Klipsch Ref­er­ence Theater Pack Speaker Sys­tem

Blow, lit­tle horns, blow. by Mark Fleis­chmann

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - By Mark Fleis­chmann

PRICE $999

SOME PEO­PLE ARE JUST GOOD at things. Peo­ple like Rem­brandt van Rijn, who could make a painted im­age gaze into your soul; or Meryl Streep, who can be Anna Win­tour one mo­ment and Ju­lia Child the next; or War­ren Buf­fett, who’s been known to make his share­hold­ers a dol­lar or two; or Bil­lie Hol­i­day, who could sing like Louis Arm­strong’s trum­pet and fit a life­time of hard loving into a sin­gle phrase. Com­pa­nies can be good at things, too. Klipsch, for in­stance, be­came fa­mous for their horn-loaded driv­ers un­der founder Paul W. Klipsch. In the last cou­ple of decades, the brand has par­layed its ex­per­tise in horns into a com­mand­ing po­si­tion in the com­pact speaker cat­e­gory, mar­ket­ing one best­selling satel­lite/ sub­woofer set af­ter an­other.

The Sixth Gen­er­a­tion

The Klipsch Ref­er­ence Theater Pack is the com­pany’s sixth-gen­er­a­tion sat/sub sys­tem, suc­ceed­ing the Quin­tet, which we tested back in 2013. It sells for $999 with an 8-inch sub­woofer, com­pared with $1,050 (not fac­tor­ing in a halfdecade of in­fla­tion) for the pre­vi­ous con­fig­u­ra­tion we re­viewed with a 10-inch sub.

The Ref­er­ence Theater

Pack con­sists of four RTP Satel­lites—or Pack Sats, as I like to call them—plus an al­most equally com­pact, hor­i­zon­tal RTP Cen­ter and an R-8SWi sub­woofer (not sold sep­a­rately). The 0.75-inch tweeter in the sats and cen­ter is still re­cessed into a 90 x 90-de­gree Trac­trix horn. But there are no­table dif­fer­ences from the pre­vi­ous sys­tem.

The 3.5-inch woofer has been up­graded from in­jec­tion-molded graphite (IMG) to spun-cop­per­col­ored IMG. Largely a cos­metic touch, it makes each lit­tle speaker look gor­geous when used with the grille off. The 0.75-inch Lin­ear Travel Sus­pen­sion tweeter is an­other fea­ture that the Ref­er­ence Theater Pack bor­rows, as its name im­plies, from Klipsch’s higher-end Ref­er­ence line of loud­speak­ers.

The new satel­lite’s curved en­clo­sure is made of “black brushed poly­mer,” a.k.a. plas­tic, a step down from the highly in­ert “forged stone poly­mer” (a com­pos­ite mold­ing com­pound called Acous­taComp) that was for­merly used. As a re­sult of this and other changes, though a quar­ter-inch taller, the Pack Sat weighs less than half as much as the old Quin­tet sat. My fear go­ing in was that this could in­flu­ence the sound, adding cabi­net-in­duced col­orations for starters. More on that be­low.

Cloth-cov­ered grilles are mag­net­i­cally at­tached. On the back are a port, a threaded in­sert on each sat (two on the cen­ter), and spring-loaded cylin­dri­cal bind­ing posts. The new en­clo­sure makes it harder to ac­cess the bind­ing posts

be­cause it dis­penses with the for­merly cone-shaped re­cesses that clev­erly guided wire tips into the posts and re­places them with holes that make the job more like thread­ing a nee­dle. Thin, sol­dered tips would work best.

When we re­viewed the Quin­tet, it was avail­able with a 12- or 10-inch sub­woofer, sold sep­a­rately from the satel­lites. The Ref­er­ence Theater Pack comes with an 8-inch sub in­cluded, and it adds a new at­trac­tion: a 2.4-gi­ga­hertz wire­less kit. The sub’s in­ter­nal amp is rated at 50 watts RMS and 150 watts peak, which is con­sid­er­ably less than the 200 and 450 watts spec of the 10inch sub we pre­vi­ously re­viewed.

As­so­ci­ated equip­ment in­cluded a Denon AVR-X7200W A/V re­ceiver, Oppo BDP-83SE uni­ver­sal disc player, Mi­cro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97xE car­tridge, and Denon PRA-S10 serv­ing as phono preamp.

The Sound of Rap

These Klipsch horns re­ally com­mu­ni­cated. Di­a­logue and other el­e­ments in the sound­field were well im­aged, with strong out­lines, but not with­out a mod­icum of shad­ing.

