The Speaker Company TSBL, TC2, and TSS Home Theater Speaker System Review

The Speaker Company TSBL Bookshelf Speakers

The Speaker Company TSBL Bookshelf Speakers

 

The Speaker Company TSBL, TC2, and TSS Home Theater Speaker System

Pros

  • Fantastic price/performance equation
  • Superior sound quality and construction compared to competing speakers from big-box stores
  • Clean, natural sound with no glaring faults, no listening fatigue
  • Dipolar surround speakers for superior surround effects, extremely rare at the price point
  • Money back guarantee with free shipping both ways make these a true zero-risk purchase

Cons

  • TSBL speakers are boomy on occasion when used without a subwoofer
  • Center channel speaker is 18″ deep- check TV stand/shelf dimensions before ordering
  • Only one choice of finish- black ash vinyl with black cloth grill
  • Surround speakers only come in white- they may match the walls, but not the other speakers
  • Lacks some magic and sparkle compared to more expensive competitors

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The Speaker Company (TSC) has recently introduced their new T-Series speakers to expand their product line and provide speakers with a higher level of performance than their P5/P6/RC1 speakers. I recently tested the TSAT1000 system and was quite impressed with the finish, sound quality, and the value for the money… a winner in every way. How will the rest of the T-Series measure up? Read on and find out!

TSBL Bookshelf Speakers. DVD provided for scale

The Speaker Company TSBL Bookshelf Speakers

$179.97/pair including shipping

Two-way bookshelf speaker with 6.5″ aluminum woofer and 1″ HiCell foam tweeter. Magnetically shielded for use near CRT TVs. The L stands for “large” compared to the smaller TSB, which I presume stands for “The Speaker Company Bookshelf.

Dimensions and Weight

14.4″ H by 7″ W by 10.8″ D

15.87 lbs. each

Frequency Response

65 Hz to 20,000 Hz

Bass response of 65 Hz is not as deep as one would expect for a speaker of this size and type. In listening my impression was that the speaker goes much deeper, perhaps into the 55-58 Hz range, which would not be a stretch given the generous cabinet size. I emailed The Speaker Company to check if the 65 Hz specification is a typo.

This speaker is usable in small rooms without a subwoofer for music reproduction, but will sound best with a subwoofer to fill in the deep bass, especially if you have a larger room. Movie lovers should plan on using a subwoofer to make the most of special effects.

Power Requirements

Sensitivity: 90 dB

Impedance: 8 ohms

Power handling: 15-125 watts

This speaker is very easy to drive and will work well with most any amplifier or receiver, even budget models.

The Speaker Company TC2 Center Channel

$99.97 each including shipping

Two-way center channel speaker with two 5.25″ aluminum woofers and one 1″ HiCell foam tweeter. Magnetically shielded for use near CRT TVs.

The TC2 is a largest, most solid center channel you will find anywhere near $100.

Dimensions and Weight

6.5″ H by 18.2″ W by 12″ D

22.2 lbs.

This is one BIG center channel, at over a foot and a half wide and a foot deep, and over 22 lbs of solid construction. It’s amazing they did it for $99.97, but no matter how good it sounds and how good of a deal it is you will need a place to put it! If it will not fit in your own setup, you may want to consider a single TSAT2000 speaker as a center channel, but this speaker’s performance makes it worth making room for it.

Frequency Response

80 Hz to 20,000 Hz

Bass response of 80 Hz means this center channel can reproduce the entire spectrum of vocal reproduction. (Human voices can go down to 80 Hz, so center channel speakers that cannot reproduce 80 Hz may send some of the vocals to the subwoofer, which is undesirable. Bose Acoustimass systems are some of the biggest offenders in this regard.)

The much smaller TSC RC1 is rated to 65 Hz, so again I suspect that the actual response of the TC2 may be lower.

Power Requirements

Sensitivity: 91 dB

Impedance: 8 ohms

Power handling: 15-150 watts

Outstanding sensitivity for a center channel make this a very easy speaker to drive, even with very inexpensive receivers.

The Speaker Company TSS Dipolar Surround Speakers

$169.97/pair including shipping

Two-way dipolar surround speakers with two 5.25″ aluminum woofers and one 1″ HiCell foam tweeter.

Dipole speakers have specific right/left channels. Two slots are provided to ensure solid mounting.

