Klipsch Reference Premiere 5.1.2 Speaker Package Review
Giving immersive audio the horn
What is the Klipsch Reference Premiere?The Klipsch Reference Premiere is the latest entry in the US brand's line-up of home cinema speakers. This new range includes 18 different models that are composed of floorstander, centre, standmount, wide-dispersion surround, and Dolby Atmos speakers. There's also a range of specially engineered subwoofers, and all the speakers use the company's signature horn-loaded tweeter.
Klipsch's horn-loaded tweeters are synonymous with the manufacturer, and undoubtedly the first thing you think of when you hear the name. The company has been perfecting this particular technology for over 70 years, but the new Reference Premiere series also benefits from other audio innovations, as well as the use of better construction materials, and various cosmetic changes.
Klipsch hopes that its latest speaker range will offer a superior level of performance, but without breaking the bank. For this review I'm running a 5.1.2-channel system that's composed of the RP-6000F floorstander (£1,100 a pair), the RP-404C dedicated centre speaker (£500), the RP-502S surround speakers (£825 a pair), the RP-500SA Dolby Atmos modules (£575 a pair) and the SPL-120 subwoofer (£650).
That's a hefty outlay of £3,650, although it's not a ridiculous amount for a higher-end speaker package comprised of eight speakers. Let's see if the Klipsch Reference Premiere 5.1.2 system delivers the goods.
Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-6000FThe Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-6000 is the middle of five floorstanding options in the range. It uses dual 6.5-inch woofers combined with a 1-inch tweeter and a rear port with inner flares to reduce air turbulence and minimise port noise, and it has a nominal impedance of 8Ω.
The titanium LTS vented tweeter uses Klipsch's hybrid Tractrix horn technology, which basically means it is mounted inside a square horn assembly recessed into the front of the cabinet. This approach is designed to correct the difference in air pressure between the tweeter and the air in front of it, resulting in improved sensitivity and better dispersion. The tweeter itself uses a ceramic magnet housing and venting, combined with a rigid titanium diaphragm.
The result of this design is an amazing level of sensitivity, with Klipsch claiming 97dB at 2.83V/1m. Speaker sensitivity basically relates to the amount of power required to drive the speaker. The more sensitive (or efficient) the speaker, the less power is required. The measurements above relate to the sound output from one watt of power measured at a distance of one metre. An efficient speaker doesn’t just require less power, it also generates less heat and generally has a longer component life.
The reason that Klipsch originally started using horn-loaded tweeters was because 70 years ago amplifiers had very little power and thus sensitivity was extremely important. These days that's less of an issue, but Klipsch has spent the better part of a century perfecting the technology and, as a result, its speakers are incredibly sensitive.
The 6.5-inch midbass drivers use Klipsch’s signature copper-spun Cerametallic woofers, while the low-end is given a boost thanks to rear-firing Tractrix reflex-ports that help minimise distortion and maximise efficiency. The drivers have a striking copper colour that stands out against the black satin painted, scratch-resistant baffles. The RP-6000F has an impressive claimed frequency response of 34Hz-25kHz.
The floorstanders come in a choice of scratch-resistant ebony or walnut vinyl finishes, along with copper trim rings around the tweeters and woofers, and magnetic black fabric grilles. At the rear there are dual binding posts for those who like to bi-wire or bi-amp, and each speaker comes with cast aluminium feet that provide better support and isolation.
Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, and the use of horn-loaded tweeters might not be to everyone's taste. Having said that, they do give all the speakers in this range a slightly retro appearance, some might even call it timeless. However, the look isn't a major issue because if you don't like it, the magnetic fabric grilles cover the tweeters and drivers anyway.
Regardless of the design aesthetics, there’s no denying the speaker's MDF construction is extremely solid, and the overall fit and finish is excellent. The speakers themselves each measure 237 x 1006 x 432mm (WxHxD) and weigh in at 22.2kg.
The design is slightly retro thanks to the horn tweeter, but the build quality is excellent
Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-404CThe Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-404C centre speaker uses an unusual design, with the same 1-inch titanium LTS vented hybrid Tractrix horn-loaded tweeter in the centre as the RP-6000F, but with four 4-inch spun copper Cerametallic midbass drivers. There are two each either side of the tweeter, and Klipsch claims the reason for this configuration is to reduce the height of the speaker, which is handy for those trying to fit it in front of a TV. Klipsch also claims that this arrangement results in a radiating area that is equivalent to the two 6.5in drivers used in the floorstanders.