Tonal bal­ance, while slightly for­ward, was cer­tainly not too ag­gres­sive or siz­zly; things that were sup­posed to sound warm sounded warm. With matched horns and driv­ers in ev­ery cor­ner of the room, as well as in the

cen­ter, it was easy to fol­low pan­ning tra­jec­to­ries. Bass re­flected the in­her­ent lim­its of the Pack Sat’s 3.5-inch woofer, and took some di­al­ing in, but even­tu­ally I got the sats and sub on speak­ing terms.

On the down­side, there was a hol­low-pla­s­ticky col­oration com­ing from the cab­i­nets. Know­ing that these had been switched from the harder, stone-like ma­te­rial to the lighter plas­tic, I asked my­self if this was con­fir­ma­tion bias—the ten­dency to al­low a pre-ex­ist­ing the­ory to over­whelm facts. But no. Al­though the Quin­tet re­view was years ago, I’ve never for­got­ten knuckle-rap­ping the Quin­tet cabi­net; it sounded and felt like stone. Rap­ping the RTP en­clo­sure re­veals a hol­low-sound­ing col­oration, and it isn’t sub­tle. The other con­firm­ing fac­tor was plain old lis­ten­ing. Yes, I could hear the res­o­nance from time to time, though it wasn’t a deal breaker and didn’t pre­vent the sys­tem from per­form­ing well enough in other re­spects—imag­ing, res­o­lu­tion, and over­all clar­ity.

Gold (Blu-ray Disc with DTS-HD Mas­ter Au­dio sound­track), star­ring Matthew McConaughey as a mod­ern gold prospec­tor, fea­tures some pleas­ing nat­u­ral ef­fects from the jun­gles of Bor­neo (ac­tu­ally filmed in Thai­land). The horn­loaded tweet­ers made them al­most too col­or­ful; when per­spec­tive shifted within a scene, the tran­si­tion was dra­matic. The sub­woofer needed less than half of its vol­ume con­trol’s range (with the usual de­fault level in my re­ceiver’s sur­round pro­ces­sor) to pro­duce an ad­e­quate level of low bass ef­fects. De­spite the mod­est sub amp, it got the job done in my New York apart­ment. Di­al­ing out a slight lo­cal­iza­tion of male voices pushed the sub level and cross­over point down, though I would later re­think the cross­over.

The Fate of the Fu­ri­ous (Blu-ray, DTS-HD Mas­ter Au­dio) loads up on ac­tion he­roes (Vin Diesel, Dwayne John­son, Ja­son Statham) and other stars (Char­l­ize Theron and an un­cred­ited He­len Mir­ren) and lays on the mo­tor­ized noise with a trowel. I be­came grate­ful for both the Klipsch’s well-be­haved top end and the ap­par­ent de­ci­sion to mix the film with a lim­ited dy­namic range. Al­though my aim for a one-size-fit­sall vol­ume set­ting was lower than a mo­tor­head might pre­fer, the cen­ter speaker wouldn’t let me miss a word of di­a­logue.

Grantch­ester (DVD, Dolby Dig­i­tal), with James Nor­ton as the vil­lage vicar who solves mur­der mys­ter­ies, can be filed un­der un­in­ten­tional demo ma­te­rial (my fa­vorite kind). The first sea­son of this TV se­ries was shot in 2014 with a stereo sound­track. That left the cen­ter speaker un­used and re­quired the left and right Pack Sats to im­age di­a­logue on their own. In terms of clar­ity, they never failed, though the pla­s­ticky col­oration was made even more ob­vi­ous...

“White Al­bum” Re­vis­ited

...un­til it wasn’t. Why did the col­oration all but van­ish from “The White Al­bum” in the vinyl box set of The Bea­tles in Mono? The box’s re­served pre­sen­ta­tion may have called less at­ten­tion to it; of the half-dozen ver­sions of this al­bum sit­ting on my shelves, this one is the least bright, and it’s a re­lief to be able to play it loud. What­ever the rea­son, the Pack Sat ze­roed in on those fa­mil­iar voices, mak­ing them warm and fleshy. Chalk up a win for the lit­tle speaker. This would be the last al­bum in which the band and their team mirac­u­lously fit nu­mer­ous lay­ers into a sin­gle chan­nel, and the Pack Sats peeled the onion beau­ti­fully.

