HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



May
2004

Reviewed by
Jeff Van Dyne
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2004


Rocket
Extremely Luscious Theater

Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: ELT LRS satellite speaker
Price: $249 USD per pair
Dimensions: 11.5"H x 7.5"W x 6.75"D
Weight: 12 pounds each

Model: ELT Center Channel center-channel speaker
Price: $299 USD
Dimensions: 20"W x 7.75"H x 6.75"D
Weight: 20 pounds

Model: ELT SW-10 subwoofer
Price: $299 USD
Dimensions: 18.75"H x 14.25"W x 11.75"D
Weight: 50 pounds

System Price: $999 USD (when purchased as a package)

Warranty: Five years parts and labor


Features
  • Hybrid silk-suspended alloy-dome tweeters
  • 2.5" paper-composite midrange (ELT Center Channel)
  • 5.25" alloy-cone anodized woofers
  • 10" paper-composite long-throw driver (SW-10)
  • 200W internal amplifier (SW-10)
  • Variable crossover, gain, and phase controls (SW-10)
  • Cherry-stained birch cabinets
  • Removable cloth grilles
  • Five-way recessed binding posts

One might think that, for a reviewer, seeing yet another "budget" speaker system pass through the door would not be all that welcome a sight. After all, budget speakers have the lowliest technology and finishes, and after a while they all look and sound a little drab.

Or so you might think. Fortunately for me, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I find what manufacturers have done with this class of speakers over the last several years to be incredibly innovative. There was a time, not so long ago, when budget speakers were almost entirely the victims of bloated bass, colored midranges, and harsh highs. This is no longer the case.

Yesterday’s exotic speaker technologies have become today’s mainstream, as much of the R&D expended on the top of the line trickles down to the budget regions. Composite materials and once-innovative design and construction details are now found in speakers the average person can afford.

A case in point is the new $999 Rocket Extremely Luscious Theater (ELT) system. From its anodized woofers to the radiused corners of the cabinets, the ELT is the very picture of the modern, newly sophisticated budget speaker. The simple cabinets of cherry-stained birch set a new standard for what budget speakers should look like. Finished in a thick, low-gloss lacquer, the ELTs possess an elegance that budget speakers have heretofore lacked. While the days of particleboard boxes clad in black vinyl may not be gone, competitors should take note and put some serious thought into upgrading the appearance of their budget models.

Description and setup

The two-way, two-driver Rocket ELT LRS measures 11.5"H x 7.5"W x 6.75"D, but it was their high level of finish that caught my eye as I began to unpack them. While I’ve seen a number of attractive speakers over the last few years, I was unprepared for the level of finish exhibited by the ELTs. The cabinets are rounded down the front sides, presumably to reduce diffraction -- a technique that until recently, as far as I know, was limited to much more expensive speakers. Still, corners have been cut to keep the cost down; hence the use of birch veneer instead of the more exotic rosewood used on Rocket’s upper-line speakers. However, the wood veneer, deep finish, and simple elegance of the half-round at the bottom of the grille make this speaker look more like the middle of a wide-ranging line than the bottom.

I placed the front left and right speakers atop a pair of heavy, 24" Parts Express stands I had on hand. The speaker stands’ 9" top plates proved a bit large, but the height was just what the doctor ordered. I placed the ELTs about 18" to either side of my widescreen TV, which put them almost equidistant from the main listening position. This tried-and-true position has worked well for almost every speaker I’ve used with this system, and the ELT was no exception. I experimented with moving the speakers closer to the wall and from side to side, but while there were some differences in soundstaging and balance, there were no serious detrimental effects at any time. Placing the speakers very close to the wall caused a slight rise in bass response and reduced image specificity and soundstaging, but never to a great extent. The ELT passed the standard placement-flexibility test: it could be moved into less-than-ideal positions without completely destroying the balance -- great news for those of us with dimensionally challenged rooms.

The four-driver, three-way 20"W x 7.75"H x 6.75"D ELT Center Channel went in the only location available: high atop the TV. This placed the speaker well above my head, which can create a serious problem with off-axis response. To correct for this, I used my favorite $2 audiophile tweak: I tilted the front of the speaker forward by placing two rubber doorstops under its rear edge. (If you do this, make sure you place a little Blu-Tack under the front corners to ensure that the speaker doesn’t slide off the front of the TV.) The surrounds were mounted 6.5’ off the floor at the rear sides of the room. The ELT LRS satellites can be stand- or bracket-mounted; Rocket recommends Vogel, Haropa, and OmniMount brackets.

The ELT SW-10 subwoofer is small: 18.75"H x 14.25"W x 11.75"D. It ended up along the right wall near the front of the room. This is not in the plane of the front speakers, which can be a problem when the main speakers don’t extend below 80Hz. Happily, that isn’t an issue with the ELT LRS. This brings up a distinct benefit of the compact shape of the ELT SW-10: it’s easy to find a spot to tuck it away in. In my room, it fit nicely beneath one side of a small writing table that sits in front of the window. Sub integration was a simple task -- it’s nice to see a manufacturer do a good job in their manual of explaining how to integrate a subwoofer into a system. The SW-10 has a paper-composite long-throw 10" woofer and a 200W amplifier module with continuously variable crossover, gain, and phase controls.

