RSL CG5 loudspeaker review: High-end sound with a budget price tag

California-based RSL has been delivering monitor speakers that defy their size and price for 50 years. The company has manufactured speakers that are the darlings of some Hollywood record producers. RSL’s newest flagship lineup, the CG5, is the successor to the highly acclaimed CG4, and it consists of two models: A two-way monitor, the CG5 (reviewed here) and an MTM monitor design called the CG25.

The CG5’s sonic performance, build quality, and price point ($800 for the pair) left me awe-struck. Read on why you just might want a pair of CG5 under your Christmas tree.

RSL’s HistoryRSL (the acronym stands for Rogersound Labs) is a well-known brand in die-hard audio circles, but it’s far from being a household name. Founder Howard Rogers started selling speakers factory direct from his store in North Hollywood in 1970. This approach allowed Rogers to use high-quality components while keeping prices low by cutting out the middleman.

[ Further reading: The best surge protectors for your costly electronics ] RSL got a big break when a Warner Brothers Records producer purchased a set of RSL speakers and told his friends about them. Soon, RSL speakers started popping up in record companies throughout Southern California.

Rogers developed and patented his Compression Guide speaker technology in the 1980s, and it remains the hallmark of all modern RSL speakers.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG Top view of the CG5’s rounded front baffle.

Fast forward and Howard’s eldest son, Joe, now helms the company with his dad, maintaining the same focus on bang for the buck and an emphasis on personalized customer service. You can audition any RSL speaker with a free, 30-day in-home trial. The company offers free shipping in the continental United States, and there’s no restocking or return shipping fees in the unlikely event you decide you don’t like the speakers. Now that is a true no-risk trial.

Build quality beyond their price pointThis is my third review of RSL speakers. My first was the CG4 series in 2015, followed by the CG3 series in 2017. Each time, I’ve come away shaking my head in disbelief with the build quality and sound of the RSL setups. This time? It’s déjà vu all over again.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG The CG5’s gorgeous gloss finish is fingerprint resistant.

Unboxing the CG5, I was immediately struck by the CG5’s solid build quality. The 16-pound weight is your first clue. The CG5 is like one of those elements on the periodic table whose physical mass is far greater than its physical size would imply.

The speaker is physically deeper than it is wide, measuring 7.625 x 10.75 x 12.625 inches (WxDxH). When looked at face-on, these dimensions make the CG5 speaker look smaller than it actually is. Spouse-challenged audiophile households rejoice. The front baffle’s side edges are rounded, giving the speaker a subtle, cool-looking aesthetic that tricks your eye into thinking that speaker is smaller still.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG Detailed view of the curved, metal grille. The grille has velvet-like pads that prevent any scratching or marring of the speaker’s beautiful high-gloss finish.

The included metal grilles are magnetic, with velvet-like pads that prevent the grilles from marring the CG5’s gorgeous finish. Simply place the grilles in the general vicinity of the front baffle and they snap instantly and firmly into place.

Mentioned in this article Naim Audio Uniti Atom Read TechHive's review$2,995.00MSRP $2,995.00See iton Naim Audio The speaker’s cabinet is fabricated from .75-inch thick panels on all sides. I gave the CG5’s cabinet a couple of good knuckle raps that only reaffirmed a solid, sturdy, enclosure. This is no flimsy speaker.

When it comes to building a speaker, it’s not just the drivers and cabinetry that contribute to a speaker’s sound. The crossover network is vital. It handles that all-important division and hand off of frequencies between the drivers. The crossover network is where some speaker manufacturers choose to cut costs. Not RSL. RSL’s crossover network is made up of high-quality parts, including a polypropylene capacitor and an air-core coil for high performance and power handling.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG Top view of the CG5 with the magnetic grille.

The CG5’s build quality is matched by its aesthetics. My GC5 review pair came in a beautiful white gloss finish (they’re also available in a high-gloss piano black). Despite the gloss, all of RSL’s finishes are fingerprint resistant, and I didn’t detect any smudges no matter how many times I handled these speakers.

Design, adjustments, and Compression GuideThe CG5 are a two-way design consisting of a 1-inch, translucent, silk dome tweeter and 5.25-inch, aramid-fiber cone woofer. The tweeter is crossed to the woofer at 2,500Hz.

The CG5’s frequency response is rated at a respectable 54Hz-35kHz ± 3dB. In layman’s terms, the CG5’s frequncy response resembles a true monitor speaker. I mention that because the CG3 and CG4, by contrast, only went down to 100Hz and really needed a subwoofer’s help even for music.

Tweeter adjustmentThe CG5 comes with a Tweeter Adjust dial on the speaker’s rear panel just above the binding posts that allows you to attenuate the tweeter. The Tweeter Adjust dial’s default position is set to “Low” when you first unbox the CG5. I immediately noticed a warmer and slightly unbalanced sound that put bass notes slightly forward with the Tweeter Adjust in the “Low” position.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG The Tweeter Adjust dial comes in the default low position. I found the sound warmer but slightly unbalanced in the low position. The “Reference” position produced the most neutral sound at the expense of some warmth.

Turning the dial to the “Reference” position evened out the tonal balance and gave the speaker a slightly analytical quality at the expense of some bass emphasis and warmth. At no time did the CG5’s smooth, non-fatiguing quality suffer. You can adjust the dial to your preference.