The RP-404C also has a rear-firing Tractrix reflex-port, along with a single set of binding posts, and it comes with stick-on rubber bumpers for mounting on a shelf. The centre speaker has a nominal impedance of 8Ω and the same claimed sensitivity of 97dB as the floorstanders. However, as is usually the case with centre speakers, the claimed frequency response is 59Hz-25kHz.
The centre speaker has the same choice of scratch-resistant ebony or walnut vinyl finishes, along with the same copper trim rings around the tweeters and woofers, and magnetic black fabric grilles. Unsurprisingly, the RP-404C is not a small speaker, measuring 660 x 144 x 330mm (WxHxD) and weighing in at 12.7kg.
The four woofers in the centre speaker reduce the height without compromising the performance
Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-502SThe Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-502S is a dedicated surround speaker that uses the company's Wide Dispersion Surround Technology (WDST). In reality, that means that this sealed speaker has two 5.25-inch spun copper Cerametallic midbass drivers and two 1-inch titanium LTS vented hybrid Tractrix horn-loaded tweeters firing away from each other at an angle (it’s basically a bipole design). This configuration is designed to distribute sound across a wider area to create a more immersive surround presence.
The RP-502S has the same choice of scratch-resistant ebony or walnut vinyl finishes, along with the same copper trim rings around the tweeters and woofers, and magnetic black fabric grilles. There's a keyhole at the rear for wall mounting, a single pair of binding posts, and rubber bumpers for shelf or stand mounting. The surround speaker has a nominal impedance of 8Ω, a claimed sensitivity of 95dB, and a claimed frequency response of 59Hz-25kHz. The RP-502S measures 302 x 352 x 190mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 7.3kg.
The surround speakers use wide dispersion tech that basically means they're bipoles
Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-500SAThe Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-500A is an upward-firing module that is designed to create the illusion of overhead channels by bouncing sounds off the ceiling. It utilises the same 5.25-inch spun copper Cerametallic midbass driver and 1-inch titanium LTS vented hybrid Tractrix horn-loaded tweeter as the rest of the line-up, but also includes Dolby’s proprietary technology (although it also works with DTS:X soundtracks).
The RP-500A is more versatile than your average Atmos/DTS:X module, with the option of a surround, height or upward-firing orientation. Depending on your speaker configuration, you simply flip the switch on the rear between Atmos or surround. There’s a keyhole for wall mounting, and the binding posts are housed in a recessed area for tidier cabling when placed on top of another speaker.
The RP-500As fit comfortably on the floorstanders in the setup I was testing, but they’re too big to place on top of the surround speakers. This is worth bearing in mind if you're planning to have a second pair at the rear, and running four overhead channels.
It’s also worth pointing out that the effectiveness of any upward-firing speaker is largely dependent on the ceiling: it really needs to be low and reflective, so high, vaulted, or absorbent ceilings should be avoided. You also can’t bounce low frequencies, so bear that in mind when setting the crossover (Klipsch actually suggest a minimum of 150Hz for the RP-500A).
The RP-500A has the same choice of scratch-resistant ebony or walnut vinyl finishes as the rest of the line-up, along with the same copper trim rings around the tweeters and woofers, and magnetic black fabric grilles. The sealed module measures 173 x 188 x 284mm (WxHxD) and weighs 3.6kg.
The Atmos module can be used as a surround, height or upward-firing speaker
Klipsch Reference Premiere SPL-120The Klipsch Reference Premiere SPL-120 subwoofer completes the system and handles all the low frequency heavy lifting (although the floorstanders can go quite low by themselves). The sub uses a 12-inch long-throw spun copper Cerametallic driver that is designed to complement the other speakers, and is powered by a 300W (600W peak) Class D amplifier.
The enclosure is a bass-reflex design with a front-firing internal flare port, and the sub has a claimed frequency response of 24-125Hz. The design essentially mirrors the rest of the system, aside from the black fabric grille which attaches using studs. Annoyingly, these are on the sub itself, poking out of the front baffle when you remove the grilles but, given the copper-coloured driver, you'll probably want to keep the grille on in a dedicated home cinema.
At the rear of the SPL-120 is the kettle style connector for the power cable, and some basic controls and connections. There's a stereo phono input that also doubles for the mono LFE input, along with a volume dial, a crossover control and a switch for selecting the phase control. There's also a port for the optional WA-2 wireless adapter, and a switch for power on, automatic standby, and standby. The subwoofer measures 374 x 451 x 506mm (WxHxD) and weighs 20.4kg.
The SPL-120 is an effective sub that's designed to complement the rest of the system
How was the system tested?I initially tested the Klipsch Reference Premiere speaker package as 5.1-channel system in my dedicated home cinema. I positioned the RP-6000F floorstanders at the front of the room on either side of my projector screen, and I placed the RP-404C centre speaker between them. I then placed the RP-502S surround speakers to the side and just behind the main listening position. Finally, I placed the SPL-120 subwoofer at the front of the room, away from the wall, between the centre and front right speakers, and firing forwards.
