Review: RIVA Turbo X High Performance Premium Mobile Bluetooth Speaker – Plus Headquarters Tour
The RIVA Turbo X
The rear of the Turbo X box
Right side of the Turbo X box
Left side of Turbo X box
It was the second day of CanJam, which was being held at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California. There was a buzz about a portable Bluetooth speaker, located on the third floor of the hotel. I was told that I should listen to it. After letting a Head-Fier audition my IEMs on the third floor, I walked around and found a room with a wireless speaker system. It sounded really nice, yet the price for the 2-speaker system was $15,000. Let’s go to some other rooms to find out if anything is enticing to my ears. I enter a room with some platinum records on the wall, a couple of representatives, and 3 open wireless Bluetooth speakers on a wooden stand. On the lower shelf was a Bang & Olufsen and Bower & Wilkins. On the higher shelf was a RIVA Turbo X.
I met Christine McKibban, the Chief Marketing Officer, and Donald North, President and Chief Engineer of Audio Design Experts, Inc. (RIVA, ADX, Trillium). Donald talked about the Turbo X with detail and then turned it on. It became evident very quickly that I was in a room of greatness. The audio that was emitted from the three-pound Bluetooth wireless speaker was and is the best sounding that I have heard from any wireless speaker of its size in my entire life. It had a neutral signature, high fidelity - even music enthusiast and audiophile quality type of sound to it. The sound is very crisp as well, even when Turbo Mode (super high volume) is activated. In contrast, the similarly priced competitor’s speakers sounded tinny, less defined, and simply uncivilized compared to the compliant and completely coherent Turbo X.
The Turbo X exudes quality. I found out that the Turbo X is created in the same factory that created the iPhone, HP, Dell, and other high quality technical devices. There are no gaps, and is water resistant. The top is glossy, logo in front is gleaming with luxury, and the buttons – capacitive buttons, mind you, emit warm LED lighting as soon as you place your hand over the top of the speaker. I told them that I lived in southern California, and they told me that their headquarters were in Fountain Valley, CA. This city means a lot to me in various ways (Five Counties Invitational – Beast of the West is one memory), and to also receive an invitation to tour their facility, I was very eager to visit.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. I arrive at the ADX showroom, and it is simply amazing, and awe-inspiring to see the amount of work that was put into the brand. ADX created the RIVA brand more than a year ago. The ADX team combines world class engineering and design teams based in California and China, and Malaysia which includes the world-famous producer, British tour promoter and audio engineer, Thomas “Rikki” Farr, as he is the Chairman and Chief Creative Officer. As said previously, Donald North is the President and Chief Engineer; however he has more than 18 years of professional experience with various audio endeavors. Dennis Barnes is the VP of Acoustics Engineering, with more than 30 years of audio industry experience, Eric Pang, who is the Director Transducer Engineering, managing the ADX China office, and said previously, Christine McKibban is the Chief Marketing Officer. I can also see and feel the love that was put into the RIVA product line.
Near the end of the headquarters tour, I receive a RIVA Turbo X review unit, which I am most gracious for. The photos that I took of the headquarters tour are near the end of review. The user guide that comes with the Turbo X shows the most optimal positions for the Turbo X to be placed in the room. Having it in the middle or away from walls has a surround sound to it, but is not the most bass feeling. Having it 3-6 inches from the wall provides additional ample sound and a little more feeling of bass. Place the Turbo X 3-6 inches from a wall’s corner, and you have sound that is truly alive, authoritative and dare I say it, actually have bass you could feel! I tested the Turbo X at my future mother in law’s house on the first floor, then I turned it up to 10 and 11 (Turbo Mode), and I could feel the bass emanate through the flooring and walls on the second floor! I am not saying this has car ported subwoofer box type of bass, but the Turbo X in the corner really surprised me, in a visceral, positive way. The Trillum Surround Mode adds extra depth to the overall presentation, but never in a way that feels unnatural. The subtlety of the Trillum Surround Mode is what impressed me the most, as I feel that I can leave it on and forget about it – just basking in the glow that the music emits throughout the rooms.