The one thing miss­ing was Paul McCart­ney’s bass. Di­al­ing in bass takes ex­tra ef­fort with sat/sub sys­tems in gen­eral (not just this one). My usual 80 hertz and even 100 Hz would leave a huge hole; nowa­days, I start at 120 and go from there. In our Klipsch Quin­tet re­view, a dif­fer­ent 3.5-inch woofer rolled off steeply be­low 200 Hz, so I knew I would have to use a higher sub cross­over than I typ­i­cally pre­fer. How­ever, I re­fused to go to 200 Hz, which made the sub­woofer un­bear­ably ob­vi­ous. And at 120 Hz, the hole be­tween 120 and 200 Hz iso­lated the sub and omit­ted a big slice of up­per bass. Switch­ing to 150 Hz turned on Paul’s bass gui­tar like a light switch.

I con­tin­ued hop­ping among sub cross­over points while lis­ten­ing to Si­mon Ni­col’s Be­fore Your Time (CD), the Fair­port Con­ven­tion front­man’s first solo al­bum, re­play­ing the open­ing track ob­ses­sively as I flipped be­tween 120 and 150 Hz. With the Bea­tles, the dif­fer­ence was night and day—but it made far less dif­fer­ence to the rhythm sec­tion on this al­bum, beau­ti­fully self-pro­duced and self-en­gi­neered for the age of high fidelity, with crisp mids and a beefy bot­tom end that flat­tered ace play­ers Dave Mat­tacks (drums) and Dave Pegg (bass). The sys­tem mined col­or­ful tex­tures from Ni­col’s finely aged bari­tone and the lay­ered fil­i­grees of his del­i­cate but rhyth­mi­cally sure­footed acous­tic gui­tar.

Next, I turned to a live record­ing of out­go­ing mu­sic di­rec­tor Alan Gilbert lead­ing the New York Phil­har­monic in Verdi’s Re­quiem at David Gef­fen Hall (CD). The record­ing seemed to

soften the venue’s hard string sound, which ac­tu­ally suited the Pack Sats well, en­abling them to bring out the nat­u­ral warmth of the cho­rus and soloists. One thing the venue and the satel­lites had in com­mon was ex­cel­lent low-level res­o­lu­tion, which meant that soft-voiced pas­sages didn’t van­ish into the ether. (My CD was a Phil­har­monic sub­scriber free­bie, but you can down­load the al­bum in Ama­zon MP3 form or watch it free on the orches­tra’s web­site at nyphil.org/watch-lis­ten/au­dio/- broad­casts/1415/verdi-re­quiem.)

In as­sess­ing my Per­for­mance and Value ratings for the Ref­er­ence Theater Pack satel­lites and cen­ter, I had to bal­ance the down­grad­ing of the en­clo­sure from filled poly­mer to mere plas­tic against the con­tin­ued ef­fec­tive­ness of the horn-loaded tweet­ers and IMG-coned woofers. There was some­thing spe­cial about those Acous­taComp en­clo­sures, though, and I hope they make a come­back some­day.

On the other hand, Klipsch’s use of horns is not only an ev­er­green com­pany tra­di­tion but also an in­spired piece of in­ge­nu­ity that, lit­er­ally, has been passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. And it sur­vives be­cause it does what it does re­ally well, al­low­ing small satel­lite speak­ers to as­sert a big sound. An­other pos­i­tive fac­tor is the ad­di­tion of wire­less trans­mis­sion to the now more com­pact sub.

That the sub was also down­graded to one with a smaller driver and less pow­er­ful amp to hit a price point did not go un­no­ticed. How­ever, my re­spect for its nim­ble­ness at fre­quen­cies just be­low the sat-friendly sub cross­over slowly but surely in­creased over time.

So yes, the Pack is a step down from the Quin­tet—and if you’re lucky enough to find any­thing left of the lat­ter in the re­tail pipe­line, go for it. But the Pack Sats are still ex­cel­lent per­form­ers, and the Value rat­ing for the sys­tem as a whole ben­e­fited from the $50 price cut.

The Klipsch Ref­er­ence Pack suc­cess­fully con­tin­ues the brand’s string of ex­cel­lent-sound­ing bud­get sat/sub sys­tems. There are some folks who love horns not only for their in­her­ently higher ef­fi­ciency— a good thing to have in a speaker sys­tem when it’s run­ning with a $500 re­ceiver—but also for their dis­tinc­tive clar­ity. Klipsch con­tin­ues to profit from the wis­dom of the com­pany’s el­ders.

Au­dio Edi­tor Mark Fleis­chmann is the au­thor of Prac­ti­cal Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Au­dio Sys­tems, now avail­able in both print and

Kin­dle edi­tions.

The wire­less R-8SWi sub comes with a com­pact, pre-paired trans­mit­ter.

Klipsch’s com­pact 8-inch sub mea­sures 11.75 x 13.25 x 11.75 inches.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.