Dimensions and Weight

12″ H by 14.25″ W by 4.5″ D

18.75 lbs.

Generously sized for solid surround effects, but at 18.75 lbs. each make sure your wall mounts are nice and solid before you hang these up.

Frequency Response

80 Hz to 20,000 Hz

Plenty deep for surround effects- set your receiver to route lower frequencies to your subwoofer.

Power Requirements

Sensitivity: 89 dB

Impedance: 8 ohms

Power handling: 15-150 watts

This is the least sensitive speaker of the series, but it is within spitting distance of the others and balancing the sound will not pose a problem.

Warranty and Guarantee

Warranty is 5 years parts and labor, on par with high-end offerings. The Speaker Company offers free shipping to the customer, and a 30 day satisfaction guarantee with free return shipping. If you buy the speakers and are not satisfied, just send them back for a full refund and it won’t cost you a cent to have tried them. That’s having confidence in your product!

Rear view of TC2 cabinet showing black ash vinyl finish.

Cabinets and Finish

Cabinets were incredibly solid, as you would expect given their size and weight. They are several orders of magnitude better than the P series or Insignia NS-B2111s, or against big-box store speakers in the same price ranges.

Metal posts attach the grills to the cabinets… MUCH better than molded plastic, which tends to snap off.

While well finished, they did not seem to have the sheen or flawless look of some other speakers I have seen, including TSC’s own TSAT1000. There was nothing at all wrong with the speakers, but compared to an Axiom M2v2 you can tell that the Axiom is a more expensive, more premium product. The T-Series towers from TSC have glossy finishes on the top surfaces, and may provide that look of perfection just as the glossy-finished TSAT series does.

Grill cloth had tight, even knit with classy, well-finished TSC logos.

Close-up of TC2 center channel showing aluminum woofer and TSC’s HiCell tweeter.

Drivers

Common aluminum drivers with rubber surrounds and TSC’s HiCell foam tweeter are used throughout the series for perfect tonal matching.

HiCell foam tweeter used throught the T-Series

Aluminum woofer from TSBL. Rubber surround rather than foam assures no rot, and hence long life.

The ports are basic and workmanlike, as they are in the P-series.

Connections

Check out the S/N… looks like I got the third pair! Note address- we will be talking about this later.

The gold-plated binding posts look like they could have been lifted right off the P-series. Simple yet effective.

Stereo and Music Listening Tests

It’s become something of an open secret that The Speaker Company is a part of D&M Holdings, the parent company of respected audiophile brands Denon and Marantz. Though they do not publicize this, I would be remiss if I did not inform my readers as TSC’s corporate structure has been tracked down and widely discussed on web forums and even the address on the back of the TSC speakers matches D&M’s corporate address. I don’t have the company memo, but I imagine D&M saw the success of many other direct sales speaker companies and launched TSC as an attempt to get a piece of the action.

Given the audiophile parentage, it was my hope that the T-Series would sound more like audiophile speakers than mass-market speakers. Most speakers sold in big-box stores have exaggerated bass and treble, which sound impressive at first but soon becomes tiring… this is referred to as “listening fatigue.” They also tend to impart their own sonic signature on the music, which is referred to as “coloring the sound.” What you want to achieve is clean, neutral sound reproduction without changing the sound in any way from the signal source. This is what the very best speakers do, while preserving the magic in the original performance so it draws you in, satisfies and excites you. Typically these top-grade speakers are only sold in specialty retailers or directly from the manufacturer.

After running some pink noise for break-in, I started with the TSBLs mounted on stands placed about 3 feet from the back wall. Within a few notes it was obvious that the TSBLs were clearly better than Insignia NS-B2111, my low budget benchmark and a very satisfying speaker in its own right. A lot of $200 and even $300 speakers don’t sound quite as good as the Insignias, so it was nice to see we were off to a good start.

I went back and forth between vinyl and CD recordings across a range of classical, pop, rock, and instrumental recordings. The TSBLs did well with all of them… pianos were rendered warmly with proper tone, vocals were clean with good stereo imaging, and you could hear the pluck and bite of string instruments. Rock music had very good impact and no matter the genre or recording, the TSBLs did a good job reproducing the ebb, flow and dynamics of the music.

