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RIVA S Premium Wireless Bluetooth Speaker (Black)

  1. twister6
    Audiophile wireless speaker on the go!
    Written by twister6
    Published Apr 11, 2016
    Pros - Small and compact, excellent sound quality, 30W of RMS power, capacitive touch controls, great remote app, even USB OTG support.
    Cons - would like to see a more rugged case/skin, adds up in price if you double speakers for TrueWireless performance.

    I would like to Thank RIVA Audio for review opportunity in exchange for my honest opinion.
    Manufacturer website: http://rivaaudio.com/riva-s/
    * click on images to expand.

    I used to be fascinated with wireless speakers, and just accepted their existence as another smartphone accessory.  This fascination drove me to review a handful of Bluetooth sound bars in different shapes, forms, and colors, though with one thing in common – a compressed loud sound nowhere near the quality of wired speakers.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise since some of these cute lightweight speakers were designed and manufactured by companies who invest more resources into celebrity endorsements rather than actual audio design or companies where speakers are listed in a product catalog along with phone cases, usb cables, and chargers.
    As a matter of fact, I mentioned in many of these reviews about the sound being just OK considering their size, and never bothered with a detailed sound analysis.  But all this changed when I came across RIVA Audio debut product - Turbo X.  These guys came out of nowhere and hit a homerun straight out of the gate.  Actually, I shouldn’t say “out of nowhere” since RIVA Audio is a lifestyle brand of Audio Design Experts (ADX) and Turbo X speaker was a brainchild of legendary Rikki Farr.  Some stars endorse products, while others get involved in the actual design of it.  Since I already reviewed Turbo X and covered RIVA Audio background HERE, please refer to that review for additional info about the company.
    Based on the success of their debut release and probably the feedback they received from users to make Turbo X more portable, RIVA Audio latest release is a scaled down version under the model name Riva S.  Typically with many other wireless speakers you see the release of a smaller and a more portable version first, and then a super sized follow up.  In my opinion, this probably makes more sense from a marketing perspective to show the improvement in performance as you go up in size and price.  With Riva S (RS) it got flipped around, but either way I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to review and to compare the mini-me version to its bigger brother Turbo X (RTX).  Here is what I found.
    Unboxing and Accessories.
    Even so RS arrived in a familiar sturdy box packaging resembling a scaled down version of RTX, I was still pleased to see a clear image of the speaker on the front, detailed technical specification on the side, and a complete list of features on the back.  I was also glad they included a speaker assembly drawing inside of the enclosure, providing a glimpse of how ADX drivers and bass radiators are positioned inside.  Furthermore, there is a fantastic breakdown video of Riva S from audio-head which I highly recommend to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QTQJpqQvo4 - here you can see an exclusive close up and a walkthrough of the design.
    Reading through the list of features on the box paints a very detailed picture of how many goodies RIVA Audio packed into their RS speaker which right away gave me an impression that despite minimizing the size, they only scaled down the performance without cutting the corners to make it "fit" inside of a smaller shell.  As a matter of fact, not everything was scaled down, and a few things were actually added and improved.  But overall unboxing experience here was very similar to opening up TRX, including being very careful when taking the top off, making sure you do it over the surface so you don't drop the bottom of the box.
    First surprise came when I removed the top cover to discover that RS was sitting inside of the premium travel bag, the same quality one as offered for RTX which cost an additional $30 while here it was included for free.  This was a pleasant surprised since we are not talking about some cheap drawstring bag, but rather a high quality tight fitting travel carrying case with a durable exterior ballistic nylon and a velvet-lined soft interior.  Along with a carabiner clip and a nylon handle this case is not just great for transporting but also offers a basic protection and cushioning.  I use the same case for RTX when I take that speaker outside. 
    But for RS, I have a mixed feeling about it.  Don't get me wrong, this bag is fantastic, but considering IPX4 rating of RS, I would rather see a cheaper silicone skin for outdoor use where you don't even remove the speaker from it, and such skin further enhances and adds a rugged appeal to the speaker.  This will enable to customize and personalize the colors to make it more fun, and you can easily remove it when you want a more sophisticated look indoors.  Plus, in my opinion, this could probably lower the price of RS, bringing it closer to $200 mark, making a more noticeable price gap between RS and RTX ($300).
