Onix Rocket RS250 Bookshelf speakers review

Introduction

Onix Rocket’s logo, now a rare sight.

Rocket by Onix as a speaker brand, is no longer existent. There were a few issues related to the owner that caused the company to disappear. He has reviewed this very pair of bookshelves as a surround sound set, in a review for Secrets way back when I was a little kid. If you want to take a look at the review he did in 2003 (I was about 4.5 then), here is the link to the archived review. Besides that, to highlight a few points from that review, it seems like the owner of the company at the time of his review is very approachable in terms of that he is active on forums and is very responsive to his email regarding these speakers, which tells you he treats this product like his baby. I mean, for a $699 bookshelf speakers in those days, the build quality on this (which I will elaborate in the respective section below) screams quality, and for that price, let’s say the price to performance was reviewed favorably.

Onix Rocket RS250 length in comparison with the NHT SB1

At this point, you might be able to tell that my dad has acquired the speakers because his review on the speakers is, let’s say the least, interesting (you’ll have to read it to know what I mean). Because of the move you might have known that I had recently had, I have the opportunity to try these out as he sorts out where he wants to place these. You’ll also notice that these speakers have interesting serial number, 00302 and 00301 which means these are one of the early models. Well, let’s just say he acquired these and has kept using them since.

So, about 16 years on, how has these speakers held on, and are they still quite the performance in today’s standard? These retailed for $699 back in 2003, which puts these in the mid-range category for bookshelf speakers. And as the closest thing in my possession, I’ll be loosely comparing them with my NHT SB1 which actually retail for about less than half at about $300.

Specifications

● System: Two-way, two driver direct-radiating system, vented enclosure with rear firing flared port
● Drivers: Vifa Ring Radiator tweeter, custom 6.5″ long-throw aluminum cone woofer
● Crossover: 3.8 kHz, 3rd-order alignment
● Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 20 KHz (± 3 dB)
● Impedance: 6 Ohms nominal
● Efficiency: 89 dB (@ 1 watt / 1 meter)
● Power Rating: 25-120 Watts power handling
● Dimensions: 13.75″ H x 13.5″ D x 9.5″ W (349 x 343 x 241 mm)
● Weight: 24 lbs (11 kg) each; ship weight = 60 lbs (shipped in pairs)
● MSRP: $699/pair

(taken and modified from this article from Secrets of Home Theater and Audio)

Set-up

For this review, I’ve been moved to a new room which I will say is of medium size compared to the old room I was in as I had recently moved. The arrangement of the furniture is also different due to the dimensions and the size of the room. Hence, the acoustics are slightly different as the walls are quite different in this house than the previous house. This house seems to amplify mids a bit more than the previous ones and the walls are flatter and less textured than the previous house, so the sounds reflect a lot more. It easily bleeds to the outside easily even though I’m listening to these are a moderate volume. However, the basic set-up in my room is the same. I’m listening to these close-up as I’m on a desk, and these are positioned in place of my NHT SB1, on the same stands which I bought used, and contain lead beads to weight them down. I did lose a bit in one due to the move but that is a minor issue as it wasn’t a lot. Other than that, because of the sheer size of these I’ve had to move the stands a bit more closer to me as the speakers are long (see picture above in comparison to the NHT SB1). Other than that, they are placed right beside the same desk I’ve had since the other house and all the components are pretty much the same. Another thing that had actually changed is with the subwoofer, as I got a different one, the Velodyne DLS-4000. They are actually larger with a 12″ woofer versus my CT-100 that I previously had which had 10″ subwoofers. My dad had acquired new subwoofers and hence because I had the chance, decided that I would take this as an upgrade. That won’t affect how I review these speakers and I know what to take into consideration as I’ve listened to my NHT SB1 in the old house and this new one and I know how different it is, and will take into account the differences when doing the review.

New set up looks

Also as a side note, you may have notice the monitor that I have on the desk in this set-up picture above. I have recently found it really helpful when I do my reports to have 2 monitors so that I can refer to sources as I write my reports, and a monitor was added to my set-up in this case. I first added this about 3 months before we moved, and I didn’t find any difference in sound characteristics of the speakers with this in the way. As such, it’s basically like it doesn’t exist. Either way, this is the current set-up, and this is how I listened to it for this review.

Later in the review process as well, I did change out my laptop out from the Lenovo Yoga 910 to the Lenovo Thinkpad P43s for school workflow reasons (new set-up picture below), but since the core audio playback devices don’t take the Laptop into much consideration except for digital signals, it’s something that doesn’t affect sound, and I also don’t hear any difference at all between the devices except for the lack of lagging that happens when I do dual screens and many things at once (which is a great thing nonetheless for many reasons).

