Three speakers reviewed this week, all from the Klipsch Reference Premiere range. The Klipsch RP-280F column speaker (replacement of the RF-82 MK2), the RP-160M compact speaker (replacement of the RB-61 MK2) and the RP-450C centre speaker, a brand new model. Klipsch promises us exceptional listening clarity and softness as well as complete hi-fi and home cinema versatility. We wanted to find out if what they said was true.
Before going any further, let’s remind ourselves that Klipsch is an American brand established in 1946, whose speciality is the horn-loaded tweeter, a technique it masters like no other with the added benefits of very high sensitivity and spectacular sound articulation. The high sensitivity of Klipsch speakers means that the amplifier uses very little power, therefore providing the speakers with ideal conditions to perform to their full potential. Such speakers allow the use of tube amplifiers with their low power but sophisticated musicality (2 x 10 W for example).
In an ideal world, all drivers would use horn-loading. However, only the tweeter adopts this technology. Klipsch features, nevertheless, certain speakers using the horn-loading technology for bass drivers (Klipsch Klipshorn, Klipsch La Scala). Their imposing size means that they are often (wrongly?) reserved for vintage sound enthusiasts. Far be it from us to criticise these speakers, which we’ll soon be reviewing with the Klipsch Heresy III. On recent models, Klipsch has only used horn-loaded tweeters, enabling them to offer standard compact, floor-standing and centre speakers.
Major benefits with the horn-loaded tweeter
Before giving a detailed review of each of the speakers, let’s just remind ourselves of certain technical points. The tweeter is the smallest driver in a speaker, even though it covers a very wide frequency range, usually ranging from 2 kHz to 20 kHz. It’s precisely in this range that the human ear is the most sensitive to sound and it’s in this range where most information and details are to be found. Therein lies the paradox as it’s the tweeter which reproduces the greatest number of sounds but yet is the smallest of the drivers (this is completely normal, otherwise it wouldn’t be able to increase in frequency). This low emitting surface means that the diffused sound wave is reduced with distance and beyond 5 metres, even though the sound can still be perceived, it lacks consistency. Being the sound expert it is, Klipsch intentionally uses the horn-loading system for its capacity to firstly amplify sound, ensuring less vibration and signal distortion, but also its ability to transport a perfectly articulated sound to the listener. If the horn-loaded tweeter uses standard dimensions (1″ in diameter), it benefits from the horn’s emitting surface (6 x 6 inches for example).
Klipsch Reference Premiere and Premiere MK2: what has changed
There are many aesthetic and technical modifications between the former Reference MK2 range and the new Reference Premiere range. The speakers are visually more elegant. The acoustic covers are now magnetised, therefore getting rid of any mounting hole. The vinyl finish wood effect is cut from a single wood panel and stuck seamlessly between the different panels. The veined and grained wood is pleasant to the touch.
Reference Premiere compact and column speakers now feature a support stand and are directed slightly upwards. While bass drivers haven’t undergone any major aesthetic modification, their features have been adjusted to accommodate the changes to the tweeters and their horns.
These changes have been revolutionary as the Tractrix horn is now hybrid with a circular throat extended by a square section mouth. In addition, the material used is no longer ABS plastic but thick silicone in order to reduce any unwanted vibrations. The tweeter is still the famous LTS titanium dome (Linear Travel Suspension) but it is now used with a new pole piece aimed at controlling the overload of energy (read our interview with Michael Buratto, Klipsch Product Manager). All bass-reflex speakers benefit from a new port adopting the Tractrix horn design, in order to accelerate the air flow and remove any interference.
We listened to these three speakers with two amplifiers, the Hegel H80 stereo amp and the Pioneer SC-LX58 home cinema amp. Our source was a Pioneer N-P01 network player, connected using Viard Audio Premium HD RCA-RCA cables and Viard Audio Premium HD HP speaker cables. We listened to FLAC and DSD files, shared using the Foobar2000 DLNA server installed on a computer.