Here are some specs of the RIVA Turbo X ($349 USD):
Speakers: Three ADX 60 mm full range proprietary drivers
Four ADX custom dual piston bass radiators
Amplifier Power: 45 Watts RMS
Remote Control App: Yes, RIVA Ground Control for iOS and Android
Dimensions: 230mm (9.1 in) L X 89mm (3.5 in) W X 105mm (4.1 in) H
Weight: 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)
Speakerphone: Microphone with Noise & Echo Canceling Technology
Bluetooth Range: 33 FT
Audio Codecs Supported: SBC, AAC, aptX
Surround Sound: ADX Trillium™
TURBO DSP for 100 dB party mode (Turbo Mode)
Proximity Sensing: Yes
USB port for charging your phone, tablet, or wearables
Battery Playing Time: 26+ Hours at 75 dB, 6+ hours in Turbo Mode at maximum volume. (Playing time varies with listening levels)
2 year materials and manufacturing warranty
1 year lithium battery warranty
RIVA offers a 90 day satisfaction, no question return policy.
In the Box
External Power Supply (19V DC, 3A)
70” 3.5mm to RCA Connector
48” 3.5mm to 3.5mm Connector
Splash-Resistant I/O Cover
You can use the RIVA Turbo X Ground Control app (iOS, Android) to control certain functions, such as: play/pause, track backward and forward, via Native Music app (currently 3rd party music playback/streaming apps such as Pandora and Spotify will not have these specific functions). No matter what music playback/streaming app you are using, you can control the volume, activate the Turbo Mode (turning the sound up to 11), mute, change app settings such as changing the rev sound of the Turbo Mode button being pressed and audio/voice prompts to beeps. You can turn off the Turbo X via app power button, and see the battery of your Turbo X without looking at the green (60-100% charge remaining), orange (30-60% charge remaining) or red colors (0-30% charge remaining) of the battery level light indicators on the rear of the Turbo X.
The capacitive buttons on the Turbo X do not sink in or have movement, so all it takes is a gentle tap of the capacitive button(s) for the particular request to do its function, such as activating Trillium Surround Mode or the up and down volume functions. Sometimes the buttons don’t want to do what you want it to do the first time, especially when you did not engage the emitted lights by waving your hand on top of the Turbo X first. As a result, it may take you two button presses to do certain actions like turn off the Turbo X via power button.
What I have found that makes turning on and off the Turbo X painless, is as soon as you are finished with the Turbo X and do not need to charge it anymore, you can simply press the red button (marked “BATT”) in the back of the Turbo X, and it will instantly turn off. Once you press the red BATT button in, the Turbo X will automatically start up in a few seconds and will be ready to be paired. Also, if the BATT button is pushed in and the power to the Turbo X is off, you will not see the battery light indicator emitting a green to red light, even if you are charging the Turbo X. The Turbo X will still charge, as I was able to charge and still get a full battery without any battery indicator lights showing. The battery indicator light will pulse when the Turbo X is on and the BATT button is pressed in.
If you tap and hold the mute and – buttons, the Bluetooth LED will turn red, and you will not be able to press any buttons – essentially this is a button lockout function. In order to activate the buttons again, you have to hold down the mute and – buttons one more time to change the Bluetooth LED back to blue and will get the buttons activated.
Sometimes when the Turbo X is paired with your smartphone (in my case, the iPhone 6 via RIVA Turbo connection app), you may not be able to get the sound to go to the speaker when first starting it up if the music is playing on your phone already, or if the music is playing on the smartphone but the app isn’t on yet, and vice versa. Usually the speaker will take priority, so even if you have earphones or headphones attached, once the Turbo X makes a connection to the phone, the speaker will take over. You can regain control of listening out of the earphones or headphones by simply unplugging and plugging in the jack to the smartphone. Once the app is running and the Turbo X starts playing music, operation is seamless and worry-free.
Even though the stated Bluetooth range is 33ft, I was able to obtain an effective Bluetooth range of about 40 feet.
I audio recorded most of the product tour, and wanted to transcribe it to text as easy as I could, because I thought the story would be really interesting for you all. I tried installing and using Dragon – Naturally Speaking, tried using Windows Speech to Text service, but the only way that was the most effective for transcribing over an hour of talking was listening to the recording, and using my iPhone to either speak into it using the speech to text button and editing it each sentence, or listening and typing on my phone, word for word. This was definitely an arduous task, but I hope that the story is informative and positively interesting.
