This week we?re reviewing three products from the world of audio streaming and multiroom: the Klipsch RW-1 wireless speaker, the Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar and the Klipsch PowerGate wireless streaming amplifier. All of these products belong to the Klipsch Stream multiroom range and can, once connected to the local network, stream music wirelessly throughout your home, whether via an app on your smartphone or tablet, or via a computer running Windows. To achieve this, these three products rely on Play-Fi technology developed by DTS, an open source wireless audio technology which has been optimized for multiroom listening and is compatible with Hi-Res Audio (24 bits/192 kHz).
The Klipsch RW-1 wireless speaker is rather compact, measuring only 13 cm deep and 23 cm high. This speaker is thus principally intended for close-range listening in a bedroom, kitchen or office. It could also be placed in a bathroom, although it is neither waterproof nor tropicalized’
The Klipsch RW-1 is equipped with a WiFi controller as well as an Ethernet port, which means that a wireless or wired set-top box may be connected to access music shared on the local network. DLNA compatible, this speaker can thus play audio files stored on a multimedia server, NAS or computer connected to the same network, as well as grant access to thousands of online radio stations and stream music from online music streaming services such as Deezer and Spotify. This can be done via a dedicated app on a smartphone, tablet or computer running Windows, as we will explain a bit later.
This wireless speaker implements a 2-way design and benefits from the proprietary technologies which have earned Klipsch widespread recognition: a Tractrix horn-loaded tweeter and a Cerametallic woofer. A 3/4? aluminum dome tweeter is placed at the back of a Tractrix horn which emits sound vertically and horizontally within a range of 90°. This horn also enhances the tweeter?s performance in the mids while reducing the dome?s movements and thus lowering the distortion rate. As such, the attenuation of highs is less pronounced when moving away from the speaker and the resulting sound is exceptionally clear. The 3.5? bass driver, with its Cerametallic cone (Ceramic Metal Matrix Driver), is extremely rigid. This serves to limit distortion and contributes to the clarity of lows as well as mids.
The integrated amplifier delivers up to 30 Watts of power distributed as follows : 26.5 Watts for the bass driver and 3.5 Watts for the tweeter. A standard outlet is sufficient to power this sealed-enclosure speaker which can be placed on a night table, desk, shelf, or even against a wall.
The Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar is the most powerful and the most complete model proposed by the American manufacturer. This model connects wirelessly to an imposing subwoofer equipped with an 8? driver. Its dimensions make it the perfect companion for a TV display of 50? or more.
Swimming a bit against the tide, Klipsch isn’t proposing a multichannel soundbar with vertical Dolby Atmos effects, but a simple 2.1 system instead. The soundbar is nonetheless equipped with two square Tractrix horns, each of which houses a 3/4? fabric dome tweeter to offer the same sonic advantages as those featured on the Klipsch RW-1 speaker. No Cerametallic cone for the 4 2.5? midrange drivers and the bass driver, as they instead benefit from fiber composite cones and bass-reflex technology. The amplifiers can deliver up to 135 Watts RMS (up to 200 Watts of peak power) for a sensitivity rating of 110 dB at a distance of 1 meter.
The Klipsch RSB-14 was capable of filling our 15 m² living room, a space which opens out onto the dining room and the kitchen (total surface of approximately 45 m²). With regard to the listening experience, the sound level remained highly satisfactory throughout the room.
Compatibility with Klipsch Stream multiroom necessarily implies that the Klipsch RSB-14 comes with Wifi and Ethernet network controllers granting access to music shared on the local network. It is also fitted with a Bluetooth controller to stream music directly from a compatible device without going through the local network. The other connectors are standard for this type of product, with 3 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output (ARC-enabled), an optical digital input and an analog input (mini-jack).
In terms of sound, only the Dolby Digital audio codec is handled. As DTS is not recognized, the settings for the digital outputs of all connected devices must be adjusted so that they send PCM signals to watch films in DTS format. The CEC function must be activated in the TV display?s HDMI settings menu for the ARC function to work.