Klipsch RP-160M: listening impressions
The Klipsch RP-160M compact speaker is equipped with a 6.5″ diameter bass driver placed in a bass-reflex enclosure and a compression chamber tweeter assembled on a square Tractrix horn. Its sensitivity is 95 dB /W/m and frequency response ranges from 43 Hz to 24 kHz, which is better than the RB-61 MK2. From the very first notes, the sensitivity of the speaker is striking and we didn’t have to force our Hegel H80 for the speaker to come alive. You don’t however find the dynamic character of the Klipsch RB-61 MK2 and the RP-160M shows absolutely no signs of harshness. Without being perfectly linear in its delivery, the RP-160M is balanced and the energy of the different ranges is evenly distributed. We note a stronger presence around 1 kHz and 10 kHz, adding pleasant clarity to the audio message without negative sound colouration. Whether it is used along with the Hegel H80, the Pioneer SC-LX58 or a small home-made tube amp, this speaker always demonstrates its bright and meticulous nature.
Klipsch RP-280F: listening impressions
The Klipsch RP-280F column speaker is the top-of-the-range model of this new Reference Premiere series with a pair of 8″ drivers and an LTS horn-loaded tweeter. It replaces the Klipsch RF-82 MK2, a model well known for its volume and good bass level. Its sensitivity is 98 dB /W/m and its frequency response ranges from 32 Hz to 24 kHz. Listening is distinctive compared to other similar-sized floor-standing speakers. Despite the pair of 8″ drivers, it’s not the level of bass which is immediately striking but the airiness at the high end of the sound spectrum with just the right amount of energy attributed to string and wind instruments.
The richer and more complex the sound message, the more this speaker’s qualities come to the fore.
For home cinema use, even when used on their own, it’s a real sound festival. The slightest detail (breathing, brushing of fabric, etc.) are extracted from the sound message and carefully placed, adding to the overall credibility of the sound stage. At a high volume, the speaker doesn’t show any sign of excess and when the audio track imposes the delivery of a huge quantity of bass frequencies (thinking of course of films such as Pacific Rim or The Dark Knight), the RP-280F follows without any hiccup and holds the listener’s attention. We can clearly see then the benefits of such big drivers.
Klipsch RP-450C: a “real centre speaker”
This title might be slightly exaggerated but this RP-450C centre speaker is blessed with qualities, sadly lacking in so many others. Centre speakers equipped with 4 drivers are rare even though this particular acoustic solution is an intelligent response to the constraints of the centre channel of DVD and Blu-ray movies.
This channel contains at least 50% of a sound band’s information and all dialogue. Extending the emitting surface is a really good idea.
The Klipsch RP-450C centre speaker is the Reference Premiere series’ top-of-the-range model with its four 5.25″ drivers and its horn-loaded tweeter. This bass-reflex model can go below 60 Hz. Voices are consequently punchier and chest echo is well delivered. The sound message isn’t tight and constrained but open and airy.
In a home cinema context, the RP-450C is an ideal companion just as much for Klipsch RP-280F column as RP-160M compact speakers.
What are the best amps to pair them up with?
The good news is that these three Klipsch speakers pair up well with most amps, even the most powerful models. Their high sensitivity enables a significant sound level to be obtained even with approximately twenty Watts developed via the amplifier. For Klipsch RP-280F column speakers, it’s best to pair them up with an extremely powerful amp (100 or 200 W per channel) if the aim is home cinema use in a multiplex room. For those who like punchy, sharp audio, a Class-D amp should be used, especially for listening to rock music or for home cinema use. Those who appreciate flowing and a more rounded sound should consider a Class-AB model.
Choice of cables
Our various listening sessions highlighted the importance of choosing the right speaker cable, especially with the Klipsch RP-280F. With these speakers, you should avoid using cables with a rising sound signature, for example models with silver-plated conductors. On the contrary, OFC copper cable offers more balanced results, such as the Norstone CL250 Classic cable or the Viard Audio Premium HP for example.
Klipsch hasn’t, in any way, been over-excessive. The differences between the Reference MK2 range and the new Reference Premiere are nothing short of revolutionary. Softness and clarity are the key words to describe the Klipsch RP-160M, Klipsch RP-450C and the Klipsch RP-280F, which, nevertheless, don’t sacrifice their precision and swiftness in any way. These speakers succeed in bridging the gap between relaxed and explosive listening.