    As usual, a detailed instruction booklet was included, including RS shortcuts which covers keycodes for added features.  When I received my original review pair of RS, this booklet wasn't included but I was made aware that RIVA Audio just released a new FW update with enhancements.  While I updated fw on one of the speakers myself, the other one was sent to me as a replacement with a new firmware and this new booklet inside.  Once you take RS out of the box, make sure to save these instructions .  But if you don't, the entire booklet is available on-line and can be downloaded directly from: http://ffyzr22d10j2o8xt27yt7b1e.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/RIVA-S-UG-English-5.pdf
    Underneath the speaker at the bottom of the box I found additional accessories, such as 40" 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable to connect RS directly to HO of your audio source, and 40" RCA to 3.5mm cable to connect to other audio components.  Both cables have a decent build quality, not exactly premium but something that will last you awhile.  Also, just like with the original RTX, you need to use the external power AC/DC supply with a proprietary connector.  This DC power connector is common but it's not your typical micro-USB.  The power supply is 19V @2.5A which obviously charges the speaker faster and perhaps more efficiently, but moving forward I would suggest to look into USB-C connector since they will allow a fast charging and access to internal processor for any future FW upgrades.  The included charger also comes with interchangeable international power plugs.
    RIVA Audio considers the included I/O splash cover as another accessory, but I think it's more of a design feature.  To cover the exposed usb, audio, and power ports on the back, you will find a rubber cover stored in the cavity at the bottom of the speaker.  Typically you don't need to use it every time, and it's kept out of the way so you don't loose it.  But when using RS outdoors or in the area where your speaker can get splashed with water - remove it to cover up the back ports.
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    Despite its smaller size, 191mm x 64mm x 66mm, RS is still a hefty soundbar at 1.5 lbs - always a good indicator that you are dealing with a quality meaty drivers and not lightweight budget components.  Of course, it doesn't guarantee the best sound unless you have a design synergy with other components driving that internal speaker.
    While reviewing RTX, I mentioned about the speaker having nothing "cute" or "colorful" about it - the version I reviewed was all black with a matching grill.  I know that later they released an all white color version, but I still felt some monotony in the design.  With RS you still have a very elegant design in a shape of a rectangular brick with hard plastic material at the top and the bottom and a metal mesh grill all around the sides.  But this time RS offers different versions that use various finish combinations, one black speaker with metallic/silver mesh grill, and the white speaker in two flavors with the same metallic/silver and gold mesh grills.  This simple change adds enough contrast to make it more appealing, and white/gold combo is a killer match for the latest iPod touch with the same colors.  I know, the sound is the most important factor, but many consumers still look at wireless speaker as an accessory.
    The bottom of the speaker has two L-shaped rubber feet for an excellent non-slip grip with a surface as well as some dampening of the weight pressure, while I/O cover is more flush with the surface.  RIVA Audio also took into consideration a minimal surface area to prevent resonation which can affect sound quality, and even at max volume there is no vibration or rattling.  On the back of the speaker you have a standard 3.5mm AUX input to drive RS from an external non-Bluetooth source and use the included 3.5mm audio cable or 3.5mm to RCA cable adapter.  Micro-usb port labeled as "USB DATA" is used for either firmware upgrade or to drive RS audio straight from USB port of your computer or even to connect to your smartphone/tablet through USB OTG.
    Next you have full USB port labeled "CHARGE OUT" to use RS as an external battery to charge your external devices.  It will work as long as you have at least 30% of battery left, and the speaker is turned ON.  Speaking of charging, you have 19V DC input with a common DC tip but still you have to deal with a proprietary wall charger.  The actual power switch, labeled as "BATT", has been changed from push button on RTX to slide switch on RS.  I prefer the slide switch better because it gives you a clearer indication of On/Off state, and you don't push it by accident like I have done it a few times with RTX and I/O cover.  Also, you will find a Battery Icon which is not only an indicator when power is on or when charging (pulsating light) but also gives you an approximate charging capacity where 60-100% will show green, 30-60% - orange, and 0-30% - red.  When you use RIVA Control app, you will be able to read the battery capacity with 1% accuracy.