With the PowerGate, Klipsch proposes a compact stereo amplifier equipped with a DAC capable of handling 24 bits / 192 kHz PCM stream and offering both WiFi and Ethernet network connectivity, thereby granting access to online radio stations and music streaming services as well as music shared on the local network. The amplifier can also be integrated into a Klipsch Stream multiroom audio system or any other multiroom system implementing DTS Play-Fi technology.
This streaming amplifier delivers 2 x 50 Watts into 8 Ohms and can directly power a pair of compact speakers or a pair of floorstanders, ideally with a sensitivity rating above 88 dB/1W/1m. Connected to our JMLab 802 LE floorstanding speakers (1.2? inverted dome tweeter, 6.5? midrange and bass drivers with Polykevlar cones, sensitivity >90 dB), the Klipsch PowerGate proved itself to be lively and energetic, offering a dynamic listening experience at very high levels, without saturation!
The first visible circuit contains the digital and network (Ethernet and WiFi) controllers, the ARM processor and the XMOS chip, which handles data coming from the USB port among other things.
Beneath this first card is the main card responsible for processing the audio signal. It incorporates a 24 bit / 192kHz compatible Cirrus Logic DAC as well as an analog-to-digital converter. This last element enables the wireless redistribution of music from any connected analog source to other Play-Fi-compatible speakers or systems in the network. It is connected by a flat cable to the controller and the network card.
In terms of connectors, the Klipsch PowerGate amplifier offers an analog input?which may also be used as a Phono input to connect a turntable?paired with an Aux input in mini-jack format. There is also an optical audio input, a USB port allowing for direct connection to a computer (USB type B) and an Ethernet connector (RJ45). Meanwhile, a pre-amplified stereo output and subwoofer (SUB), in addition to a headphone output on the amplifier?s front panel, are available. The USB type A port is dedicated uniquely to updates and power supply. Lastly, speaker terminals accept speaker cables with large cross-sections (up to 2.5 mm² without any problem) and are compatible with banana plugs, once the protective caps are removed.
Klipsch Stream app
The Klipsch Stream app must first be downloaded in order to use the Klipsch RW-1 wireless speaker. The app also grants access to all the Klipsch network and multiroom playback functions offered by the Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar as well as by the Klipsch PowerGate streaming amplifier. It may be downloaded to any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet.
An alternative nonetheless exists, namely, the DTS Play-Fi app (of which the Klipsch app is in fact a clone), available for not only iOS and Android, but also for any computer running Windows. This app may be used to play audio files stored on a computer (music, videogame soundtracks, film soundtracks) on compatible speakers connected to the local network. A free version of the Play-Fi app for Windows is available, although it only offers audio playback, and this only for one Play-Fi device at a time (no multiroom), while another version granting access to video mode (optimized synchronization between image and sound), as well as multiroom and the possibility to pair two speakers together for stereo listening, can be purchased.
Before starting the test, we downloaded the Klipsch Stream app and the Play-Fi app on an iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2, as well as the free version of the Play-Fi app for Windows.
Connection to a local network
To access online music streaming services as well as audio files shared on the network, the Play-Fi-enabled device must be connected to the set-top box. Going the Ethernet route is evidently the simplest option, but it?s above all the WiFi connection which offers the most convenient solution for conveying sound throughout our house.
In theory, once the Klipsch RW-1 speaker is started up for the first time, it will connect to the local WiFi network in order to be detected by the smartphone or tablet on which the app is installed. A quick tour through your iPhone?s setting menu will thus allow for direct connection to the speaker in WiFi mode. Once this is accomplished, the app may be launched, and it will look for the network to which to connect the speaker. Simply entering the network password will allow the speaker to be connected in only a matter of seconds.
In practice, after several failed attempts, we ultimately had to forcibly activate the speaker?s pairing mode by pressing the WiFi Setup button for about 10 seconds, at which point our smartphone detected it. We also had to try several times before successfully connecting to the network. Updating the speaker?s firmware via the app allowed us to fix this problem. Ideally, it would be best to first connect the Klipsch Stream product in Ethernet mode to the set-top box and update the app before adjusting the WiFi settings.
Connecting the Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar and the Klipsch PowerGate via WiFi to our set-top box posed no problem at all and we followed the same procedure as for the RW-1, except this time we used the DTS Play-Fi app.
Note that at the end of the procedure, a beep will confirm that the Klipsch Stream device is in fact connected to the local network.
