Introduction - what are the Klipsch The Fives?
The Klipsch The Fives are a pair of powered stereo bookshelf speakers. As well as wreaking havoc on my general belief that products are singular (even pairs of speakers and headphones), they are also a development of an idea that we’ve seen from Klipsch before. Two years ago, we looked at the R41 PM. This was a powered variant of the R41 standmount speaker and the addition of an amp, some digital and analogue inputs and a remote control turned them into a capable and entertaining system for £400.
At the time, I noted that using their optical input, the R41 PM was an intriguing alternative to a soundbar. It obviously made no attempt at virtual surround but the basic stereo width that it had plus more heft than you might expect from a cabinet that size meant it worked very well. The Fives take that idea and run with it. They are equipped in such a way as to make this functionality easier to exploit and partner this with some extra stereo bells and whistles too.
Combined with the improvements to the speakers themselves though, the result is a rather more significant proposition price wise than the R41 was and it puts The Fives at the sort of price that you can choose some very clever one stop solutions or even have a stab at a spot of separates matching. Does the boost to the specification and hardware mean that the new price point stacks up? Time to find out.
Specification and Design
The basic premise of The Fives builds on the pattern we saw in the R41 PM. These are powered speakers, where the amp acts on a crossover rather than true active designs. To further simplify their design, each pair consists of a speaker that has the power supply, amp(s), inputs and controls and a straightforward passive partner that simply receives amplifier power from the main unit. As befits the increase in cost that The Fives represent, there are some refinements to this we’ll cover in due course.
The speakers themselves are two way standmount units and in the Klipsch tradition, the front panel is dominated by an example of the company’s long standing ‘Tractrix’ horn loaded tweeter. A throwback to the requirements of building speakers that had the ability to make the best use of the limited power outputs of pre transistor amplifiers, the tweeter is mounted in the throat of a fairly deep horn. It’s an interesting counterpoint to some of the claims we’ve seen of tweeters being ‘horn loaded’ when, in reality, they have a deep waveguide that becomes clear the moment you see something genuinely horn loaded like the Klipsch is. The tweeter itself is a 25mm titanium dome.
The partnering mid bass driver is different to what I’ve seen from Klipsch before. It is a 4.5-inch (120mm) long throw driver made from fibre composite. This means that there is no distinctive copper coloured ‘IMG’ driver that has been a visual cue of the ‘range’ Klipsch speakers for many years. The cabinet has a rear bass port to augment the low end and Klipsch quotes a lower frequency response of 50Hz, albeit with no roll off specified.
The amplifier that powers these drivers is a little more ornate than the one we saw in the R41PM. For starters, there are two of them; a 60 watt stereo amp to drive the mid bass and a 20 watt stereo amp for the tweeters. The relationship between the two amps and the crossover is unspecified but as Klipsch calls The Fives a powered speaker, we have to assume that they’re in front of the crossover. It’s also not exactly spelled out what the topology of the amplifier is. This amp is mounted in the main speaker and outputs its power to the passive partner via a four pin cable with locking connector. This cable is around five metres long which means that you’ll probably have a fair amount of slack to stow in most installations.
It is in connection terms, that The Fives really depart from their cheaper brethren. First up, many of the connections that are the same as the R41 have been revamped. The Bluetooth input is now built around a Bluetooth 5.0 connection for improved power management (aptX HD is still fitted for a higher quality transmission too). The USB input now accepts PCM to 24/192 (and, by the by, seems much more stable and happy to connect than the 24/96 on the R41PM). These are still supported by an optical input and a switchable RCA and moving magnet phono stage connection and a separate 3.5mm analogue input too. The main difference on The Fives is that these are now supported by an HDMI ARC connection. As with other connections of this nature, the key advantage is the volume of the Klipsch is slaved to your TV and it will power up and down with it.
There are some useful tweaks to how the Klipsch functions too. The powered speaker is set to be the right channel out of the box but you can reverse this if your power and signal connections are more easily routed to the left. Klipsch has also added physical controls to The Fives in the form of input and volume controls built into the top of the cabinet. Combined with the existing remote control, it means that the Klipsch is easy to use in a day to day setting. The only catch to the arrangement of the controls on the top panel is that you won’t get much (any) feedback on what they’re doing unless you can see the top panel.
The design of The Fives is interesting because it doubles down on some elements of Klipsch design tradition while pulling back in others. As noted, the copper coloured mid bass drivers are dispensed with and there are changes to other colours and finishes too. At the same time, there’s the grilles which are tributes to the heavy duty ones fitted to the Classic series and that Tractrix horn resplendent in the front panel. I’m going to be honest, in the black finish of the review samples, I think I prefer the R41PM but the wood finish version of The Fives looks really very smart indeed.
Something that’s harder to get across in the pictures is that this is an altogether more substantial device than the R41PM. The level of fit and finish is rather more in keeping with the KEF LSX and even though The Fives exude a rather more traditional aesthetic, they feel every bit as solid. They aren’t perfect; the remote is good rather than great and I don’t like the stepped volume control (a dial that tactilely is crying out for the smoothest, most silken travel that engineering can muster) but The Fives do a good job of feeling worth their asking price.
The design of The Fives is interesting because it doubles down on some elements of Klipsch design tradition while pulling back in others.