Here’s the excerpt from the tour:
Donald North (Don) says: This is what we do with the prototype testing you know - from the very, very basics of having a speaker like this prototype of the Turbo X - we will build a black box, and put the speaker drivers on it and then have just the wires coming out the back and add the whole thing with the transducers driving it and then from there we'll keep refining it and listening to it and then fine-tuning the transducers, the passive radiators, the EQ tuning and keep going to going while we are working on the final cosmetic design with all of the touch buttons and everything and so it's kind of the whole process that we start.
Me: So basically all of this is done in-house?
Don: In-house, oh yeah! We'll do everything for the speaker drivers, we do the speaker drivers in-house, we do the passive radiators in-house, you can see over here, we've got all of the parts, we've got the suspension parts, the frames I've got a lot of experience and our team has a lot of experience with transducer design. We actually start from the very beginning, from the ground up. We designed the magnet structure, the voice coil all of the parts and optimize it to be ideal for the application. And so a lot of our other competitors will likely take off the shelf parts or they will work with some supplier, most likely over in China and go back and forth - where we go straight from scratch and from there we can really make it awesome and get the best sound that we can for each side. That's why we have all of these different size drivers for different different projects that are in progress. We do everything from small to big woofers in the past, and we have done big 18 inch woofers, so we have done everything, the whole gamut. We do the transducers, the acoustic development, over here we have got our woodshop, these are all mockups and different types of concepts.
Don: We have a very quiet room with absorbent material, and we control and minimize the reflection of the sound. We do a lot of listening and then fill in those gaps. At the end of the day it isn't about making pretty graphs. It's all about providing listening enjoyment. We've spent a lot of time on the Turbo X, that went on for nearly a year of fine tuning and fine-tuning of the EQ the transducers, the passive radiators, everything about how to get it the best we possibly can at this time and that size.
Me: That's amazing!
Don: Absolutely amazing. We had this room custom-made, when we were finding a space, I requested Rikki, I need as high a ceiling as we can possibly get because sound is going to reflect off of every surface sound is going to reflect off of everything so you're not going to do it as long as a time capture of sound of speakers to the microphone before it reflects off the walls the floors or something to that effect.
Me: This brings up a good question where people post things like "my friend posted these measurements of XY speaker” - as I am skeptical about what is posted because do they know that measurements are true, especially since you (they) may not have a room like this one here! This room comes as close to getting as accurate measurements as could be.
Don: I'm all for people bringing measurements and that's all great to show people what's going on, but they always have to take measurements and take it with a grain of salt because it depends on the test conditions and it depends on what are you trying to achieve. That's always a question. And in our perspective, trying to create the sound of a bigger stereo and have a lot of the qualities and all the nuances and all the detail, but get it from a smaller box. Frequency response measurements can take you there, in the end the computer itself is a dumb device, it's just a very basic-you put in this, you get this result, and it takes us analyzing it and think what part of this is important and what part of this isn't important because it looks at everything kind of equally the human ear and brain is very complex and selective in what it hears and processes and some aspects are very important in some aspects aren't so important. But the analyzer doesn't know that and so that's why you have to do a lot of listening and going back-and-forth and finding what is the right balance. We will start listening in one room, and wants a kind of graduates from here, it goes to the big room. We just keep working our way through the process, and again it's just, you know, this is how we would be working on the Turbo-we bring it in, have it wired up, with the big seven channel amplifier and running it through the DSP an equalization, lots of listening back-and-forth and then will have Rikki and some of the other guys just a very iterative process. There is no kind of cut and dry-this, this, this, and now you're done. There's a lot of back-and-forth and so we finally say we don't know how to make it any better this is the best that we can get and we are proud of it. Behind the scenes, here are the rooms where orders come in, customer service questions, and we have some of our CES boards that we won. Here's the award for the Turbo X.
Me: I like awards.
Don: So do we!
Christine McKibban: We do too! We also won a Mashable Award. You can see it if you go to the press page - there's a link to the article, and everything is in there.
Don: Here is the award for the smaller one that's going to be coming out in the summer so we kind of premiered it at CES. (Shows me the Turbo S)
We then get to operate the Turbo X.
