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
years parts and labor, two years for KSW-15 electronics
- Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) with vinyl veneer
- Removable grilles
- Gold-plated binding posts
- 1" titanium-dome tweeters loaded with 90-degree by
- 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 wouldnt have to struggle to get to concert levels -- therefore, less
distortion. All these years later, Klipschs heritage of ultra-efficient speakers is
still at the center of the companys 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 todays marketplace?
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.
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 Lexicons 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 isnt 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 Klipschs 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 viewers 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
When it comes to room placement, dont expect a lot of
help from the manuals. They are basically for beginners and dont 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, dont 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 couldnt 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 Tchakos 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 dont 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
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 Orchestras 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. Its 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
Is this the system for you?
Not too many years ago, you couldnt get two speakers
this good for this price, let alone a 5.1 system. I wont go so far as to say
Moores 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 arent 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 Ive 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
|Processor/receiver - Lexicon
- B&K Video 5
|Source - Pioneer DV434 DVD
- Canare GS-6 interconnects, Monster Cable speaker cable
|Projector - Runco Cinema 750