Movies and music

The Rocket ELT system showed its true colors with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The little ELT SW-10 sub proved something of an overachiever, shaking my moderately sized theater with considerable authority during the cannon shots from The Black Pearl. Transient response was also surprisingly good; the knock on Elizabeth’s door in "A Pirate’s Life" sounded just about exactly as if it was right there in the room. More impressive still was the sense of space created by the tight integration of all five speakers. From tropical wildlife to ocean sounds, there are enough subtle cues sprinkled throughout this movie to make it a good test, and the ELT system passed with flying colors. Pans from left to right and front to back were absolutely seamless. Further, better-than-average imaging locked sound into tight focus on a clearly three-dimensional soundstage.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life reinforced my early impressions about that three-dimensional soundstage. This was most obvious as the helicopter passes overhead in chapter 6. Sonically, the ’copter passed through my listening room as if it actually were overhead. The speakers contributed precise imaging and a complete lack of tonal shift from front to back. The sub held its own during the capsule crash in chapter 9, playing much louder than expected while retaining excellent clarity and definition. This is not expected behavior for a sub in this price class, but it was sure nice to hear. If I must nit-pick, I thought Angelina Jolie’s voice from the ELT Center was a bit too warm at times, though never to the point of distraction. To keep this in perspective, I have an older PSB Stratus C5 center-channel ($500) that exhibits more of this problem than did the ELT Center. This was better than merely fine performance on the ELT’s part, considering the difference in price.

If any doubts remained about the Rocket ELT’s ability to create a three-dimensional soundfield, they were forever banished during X2: X-Men United. The voices in Jane’s head in chapter 4 came from all around, yet were distinct and tightly placed in the room. The ELT system made the most of this slick sonic effect. Additional proof was provided in the form of less subtle effects, such as the echoes of Logan’s footsteps in the hall outside the chamber in chapter 8. There were times when I found the surrounds a bit easier to localize than normal.

Considering the excellent performance of the Rocket ELT system on movies, I had high expectations of it on music. I was not disappointed. On Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain [Columbia CK 65142], the trumpet at the opening of "Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" was amazingly true, and the tambourine caused me to look up from the notes I was writing. But localization again reared its head, the harp sounding as if it was coming directly from the left speaker on this track. While it is tightly focused in that general area with any speaker, the ELTs didn’t disappear into the background quite as well as some other speakers I’ve had here. On the other hand, from the point of tonal balance, imaging, and soundstage, the ELTs could pass for far more expensive speakers.

On the SACD of Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow [Epic ES 85440], the quintet of ELTs combined to create a perfectly seamless soundstage on "Scatterbrain." Transient response was better than expected as well, with a nice, clean snap on the drums in "Thelonious." The sub continued to prove its virtues by providing a tight, clean foundation with the bass drum at the start of "Freedom Jam."

Comparison

The Rocket ELT compared favorably to the Paradigm Esprit home-theater speaker system ($1546). The Esprit is a bit warmer through the midrange; the ELT is a little leaner. I wouldn’t call one better than the other; just slightly different. However, the ELT seemed to have a somewhat smoother and more extended top end. Dialogue clarity with both systems was excellent, and too close to call. The levels of overall detail were also similar, though the upper midrange and, again, the upper frequencies were marginally cleaner through the ELT.

When it came to surround envelopment, the Paradigm system, with its hybrid dipole surrounds, was the clear winner in my smaller listening space. However, the ELT performed at least as well as any other budget monopole speaker in my recent experience in this respect. The little 10" Rocket subwoofer outdid itself -- and several more expensive subs -- in definition, but couldn’t keep up with the larger Paradigm when things got really loud and nasty. The two subs were a tight match: the more dynamic Paradigm was able to play louder in a large room, while the Rocket would be a better match for small- to medium-sized spaces.

Cosmetically, it was no contest. While I find the Paradigm system’s understated laminate finish very attractive, it’s no match for real wood. South of about three grand, I’ve had only one other system through here in the last few years that looked as good as the ELT, and it was still more than twice their price.

Conclusion

I could find no major fault with the Rocket ELT system. It was at least the equal of any of its peers, and in most cases surpassed them. Cosmetically, I don’t believe I’ve come across anything that can match it in this price class. If you’re looking for a system that’s easy to look at, set up, and listen to, then this may just be the system you’re looking for. Extremely luscious indeed!

Review System
Processors/Receivers - Anthem AVM 20, Onkyo TX-DS696
Amplifiers - Chiro C-300 (front channels), Rotel RB-976 (surrounds)
Sources - Pioneer DV-563A DVD player, Sony DVP-NS755V DVD player, Adcom GCD-600 CD changer, Sony SAT HD200 DirecTV receiver
Cables - Analysis Plus, Audio Magic, Straight Wire, Monster Cable
Monitor - Hitachi 46F500 rear-projection HDTV
 

Manufacturer contact information:

AV123
2150 W. Sixth Ave., Suite L
Broomfield, CO 80020
Phone: (877) 543-7500

E-mail: info@av123.com
Website: www.av123.com 

 


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