Since you are reading this magazine, odds are you already own a full-fledged hi-fi system—probably a very good one and quite possibly one that your friends and colleagues consider ‘expensive’. However, if you think back to the earliest days of your interest in our hobby, it’s likely your first system (or first piece of audio equipment) was pretty modest. The important point, of course, is that first ‘starter’ system helped stimulate both your love of music and your appreciation for better-than-average sound quality—pursuits that, we presume, you still find rewarding to this day.
But this train of thought led me to some important questions. For instance, what musically satisfying yet high cost effective choices are available to today’s newcomers to the world of high-performance audio? And in a related vein, what sort of playback ‘system’ actually makes the most sense for modern, music-loving newbies? As I’ve pondered these questions, I reached the conclusion that perhaps the best starter system might not be a traditional system at all, but rather a compact, affordable, yet surprising capable single-chassis device such as the Riva Turbo X Bluetooth speaker.
I first encountered the Riva at the 2015 SoCal CanJam event, where the Riva team was proudly showing audiophiles and discerning headphonistas alike the capabilities of their pint-sized Turbo X. What struck me and many other listeners present was the tiny Riva’s uncannily smooth and full-bodied sound, coupled with its unexpected, big-system-like quality of three-dimensionality. It’s always tempting, of course, to be wowed by small devices that sounds bigger than they look, but with the Riva I think there is something deeper going on; namely, an ability not only to sound ‘big’, but also to sound good and in ways likely to appeal to audiophile sensibilities.
The Riva is the brainchild of a firm called Audio Design Experts, Inc. (or ADX, for short) whose Chairman and Chief Creative Officer is the charismatic former rock’n’roll impresario Rikki Farr, ably complemented by the firm’s President and Chief Technology Officer Donald North. Together, Farr and North make a great team, with Farr supplying the vision for what his firm’s products should be and do, while North provides the creativity, technical know-how, and sheer inventive genius to turn Farr’s ideas into real-world products. In the case of the Riva Turbo X the result is a product that falls in a familiar category (Bluetooth speakers), but that proves from the outset that it is—to use one of my favourite British expressions—‘a bit special’ (although that’s putting things mildly).
The Riva Turbo X is a small, 230mm wide oblong speaker with a wraparound grille made of perforated metal, trimmed either in black or white and silver, and fitted with a top-mounted set of seven touch-sensitive control switches (power on/off, Trillium Surround mode on/off, input switching/Bluetooth pairing, mute, volume down, volume up, and Turbo EQ mode). At the rear of the Riva is a small connection bay featuring a 3.5mm stereo analogue input jack, a USB data port (for firmware updates), a master battery on/off switch, a USB iPod/iPhone charging port, a 19V power supply input socket, and a battery status indicator light.