Newer Set-up with the new laptop and the new configuration with the screen.

Build Quality

Just lifting these, I can tell the bracing on these, and the quality of the cabinet is of much higher quality than any speakers that I’ve had in my room, which includes the likes of the NHT Superzero, the NHT SB1, the Sony SS-k10ED, and others. These are easily the largest any has speaker has ever been in my room. Dimensions-wise, these are long, and that’s where the size lies in most. However, they are as wide, if not, slightly wider than my Sony SS-K10ED, which means if I had still done my old set-up on placing my speakers on the study table, I wouldn’t have much space at all to work with and study. Luckily I’m on stands, and off the study table this time. These came in the Rosewood finish, with a piano black top and bottom which are the main areas of culprit for fingerprints if you ever touch them. The rosewood finish feels more like a matte finish however, and don’t smudge with fingerprints as easily. I’d reckon finger oil might be visible if you touch them long enough.

Grill-less front look with the Vifa ring radiator tweeters as the featuring part.

Doing the knocking test on these easily tell one how dense and well braced these speakers are. They are large but somehow just slightly less dense than my NHT SB1 based on the knocking test. However considering the size, this bracing is quite substantial and they were quite the effort to adjust to my set-up as I had to move my stands forward to accommodate their length. Nevertheless, my dad has clearly taken care of these speakers. They look pretty much spotless and new. Speaking of the grill, the attachment is your typical pin and cup from this era, and the pin snaps onto the cups on the speakers, and as far as I know these are meant to be played with the grills on. The grills themselves also seem to be quality as the grills are braced with what seems like wood as well, with holes cut for the woofer and tweeter.

Along with the sticker that tells you these are the Onix Rocket RS250, the rear also houses the terminals which also seem to be of high quality. They are quite large and seem to be gold plated. They are placed straight so you can’t really put these flush to the wall unless you connect them via bare wires. A bit inconvenient for banana plugs that I use but all it took was moving them up a bit. The rear also showcases the port in the rear which lets you know these are not acoustic suspension. They are ported via the back. and it looks like you can also cover them for a tighter response if you so desire, and if you have something to cover it.

the rear connectors protrudes the rear enclosure

Listening Impressions

Since I’m like reviewing these as speakers that have not been played for a while, I won’t mention any critically judged items from about the 20-50 or so hours to make sure they are properly broken in again.

The main star of the show, the Vifa Ring Radiator tweeter, up close and personal

Since I’m listening to these speakers in more of a near-field speakers style as they are long, I made sure to listen in my usual sitting position and in a position further away, to make sure they are the same, and interestingly they are not. It’s not a drastic change, but I can hear the treble be a little harsher when I sit further back than I do when I sit upright near my desk. The harsher treble is actually more realistic, as the smoother characteristic listening from a close distance actually isn’t as accurate.

As I listen to these a lot while sitting near my desk doing work, when more critically listening to these, I try to just sit back from my usual working position and that usually generates the sound that is most accurate. To talk about how these speakers are in general, their imaging is their strongest suite, but that’s not to say their other aspects are horrible. They are in fact, superior in anything I’ve tried in my system.

If I must, say they are better than anything I’ve heard in my system so far. These are larger, are actually slightly more expensive than my Sony SS-K10ED, and actually have better components than my other speakers. If anything, I’m actually thoroughly enjoyed my time with these. It’s really a step above anything I’ve listened to in my system. Not to mention, the really good thing about these speakers are actually the tweeters. Dubbed the Vifa Ring Radiator Tweeter, you can tell these are not your typical tweeters. They are pure quality, and frankly what I think you are spending a good portion of the speakers for. Truly some superb tweeters these are, as they give the right raspiness to voices for me, and don’t affect anything else I listen to.

Not just that, the mid-bass on these are not bad either, being a long throw aluminum core woofer, these look pretty good, while being able to deliver quite the bass, by itself. I’ve listened to these alone in a pure stereo pair, and quite surprisingly, these do contain quite the bass in them. For a song that doesn’t actually require a subwoofer, I’m actually quite satisfied with what they can deliver, and in a number of cases (classical mostly), I can actually believe I can play certain music purely without subwoofer and still be as satisfied as I usually would. Quite the impressive feat for any speaker that has gone through me in this system really.

