of sounding dynamic and powerful while retaining an element of refinement and poise.
This much is evident from our favourite test scene, the Hellboy versus Elemental scrap in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, presented in DTS HD Master Audio. As the massive plant stomps through the city streets, it smashes up cars, rips up the road and bashes up buildings, sending effects flying from every speaker. The Roth gobbles up the cacophony with relish, conveying the shattering glass and falling rubble with force but doing so with a smooth, easy tone in the high frequencies and midrange.
The size of the speakers enables a bigger, more full-blooded sound than you might get from compact speakers, filling the room without having to push the volume up to ungodly levels.
It helps of course that the Roth KH20 is such an assured subwoofer, reproducing low frequencies with the sort of punch and tautness that you simply don’t get from passive one-box system subs (as our reviews of the Panasonic SC-BTT590 and Samsung HT-E6500W showed). The Elemental’s footsteps sound huge, but the KH20 doesn’t only spring to life when there’s a big bang – it lends a subtle presence to everything from deep-voiced dialogue to background atmosphere.
And the centre channel does a magnificent job too, articulating speech with enough volume to cut through loud scenes, as well as injecting little subtleties and inflections that add to the realism, whether human or otherwise.
We’re also greatly impressed by the way the OLi speakers interact, blending harmoniously as effects dart around the soundstage or sweep across the back. The sound is fast, cohesive and immersive, with enough grunt to get the pulse racing (and the neighbours complaining).
Admittedly we’ve heard speaker systems that take it to the next level, teasing out even more background detail and staging epic action scenes with more authority – Tannoy’s Mercury V springs to mind – and when pushed hard it just starts to strain slightly. But remember that the Roth’s sub-£350 price tag makes its assured sound quality all the more remarkable.
It also delivers an enjoyable stereo music performance. Jazz masterpiece Kind of Blue by Miles Davis simply oozes into your ears, with those competent drivers shaping solos with a smoothness that eludes cheaper speakers. There’s a lovely depth to the tunes and a clean, perky top end.
With its engaging sound quality and superb build quality, Roth’s OLi system offers outstanding value for money. The new C20 centre and KH20 sub are excellent additions to the range, punching above their weight with power and surprising subtlety. They team up with the brilliant OLi10s to create a thrilling and cohesive sound that’s much better than the sub-£350 price tag would suggest.
Sure, you can get even more sonic sparkle elsewhere and the look won’t exactly set your living room alight, but if you’re after well-built, great-sounding speakers on a tight budget then this system is an OLi good show.