Riva Turbo X Wireless Music System

High End in Miniature

Equipment report
Music servers and computer audio
Riva Turbo X
Riva Turbo X Wireless Music System

One of the highlights of THE Show Newport wasn’t a six-figure mega-system, but rather the show’s most modest hi-fi—the Riva Turbo X. Smaller than a loaf of bread, the Turbo X is a portable, self-contained audio system with Bluetooth streaming.

But why get excited about a wireless speaker system when this category has become synonymous with commodity-grade audio? Because the Riva Turbo X is as far from a commodity product as you can get; it embodies thoughtful design combined with a high-end aesthetic. The Riva makes good sound accessible to the masses, serving as an ambassador carrying the message that better sound equals more musical enjoyment. It also makes a great bedroom, kitchen, office, garage, or vacation system for audiophiles.

The Riva Turbo X was created by a group of people who are passionate about music (see sidebar). They envisioned a product that communicated the musical experience in an affordable and accessible product. The Riva Turbo X is all that and more. In fact, the Turbo X is a high-end system in miniature, masquerading as a lifestyle product. It’s also reasonably priced ($299), portable, and can run on its internal rechargeable battery for up to 26 hours.

Operating the Turbo X is straightforward. A row of touch-sensitive capacitive “buttons” (actually depressions in the top panel) turn on the power, select the source, set up Bluetooth pairing, and adjust the volume. The depressions allow the unit to be operated by hand, and the capacitive aspect makes the top water-resistant. In a nice detail, the buttons illuminate when you bring your fingers near the unit. You can also control the Turbo X via a free app. It’s possible to disable the Riva’s top-panel buttons so that the unit is controlled only by the app—a nice feature if you have small children. Inputs include wireless Bluetooth streaming, a USB input (with an “A” type connector, which works with the USB cable supplied with an iPad or iPhone), and a stereo Aux input. A mini-USB jack is provided for software updates. The Aux input is great for connecting to a portable player such as an Astell&Kern (which is how I did most of my listening). There’s even a mode for increasing the analog input gain, a feature useful when connecting a lower-output source such as an inexpensive turntable that has an integral phonostage. The Turbo X can also function as a soundbar for multichannel audio (it has a dedicated “Surround” mode), and even as a smartphone speaker. Finally, you can charge your phone or tablet from the Turbo X’s high-capacity internal battery.

A top-panel button marked “T” engages “turbo” mode, which allows the system to play louder, but at the expense of battery life. This mode engages, in DSP, compression of frequencies below 160Hz so that the drivers aren’t overloaded by excessive excursion. Without this compression (non-Turbo mode), the Turbo X will produce an SPL of 92dB at 1 meter. With Turbo mode engaged this figure is increased to 99dB. Other than this “smart” reduction in dynamic range below 160Hz to protect the drivers when in Turbo mode, the Riva employs no other compression or equalization. My only complaint about operation is that the gimmicky “swoosh” sound when you engage the “turbo” can’t be turned off. I was also confused by the charging system, specifically the rear-panel “Battery” button. It must be in a certain position for the Turbo X to charge, but I could never tell if it was in charging mode or not.

The build-quality and execution are outstanding. The Turbo X has the look and feel of a product that has been refined through many iterations—not the first product from a new company. I particularly liked the rugged Cordura travel case ($29.99), which has a separate zippered pouch for the power supply.

The Turbo X employs three active full-range transducers, one front firing and one each firing to the left and right sides. Two passive radiators on the front and two on the rear round-out the driver complement. Three speakers may seem like an odd number, but the Turbo X is designed around one of the company’s core technologies, called Trillium, for which they were just granted a patent. Trillium uses digital signal processing to create a third channel from the incoming left and right channels, with the goal of creating a soundstage larger than is possible from conventional stereo.