How were The Fives tested?
The Klipsch’s were powered from an IsoTek Evo 3 Corvus mains conditioner and placed on a pair of Soundstyle Z60 stands and connected to a Roon Nucleus via USB for the bulk of their audio testing. An Oppo Find X2 Neo was used for Bluetooth testing. As the HDMI ARC on my LG 55B7 is out of action, I tested them briefly on my father’s LG 49UJ630V TV. An optical connection was used from my LG B7 for the bulk of TV testing. The phono input was briefly tested via an AVID Ingenium Twin, SME M2-9 arm and Nagaoka MP-200 cartridge. Test material has been FLAC and AIFF, Tidal and Qobuz, on demand TV services and some vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
Do you read instruction manuals? I do. This is both out of a sense of solidarity with other people who have written instruction manuals and because I fear writing something in a review that would have been patently obvious if I’d read the documentation. Rarely has this been as handy as it has been with The Fives.
The reason for this is down to a function tucked away in the specs called Dynamic Bass EQ. This is designed to bolster the low end output of The Fives when running at lower volumes. This is normal enough; it’s fitted to plenty of products but there’s a wrinkle with The Fives that warrants reading the manual. On the Klipsch, its default state in on and to turn it off you have to press the ‘Sub’ button on the remote for a few seconds. If you don’t know this, unless you’re a fan of the ‘overdriven PA system’ sound, The Fives will not appeal. At anything over the very low levels it was envisaged for, The Fives sound leaden, bottom heavy and inferior to the R41 PM which, don’t forget, is half the price.
Turn the Dynamic Bass EQ off and things improve dramatically. One of the reasons why it’s so disruptive to the performance of The Fives is that once you’re at any volume level above bare minimum, these little cabinets have a great deal more shove than you might expect. Listening to the 24/48 stream of Yello’s Point, the Klipsch has a genuinely surprising amount of low end shove. I’d suggest that the 50Hz quoted roll off will be bettered by most people in most rooms. Furthermore, it’s good quality bass too. It integrates well with the rest of the frequency response and it feels well damped and controlled.
The party piece of The Fives is how they image. Spend more than ten seconds sorting their positioning and their ability to create a stereo image is genuinely impressive and they let Gregory Porter’s All Rise effortlessly fill the room. Most speaker companies have been refining their tweeters for a number of years but few of them can claim to have been doing so for half a century and the effect is that these little boxes create a soundstage that is wholly and consistently believable.
There is also the benefit of the configuration of The Fives. There have been times with the passive members of the Klipsch range that the presentation can feel a little on the hot side with some partnering equipment. When Klipsch gets to choose the amp and the decoding that goes with their drivers, this is not an issue. Sure, things harden up if you really push them but you’ll be pretty loud by the time that this happens and for the most part, there is a forgiving edge to how the Klipsch’s work.
This also means that they do genuinely deliver as a TV system. The width, airiness, forgiving tonal balance and an impressive ability to extract detail from even very dense mixes means that the Klipsch will keep any of the stereo based soundbars honest for TV use. It is here that the Dynamic Bass EQ can be a help rather than a hindrance. At levels where it is thoroughly unwelcome for music use, it works brilliantly for TV and film, filling out the glorious Cobra Kai rather nicely.
It can do all this while demolishing any soundbar for music. Both the USB and Bluetooth connections of The Fives are genuinely good. You can get specification blindness and bemoan the lack of DSD or network audio but the mechanics of giving The Fives a USB audio signal to strut their stuff is simple enough. The Bluetooth connection via aptX HD is also genuinely good too. I’ve said before that apt X HD is where it stops being seen as a convenience feature and genuinely starts to impress.
And the phono stage? This seems broadly the same as the one used in the R41 PM so it’s good but probably not the best option for the money. If we make the comparison to the Rega Io and Triangle Borea BR03 (which as a duo are £50 less than the Klipsch - although of course, have no digital decoding), I’d give it to the duo over the Klipsch. For light use though, The Fives are good enough to keep your turntable working happily and it is only fair to point out that this functionality is not commonly seen on rivals. Would many owners see more use from AirPlay? Yes, probably but given how much that would change the basic functionality of the Klipsch, I can see why it has been omitted.
Both the USB and Bluetooth connections of The Fives are genuinely good.
- Spacious and surprisingly deep sound
- Useful connectivity
- Very well made
- Limited upgrade path
- Dynamic Bass EQ needs to be turned off
- Not terribly inspiring in black
Klipsch The Fives Powered Loudspeaker Review
When I summed up the R41 PM, I did so to the effect that there were a few rough edges but it was a huge amount of bang for your buck. As a value proposition, The Fives are a different thing entirely. This is a surprisingly capable piece of Hi-Fi masquerading as a lifestyle product and it can do some deeply impressive things. If you are looking for a one stop shop to handle TV work and you can feed it a USB audio signal, it really does deliver sonically. The only catch for the Klipsch is that £830 takes it to the point where stereo systems are something that can be assembled and their scope for upgrade and tweaking to your needs rather overshadow the limited (that is to say non-existent) upgrade path that The Fives offer. If you have no interest in that though, the Klipsch is a great solution that earns our enthusiastic Recommendation.
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