Big Picture Big Sound

Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Loudspeaker System Review

By Rachel Cericola
Edited by Chris Boylan

Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 Review

Let's Get Small

We love teeny technology. In our tiny shack of a house, small speakers are welcomed with open arms and ears. Sure, they won't hold a week's worth of mail or double as a spot to rest our sweaty summer beverages. However, they do allow our dog to get around the room easier, and we appreciate the option to place them out of a toddler's reach.

The problem with a lot of smaller speakers is, well, small sound. We've had to sit and smile through plenty of demos where whatever was being projected sounded a lot like a walkie-talkie. We still can't say (out loud) whether or not small speakers can crank as well as the big boys. Frankly, there are still plenty out there that sound more like rocking out to a tin can. Thankfully, though, small speakers are getting better. Take Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1.
We'd like to think that the XS stands for "extra special." However, it would make a lot more sense that it's all about the "extra small" satellites. Those are worth noting, too, since they are the company's smallest speakers to date.

The XS satellite speakers measure about 4 inches on each side.
The set comes with five interchangeable SoundWare XS satellite speakers, which measure a mere 3.5 inches (per side). They are the perfect size to punt around the room, although it may cost you a toenail or two.

As with all Boston Acoustics products, these two-way speakers exude some quality craftsmanship. These little guys are heavy, each packing in a 0.5-inch dome tweeter and a 2.5-inch woofer and a frequency range of 150Hz to 20kHz. You can also expect versatility, since each unit can sit or be mounted at any angle. Omni-directional wall brackets are also included, which means you can stash them in the corner or put them right in the middle of the wall and aim them for the ultimate sound experience.

Yes, they are small and cute and very curious to tiny 3-year-old hands. However, that weight helps them pack quite a wallop -- especially for smaller rooms like ours. Harry Connick sounded sultry, but we were able to pick up all of the percussion instruments nicely, as well as each piano key. We then cranked up Gorillaz's Demon Days, which has a lot of detail sneaking around the surrounds at the album's opening; all were portrayed clearly and beautifully. Yet, when the album switched into dance mode, the sound kicked out the jams with a lot of strong bass, courtesy of the included 8-inch subwoofer.

Speaking of the sub, at 20 pounds and measuring roughly 12 by 11 by14 inches, that big boy sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to the tiny satellites. However, like most subs, this piece can be easily tucked away to do its job nicely. The sub needs to be connected to your receiver's LFE or line level output (sorry, no speaker level inputs). From there, the 100-watt (250 watts peak) integrated amplifier unit uses Boston Acoustics' own Deep Channel Design (DCD), promising a frequency response of 40 to 150Hz.

A peek at the back of the 8-inch subwoofer.

We also worked the system into our movie rotation, testing it out with one of our favorite scenes from Iron Man. The subwoofer handled that first flight very well, shaking both the floor and possibly scaring at least one neighbor. Fighting also provided some nice jabs through the front speakers, and dialogue was sharp and satisfying on every title we tried out. We did adjust the manual crossover control on a few scenes, which was easy enough and produced some nice results. Those adjustments will depend on speaker placement and the size of your room, as well as how tweak-crazy you tend to be.

Made to Multiply

At first glance, we assumed that the satellites in this setup were the same as BA's current SoundWare speakers. However, after further investigation, we discovered this set features a slightly dumbed-down (and smaller) version. They have the same "polyhedron" shape, just without the color selection and the more powerful insides.

The company did put together the SoundWare XS system in a nifty 5.1 package for you. Yes, we are pleased with the overall system. Even better, you can soon add on to make your audio dream package. According to BA's website, the tiny XS satellite speakers speakers will soon be sold separately for $69.99 each in black or white. That means even bigger sound, with the same small packages. Just don't get greedy; the subwoofer is not currently offered as a stand-alone item.

Turn Ons

  • Big sound from small speakers
  • Omni-directional mounting means sweet sound from any angle
  • Sturdy construction delivers stable sound
  • No stands necessary

Turn Offs

  • Beefy subwoofer is a big visual contrast to satellites
  • Subwoofer has no speaker level inputs; LFE/line input only

Final Thoughts

In this economy, it's hard to justify new speakers. However, the SoundWare XS 5.1 system packs a roomful of fun into one small $500 package. There are plenty of other systems out there that are slightly cheaper, but Boston Acoustics' quality is worth the extra money. It still might not be ready to combat the big boys, but good construction and performance make it a nice starter system for any budding movie lover or audiophile.

Where to Buy

System Specs:

  • Satellite Speakers: SoundWare XS 2-way
    • Dimensions: 3.75 x 3.44 x 4.5 inches
    • Net Weight: 1 lb.
    • Frequency Response: 150Hz-20kHz
    • Recommended Amp Power: 10-100 watts
    • Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 85dB [SPL/2.8v at 1m]
  • Subwoofer: 8-inch Powered Subwoofer
    • Dimensions: 12-7/8 x 11-3/16 x 14-1/4 inches
    • Net Weight: 20 lbs.
    • Frequency: 40-150Hz
    • Variable Crossover: 60Hz-180Hz (24dB)
    • Amplifier Power: 100 watts
  • System Price: $499.99

Manufacturer's Contact Information:

Boston Acoustics
300 Jubilee Drive
Peabody, MA 01960-4030

Ph: 978-538-5000
On the Web:

What did you think?

View all articles by Rachel Cericola