Technology

Samson Resolv RXA5 and RXA6 Monitors: Ribbon Tweeter, Rear Port, HF/LF Controls

It seems that every month a new studio monitor hits stores. Companies with many years in the game, like JBL, Tannoy and Genelec, are constantly facing competition from new upstarts. So how can any pr

It seems that every month a new studio monitor hits stores. Companies with many years in the game, like JBL, Tannoy and Genelec, are constantly facing competition from new upstarts. So how can any product cut through the competition and allow itself to be heard? Do something different. Samson has been making the Resolv line since 2000 including the Resolv, Resolv 50,Resolv 65A, ResolvA, and the Resolv SE. The first line of Resolv monitors came in three varieties having a 5-, 6- or 8-inch woofer, each with a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. The latest Reslovs, the RXAs, have found a great way to grab attention by incorporating a ribbon tweeter.

Ribbon tweeters are surprisingly rare in studio monitors, with ADAM leading the market and few others following. Every engineer has an opinion about ribbon tweeters, but they are significantly more efficient than dome tweeters when it comes to high-frequency reproduction. A large surface area is folded into a smaller space and compresses and expands perpendicularly to the listening position. According to manufacturers, this allows them to move air four times more efficiently than dome tweeters, resulting in crisper transients and, theoretically, less ear fatigue.

Components

The RXAs come in two models: the RXA5 with 5-inch woofer and the RXA6 with a 6-inch. The woofer material is a copolymer with the surround made of butyl rubber, chosen for its dampening properties, providing clean, tight bottom end with low distortion. The “Air Displacement Ribbon Tweeter” is made from 2.5 inches of folded aluminum. As in most monitors today, the tweeters sit behind a sculpted waveguide designed to disperse sound, widening the listening field while maintaining a clear stereo image. The RXAs feature 24dB/octave active Linkwitz-Riley crossovers centered at 3 kHz on the RXA5 and 3.5 kHz on the RXA6. Each model features a bi-amped design, with the RXA5 delivering 20 watts to the tweeter and 50W to the woofer, and the RXA6 feeding 25W to the tweeter and 75W to the woofer.

On the back panel there is an overall level control, using a raised, rubber-capped knob. There is a single detent at the center position. While there are no individual controls for the high- and low-frequency amplifiers, there are recessed controls for high- and low- frequency shelving, which can be adjusted with a flathead screwdriver or your fingernail.. Each is detented at the flat center position and offers ±6dB of boost and cut. All three standard analog connectors are offered: unbalanced RCA, balanced ¼-inch TRS, and balanced XLR. There are no connectors for stereo linking. A fuse, a rocker-style power switch, and universal power connector round out the back panel.

The enclosures are made of matte black vinyl-wrapped MDF. The edges of the front side are sculpted to minimize diffraction. There is a single bass port on the back of each cabinet. There is also a pair of standard M6 x 10 mounting holes on each box. My first impression was that the boxes were rather large compared to other monitors with similar driver sizes. I set up the RXA5s in my office and the RXA6s in the studio and spent some time getting to know them both.

Listening Test

My office is a relatively large space with no acoustic treatment. It’s where I write, edit video and do graphic design. I usually listen to music when doing these types of things, so the RXA5s became my entertainment speakers for the few weeks that I had them. I tend to listen to a lot of types of music when I’m working, but some reason, I seem to get the most done when I’m listening to tracks with an electronic rhythm section and synths. Listening to synth-heavy pop, I was quickly impressed by the sound of these monitors.

Like any monitors, the RXA5s got better with age, but right out the box, the upper midrange and top end were really nice. Hats and snares had a crisp quality to them without ever being harsh. The ability to listen for a long time without fatigue is supposedly the draw of ribbon tweeters, but I felt it just as significant to consider that even if I cranked these monitors for short durations, the top end still never felt noticeably bothersome. Vocals cut through the mix really well, and the general separation of sounds in the upper midrange was very clear.

The bass was tight and punchy at first, but as the monitors broke in, they kept their punch but gained some real thunder in the bottom. I had them sitting on Primacoustic Recoil Stabilizers on the desktop, about 8 inches from where the desk intersected with the wall. The interaction of the rear-firing port and this corner seemed to be a pretty healthy recipe for big bottom. Granted, there was that missing low octave that only a subwoofer could bring to life, but for a 5-inch woofer, I was pretty blown away.

