HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



July
2001

Reviewed by
Wes Marshall





Klipsch
Reference Series
Home-Theater
Speaker System


Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: RF-3 speakers
Price: $850 USD per pair
Dimensions: 38.5"H x 9"W x 16.2"D
Weight: 56 pounds each

Model: RC-3 center-channel speaker
Price: $350 USD
Dimensions: 7.9"H x 22.9"W x 9"D
Weight: 29 pounds

Model: RS-3 surround speakers
Price: $550 USD per pair
Dimensions: 8.5"H x 18.7"W x 7.4"D
Weight: 12 pounds each

Model: KSW-15 power subwoofer
Price: $750 USD
Dimensions: 19.5"H x 17.5"W x 17.5"D
Weight: 45 pounds


Description (cont'd)

Warranty: Five years parts and labor, two years for KSW-15 electronics

Features

  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) with vinyl veneer
  • Removable grilles
  • Gold-plated binding posts
  • 1" titanium-dome tweeters loaded with 90-degree by 60-degree horns
  • 8" aluminum-cone woofers (RF-3)
  • 6.5" aluminum-cone woofers (RC-3, RS-3)
  • 800W amplifier (KSW-15)
  • Two line-level and two speaker-level inputs both with high-pass filter, LFE input (KSW-15)
  • 15" fiber-composite downward-firing woofer (KSW-15)
  • Phase switch (KSW-15)

A little history

Paul Klipsch is a hi-fi iconoclast. Tall and lanky with a funny little beard and a sparkle in his eye, he's always armed with his outspoken nature, playful sense of humor and solid engineering knowledge. Klipsch pushed his mantra of high efficiency through his signature product, the Klipschorn, which is still in production after 56 years! He loved to tease his competitors over the inefficiency of their speakers. From the Bozak B-310 and the AR-3 in the 1950s to the Bose 901 in the '60s, Klipsch delighted in pointing out to anyone who would listen that his horn-loaded speakers played louder with one watt (104dB!) than the others played with the 60Wpc "behemoth" power amplifiers of the day. Klipsch believed that because his speakers were so efficient, they wouldn’t have to struggle to get to concert levels -- therefore, less distortion. All these years later, Klipsch’s heritage of ultra-efficient speakers is still at the center of the company’s philosophy.

Despite all the perfectly rational arguments about why Klipsch speakers sounded better, the fact was that their original products were sounding a little tired by the 1980s. Like many other audiophiles, I lost interest in the brand. Lately, though, friends whose ears I trust have been urging me to give Klipsch another try. When our eminent editor offered the opportunity to review the $2500 Klipsch Reference Series home-theater speaker system, I was flooded with nostalgia. I was also worried. How would they compare with the best in today’s marketplace?

Details

The Klipsch Reference Series constitutes the company's mid-price range of speakers. The two most expensive versions, the RP-5 and RP-3, feature built-in active subwoofers. Klipsch decided to send me the passive versions -- RF-3 for left and right, RC-3 for center and RS-3 for surrounds -- along with a 15" active subwoofer, the KSW-15. All are clothed in a nice-looking black vinyl. These speakers will fit with most decorating schemes with or without their grilles. With the grilles on, they have an unobtrusive, basic appearance. Sans grilles, they are dominated by their copper-colored aluminum woofers and large, square Tractrix horn, which gives them a very high-tech look. Visually, they can melt into the background or they can dominate the room -- your choice.

The RF-3 and RC-3 speakers are biwirable and feature large gold-plated binding posts that easily take Monster-Cable-sized wire. All three of the front speakers are shielded and have adjustable spikes. The RC-3 has a neat little spike in the back that allows you to tilt the speaker down in case you place it above the TV. Large throated ports in the front RF-3s face backward, which means they pretty much have to be out in the room at least a couple of feet. Two keyhole brackets on the back of the RS-3s allow wall mounting. You can also get the RS-3s in white if that makes more sense in your room. Klipsch engineers have managed to keep the KSW-15 as unobtrusive as possible, given that it's a 15" ported and amplified subwoofer. Its port is located in the rear of the cabinet.

Room placement

Klipsch recommends spacing the RF-3s six to 15 feet apart. I put them where my reference speakers normally stand, 12 feet apart, toed-in just in front of the main seating position to broaden the sweet spot for other viewers. The RC-3 was placed just below the screen at an equal distance from the ear as the RF-3s. For the entire evaluation, I removed the grilles from all of the front speakers. I placed the KSW-15 directly under the center of the screen, which is where my current subs live, and used the Lexicon’s bass-management system to set levels and crossovers. You should know that my room is huge (25,000 cubic feet), which is good and bad for a subwoofer; resonance control isn’t much of an issue, but the room will swallow lots of bass.

