Allow me to paint a picture. While attempting to form this introduction, I’m sitting before my system, the Killer’s ‘Battle Born’ album spinning in the CD player. And, at the other end of the chain are a tiny, unassuming pair of sub-£100 bookshelf speakers. And the sound? it’s magical.
The speakers in question are Roth’s OLi RA1s – a tiny, 2-way rear ported bookshelf design, boasting a 4” woven fibreglass mid/bass drier and a 1” black diamond silk dome tweeter. Acoustically tuned by Richard Alan, their tiny cabinets are finished in a classy mat black (white is also available), with magnetic grilles and integral wall brackets.
In the box, you’ll find the speakers wrapped in cloth bags, nestled within foam blocks rather than the usual crumbly polystyrene. You also get a bag containing some documentation, hooks for the wall brackets, and a selection of soft foam pads. 2 Sizes of pad are provided – 8 thin circular pads are for use as feet on the bottom of the speakers, while the 4 larger pads are designed to be used to support the rear of the speakers if you hang them on the wall.
Once unwrapped, the RA1s have a decent weight to them given their small stature, and feel solidly made. The usual tap test reveals a little resonance on either side, but certainly nothing of any real concern.
On the front, both drivers are surrounded by neat plastic trims, effectively hiding any fixings to give the RA1s a very clean appearance. To further enhance this, the magnet grille fixings are also hidden within the front baffle
Around back, you’ll find the bass port, as well as a set of single-wire terminals designed to accept bare wire, banana plugs or small spades. Up top, you’ll find the plastic hook for the included wall bracket.
Thanks to their small size, the RA1s are flexible with regards to positioning. Placing them out from a wall will render the bass a touch more tuneful and help to open up the sound, however they work equally well against a wall. They’re just as suited to stands are they are to hanging on their included brackets or sitting atop a bookshelf or desk.
Before getting down to any serious listening, I allowed the speakers to run in for a few days. Though the sound was certainly not bad to start with, allowing them to run in opened up the sound considerably, and tightened up the bass.
And, inserting disc after disc proves that these little sub-£100 speakers are astounding in their ability to deliver crisp, clean, engaging music. Sure, the sound can’t be described as ‘room-filling’ – that’s an impossible ask of such a tiny pair of speakers with their tiny drivers. And the bass won’t cause your windows to rattle, especially at lower volumes. But what these speakers lack in large-scale sound reproduction and low-end grunt, they make up for in timing, an excellent rhythmic ability, and excellent instrument placement throughout the sound stage.
Turn them up, and the sound gets better. These speakers thrive on power. The bass is more prominent and better defined, and the sound stage opens out. But – most importantly – they’re great fun to listen to.
At this point, you may be asking yourself – self, just how did Roth do it? I don’t know either. But they did – and the resulting product is the OLi RA1.
The RA1 is a seriously good speaker for the price. They’re the perfect starter speakers for a budget hi-fi setup. They’re right at home on your desk as part of a small desktop setup. And they’re well-suited to hanging on the walls as part of a surround sound system. The possibilities are endless. For the price, I simply can’t fault them. Highly recommended.