Mini Review: Rocket RS550s vs. HTD Level 4s

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by Nhan_H, Mar 31, 2004.

  1. Nhan_H

    Nhan_H Second Unit

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    For anyone interested, here's my Mini Review of the Rocket RS550s vs. Hometheaterdirect Level IV towers I posted originally in the Rockets section of the HTS forum, as well as the AV123 forum:

    First off, I'd like to thank Brian & Chris at Hometheaterdirect (HTD) for being very hospitable and for lending me a pair of Level IV speakers to compare against my Rocket RS550s. Can’t say enough good things about the HTD guys and their willingness to help me out, even though they knew going into this that I would not be purchasing the 4s. This demo took place about 3 weeks ago, but I just did not have much time afterwards to put together this mini-review. Too much going on with work and other activities, including trying to recoup after lugging 3 pairs of speakers around the DFW area
    Yes, that's right....3 pairs. A friend of mine wanted to purchase a pair of Level 3s, so I picked them up for him, as well.

    I wanted to do this comparison, since I've always wondered how the 550s would stack up against the 4s. Plus, I saw some posts re: the Level 4s vs. the Rockets, but couldn’t jump in to give a definitely answer. Furthermore, I wanted to be one of the first to get to do this comparison. Unfortunately, my friend Dominic sorta beat me to it, as he owns a set of Level IVs and have heard my Rockets in a mini-demo. However, I beat him to the punch by getting to listen both sets in the same room This started out as a listening comparison between the 550s and the 4s, but since I had the level 3s on-hand, we initially threw that into the mix as well (after breaking them in for about 36 hours). However, demo-ing different materials on 3 pairs of speakers took quite a bit of time, and got to be quite exhausting after the first hour or so L Therefore, we ended up just comparing the 550s and 4s.

    To make it a fair comparison, I decided to turn the sub, center, and rears off. I made an Excel spreadsheet to capture SPL information for each pair of speakers at incremental dB setting on the Yammie’s volume knob to ensure somewhat of a proper level-matching. The SPLs didn’t vary that much (anywhere from 1-2 dBs at most). I set all speakers (L+R, i.e.) to large, so that the lower frequencies will be sent to them, not the sub.

    We listened to material ranging from different DVD movies/demo discs to CDs to SACDs and DVD-As.

    Listening Equipment:
    Yamaha RX-V2200 receiver.
    Pioneer 563a Universal player.
    Parts Express banana plugs helped Dominic and me by facilitating the wire switching duties.
    Radio Shack analog SPL meter
    Avia calibration DVD

    Pricing:
    Level 4s: was $899, but now $799.
    Level 3s: $429 for the black and $449 for light or dark cherry wood.
    Rocket 550s: was $899, but now $699. Risers were an additional $99

    Aesthetics:
    The Rocket build quality and beautiful real rosewood was topnotch. They were about 8 inches shorter than the Level 3s and 4s (but set on the rocket risers, they were about the same height). However, the rockets were about 10-12 lbs heavier than the level 4s (level 4s were listed at 48 lbs on the website, and 550s were listed at 55lbs, but the rockets weighed 60 lbs on my digital scale—did not get a chance to do the same for the level 4s, however, as I did the weighing out of curiosity after breaking my back lugging these things around town).

    The loaner Level 4s came in a beautiful piano black gloss finish. They were a showroom unit that had a few scratches on them, and were probably an early production model from more than 2 years ago. The build quality was pretty nice, but I did detect a few uneven areas here and there. Piano black gloss does tend to accentuate even the slightest flaw in any speaker. However, Dominic confirmed that his Level 4s at home did not have any of the cosmetic imperfections we saw. Although both were quite solid and well built, I’d have to give the nod here to the Rockets. I’m not a fan of dark furniture, as I’m more into contemporary living designs, but these rosewood speakers are just so beautiful. The piano black is great also, but I just like the exotic wood more. The mappa burl (optional finish on the 4s) didn’t do much for me. But again, I’m not crazy about the birdseye maple finish on the Onix Refs (the rockets’ big brothers). I guess the yellowish colors were just too bright for my speaker (as well as furniture) taste.

    Overall Listening Impressions:

    Please take my opinion on the following matter with a grain of salt, since everyone’s ears will differ slightly on taste for sound. First off, I really like the sound of both speakers. They conveyed a great deal of clarity and as well as provided some oomph! The Level 4s had more zing in the higher frequency range, but the 550s had better mid-range and bass slam (the Hellboy/Spiderman2/The Missing/ Resident Evil 2 demos had lots of lower frequency materials….some too low for both speakers to handle, but they never sounded distorted in any manner).