The RS-3 surrounds are a hybrid design that can be used either on the sides or in the back of the room. I applaud Klipsch’s desire to make their speakers adaptable to the room, but there will be tradeoffs either way. Side speakers are intended to have a null at the viewer’s ear, yielding a diffuse surround, while rear speakers are supposedly more directional. These speakers are designed with the midbass speaker pointing directly forward and two tweeters pointing to either side. Therefore, in the side setup, the RS-3s point straight at the listener all the way up to 2100Hz, which makes them quite directional. At the rear position, everything above 2100Hz is aimed to the sides and middle of the room, making the speakers less directional. This compromise for adaptability may sacrifice some performance depending on the speakers' location in your room. The best solution in my room was to place the speakers’ backs across the corners of the room so that the midrange driver was facing directly at the listening area. This configuration looked a little awkward, but it produced the best sound.

When it comes to room placement, don’t expect a lot of help from the manuals. They are basically for beginners and don’t go much beyond broad suggestions. And because I mentioned high sensitivity, you should know the speakers in this system range from 95dB (one watt/one meter) sensitive for the RS-3s, to 97dB for the RC-3, and all the way to 98dB for the big RF-3 towers.

So how did they sound?

I started off with Galaxy Quest, "Sarris Attacks," to check out the speakers’ ability to stand up to the bombo bits. With levels above 100dB (as the government warning goes, don’t try this at home), the bass was strong and solid. Rockets whizzed by realistically, with convincing explosions. In "Rock Monster," each footstep shook the room. Even better, all of the subtle sound effects in the movie came out beautifully and had lots of detail. The bass was dynamic, clear, tight and loud.

But all was not perfect at first. I couldn’t help but be a little troubled by a spitty harshness in the tweeters. To test this, I listened to Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters" off the Two Against Nature DVD, with its plethora of sibilants. Ouch! Thinking maybe the speakers needed some break-in time, I left them playing for a day with rock music at about 90dB, then came back. The sound was definitely improving. Turns out the speakers needed about 20 hours to smooth out, which was well worth the effort.

Once they were broken in, the Klipsch speakers sounded amazingly natural. In chapters 25 and 26 of The Fifth Element, the infamous Aria sequence, not only did Inva Mula Tchako’s voice sound satiny smooth and organic, but the rapid-fire changes between music and fighting were accompanied by perfectly believable changes in acoustic fields. Where the speakers had been too detailed when I unboxed them, they were now developing a wonderfully effortless and revealing sound. Next up was The Abyss. Chapters 18-20 have some mighty thuds and bangs that were all realistically portrayed -- that is, just like in the theater. Perhaps the KSW-15 lacked the deepest bass, but part of that may have been due to the size of my room. The combination of two Sunfire True Subwoofers goes lower, but not louder or cleaner, and they cost almost four times as much! People don’t live on bombast alone, so I next tried the Klipsch setup with a sweet little romantic comedy, What Women Want. I heard nice, natural sound that did absolutely nothing to draw attention to itself. Things were just as they should be.

Finally, because many of us use our home-theater systems for music too, I tried my favorite torture musical tests. First up was Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s music DVD of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Litton is a passionate and fiery musician, and his performance jumped through the speakers. In the famous opening pages, the Klipsch speakers handled the pounding drums, chugging basses and whooping horns with casual ease. And wonder of wonders, at this price range and with horns, no less, the imaging was very good. Sadly, though, the organ pedal was missing in action. Next up was the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over DVD. "Hotel California" has a great test of the surrounds' abilities when the synth starts playing. It’s a masterful piece of mixing and a real test for the resolving power of your surrounds. The Klipsch speakers reproduced the delicate sounds clearly, yet with a warm subtlety.

Is this the system for you?

Not too many years ago, you couldn’t get two speakers this good for this price, let alone a 5.1 system. I won’t go so far as to say Moore’s Law is now applicable to mechanical devices, but I was really surprised at how good this system sounded for the money. For those who prize the ability of speakers to reproduce the full dynamic range of recorded sound, these speakers are a bargain. Most important, a 100Wpc amplifier will drive the Klipsch speakers as well as a 400Wpc amplifier will drive most others.

Which is not to say there aren’t other good speakers in this price range. Polk, Paradigm, Energy, Phase Technology, Definitive Technology (to name just a few) make excellent systems that cost the same amount of money. These are all good speakers, but I like the additional efficiency the Klipsch system offers. If you like action and sci-fi flicks, the Klipsch speakers will be hard to beat at their price point. As an added bonus, once you burn them in, they come close to the delicacy I’ve heard with Paradigm speakers, for example.

So how do they stack up against the best competitive speakers? In a word, impressively. In my opinion, the Klipsch Reference Series speaker system is one of the top contenders in the $2000-$3000 price range, and this makes it highly recommended..

Review System
Processor/receiver - Lexicon MC-1
Amplifier - B&K Video 5
Source - Pioneer DV434 DVD player
Cables - Canare GS-6 interconnects, Monster Cable speaker cable
Projector - Runco Cinema 750
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Klipsch Headquarters
3502 Woodview Trace
Suite 200
Indianapolis, IN 46268
Phone: 1-800-KLIPSCH

E-mail: support@klipsch.com
Website: www.klipsch.com

 


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