Overall imaging is actually superb as well. As I’ve mentioned imaging is the strongest suit for these speakers. When everything is working well (I’ve had a little cabling issue that is not the fault of the speakers), the imaging is on a different level compared to the NHT SB1s that I was using right before this, and even the Sony SS-K10ED. Frankly, the vocals that are meant to be in the middle are concentrated in the middle quite vividly, which is also an outstanding feature in the RS750 (the bigger tower siblings to these) when I first heard them critically. But that’s not all. Even when sitting up close and quite personal, the imaging is still as vivid. Guitars or drum sets backstage have a very nice realistic distance to them, and the vocals aren’t forward which is neutral, which I appreciate in this case, as everything is driven a little more forward than I was used to because of the size. And stage presence is superb as well, with reverb done in a very realistic and pleasing way to the ears. Stage extension is actually quite a good feet away, which is very impressive. I also have no qualms at all with listening to these for long periods of time.

Touching on the topic of the mid-range, the characteristics of these are actually between the warm and cold, a very nice in between. Pretty much these paired with my Music Hall DAC15.2 and NAD T747 is quite the all-around performer. I couldn’t really pick which kinds of genres are it’s natural strengths, but if I were to be really critical, the speakers themselves aren’t the most transparent seeming that I’ve listened to. They seem to have the thinnest of thin veils over it, but all that is covered by the superb natural sounding characteristics from both the tweeter and mid-bass.

Jay Chou’s Still Fantasy Album cover (taken from a google.com search)

In the song Ju Hua Tai by Jay Chou from his 2006 album Still Fantasy, features an array of chinese traditional and classical mix of instruments in the song with a single vocalist, the separation and the realism presented in the song is brought to life with these speakers even more so, with imaging again, being the standout here. Jay Chou’s voice is right smack in the middle, with the ensemble surrounding him. Dynamics in the song change quite a bit, and these speakers handle the increase in dynamics with the ensembles playing and Jay Chou singing superbly, with seemingly confidence and the barely any straining or struggling. Each instrument is still present in the dynamics changes and you even when it is relatively soft you can still hear it and identify the instrument pretty clearly in the background.

At the beginning of the song, you are greeted with a cello that plays the melody and the ensemble with preclusion in the background. The cello is to the listener’s right and is presented with a nice warm and realistic sound with depth in the cello chamber. The metalic percussion (forgive me I can’t pinpoint the instrument) in the background has clear bright tones, with the traditional chinese instruments presenting their unique string bounce vividly in the background. When the ensemble combines together, you can still separate the instruments in the background, from the orchestra and the traditional chinese instruments ( sorry I don’t know that they are either and I’m Chinese *embarrassed* ), and Jay Chou’s voice. There is a certain stage ambiance that is wide, a little cramped but well spaced. There is resonance in the instruments like you are sort of in a concert stage, and everything is consistently at their places. Quite the performance executed with this beautiful song, showing off the superior imaging from the RS250, which I recommend you readers listen to if you have to chance!

Maroon 5 Memories single cover (taken from a google.com search)

Memories, by Maroon 5, is a song that can showcases the speaker’s transparency and the sound stage, from the beginning as the you can hear the crowds cheering and some form of whistle. You can hear cracking of the Vinyl effect and the crowds in the background until exactly 1:03 where it cuts of and the background is serene and silent for the “say”, which is effectively emphasized. From then on, you can heard crowd fade in and out again several times. When the crowd doesn’t seem to be in the background, the Rockets show their sound stage prowess. The stage is nicely set, the reverb sounds natural, the superb (and at this point standard) separation of instruments and voices naturally without any cutting of in the overall system. you can even hear maybe the reverb extend like an inch or two away, and the deepness of the stage, where I can visualize instruments much further back with relative ease and clarity. It is in comparison, much easier to “see” them than other speakers I’ve had in my system, and considering these are the most expensive value-wise, it’s not a surprise.

Conclusion

  • Superb imaging, and overall great as well
  • Pretty great build quality that has lasted the 16 years we have had it
  • Would like to see/hear better transparency, and maybe less protruding connector and enclosure design

Despite a major change in my destination, my purpose, philosophy and objective is still the same. I’m reviewing something that (at a later time of writing) will now know that I can actually keep these (thanks again dad), I’m blessed to be able to have yet another permanent upgrade to my system. These pretty heavy bad boys, who extends a decently low frequency, can handle pretty much everything and excel at giving you the best representation of a stage. Frankly, in a loose comparison standpoint, the mid-range is about only slightly better than what I’ve heard in my system, but the treble is the step above, a given from the much better tweeter design. These are now discontinued as the company no longer exists. They aren’t that easy to find either, with people still selling these for around $300 online at hifishark (I’ve never heard of this website personally as I don’t really look for speakers there). They are about $100-200 upgrade depending on the deal, vs. say the NHT SB1 which there are quite an abundance of, but if you can snatch one for a great deal with stands I would highly consider these, as they are at least a bit better in almost every way compared to the SB1, and would highly recommend you give this a listen before choosing!

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