    I felt that the 550s delivered an overall smoother sound—something more soothing to my ears. The Level 4s sounded really good, but I prefer the smoothness of the 550s. Both speakers imaged extremely well, as I’m able to “see” their projection of different images across the front stage. Just close your eyes and you can almost see/feel where the sound was coming from. They both did great for HT and music, although I had to give the edge to the Rockets in both setup—more so on the music listening than with HT, since they were both equally good in the HT department.

    I was sad (as well as exhausted) to have to return the Level 4s to the HTD guys. I also let them borrow my Rockets for a few hours, since they do not have a pair sitting in their office. Chris mentioned that he liked the Rockets and wanted to thank me for lugging them around, so he and the guys at the office can listen to them. I think it should be the other way around since they were nice enough to lend me the Level 4s and allow me to take it for an in-home demo.

    Here are some pics of the speakers:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Aaron_S

    Aaron_S Extra

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    Thanks for the review, those speakers look soo nice. Sounds like an awesome deal to listen to those speakers all at once. How do the level 3's compare to the 4's in your opinion.
     
  3. Nhan_H

    Nhan_H Second Unit

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    Thanks, Aaron--yes, it was quite a treat. I prefer the 4s to the 3s, sound quality-wise. But I didn't get to do that much of a side-by-side comparison between the 2 to really decide. The 3s only had like 30-hours of break-in time, since I got them setup Friday afternoon and ran them continuously until Sunday morning. From what I heard during the break-in time, I really like what the 3s have to offer. The build quality and cabinetry of the 4s are nicer, of course (being a piano black gloss finish and 1" MDF vs. 3/4" MDF). It also had a bigger voice coil and tweeter than the 3s, and is crossed-over differently.

    But to answer your question, from just the sound quality alone, I don't know if I can justify the price difference between the 2. My friend Dominic thought there was substantial differences when he demoed them at the HTD office to warrant his purchase of the 4s. I'm sure if I had a chance to listen to them for a longer period of time, I might be able to find differences here and there that would allow me to make a more comprehensive decision.
     
  4. EricRWem

    EricRWem Screenwriter

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    On paper at least, the 3's are a signifigant jump over the level 2's whereas the 4's aren't nearly as much a jump over the 3's. That's why I think the 3's are probably the best overall value, from the looks of it.

    To be kind of picky, I'll say this: Those HTD speakers, below level 4, seem awfully bulky in dimension and, frankly, don't look that good. Maybe they're better looking in person. I am speaking especially of their combo x bookshelf speakers. Golly, those are bulky as hell.


    The Rockets easily win the aesthetics contest from the looks of all this. Certainly that's not the critical juncture from which to make a speaker search, but... I think you may have swayed me towards the Rockets.

    ELT is probably what I'm looking at for my 20 foot by 12 foot room with an HK 630...
     
  5. EricRWem

    EricRWem Screenwriter

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    On paper at least, the 3's are a signifigant jump over the level 2's whereas the 4's aren't nearly as much a jump over the 3's. That's why I think the 3's are probably the best overall value, from the looks of it.

    To be kind of picky, I'll say this: Those HTD speakers, below level 4, seem awfully bulky in dimension and, frankly, don't look that good. Maybe they're better looking in person. I am speaking especially of their combo x bookshelf speakers. Golly, those are bulky as hell.


    The Rockets easily win the aesthetics contest from the looks of all this. Certainly that's not the critical juncture from which to make a speaker search, but... I think you may have swayed me towards the Rockets.

    ELT is probably what I'm looking at for my 20 foot by 12 foot room with an HK 630...
     
  6. Nhan_H

    Nhan_H Second Unit

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    Yea, the HTD 3 bookshelves are rather large. I couldn't believe how big they were when I first picked them up for another friend a while back. Some people might not have any issues with their rather large size. The level 4s represent their foray into the "next higher-end" spectrum. Hence, they have better build quality and an edgier look.

    In terms of build quality, the rockets definitely win hands down. Do take a hop over to Bob (Hectic's) house and listen if you get a chance to do so [​IMG]
     
  7. Nhan_H

    Nhan_H Second Unit

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    Yea, the HTD 3 bookshelves are rather large. I couldn't believe how big they were when I first picked them up for another friend a while back. Some people might not have any issues with their rather large size. The level 4s represent their foray into the "next higher-end" spectrum. Hence, they have better build quality and an edgier look.

    In terms of build quality, the rockets definitely win hands down. Do take a hop over to Bob (Hectic's) house and listen if you get a chance to do so [​IMG]
     
  8. EricRWem

    EricRWem Screenwriter

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    I still keep coming back to thish cool thread. Nhan.

    Where are you at with things these days and have you tried out any other speakers?
     

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