Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Klipsch Reference II 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

At last year's CEDIA Expo in Atlanta, Klipsch set up their demo in a room that was more than just a little bit off the beaten path. Undaunted, I was able to find my way there and boy was I glad that I took the extra time to seek them out! The Klipsch Group, Inc. owns a total of four speaker companies – Klipsch, Jamo, Mirage and Energy. Each company had some new products on display.

I was most impressed with a demo of the updated Klipsch Reference II speakers. The fine people from Klipsch had an A/B demo set up to compare the latest version of the Reference II's to last year's model. All I can say is that the demo really impressed me. The old speakers sounded good, but when the newer ones were toggled on, I heard a whole new level of detail, openness and a sound that was unrestrained by the cabinets.

So it was with great anticipation that I decided to review a Reference II 5.1 speaker system based on the RF-82 II floor standing speakers, and also including the RC-62 II Center, RS-52 II Surrounds, and SW-311 Subwoofer. Let's see how this system stacks up.

Specifications

  • RF-82 II Mains
  • Design: Floor-standing, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Titanium Diaphragm Compression Tweeter, Two 8" Ceramic/Metallic Woofers
  • MFR: 33 Hz - 24 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 1.4 kHz
  • Power Handling: 150 Watts RMS / 600 Watts Peak
  • Sensitivity: 98 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 43.9" H x 9.3" W x 16.3" D
  • Weight: 61.5 Pounds/each
  • Finishes: Black Ash and Cherry Woodgrain Vinyl
  • MSRP: $1,198/pair USA
  • RC-62 II Center
  • Design: Center Channel Speaker, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Titanium Diaphragm Compression Tweeters, Two 6.5" Ceramic/Metallic Woofers
  • MFR: 57 Hz - 24 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 1.5 kHz
  • Power Handling: 150 Watts RMS, 600 Watts Peak
  • Sensitivity: 98 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 8" H x 23.5" W x 12.8" D
  • Weight: 30.4 Pounds
  • Finishes: Black Ash and Cherry Woodgrain Vinyl
  • MSRP: $529
  • RS-52 II Surrounds
  • Design: Bookshelf, Ported
  • Drivers: Two 1" Titanium Diaphragm Compression Tweeters, Two 5.25 Ceramic/Metallic Woofers
  • MFR: 58 Hz - 24 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 1.5 kHz
  • Power Handling: 100 Watts RMS / 400 Watts Peak
  • Sensitivity: 95 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 13" H x 14.3" W x 8" D
  • Weight: 14.7 Pounds/each
  • Finishes: Black Ash and Cherry Woodgrain Vinyl
  • MSRP: $798.00/pr.
  • SW-311 Subwoofer
  • Design: Powered Subwoofer, Ported
  • Driver: One 10" Active, Two 10" Passive Radiators
  • Amplifier: 500 Watts RMS, 1,200 Watts Peak
  • MFR: 22 Hz - 120 Hz ± 3 dB
  • Maximum Acoustic Output: 118 dB @ 30 Hz 1/8 Space, 1M
  • Inputs: L/R Line-level RCA jacks, USB, 12V Trigger, MIC, WA port
  • Outputs: Line-level RCA
  • EQ Presets and Adaptive Room Correction with 12 EQ Bands
  • Dimensions: 13" H x 13" W x 14" D
  • Weight: 37 Pounds
  • Finishes: Black Satin
  • MSRP: $1,499 USA
  • Klipsch

Design and Setup

Klipsch, like many speaker companies, is never stagnant. They are always testing, tweaking and improving their products. For example, the Reference II's are already on their fifth update in just over 10 years of product life. The newest Reference Series speakers have updated drivers, re-engineered crossovers and a refreshed look.

In the RF-82 II's, the tweeter handles the frequencies over an extended range from 1,400 Hz to 24,000 Hz. (The crossover is 1,500 Hz in the smaller speakers of this surround system.) The driver is a 1" titanium compression driver with a linear suspension. Klipsch says that this tweeter is a "trickle-down" design courtesy of their flagship Palladium speakers. The driver is mounted in a 90° x 60° square Tractrix® horn. The horn itself is molded plastic that seamlessly transitions to the plastic baffle cover. It has a clean look.

The mid/bass drivers are two 8" Cerametallic™ cones. Cerametallic™ is Klipsch's proprietary implementation of coated anodized aluminum cone technology. This material has the desirable properties of being both lightweight and very stiff. These particular cones have a copper color to match the rest of the trim theme for the line. They have concave dust caps that integrate nicely with the cone. The seams are nearly invisible from a typical seating position. So, again, the look is very clean.

The cabinets are finished in either black ash or cherry wood grain vinyl. The cabinets are ported with two generously-sized ports on the back of the cabinet. The speaker connections are a pair of heavy duty gold-plated binding posts. The speaker is stabilized by rear "out-riggers" that can be fitted with either padded discs or floor spikes, both of which are included. The grilles are satiny and attach with magnets that fit into little holes on the speaker baffle.

The other speakers in the line include smaller mid/bass drivers and in the case of the surrounds, smaller tweeter horns. The RC-62 II center speaker is ported and the ports are on the front of the cabinet. I like this because so many center speakers are mounted in a "confined space" that would not work well if the speaker were rear-ported.