    At the top you will find 6 capacitive touch control buttons with a proximity sensing power on wake, and by "wake" I mean hovering your hand over the surface without touch anything to lit up active buttons - a really cool effect.  You have a Power button, this is your soft power on button vs hard power on (the slide switch) which completely turns off the power so there is no accidental battery drainage.  Then you have "S" Trillium Surround enable button to activate/de-activate surround mode.  BT button is for Bluetooth pair up and also to indicate the input - Blue for BT and flashing Green when AUX input is connected (make sure BT audio transmission is Paused to use it).  Volume controls are Mute, Vol-, and Vol+ buttons.  You also will find a dual-mic with noise and echo canceling pinhole openings placed symmetrically in the middle at the top of the speaker, for the occasions when you want to use RS as a speakerphone (Vol+ to accept the call, "S" to reject/hang up without a need to reach out to your paired phone.
    Despite only 6 buttons, there are many additional shortcuts you can access by pressing combination of various keys, just remember to keep that Keycodes shortcuts list handy.  For example, Mute/Vol- locks the keys from accidental press.  Vol-/Vol+ for a turntable mode to add Phono Mode boost (up to 9dB).  S/Vol- or /Vol+ or /Mute helps you pair up 2x RS for a TrueWireless connection.  BT/Mute gives you a Power Mode with 4dB boost, similar to Turbo Mode available in RTX, though keep in mind this will affect the battery life by as much as 40% reduction.  Multi-User Mode, where 2 devices can connect to control one RS speaker - BT/Vol-.  To disable annoying audio prompts, cycle through with BT/Vol+.  Also, Playback control to Skip Next: Vol-/Vol+ and to Skip back: S/BT.  Unfortunately, there is no Play/Stop shortcut, something I would have loved to see implemented since it's probably the most used function.  Also, keep in mind all these functions/features could be accessed from within the Control App, but using shortcuts allow you to do this without even turning the phone screen on.
    Overall, I think the exterior design is nearly perfect.  The speaker is small and compact, a lot easier and more secure to pick up (1.5lbs RS vs 3.5lbs RTX) and to carry with one hand, and all the controls are clearly labeled and easy to access.  I also see some improvements in comparison to RTX.  IPX4 water splash resistance rating is a welcome improvement.  You do still have a glossy piano finish top which is a fingerprint magnet and visible on the black version of the speaker, so maybe making it matte might make more sense.  Or at least include a wipe cloth as part of accessories.
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    Side-by-side of black and white/gold RS.
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    RS white/gold next to 6th gen iPod.
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    Under the hood.
    The most obvious difference between RTX and mini-me RS is the size, and this gets reflected in a smaller ADX drivers, going from 60mm (in Turbo X model) to 40mm (in S model).  But you still have 3 full range drivers, covering full spectrum, with one firing from the front/center and 2x firing left/right which creates a more expanded sound field.  In addition to 3 active speakers, you have 4 passive ADX custom dual piston bass radiators with dedicated dual suspensions and custom bobbins.  Dealing with a small footprint is a challenge, and RIVA Audio took advantage of every square inch of internal space to stuff 7 speakers, DSP/DAC, amplifiers, BT control, and a decent size battery all inside of a small 1.5lbs brick.
    The scaled down factor was not only applicable to driver size reduction, but also to other components, such as smaller battery and less powerful amp.  Considering a typical 70dB listening level, battery now supports 13hrs of playback per charge (down from 26hrs in RTX), and the power was reduced from 45Wrms to 30Wrms - still among the highest power ratings in a class of small wireless speakers with 40mm drivers.   I will talk more about sound quality later, but overall I was still pleased to hear that RIVA Audio remained true to their original mission to deliver a high quality audio.  If you look at RTX and RS side-by-side, you can see a noticeable size difference, but sound performance change wasn't as drastic.
    Riva S (RS) next to Riva Turbo X (RTX).