Though clear and clean, the sound was not completely transparent as the very best speakers and I detecting some boominess with CDs. It did not happen often, but it was the only thing the speakers did to draw attention to themselves and away from the music. Vinyl reproduction was near-perfect and I did not detect the same boominess when playing LPs.

What is most telling is that as I listened, I didn’t find myself there picking out flaws or finding things wrong, and I didn’t detect lots of colorations or a sonic signature to the speakers. They just reproduce the music without drawing attention to themselves, save for the rare occasions when I heard some boominess in the bass. This isn’t something you usually find from mass-market store speakers and I was pleased that the promise of The Speaker Company’s audiophile heritage had come through.

Surprisingly, I found the TSAT1000 speakers to have better midrange detail and a bit more crispness than the TSBLs, though the TSBL had better sound overall simply because it is a bigger speaker. I attribute the better midrange definition of the TSAT1000’s to its acoustic suspension enclosure and smaller aluminum woofer, which has less mass than its bigger brother used in the TSBL. Less mass=easier to move and control.

Surround Sound Listening Tests

After my two-channel evaluation of the TSBLs I moved the whole system into my budget reference setup where they were driven by an Onkyo TX-SR606 receiver playing a wde variety of material from broadcast television, Blu-ray, DVD, HD DVD, and high-def TV broadcasts. I should mention here that the size of the TC2 center channel reared its head as it barely fit on the shelf. If you can’t fit this excellent center channel in your own system, consider using a TSAT2000 speaker for your center channel. It will be tonally matched to the rest of the system. I did not have a sample of a TSC subwoofer so I used a Polk Audio PSW111 for evaluation purposes.

After adding the subwoofer to handle the lowest frequencies, all evidence of boominess in the TSBL was gone so you won’t have to worry about it if going the home theater route. The complete system brought the neutrality of the TSBLs to an encompassing surround field, made more effective by the dipolar TSS surround speakers. The TC2 center channel did a great job with vocals and special effects, taking advantage of its generous size to reproduce them with real impact. Again, the system did not draw attention to itself… you just sit back and enjoy the show the way it was meant to be enjoyed without thinking too much about the equipment. I should add that though the system achieved the admirable goal of clean, neutral sound reproduction, it lacked some of the magic and wow factor you find in some competing speakers selling at higher prices. You definitely get your money’s worth and then some with this system, but it isn’t going to redefine the high end. This seems like a great segway to how it stacks up compared to other speakers, so…

TSC T-Series vs. Competitors

When compared to big-box store speakers selling for the same price or even a fair amount more, it’s not even a comparison… I prefer the TSC T-series. I think their audiophile heritage comes through loud and clear here with superior sound quality and solid construction.

Compared to some other direct-sales audiophile lines, it gets a bit tougher. From my sitting spot, the most obvious competitor is Acculine, sold exclusively by The Audio Insider. You can read my prior reviews of Acculine on my soundadviceblog.com website. I will have a more detailed review on this website soon.

When I switched the TSC speakers out for the Acculines, the difference was immediately apparent in the detail, crispness, and overall sound quality… the Acculines sounded better. The Acculine A2 center channel is also much shallower than the TSC TC2, making it easier to fit in a lot of systems.

This hardly makes it a slam-dunk victory for Acculine, though, and there are some things the TSC speakers do better, which narrows the gap. First of all, the TSC speakers use conventional tweeters that make them easy for any receiver to drive, even the very cheapest $99 receivers or an old one you might find at a thrift store. I wouldn’t use anything less than a 5xx or 6xx series Onkyo with the Acculines, especially if you are using the A2 center channel, which is rated at 4 ohms.

The Acculine leaf tweeters, key to their performance, are highly directional, meaning they tend to “beam” sound in a line rather than disperse it widely throughout the room. In a home theater with three speakers across the front it is unlikely to pose problems, but in a two-channel music system or for stereo music listening with a home theater setup a lot of people would prefer the wide dispersion of the TSC speakers and their HiCell tweeters.

TSC offers the TSS dipolar surround speakers for only $169.97. Acculine uses their $249 A1 bookshelf speaker for surround channel duty.

They are not reviewed here, but TSC also has narrow-profile tower speakers in the T-Series line, including a nice big one that sells for only $599.97/pair delivered. If you have a big room, the TSC speakers would provide better performance than the Acculine A3, which is limited in its bass response and sensitivity.