All of these factors made for really enjoyable listening, especially when it came to electronically driven pop, hip-hop or EDM. When I checked out more acoustically driven music, I was pleased, but some elements felt a little off. Stringed instruments such as acoustic guitar or piano didn’t sound as true to how I know they sound in the recordings. Oddly, despite the ribbon tweeters, there seemed to be a missing airyness. Compared to ADAM A5s, where an acoustic guitar just sounded like an acoustic guitar and a piano sounded like a piano, the RXAs sounded equalized. I was surprised by this, so I swept a tone generator across the top end and found that while the A5s stayed fairly linear up to 20 kHz, the RXAs seemed to have a subtle bump between 2 and 4 kHz, and after that the top end started to gently trail off.

The amplifiers’ self-noise was noticeable. When I flipped them on, I would hear it immediately, and while it was easily ignored when referencing styles of music that are consistently loud, the noise reared its head when listening to dynamic classical music or jazz. Also, when listening to jazz, I noticed a bit of a gouge in the lower portion of the midrange and perhaps at a harmonic in the upper midrange. The double bass showed this the most, as the lower body of the instrument was full and present, but the articulation of the plucking and any movement along the fretboard, which was quite clear on the A5s, was more subdued on the RXA5s. I found the same to be true when listening to slightly gritty electric basses in rock music. The low notes were there, but the defining edge was somewhat lost. The body of the snare drum was similarly absent. While the crack cut so nicely and comfortably, the monitors hid the low-midrange frequencies, which suggest the full timbre of the instrument.

Big Brothers

The RXA6s shared many of the characteristics of the RXA5s, with all the comfort and listen-ability in the top end. The studio where I tested them is a smaller space, so the trapping combats the bass buildup relatively successfully. I had the monitors on stands about a foot from the wall, and the bottom end did not disappoint. Again, after the break-in period, there was a bump in the low end, probably from the rear port playing off the wall. I started playing with the EQ knobs on the back because I felt like there might be too much bass, but before I got too crazy with that, I decided to bring in a reference for A/B comparisons.

I wanted a fair shootout, so I aimed for a similar price range and put up a pair of KRK Rokit 6s against them. Once I matched levels, it was clear how different the sounds were. I feel like the Rokits aren’t perfect, but they are fairly flat and honest throughout the midrange. Their top end is a little hyped and they don’t have the bottom end of the RXA6s, but I know them well enough that they make a good touchstone.

I started out listening to some of the things I had studied on the RXA5s and found the same ambiguity when listening to electric and acoustic basses. The Rokit monitors offered more clarity. I tried playing with the EQ settings to fix this, and by turning down the lows and slightly boosting the highs I got a bit closer. By contrast, when listening to hip-hop and EDM, the Rokits seemed muddier than the RXA in the low-midrange, where low-end instruments and vocals overlapped. This compromised the clarity of the vocals. On the RXA6s, vocals sounded much clearer, while the bass synths still filled their role in the bottom end.

As far as imaging goes, the RXAs had an impressive stereo spread, wider than that of the Rokits, though the center of the Rokits was much more defined. Turning down the top end on the RXAs and boosting their gain to match the Rokits helped promote a more defined center, but came at a sacrifice of what air there was in the top end. The center did a good job of staying put even when I moved around the space. Generally, both pairs of RXAs also maintained an impressive amount of detail even when I wandered far off-axis from the sweet spot.

I wanted to see how a mix done on the RXAs would translate to other speakers. I had to touch up some music mixes that had sounded good on my usual monitors, but wound up sounding too bass-heavy when played on a consumer home theater system with a subwoofer. The RXA6s did a good job of highlighting the problem and helping me correct it. I found myself removing some low-lows, and adding a little bit of detail to bass guitar to help it pop. This wound up making the bass sound really good on other speakers, large and small. Overall, I did not make a great deal of changes, but the subtle tweaks led to mixes that translated very well onto other speakers.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to listening to modern pop music, the RXAs are great. For recreation, and for the price, they are a wise investment. While I do not entirely agree with their “flat frequency response with no hype, just precise audio imaging” assertion, I think that many people would pick them over other monitors because they have rockin’ bottom and clarity in the top-end. While they did exhibit some inaccuracies, especially when compared to other monitors, the purpose of a studio monitor should be to give a reference that leads to mixes that translate well to other speaker systems. They RXAs did not fail in that task. The RXA5 and RXA6 monitors are worth a listen.

Brandon Hickey is an audio pro and rabid Blackhawks fan.

Product Summary

COMPANY: Samson

PRODUCT: RXA5 and RXA6 Monitors

WEBSITE: www.samsontech.com

PRICES: $199 and $249 per monitor (street)

PROS: Comfortable top end. Big bottom end.

CONS: Frequency response seemed hyped in places.

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