Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Surround Speaker Review

A Small Speaker System That Delivers Great Sound

Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 - Speaker System
Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 - Speaker System. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Introduction To The Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Surround Speaker System

Balancing style, price, and sound quality can be tough when choosing loudspeakers. If you are looking for a compact loudspeaker system to complement your HDTV, DVD and/or Blu-ray Disc player, check out the stylish, compact, great sounding, and affordable, Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Surround Speaker System. The system consists of 5 identical compact satellite speakers which can be set on a shelf or wall mounted (even in a corner wall space), and a compact 8-inch powered subwoofer. After reading this review, for additional perspective and closer look, also check out my supplementary Photo Gallery.

Satellite Speaker Specifications

The satellite speakers are all identical, and are used for the center, left/right, and surround channels.

1. Frequency Response: 150 Hz - 20 kHz (average response range for compact speakers of this size).

2. Sensitivity: 85 dB (represents how loud the speaker is at a distance of one meter with an input of one watt).

3. Impedance: 8 ohms. (can be used with amplifiers that have 8 ohm speaker connections)

4.Drivers: Woofer/Midrange 2 1/2-inch (64mm), Tweeter 1/2-inch (13mm)

5. Power Handling: 10-100 watts RMS

6. Crossover Frequency: 5kHz (represents the point where signal higher than 5kHz are sent to the tweeter).

7. Weight (each satellite speaker): 1 lb (5kg).

8. Dimensions: 3 3/5 x 3 7/16 x 4 1/2-inches (94 x 87 x 113mm).

9. Mounting options: On counter, On Wall, In Corner (mounting hardware provided).

10. Finish Options: Black or White

Powered Subwoofer Specifications

1. Bass reflex design with 8-inch Driver and additional acoustically tuned port.

2. Frequency Response: 50Hz to 150Hz.

3. Power Output: 100 watts (250 watts peak).

4. Phase: Switchable to 0 or 180 degrees (synchronizes in-out motion of sub speaker with in-out motion of other speakers in system).

5. Crossover Frequency (frequencies below this point are passed to the subwoofer): 60 -180Hz, continuously variable.

6. Connections: RCA Line input (LFE), AC power receptacle.

7. Power On/Off: two-way toggle (off/standby).

8. Dimensions: 12 7/8" H x 11 3/16" W x 14 1/4" D (377x284x310mm).

9. Weight: 20 lbs (9kg).

10. Available Finishes: Black or White.

For a closer look at the speakers, subwoofer, and their connections and control options, check out my supplementary Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Surround Speaker System Photo Gallery.

Audio Performance - Satellite Speakers

Center Channel

Whether listening at low or high volume levels, I found that the center speaker delivered clear sound, but on some vocals there was a slight lack of depth. However, this is with regards mostly to some music vocal performances. Movie dialog was distinct and natural, considering the compact size of the speaker.

Main/Surround Speakers

For movies and other video programming, the satellite speakers assigned to the left, right, and surround channels delivered great sound that was clear and distinct.

With Dolby and DTS-related movie soundtracks, the satellite speakers did a great job reproducing detail and provided good depth and direction. Good examples of this are provided by the "Echo Game" scene in House of the Flying Daggers the "Blue Room" scene in Hero, and the first "Battle Scene" from Master and Commander.

On music-based material, the system faired better that I was expecting and did well on the harmonies in Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, the instrumental detail on Dave Matthews/Blue Man Group's Sing Along, and the orchestral sound field in Joshua Bell's performance of the The West Side Story Suite.

On the other hand, I found that the satellite speakers are somewhat subdued with piano and other acoustical musical instruments. An example of this is the Norah Jones album, Come Away With Me.

Audio Performance - Powered Subwoofer

Despite its compact size, the subwoofer had adequate power output for the system.

I found the subwoofer to be a very good match for the rest of the speakers. On soundtracks with LFE effects, such as Master and Commander, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and U571, the subwoofer showed some drop-off of very low frequencies, especially when compared to the low frequency response of Klipsch Synergy Sub10.

In addition, for music, the subwoofer was lackluster in reproducing the the famous sliding bass riff on Heart's Magic Man, which is an example of extreme low frequency bass not typical in most music performances. Where the Klipsch Sub10 continued downward in bass response, the XS subwoofer sort of flattened out, leaving out the lowest bass frequencies present in the recording.

On the other hand, despite the above examples, based on its design and power output, the SoundWare XS subwoofer provided a satisfying experience in many cases, without being overbearing.