Once the devices are connected to the local network, the multiroom function may be enabled to access shared audio files, online radio stations and online music streaming services. The process is simple : launch the app, select one or several playback devices and choose which tracks to play. All Klipsch Stream devices connected to the local network are instantaneously detected, even those in sleep mode. When a playback device is selected via the app, it will instantly quit sleep mode and you can choose which tracks to play directly.
- Note: When choosing which Klipsch Stream playback device to activate, a Hi-Res icon is visible on the ?Connection’ bar. If you select it, the audio files will be played in their native resolution (what is called ?critical’ listening mode, up to 24/96), without resampling to CD quality and without the usual network synchronization. This playback mode preserves the integrity of the original files, however, it also requires a larger bandwidth. In this case, a single Play-Fi device may be used as the multiroom mode is no longer available.
We were able to play music stored on our set-top box?s hard drive without difficulty in both CD-quality and HD FLAC formats on all three devices. The control interface was reactive and files were quickly indexed. When metadata is present, the app displays the album cover of the song being played.
We do have one regret, however : it is not possible to create playlists via the app. Playback thus occurs album by album for the selected artist.
USB audio playback (PowerGate only)
Only the Klipsch PowerGate streaming amplifier features a USB Type B port which allows its internal DAC to be used to decode music stored on a computer. With a computer running Windows, it is nonetheless necessary to first go to the manufacturer?s website and download the driver as a compressed file. Once the amplifier?s serial number is entered in the field provided, the installation of the driver will only take several seconds and the amplifier can then be connected to the computer, which will detect it instantaneously. Any audio playback software can be used (we used Foobar2000 with the ASIO4All plugin to listen to HD FLAC files up to 24/192).
Access to online radio stations
With its very basic layout, the online radio station interface offers several modes of access to different stations and a ?local’ tab which notably proposes a selection of regional stations. It is also possible to search for stations by country or genre, as well as access a wide variety of podcasts listed by genre. Of course, searching for a station by name is always an option, as is creating a list of your favorite stations to easily find them again, brought together under the Favorites tab.
Online music services
The Klipsch Stream and Play-Fi apps propose exactly the same online music services, namely Amazon Music, Deezer, iHeartRadio, KKBOX, Pandora (not available in France), Napster, SiriusXM, Spotify and Tidal.
Establishing a connection only takes a few seconds, or the time it takes to enter a username and password for the first time and thus gain access to the server of the selected music service. The rest of the connection process is automatic, and the app memorizes the user?s login information. We were able to take advantage of our Deezer Premium subscription to listen to our playlists, albums and favorite artists as well as various themed radio stations proposed by the French online music service. However, the interface did not offer all the possibilities proposed by the native Deezer app. For example, we weren’t able to add a track played via Deezer radio to our favorites (in the app, Deezer radio corresponds with the music service?s themed playlists by genre or artists playing on the same bill at a music festival, for example). The automated and personalized Flow customized playlist remains one of the Deezer app?s specialties.
By launching playback via the app on one of the Klipsch Stream peripheral audio devices, it becomes possible to extend the listening zone to one or several other Klipsch Stream products or any other Play-Fi-compatible device.
Just one touch on the ?+/-? icon to the right of the sound volume bar on your smartphone or tablet will display all of the connected Play-Fi-compatible devices. Simply selecting one or several of these will regroup all selected devices into a shared, multiroom audio system. One more touch and the selected device will be removed from the system. The group of speakers thus created can also be memorized and easily reestablished for future listening sessions.
The general volume may be adjusted directly in the list of active devices, although it is also possible to adjust the volume for each connected device separately, either by using the physical buttons on the devices concerned, or via the app. Access is granted via the double arrow icon that must be touched twice to display the volume cursors for each device (double black arrow). By touching the icon once again (the double arrow becomes blue), it is possible to swap the main speaker and the secondary speakers.
Generally speaking, the control interface displayed on any smartphone or tablet is reactive and well designed. After a short learning period and a bit of trial and error, we were able to appreciate the simplified user experience and comprehensive functionality. We notably appreciated the possibility to switch from one control system to another transparently, as well as how easy it was to manage the different Klipsch Stream devices connected to the network. Another very positive point: the music is perfectly synchronized between the different devices, with no perceivable latency among them.