As I’ll detail more below, the CG5 does a fine job rendering its rated audio band cleanly and authoritatively. Indeed, the RSL CG5 does a superb job with bass frequencies in its range. If you intend to use the CG5 with movies or content with deep bass, you’ll want to add a subwoofer to the mix. On tracks such as James Blacke’s “Limit to Your Love,” and Dido’s “Northern Skies” the speaker’s frequency limits came through. I’d strongly recommend pairing the CG5 with RSL’s Speedwoofer 10S, whose superb performance still says with me three years after I first reviewed it.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG Detailed view of the CG5’s driver.

Compression Guide technologyRSL’s patented Compression Guide outwardly manifests itself as a horizontal, rectangular opening along the speaker’s front baffle. It’s inside the speaker cabinet where the magic really happens.

RSL RSL’s patented Compression Guide technology.

RSL’s Compression Guide design divides the interior of the speaker cabinet into high and low pressure zones. Resonances are reduced as sound waves travel through these pressure zones, leading to tighter bass. Compression Guide technology works astoundingly well, delivering a smooth, distortion-free sound that you must hear to appreciate.

Silky smooth soundAll the aforementioned is well and good, but how do these $800-per-pair speakers sound? I set up the CG5 on solid wood 30-inch speaker stands in my Dolby Atmos/DTS:X/Audo-3D home theater setup, where I typically have RBH Sound SVTR Tower Reference Speakers and SVS Ultra speakers powered by my Denon X8500H receiver, Monoprice Monolith 7-Channel amplifier, and Oppo UDP-203 universal disk player.

For this review, I decided to use the outstanding Naim Uniti Atom that I’ve had on loan and used with my recent JBL L82 Classic and Focal Chora 806 speaker reviews. It’s not that Denon’s flagship X8500H wasn’t up to the task—on the contrary—but given that RSL only shipped a stereo pair, I wanted to prove you can have a superlative two-channel music setup with a minimal physical footprint.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG Detailed view of the GC5’s patented Compression Guide outer port.

I fed the Roon-ready Naim Uniti Atom from my Roon Nucleus with content comprised of high-res music files, ripped CDs, and content streamed from Tidal.

Smooth is the word that struck me when I fired up the CG5—and that impression never changed. The CG5 deliver an extremely smooth, non-fatiguing sound that will let you get lost in music or movies for hours. The CG5 reveled in Lisa Gerrard’s haunting vocals in “Elegy” from Immortal Memory. Synthesizer notes were smooth and free of compression or distortion. Indeed, it didn’t matter if I cranked up the volume, the CG5 just purred along.

As is typical with high-quality monitors, imaging was solid, with vocals dead center and instruments placed firmly in space and time. Recalling classics from Patricia Barber was case in point. Unlike higher-end speakers, the CG5 couldn’t quite conjure the uncanny dimensionality around a sonic image.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG The CG5’s back panel has a threaded opening for optional wall mounting.

RSL’s CG5 speakers excelled at revealing musical layers. For example, on Sarah McLachlan’s “Elsewhere,” you’ll find that some speakers smear the harmonies in the refrain. You can tell there are multiple vocals, but you can’t quite focus on individual voice. Not here. Through the CG5, I could distinguish each vocal track in distinct space and time.

In my setup, the CG5 created a wonderfully large, deep, and wide soundstage. The CG5 also exhibited a noticeably relaxed presentation, recessing the image well behind the speakers’ baffle. Depanding on whether or not you prefer a forward or relaxed presentation will be key to determining whether or not you like these speakers.

Bass lines were respectable, though I want to emphasize that the quality of the bass lines within that frequency range was outstanding. The CG5 gushed chest-thumping bass on Natasha Bedingfield’s “King of the World.” On Sade’s “Soldier of Love,” the CG5 delivered bass lines with a good, tight, clean, detailed attack. The same was true on Katie Melua’s “Love is a Silent Thief” and Dido’s “Northern Skies:” Clean and controlled.

I wasn’t quite sure how the CG5s would handle the intense, pulsating bass punch on James Blake’s “Limit to Your Love.” Needless to say the CG5 was an unbelievably cool customer, thwacking me with chest-punching bass while maintaining precise, detailed control. Of course the CG5s couldn’t reproduce the foundation-rattling, subterranean bass Blake’s classic is capable of. Overall, the CG5 was very good, though not outstanding with dynamics.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG The CG5’s back panel has a Tweeter Adjust and five-way binding posts.

But don’t you dare interpret the CG5 as a polite speaker. Pulling out some Van Halen—in tribute to Eddie Van Halen—proved these babies can rock—hard. The CG5 brought forth all the best qualities of Eddie’s immortal, “Eruption,” revealing nuances of the grand master at his craft. The CG5 unrelentingly pumped out the raw rock grit and edge of “Tattoo.” And the CG5 reveled in the inceased power when I turned up the volume to immerse myself to Van Halen’s rock anthem classic, “Dreams.”

Treat yourself to a pair for ChristmasEvery RSL speaker I’ve auditioned has left me impressed, and the CG5 are no exception: Impeccable build quality; an intoxicatingly alluring, smooth sound; and superb top-to-bottom performance are just the opening act. The more time I spent listening to the CG5, the more I loved them.

For $800 a pair, the CG5 will give you pure sonic bliss far exceeding their price. Pair them with RSL’s Speedwoofer 10S subwoofer and you’ll have a high octane, sonic setup that will excel at both a two-channel and full-on home theater assault. You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood.

While there are lots of speaker options priced less than $1,000, the CG5 rank among my favorite. Whether it’s an upgrade to your current setup or a dive right into sonic bliss, take RSL up on their free in-home trial in time for Christmas. You won’t be disappointed. Enthusiastically recommended.

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