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    Pair up and Control app.
    When it comes to pair up, the whole process was flawless and it took a second to discover and to connect to my phone and media audio.  Also, I was able to maintain a reliable wireless connection for at least 40ft in the open space.  With a support of all popular wireless codecs, SBC, AAC, and apt-X - sound quality didn't have any bandwidth limitation, and with internal DSP/DAC processing I had to keep reminding myself that I'm listening to wireless rather than wired speaker.  You can also pair up 2 separate devices to one RS, what RIVA Audio refers to as Party Mode for multiple users to control RS.
    In addition to BT wireless pair up and direct AUX connection, there is another hardly even documented digital "wired up" feature which I found to be quite fascinating.  With RS internal DAC and USB data interface, you can actually connect RS with a regular usb/micro-usb data cable to your laptop and it's recognized by Windows right away to be used as an external usb audio speaker.  By the same token, considering RS has its own internal battery and won't drain power from the source, I was also able to connect it directly to my Note 4 with micro-USB OTG cable where it got recognized and I was able to use RS for external playback from any audio app.  Given a choice between wireless and wired interface from your smartphone, I'm sure many will pick wireless for convenience, but some purist who want digital data straight into the speaker for internal decoding might pick digital wired connection.
    Another great feature to enhance interaction with RS is their Control App.  Keep in mind that RTX Control app is "RIVA Turbo", while RS Control app is "RIVA Audio", so you have to download and use corresponding app depending on the speaker you paired up with.  The app has a very polished HD interface with all the basic control features on the main screen to Play/Pause/Skip your tracks when playing from your default audio app.  Just like with RIVA Turbo app, this RIVA Audio app was able to control playback of my default Samsung Audio app, but not Neutron MP.  I can also control the volume, enable "Turbo" boost by touch'n'hold "RIVA" logo in the middle of the volume wheel, enable "S" surround mode and Mute.  While playing from Samsung audio app, I was using RIVA's app for a playback control.
    In Settings menu of Control app, you can verify speaker name and app version, customize the appearance by selecting background color, activate TrueWireless, and the MOST important feature - customize audio prompts with either voice, tones, or silent.  Finally, I was able to switch to silent to disable the annoying tones and voice confirmations.  Keep in mind, most of this functionality can be accessed straight from the speaker by pressing combination of button shortcuts.  But from the Control app it's more intuitive without a need to memorize shortcuts.  Plus, the app allows you to see the remaining battery capacity with 1% accuracy instead of relying on battery icon from the speaker where you have 30% granularity.
    Pair up (bt wireless/phone).
    USB audio (PC) and USB OTG audio (smartphone).
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    Control app.
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    Sound analysis.
    As soon as you pair up RS with your source and hit Play, the first thing you notice is how this speaker sounds like a regular wired self-powered or externally powered bookshelf speaker.  Don't get me wrong, there are other decent wireless speakers from respected brand names, but RIVA Audio sound (in both RTX and RS) offers an audiophile performance of transparent dynamic sound quality.  Many wireless speakers try to make sound loud by compressing it and raising the volume which often kills the dynamics and starts to distort bass at high volume.
    Here you have a very balanced detailed smooth natural full body sound.  In comparison to RTX, you have a similar natural detailed organic mids and crisp well defined treble, not a typical thin wireless speaker sound but rather a full body sound associated with wired speakers.  RS bass has a nice mid-bass punch and a bit scaled back textured sub-bass rumble.  Bass, and especially sub-bass, is where you found the biggest difference between the original RTX and scaled down RS.  40mm ADX drivers are not capable of reproducing the same deep low end impact as 60mm ADX drivers used in RTX, and even RS mid-bass doesn't have as much authority in comparison to RTX and sounds a little more thumping in comparison.
    Enabling S-surround mode will also make you realize that this effect in RS is more subtle in comparison to RTX.  After enabling it, the expansion of sound is noticeable and adds some airiness but not as much as it is with Surround mode enabled with RTX.  But in RS, with Surround mode on I noticed that bass became more articulate, almost like mids gave a little more room for the low end.  As a result, I preferred keeping S mode turned on permanently in RS.