Don: There are three active and four passive speakers (in the Turbo X). On the X, they are 60mm, on the S, they are 40mm. Actives on the left, center, and the right and then we have two passes here, the right and the left of the front and also two passives on the rear. And so what's really neat about it, of this configuration, everything kind of works in symmetry so if you go back to Newton’s equal and opposite forces, that's basically what we're applying here, so the passive radiators they're going like this, the speakers at the sides are also going like this, so the forces cancel and the speakers like some of our other competitors, they might be dancing around at your table or something because of the unbalanced forces, with our design basically everything is balanced. The only unbalanced one would be the center driver, there is no complementary one of those in the rear, but considering the weight and sound output you can hold in your hand you can put it on something and it doesn't want to fall off, it actually wants to stay there and by being this way it just makes all of that energy is getting to converted into sound and it just comes out in and fills the room so it's not being wasted trying to dance around on your tabletop - so it all gets converted into what you can hear. We got 3 different patents pending on how the speakers work, from the sound processing to upmix the two channels into the three channels and having it come out the three sides - we've got patents on the whole system of the seven drivers and how they are configured for the symmetry and noise cancellation and then we also have one actually on speaker drivers in the development of the 16mm transducer we came up with some innovations of how to really get them to move as much as possible without distortion or damage because these are full range speakers they'll cover the full frequency range of like 60 Hz to 16,000 Hz and so I and our team have had a lot of experience with that, a lot of experience with small high output, meaning high movement, wide range speakers and the reason why you want them to move a lot is in bass, every time you go lower in frequency the speaker needs to move more and more to keep the same loudness, and so, in fact if you every time an octave down so let's say 100 Hz, 50 Hz or 200 Hz to 100 Hz every time you go down one octave for half the frequency that needs four times as much to keep the same loudness and so we try to develop everything as much as possible without audible distortion or damage to get the most sound we could out of the box. Now of course, everything has a limit, this isn't a 12 inch woofer or 15 inch woofer or something so it's not going to compete on the same level as one of those, but for its size we're really are proud of what were able to achieve with the fidelity and the sound quality and the dynamic range that we can get out the speaker. A lot of our competitors do a lot of signal processing including compression and so it makes everything kind of loud and it also really starts restricting the bass as you turn it up, and so at low volumes it might sound alright, but as you turn it up louder and louder you noticing that the bass is kind of going away and it's getting gritty and kind of having trouble with the highs. And so on the Turbo X, in the normal mode, we don't do any of that, we just let the system run like a hi-fi system and it covers all of the frequency range, we're not adding any artificial processing other than the three channels, and or compression, and so the natural dynamics and the fidelity of the recording is going to come through as best we can through the speaker and it will play up to 90-93 dB that way. If you Turbo mode, that's when we add a smart-based compressor - monitoring the music signal as it is coming in and if it notices that the bass frequencies are a little too strong for the speaker can do it actually pulls it back just slightly, but it doesn't do anything to the midbass, midrange and treble and the Turbo can get up to 100 dB. And again we do it in a way that the ear, it's not too obvious what we're doing and/or intrusive and so sounds pretty natural and still very enjoyable.
Me: And doing that will help it to not damage the speakers too, right?
Don: Exactly. Because that's the only way that we could get it louder we would have to put in the compressor. But the nice thing is that you can turn it on and off, whereas on these (the competitor's Bluetooth speakers) you cannot turn it on and off, it's just the way it is and you get their sound sounds like a highly processed, McDonald's sound and that where we, especially in the Turbo mode - it's pure and honest as we can. And again going back to Rikki and his concert days, gives as much integrity and faithfulness of the recording as we could to the speaker and give that nice big sound.
Me: I know that RIVA and the iPhone, I know it doesn't go through aptX.
Don: Unfortunately Apple doesn't have aptX, in that case, you would be converting to AAC, which is their file format for data transmission over Bluetooth. On some of the Androids that do have aptX, you can do full fidelity lossless CD quality, so you can get the full 16/44 with no problem.
Me: So until Apple steps up their game, then they can sound even better.