In order to test the RP-500A upward-firing speakers I had to move the entire system into my lounge. The reason for this is simple, my home cinema has been acoustically treated, and has material on the ceiling which would absorb rather than reflect the sound waves. This is one of the reasons why my own system in that particular room uses four JBL Control Ones attached to the ceiling. However, my lounge has a low, flat, reflective ceiling that is ideal for upward-firing drivers.
I placed the Atmos/DTS:X modules on top of the RP-6000F floorstanders, where they fit quite snugly. I then placed the floorstanders either side of the TV, with the upward-firing drivers hitting the ceiling and bouncing down towards the main listening position. I placed the centre speaker beneath my TV, and once again I placed the RP-502S surround speakers to the side and just behind the main listening position, and the SPL-120 subwoofer firing forwards at the front of the room, away from the wall, and between the centre and front right speakers.
My home cinema is designed to sound optimal with multi-channel systems, but the lounge is more challenging with not only a reflective ceiling but fairly reflective walls, and a stone floor (although there is a thick rug to absorb some reflections from the ground). It will be interesting to find out how the Klipsch speakers deal with these less-than-ideal conditions.
In the home cinema, I used my reference Arcam AVR850 7-channel AV receiver in a 5.1-channel configuration, while in the lounge I used the same amp with all seven channels driving the 5.1.2-channel setup. The Arcam is hardly lacking in power with its Class G amplification, but it will be interesting to see just how sensitive the Klipsch speakers are with this particular receiver.
My primary source was the Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray player in the home cinema, and the Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD player in the lounge. I also used the Apple TV 4K in both rooms for streamed content with 5.1 and Dolby Atmos soundtracks. I tested the Klipsch Reference Premiere system with a mixture of material ranging from Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray (for Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks), CD, DVD-Audio, SACD and music streaming services such as TIDAL.
For optimal performance the upward-firing drivers require a room with a reflective ceiling
PerformanceI started this review by putting the Klipsch speakers through their paces with some two-channel music. The sensitivity of the floorstanders is immediately apparent, with little power required to get the two big speakers singing in harmony. There's a pleasing level of refinement and detail to the performance as well, and any worries about the horn-loaded tweeters sounding sibilant is erased as soon as I hear Kate Bush singing Wuthering Heights. A 5.1 mix like Marillion's Clutching at Straws is just as good, with instruments sounding precise in their reproduction and localisation, and the system retaining an overall cohesion.
The Blu-ray release of the excellent Apollo 11 documentary seems like a timely choice, and the disc’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack has plenty of impact. In particular, the launch of the giant Saturn V is about as massive an audio sequence as you're likely to hear. The music is like a gradually rising heartbeat that builds tension, while the use of all five channels and the sub lend scale to the 35-storey rocket. The sequence builds to a crescendo as the gigantic rockets ignite, sending our intrepid astronauts on their voyage to the moon.
Thanks to the sensitivity of this system, my Arcam AVR850 doesn't break a sweat as it engages all five speakers to fill the room with the thunderous roar of that iconic moonshot. All the channels work in unison to create a cohesive soundstage, while the subwoofer fills in the lower frequencies and crosses over seamlessly with the other speakers. The centre speaker is also very impressive, effortlessly handling the jumble of communications between the command module and mission control, ensuring that dialogue always remains clear.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Men in Black boasts a cracking new Dolby Atmos mix and the results were hugely impressive. The sequence where Agent J touches a floating ball and it zips all over the MIB headquarters provides plenty of opportunities for effects to jump from channel to channel. The Klipsch system proves admirably precise, with the noise of breaking objects clearly emanating from various points in the room as the whizzing ball zooms around the soundstage.
The use of the same tweeter and similar woofers does lend the system a degree of tonal balance. However, the woofers are different sizes, and at the front there was a noticeable change in timbre as sounds moved from speaker to speaker. The only way to really avoid this is to use identical speakers for all three front channels, but understandably that isn't always possible. The Klipsch speakers are certainly flexible to position, and while they sounded best in the home cinema, they also handled the brighter conditions in my lounge surprisingly well.
The Klipsch system has a nice sense of scale and is thus also able to deliver a big and bold cinematic audio experience. This size is best exemplified by the scene at the end of Men in Black where Agents J and K shoot down a flying saucer. The combined speakers provide a genuine sense of physical presence to the saucer as it moves around the room before exploding and smashing into the ground at the agents' feet, creating an ultrasonic shockwave.