What I Liked

1. Great sounding compact speaker system. Despite the extremely small size of the satellite speakers, they can fill an average size room (in this case a 13x15 foot space) with satisfying sound.

2. Easy to set up and use. Since both the satellite speakers and subwoofer are small, they are easy to place and connect to your home theater receiver.

3. Variety of speaker mounting options. The satellite speakers can be placed on a shelf, mounted on a wall, or mounted in a corner space. Since the subwoofer employs a down firing design, you don't have to place it in the open.

4. Speaker mounting hardware provided. All the needed hardware for mounting the speakers on a wall or in corner wall space are provided.

5. Very affordable. At a suggested price of $499, the combination of price and performance make this system a good value.

What I Didn't Like

1. Vocals on some CD recordings sounded a little restrained from the center channel speaker. Vocals on some CD recordings lacked as much impact as I would have preferred.

2. I would have preferred less low frequency drop off from the subwoofer. However, for its size and power output, the subwoofer provided a good match for the rest of the system.

3. Line audio input only on subwoofer, no standard high level speaker connections.

Final Take

I found that the the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Surround Speaker System delivered clear sound across a wide range of frequencies and well-balanced surround sound image.

The center channel sounded better that I expected it would, especially since the speaker design is so much smaller than any center channel speaker I have used. On the other hand, the diminutive size of the speaker used for the center channel did seem to contribute to a lessening of strong impact on some vocals and dialog. A modification of the design for the center channel such as employing two mid-range/woofers and one tweeter, might add more depth. The size of the speaker would not be significantly larger than the satellites, but provide a better presence for dialog and vocals.

However, that being said, with a little tweaking on a receiver, the center channel performance can be brought more "forward".

The rest of the satellite speakers, which were used as both left and right mains and surrounds, also performed their job well. Although very compact, they held their own in reproducing both front and surround, and balanced well with the powered subwoofer.

I found the powered subwoofer to be a good match for the rest of the speakers. Despite its compact size, and lack of effective bass response in the extreme low frequencies. In real world listening, the subwoofer provided an adequate bass experience and offers a good sounding low frequency transition from the mid-range and high-frequency response of the satellite speakers.

Although I would, by no means, consider this an audiophile speaker system, Boston Acoustics has delivered an affordable, good quality, surround sound speaker system for a more mainstream user who may also be concerned about size and affordability. The Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 is a nice, modest, home theater speaker system for the budget conscious, a great second system for the bedroom or home office, or a practical system for a conference room in a either a business or educational-type setting.

I give the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Surround Speaker System a solid 4 out of 5 Star Rating.

For a further look at the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Surround Speaker System, Check out my supplementary Photo Gallery.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

Additional Components Used in This Review

Home Theater Receivers: Onkyo TX-SR705, Pioneer VSX-1019AH-K (on review loan from Pioneer). NOTE: Both receivers were used in 5.1 channel operating mode for this review.

Source Components: OPPO Digital BDP-83 and Pioneer BDP-320 (on review loan from Pioneer) Blu-ray Disc Players and OPPO DV-983H DVD Player. Note: The OPPO BDP-83 and DV-983H were also used to play SACD and DVD-Audio discs.

CD-only Player sources included: Technics SL-PD888 and Denon DCM-370 5-disc CD Changers.

Loudspeakers used in different setups included:

Loudspeaker System 2: 2 JBL Balboa 30's, JBL Balboa Center Channel, 2 JBL Venue Series 5-inch Monitor speakers.

TV/Monitors: A Westinghouse Digital LVM-37w3 1080p LCD Monitor, and Syntax LT-32HV 720p LCD TV.

Level checks made using a Radio Shack Sound Level Meter

Additional Software Used in This Review

Blu-ray Discs: 300, Across The Universe, Bolt, Hairspray, Iron Man, Night at the Museum, Quarantine, Rush Hour 3, Shakira - Oral Fixation Tour, The Dark Knight, Transformers, and Wall-E.

Standard DVDs: The Cave, Hero, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Moulin Rouge, and U571.

CDs: Al Stewart - Sparks of Ancient Light and A Beach Full of Shells, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Lisa Loeb - Firecracker, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me.

DVD-Audio discs included: Queen - Night At The Opera/The Game, Eagles - Hotel California, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood - Uninvisible.

SACD discs used included: Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon, Steely Dan - Gaucho, The Who - Tommy.