    In comparison to RTX, RS has a secret weapon where you can pair up 2x RS in TrueWireless Surround Mode configuration.  With one RS paired up to the source, you can pair up the second one to the first RS to be connected in a stereo surround mode.  This surround sound mode was REAL, and it didn't feel like two speakers pumping the same sound simultaneously in sync, but rather like there was DSP controlled separation effect of a true surround sound.  In addition to holographic stage expansion, the sound also became louder.
    Comparison to other speakers.
    Without a doubt, when it comes to comparison, RS's big brother RTX is the first natural choice, and I already covered plenty about it in previous section of the review.  As I mentioned before, bigger RTX drivers have a more powerful sound, but portability of RS and IPX4 rating has a definite advantage.  Also, mids/treble quality of RS matches RTX, but bass is where RTX wins hands down.  When it comes to these two speakers, you really have to decide about where/how you are planning to use them.  For an indoor use RTX makes more sense with its powerful room filling sound, while for outdoor use - lightweight and portable RS is more appropriate for entertainment on the go.
    RS vs UE Boom - This one has been my favorite for awhile, but in comparison Boom sound is thinner, doesn't have the same level of low end mid-bass impact or even sub-bass extension.  Boom mids are as clear and detailed, but RS has a more analog organic sound quality. Also, while Boom has a control app as well, it never evolved into anything as advanced as RIVA Audio app.
    RS vs B&W Zepplin (150W) - My other recent favorite wireless speaker is new Zepp, and without a doubt it pumps out a more powerful sound with an excellent analog flavor, while in comparison RS/RTX also has a great analog quality sound but a little cleaner and not as colored.  With Zepp's lack of internal battery and constant requirement of being plugged into the wall, you have to cross it out of your list for portable outdoor use or even if you are using it indoors and need to move it around.
    Bose SoundLink III is another good candidate for comparison, though I only had a short encounter with it in the past.  I found its bass to be as deep as RTX, and obviously deeper than RS, but low end performance always strike me as being more on a muddy side, spilling into lower mids.  The sound was warmer and lacked the same level of detail retrieval.
    It's very clear that RIVA Audio mission was not to create another smartphone/tablet accessory, but to design an audiophile wireless speaker for those who appreciate the quality of the sound.  Regardless if you choose Riva S or Riva Turbo X, you will not be disappointed and each one serves its unique purpose as I have summarized in comparison section of the review.  Especially with RS, you have so many ways to connect and to enjoy the sound, everything from BT wireless (supporting apt-X codec) to AUX with a direct audio output from your source or from component audio or even turntable (applying addition PHONO boost), and even utilizing digital input from your laptop and even smartphone (USB OTG).  And to control RS, you can do it straight from the speaker using its 6 capacitive touch buttons or a very friendly Control app.
    The only suggestion I have for RIVA Audio team is to consider a more rugged travel skin/case for RS, and maybe to consider revising accessory package to omit travel bag in order to bring the price down to $199?  I usually don't go deep into price discussion, but it makes sense in this case.  Many manufacturers start with a smaller budget friendly model, and release a bigger and pricier update justifying the price difference with performance improvement.  Right now the gap between RS and RTX is only $50, which makes RTX a better value, especially for those who consider getting a pair of RSs to take advantage of TrueWireless surround mode.  But for others who value the most a portability factor in wireless speaker and want a great sound quality - RS will hit the sweet spot!
      Brooko, d marc0 and Hisoundfi like this.
    1. Brooko
      Looks very similar to the SB Roar2 Alex - another speaker which sounds superb IMO. Good review - enjoyed reading it.
      Brooko, Apr 11, 2016
    2. abm0
      It's true the Rivas used to be the most serious portable offerings fidelity-wise, especially with the S filling in some of the high-end that was missing from the Turbo X, but now there's a new kid in town that's making pretty much all the rest look like toys: the Vifa Helsinki.
      abm0, Apr 15, 2016
    3. moedawg140
      Great review as always, Alex!
      Aren't the RIVA S in TruWireless and TURBO X lovely? :)
      moedawg140, Apr 19, 2016