Don: Even better, that's correct. But at CanJam I was playing and streaming from my iPad into it (the Turbo X) and even then it sounded very good. Another cool thing is we've got the speakerphone. We've got the microphones in it with a special mode, specifically for the speakerphone for the voice calls. The Turbo X is water resistant, we don't have an official IPX rating, but if you are by the pool or the hot tub, by the boats, and water splashes on it, nothing should get damaged. We don't recommend you leaving it out in the shower or, but if some water hits it won't get any damage. One of the neat features is if you know you going to be near some water, well to help protect the ports on the back you just take this out of the bottom, this red piece, that gets put in the rear. So that will help cover it up and we also have tab so that if you got near some water and need to charge, you can still charge it and have everything else sealed.
Me: This button is for the battery charger? (Points to red button on back of Turbo X)
Don: This is like a master kill switch for the battery, basically it's like a little miniature computer in here running all of the electronics, and so when you want to charge the battery or use the battery, this button has to be pushed in. If we didn't have this battery the system is always trying a little bit of electricity because is looking for your hand and the buttons and if we didn't have this after a few days I think the battery will drain itself, so that's why we have this so if you know you're going out of town for a while taking on a trip or something, just push this and then when you get to your destination push it in again and you will still have a full charge.
Don goes and gets me the RIVA Turbo X Travel Bag.
Don: It's nicely lined inside, so nothing inside will get scratched, and fits the Turbo perfectly, and again it it's a good quality feel to it, like good luggage and it has the RIVA logo on it and a pocket where you can put the charger, accessories...
Me: That's a nice touch.
Don: Yeah, people pay a lot of money for that so we don't want it scratched up and want to take care of it as best as we can, so we tried to do something nice for it.
My fiancée: Thank you so much for showing us everything!
Christine: No problem!
If you have read this far, thank you! At last, here are some photos from the tour:
ADX Headquarters in Fountain Valley, CA
The theater showroom
Nice and comfy couches and seats
LED lighting along the step
Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins on bottom shelf, Turbo X on top shelf
Donald North showing a speaker prototype
Speaker component area
Custom - West coast style
4 inch thick foam padding in the measurement room
The walls and high ceilings are padded in the measurement room
Three beautiful guitars
Let the awards begin - International CES
CES Innovation Award - Portable Media Players
CES Innovation Award - Home Theater
Platinum record and a clock much larger than Flava Flav's
Tommy Farr (Rikki's father) fighting Joe Louis for the World Heavyweight Boxing Title
Isle of Wight Festival
Another portion of Rikki's wall of fame, including Guns N' Roses
Another portion of fame
An additional portion of fame
Panoramic view of Rikki's office
Rikki Farr next to his wall of fame
RIVA Turbo S
Donald North demonstrating the Turbo X
Detaching the splash-resistant I/O cover
Placing the I/O cover from the bottom to the rear, covering the I/O ports
The right side of the I/O cover can open so the Turbo X can charge
The RIVA Turbo X box
The rear showing a blow-up of the internal components
The top of the Turbo X box is off
Quick start guide
Always push in for battery charging - push out to turn completely off
Showing the glossy goodness of the Turbo X
Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins on bottom shelf, Turbo X on top shelf - lights on this time
Demonstrating the proximity sensor (lights emit when hand is above the Turbo X)
Put the hand away and most of the lights go away
Bower & Wilkin's buttons
Bang & Olufen's buttons
Another view of the Bang & Olufsen
Another view of the Bower & Wilkins
Tap and hold the mute and – buttons to lockout the buttons from being able to be pressed
The Bluetooth red light denotes the button lockout function is operational - Donald demonstrates
I am intrigued, so I try it myself
The RIVA Turbo X Travel Bag
Soft, felt-lined inside; feels velour-like
After the tour we say our goodbyes, and I take my bottle of water for the road. It was quite the splendid experience that I went through, better than I ever expected.
If you have the chance to visit their showroom, do so, you'll feel right at home, or even better than home!
The RIVA Turbo X wound up being one of the tremendous hits at CanJam, and I emphatically recommend the RIVA Turbo X to anyone who loves music – it is purely a divine flow of waves of sound. Happy listening and dancing everyone!
Edited by moedawg140 - 5/5/15 at 2:35pm