Designed for listening to music or news in the kitchen or office, the Klipsch RW-1 speaker offers a rather balanced audio delivery. The well-articulated and dynamic lows offer a good base for the music as well as for men’s voices. The highs are detailed enough to ensure good sound clarity. Overall, the sound restitution is very lively but lacks a bit of breadth and, at times, subtlety. The upper mids and the highs can sometimes seem a bit projected or unnatural. We wonder if this is because the plastic material of the speaker box colors the sound.
Placed between our Freebox Player and our TV display and connected via HDMI, the Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar and its subwoofer left us with a very good impression, despite a few limitations, such as the absence of DTS compatibility.
For DTV programs broadcast by the set-top box, the default sound setting has breadth and substance right from the start. For news channels, the Dialogue mode offers an undeniable advantage by bringing mids to the forefront.
Above all, it was the virtual surround mode which truly impressed us. For films and TV series, this mode widened the soundstage in a convincing way. With no physical virtual surround channels behind us?this is only a 2.1 system?the audio effects unfolded within a wide space in the direction of the viewers, while voices remained in their rightful place below the screen. The sound is lively, the lows very well integrated (it is albeit necessary to place the subwoofer in the front of the listening room) and percussive when called for. The subwoofer?s volume can be adjusted independently by remote control.
When it comes to listening to music, the Klipsch RSB-14 proved less convincing. Granted, it can’t offer the same level of performance as a comprehensive hi-system and the listening experience is far from disagreeable, since there is an enjoyable energy overall and the sound is never aggressive. However, it lacks breadth and depth, and the surround mode, while it widens the foreground of the soundstage, doesn’t fill the space nearly as much as the PowerGate connected to our pair of floorstanders. When weighing the musicality of one against the other, the soundbar clearly falls short, notably for its less subtle and nuanced approach to audio restitution.
Of the three Klipsch Stream products we tested, this is by far the most impressive. In addition to being compact and rather elegant with its glossy black finish, it meets today?s demands in terms of connectivity and boasts an undeniable musicality. It is also easy to use, whether via remote control, the standard control interface on its front panel, or the app for dematerialized playback and multiroom functionality.
This amplifier is rated at 50 Watts of power over each channel in hi-fi conditions (100 W peak power)?a claim which we were able to verify on a daily basis. This power supply, with our high-sensitivity JMLab floorstanding speakers, is impressive indeed. To such a point that we were able to boost the volume to surprising levels without the least bit of distortion.
The first minutes we spent listening to the Klipsch PowerGate with our floorstanders left us not quite fully convinced, as we found it a bit showy, even exuberant when compared to our ?honorable? Onkyo 5.1 amplifier.
As the hours and days passed, however, we were able to fully appreciate the qualities of this integrated amplifier, which proved to offer much more musicality than our TX-SR606! The listening experience is dynamic, with plenty of energy in the lows, and the amplifier provides enough energy to really push speakers? 6.5? drivers. The result is powerful and spot on, without latency and with substantial yet nuanced lows. Boasting a balanced sound and well-articulated registers, the amplifier also displays a knack for subtlety when it comes to acoustic music. In terms of timing, there a sense of swing and each note benefits from a crisp attack. Sound placement is not overlooked, and the soundstage is particularly wide and deep. The music has room to expand.
What we liked
- The successful integration of the different audio playback functions for connected listening via the dedicated app and the Windows version of the DTS Play-Fi app allowing the user to stream music from a PC.
- The dynamic and lively listening experience offered by each of these three products, with an enjoyable overall balance and lows which are always well integrated, as much for the Klipsch RW-1 speaker, as for the Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar or the Klipsch PowerGate amplifier.
- The convincing breadth of the soundstage proposed by the Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar in Surround mode.
- The generous, balanced and skillfully arranged listening experience proposed by the Klipsch PowerGate amplifier, in addition to its power rating.
What we would have liked
- For a full version of the DTS Play-Fi app for Windows to be included!
- A bit more subtlety on the part of the Klipsch RW-1 compact speaker.
- Compatibility with DTS for the Klipsch RSB-14 soundbar.