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Riva S Bluetooth speaker review: A portable, wireless speaker for music lovers

Theo Nicolakis | March 8, 2016
The small and lightweight Riva S is a music-lover and audiophile’s portable dream-come-true.

Android users and AUX connections don’t have that luxury. To get the best performance and sonic benefit from the Riva S’s loudness contouring, therefore, users should set their source device’s volume to max and then use the Riva S to adjust the volume.

I had to hear it to believe it

I followed the Riva’s audiophile-inspired “Get Started…” note that greets you upon unboxing. The instructions recommend that you play the S for three hours at 50-percent volume to break in the drivers. I did so on a Sunday afternoon by pairing my two Riva S review units into TrueWireless mode.

I tested the Riva S via Bluetooth using AAC-encoded music files on iPhone 6s and an iPad Air, and FLAC, ALAC, and DSD hi-res music files a mix of three hi-res audio players (Astell & Kern AKjr, Pioneer XDP-100R, and the Questyle QP1R) that I have for a forthcoming review.

When fed the right material, the Riva S can pull out textures, layers, and fine details with ease. Those months of fine-tuning the Riva’s voicing really paid off. It has a euphonic tonal balance that leans a bit to the warmer side of neutral that I found addictive.

For example, The saxophone on the title track from Steely Dan’s Gaucho was smooth and silky without any harsh or edgy sound coming through.

On the hi-res FLAC version of Eric Clapton’s “Alberta,” from his eponymous Unplugged album, I noted very good timbral accuracy. Clapton’s signature guitar strings on the song’s opening were nicely layered and full-bodied, conveying a good sense of the guitar’s body. Both Clapton’s guitar work and the accompanying piano were sweet and lush—far from the thin or brittle presentation you’d get from many speakers this size.

Dynamics were a real strength, too; for example, I wasn’t expecting the concluding kick-drum from “Alberta” to exhibit a good chest-thumping hit, but that's what the Riva S delivered.

And don’t fear about how loud a single Riva can be. I played Pink Floyd’s “Any Colour You Like” from the hi-res DSD version of Dark Side of the Moon, and from about four feet away measured an average of 93dB, with peaks hitting 96dB.

Turning to TrueWireless, I preferred positioning the Riva’s straight ahead as opposed to toeing them in. Taking the time to position a stereo pair of Riva S speakers yields spectacular results.

Imaging on “Welcome Me” from the Indigo Girls’ Nomads, Indians, Saints was spot-on. There are also various instrument decays and sound effects during the song that fade from one speaker to another. I didn’t perceive any latency between the speakers that would shatter the stereo illusion.

The Riva S delivered excellent horizontal off-axis response in both single-speaker and TrueWireless modes, among the best I’ve heard from any wireless speaker. There was amazing consistency. You almost needed to be behind the speaker to get that muffled coloration that you experience with so many other small speakers.

 

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