The floorstanders have plenty of depth on their own, but the subwoofer does a decent job of reinforcing the bass. However, I did feel that the sub, while responsive and controlled, did lack a bit when mining the really low frequencies. The SPL-120 is a good sub, but there are certainly better choices available.
The sensitivity of these Klipsch speakers means that you don't need a particularly powerful amplifier to drive them, although it's unlikely anyone would invest in a system like this and then partner it with an under-powered amp. The 4K disc of A Quiet Place perfectly reveals the system's sensitivity, handling the sudden changes in volume with ease, resulting in an impressive dynamic range. The Arcam has plenty of headroom, but these speakers can turn on a dime and the results are genuinely impressive.
A Quiet Place's superb soundtrack also demonstrates the ability of these speakers to reveal all the subtle details in the mix. Whether it's the wind rustling through the trees, quiet breathing, bare feet on sand, or the chirping of insects, the Reference Premiere system renders all these effects with skill. The rear speakers also did an excellent job of generating an enveloping surround experience, spreading the effects to the back and sides.
The upward-firing speakers played their part as well, bouncing sounds off the ceiling and creating a believable overhead experience. The scene in A Quiet Place where a couple is trapped in a basement is a great example, and you could clearly hear the floorboards creaking overhead.
Black Hawk Down boasts a fantastic new Atmos soundtrack that takes advantage of all the system's strengths, bringing you as close to combat as you’ll ever want to get. The speakers and sub produce a convincingly immersive war-torn soundstage that results in a visceral sonic experience.
Helicopters fly overhead, explosions deliver huge dynamic range, and the score is reproduced with a pleasing musicality by the floorstanders. The high frequency sound of bullets whizzing past your ears and shell casings tinkling to the ground are incredibly realistic, as is the effect of rubble falling all around you as buildings crumble. All the channels are energised simultaneously, but the Arcam has grunt to spare thanks to the impressive sensitivity of these speakers.
The centre speaker provides plenty of width to the front soundstage but also ensures the dialogue remains clear despite the cacophonous fog of war. The wider dispersion of the surrounds allows bullets to ricochet around the room and explosions to rip through the soundstage. The effective integration of the sub ensures that explosions hit with a low frequency slam, and also provide a nice percussive kick to the heavy machine gun fire. Overall, it's a wonderfully exciting and immersive aural experience.
The sensitivity is remarkable, and the system is balanced and cohesive
- Excellent sound quality
- Remarkable sensitivity
- Cohesive and balanced system
- Nicely integrated bass
- Well constructed
- Looks are an acquired taste
- Sub lacks some depth
Klipsch Reference Premiere 5.1.2 Speaker Package Review
Klipsch Reference Premiere VerdictThe Klipsch Reference Premiere system delivers both scale and poise, resulting in a cohesive soundstage that retains superb levels of detail but also handles extreme dynamic range. The sensitivity of these speakers ensures that you can drive numerous channels simultaneously without running out of steam, and the use of the same tweeters and woofers results in good tonal balance.
The company's decades of experience in horn-loaded tweeter designs has culminated in this excellent line of speakers that delivers an impressively cinematic audio experience. The cabinets are unashamedly big and the look is probably an acquired taste, but the performance has the kind of brash exuberance you'd expect from an American manufacturer.
The soundstage is bold, and the centre speaker adds width even if it doesn't match the front floorstanders perfectly. The surrounds offer a wide dispersion that envelops you at the sides and rear, while the upward-firing drivers create a believable overhead experience. The subwoofer is well-integrated and adds depth to the rest of the system, but struggles slightly when frequencies get really low.
However, the Klipsch Reference Premiere system can deliver the highs and lows of today's immersive soundtracks without requiring a shed-load of power, which makes them a perfect match for modern receivers that often have at least seven channels of amplification built-in and often more. This is a well designed and effective speaker package that comes highly recommended.
What are my alternatives?There are plenty of immersive audio speaker packages available, but of the systems recently reviewed at AVForums, the most obvious alternative is the Elipson Prestige Facet range. It's a superb package, that delivers a winning combination of build quality, performance and value. The speakers themselves are attractively designed, extremely well made and have a gorgeous choice of finishes.
The performance retains both neutrality and fidelity, but also offers a focus that really lends itself to today's multi-channel soundtracks. There's a dynamism to these speakers that really immerses you, while the sub delivers plenty of low-end impact. The result is a forceful performance that is sure to please and, at around £2,600 for a similar 5.1.2-channel system, it won't break the bank either.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £3,650.00
Value For Money9
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