- Tight, unified sound with plenty of detail
- Gorgeous compact satellites with high-gloss finish
- Easy to install
- Tiny holes on push-clip speaker terminals
- Sub lacks high gloss finish
- Review Price: £239.95
- Tabletop or wall mounted satellites
- Two way design with 64mm woofer and 13mm tweeter
- 100W powered subwoofer with 203mm driver
- Volume, crossover and polarity subwoofer controls
- High-gloss black or white finish
Boston Acoustics earned itself plenty of Brownie points with the SoundWare XS Digital Cinema, a 2.1-channel system that delivered a performance so good that we couldn’t wait to hear how it sounds as a full 5.1 setup. Well now we’ve been given the chance with the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS Special Edition, a stylish, super-compact system that gives you change from £300.
But with an absolute wealth of high-quality compact speaker systems around at the moment, how does Boston Acoustics’s effort stand out from the crowd? One of the ways is with its alluring design, which looks unlike anything else.
In the box you get five identical satellites with a distinctive multi-sided shape, each one measuring 94mm high and 87mm wide. That’s ideal if you don’t want your speakers to impose but do want them to be noticed. They’ll look great dotted around the room on shelves or bookcases, but if you so desire they can be mounted on the wall using the supplied pivoting ball brackets. You also get adhesive rubber feet for tabletop mounting.
What makes this a ‘special edition’ is the use of high-gloss black or white finishes, giving the speakers more pizzazz than the original version. Boston has also tweaked the back panel to include grooves for easier cable management and there’s now a cover to hide the nuts ‘n’ bolts of the articulating wall bracket.
Overall build quality is terrific – the satellites are solid sealed units, weighing half a kilo each, with a metal mesh on the front that can’t be removed. The push-clip speaker terminals are tight and hold the wires firmly, but their tiny holes are only suitable for thin cables.
The sats are joined in the box by a powered subwoofer, which is slightly deeper than it is wide (284(w) x 310(h) x 395(d)mm) but is compact enough to slip into a tight corner. Sadly it lacks the alluring high-gloss coating of the satellites, but the textured black finish and rounded edges make it reasonably attractive by subwoofer standards.
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.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9
|Number of Speakers||5|