Users who are sensitive to high frequencies may find the Acculines a bit TOO detailed and crisp (though they do not sound bright) and hence prefer the TSC speakers. The TSBLs also have deeper bass than the competing Acculine A1s.

Finally, there is price. At regular pricing (for the moment, ignoring Acculine’s September sale) a complete Acculine system costs $978. This system is comprised of two pairs of A1s at $249 (mains and surrounds) an A2 center channel for $179, and $299 for the Acculine ASub.

If you add TSC’s upcoming ASW10 subwoofer for $149, this system comes to $599.88 and you get dipolar surround speakers in the deal. That $378 difference gets you an Onkyo TX-SR606, a perfect match to this system as it offers abundant clean power, four HDMI inputs, and decoding for the DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD high-def audio formats used by Blu-ray.

What about Axiom Audio, another brand I frequently recommend? They sounded better as well, and you can get Axiom’s QS4 surround speakers which are even better than dipoles… but at a price, at least twice as much to start at $1388.55 for an Axiom Epic Midi system using the $280 M2v2 bookshelf speaker.

In short, you can do better than the T-Series, but it will cost you. If you are building a system and don’t mind spending more for Acculine and Axiom, you will get better sound. This is hardly a slap at the TSC speakers though as what they have accomplished is amazing and true to their billing, “quality loudspeakers at half the price.” They never said that they were the absolute best… they are saying they are quality at half the price, and in this we have truth in advertising. Audiophiles on a budget, and general consumers looking for good sound for their money but who don’t necessarily have to have the best (the latter describing what is probably about 95% of my newspaper audience) are going to be very pleased with these, as well as the service from The Speaker Company, which thus far has proven to be top-notch.

System Building Ideas

High-Def Home Theater

Want to enjoy the high-def goodness of Blu-ray? A few paragraphs ago I gave you the answer!

Speakers- TSBL, TC2, TSS, ASW10 system: $599.88

Receiver- Onkyo TX-SR606: $389 (internet sale price)

Blu-ray- Insignia NS-BRDVD: $229.99

Total: $1218.87

This system is compatible with all the high-def sound formats used by Blu-ray, but does not provide Blu-ray BD-Live internet content. If you want to connect your Blu-ray player to the web, add $170 to the price and buy a $399 PlayStation 3 for your Blu-ray player.

Budget Audiophile Vinyl Music System

I mentioned that the TSBLs do very well with vinyl records. Here’s a good setup to bring your record collection back to life!

Speakers- TSC TSBL: $179.97

Receiver- Harman/Kardon HK3380: $148

(refurbished from www.harmanaudio.com)

Turntable- Pro-ject Debut III: $349

Total: $676.97

A very nice system using components that though inexpensive, are all audiophile-worthy. The budget may seem a bit lopsided towards the turntable, but when playing vinyl the turntable is as important as the speakers and no one has a quality $180 turntable to the same effect of the quality $180 TSC speakers! The H/K receiver has a phono input, which is absent on most surround sound receivers.

Budget CD Music System

I mentioned that the TSBLs do very well with vinyl records. Here’s a good setup to bring your record collection back to life!

Speakers- TSC TSBL: $179.97

Receiver- Onkyo TX-SR304: $119

(refurbished at www.shoponkyo.com)

CD player- Any DVD player with a digital audio output ($50)

Total: $348.97

Using the DVD player as a CD transport and connecting its digital output to the receiver will yield very clean sound, and you have the ability to go surround sound by adding surround speakers and a center channel later.

Minimalist Surround Sound Starter Set-up

Speakers- TSBL mains, TSS surrounds: $349.94

Receiver- Onkyo TX-SR304: $119 (refurb at www.shoponkyo.com)

DVD player- Any DVD player with a digital audio output ($50)

Total: $518.94

Go to the receiver’s setup menu and set the subwoofer to “off” and center channel to “no center channel” and you will get surround sound from the four speakers. The center channel audio track will be mixed equally in the left and right speakers, creating a virtual center channel. This will get you surround sound at a low price while keeping component quality high. Of course, you can always add the center channel and subwoofer later!

Conclusion

Good value and good quality without breaking the bank, just as advertised. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with these… make that impossible to go wrong, since they will give you your money back if you aren’t happy and even pay for the return shipping. A welcome addition to the marketplace and a boon to those looking to build budget home theaters.

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