I originally wrote that the RS-62 II surround speakers were bipole designs with a tweeter and a mid/bass driver mounted on each side of the cabinet. This is what Klipsch said when I sent in the review for fact checking, "actually we call it Wide Dispersion Surround Technology (WDST) with the dual horns creating ambience closer to the wide ambience created by dipole speakers, yet with ambience all around the listening area instead of in just a small "null" area where dipoles create their best ambience. The WDST technology also reproduces direct sounds very faithfully, which both bipole and especially dipole speakers have trouble with (they produce these sounds usually with too much ambience). Finally, the WDST design of our surrounds makes them very placement flexible in a room, whereas, with dipole speakers especially, they need to be carefully placed for their best effects."

The subwoofer Klipsch sent along was their brand new SW-311. This cute little sub is a just over 13" on a side. The active driver is a smallish 10" woven fiberglass driver mated to a pair of 10" passive radiators. I know you are probably thinking that they've got to be kidding using this tiny little sub to complement speakers that have an efficiency rating of up to 98db. Right? That's what I thought. But let me tell you, Klipsch markets their subs as "Pound for Pound" and I must agree with them on this claim. The SW-311 is driven by a 1,200 watt BASH amplifier. Plus the active driver is a long-throw design with a well engineered motor structure. So the long and the short of it is that this baby really puts out! It also has an auto calibrate/EQ routine with an included microphone. Klipsch calls this their Adaptive Room Correction II. The ARC II system features 12 active filters.

I placed the main speakers 11' apart, 10' from the listening position. The center speaker was placed on a shelf below my Pioneer Kuro display. I toed in the main speakers to where I could just see the tweeters inside the throats of the horns, but the speakers were not facing directly at the listening position. The surrounds were mounted on the rear wall by their keyhole insert. They were about 12' apart and 6' above the floor. The sub was placed in the front left corner of the room, right next to the left main speaker.

Finally, I used the included mic to calibrate the sub. It was a simple procedure. You place the mic at the prime listening position, plug it into the plate amp on the sub, select the calibration routine on the top-mounted display and then kick back while the system puts 12 filters to work smoothing the bass response. This system calibrated quickly and did a terrific job of compensating for the major room effects.


In Use

I opened my evaluation with the Blu Ray of The Pacific "Chapter 9". Compared to Band of Brothers, The Pacific is much slower paced and more unsettling. It's just not as heroic feeling. This is probably indicative of the realities of each individual campaign. It appears that both of these HBO miniseries are historically accurate, which I like. My father was a Marine Raider in WWII and after watching The Pacific, I wondered "How in the world did he survive all those chaotic battles?" All in all, though, I preferred Band of Brothers over The Pacific. But in The Pacific, you do get to see both the passion and compassion in different people. It just takes too long to develop the characters.

Klipsch 5.1 Reference II speaker system for the Home Theater

The theme music set the stage right from the opening credits - the sound of the Klipsch Reference speakers was very promising. These Klipsch speakers were seriously dynamic with sparkling highs, excellent transient response and a very nice tonal balance. Dialog was nice and clean too. But there was a mild thickness in the lower mid-bass. The surround speakers really fleshed out the surround bubble. Take the night rain fire fight scene: The sound of the bullets in the air was amazing sounding. Could this be because of the WDST technology in the Klipsch RS-62 surrounds. Meanwhile, explosions had a satisfying weight, even through this little SW-311 sub. All in all, this was a top-notch performance. It was fantasmarific!

Klipsch 5.1 Reference II speaker system for the Home Theater

The next disc was the SACD of Bach Organ Works with Kari Vuola performing on the organ at the Naantali Covent Church in Finland. All I can say is that the sound over the Klipsch Reference speakers was good enough that I thought I could almost smell the candles and incense in the Naantali Church. I also felt that the surround envelopment was top-notch. The hard surfaces of the church interior were particularly illuminated. But I didn't feel that I could grasp the true size and height of the space.

In a piece like Track 6 "Sonata I Allegro" with its up-beat key and pedal work, I pictured Kari sitting there working the keys in my minds' eye. The Klipsch Reference II's had very accurate timbre reproduction. On Track 11, "Sonata III Vivace" rolled around; I almost completely melted into my chair, submitting to a fantastic performance. This system had an extremely balanced sound from top to bottom, very impressive. It is hard for me to think of a speaker system with a better price to performance ratio than the Klipsch Reference II's.

The bass wasn't the last word in extension or loudness on this pipe organ music. But the SW-311 was mighty impressive for its size. The bass was in balance with the rest of the system. It was enough to convince me that if your sub is more than about five years old, you should probably consider getting a new one. Subwoofers have come a long way in this time. Nowadays, small subs with long-throw drivers, substantial motor structures, high powered amps and auto EQ's can literally amaze you. And I could hardly believe how good this little sub was. Try auditioning one yourself. You might be impressed too.

Klipsch 5.1 Reference II speaker system for the Home Theater

I like the main theme of Megamind – evil must exist to give rise to good. It's a classic yin yang tale. The movie also toys with the concept of, "Once you have it all, what's left?" This modern animated film has good special effects and all that, but what I love about Megamind is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. There is so much fun music in this movie – AC/DC, Olivia Newton-John, Ozzy Osborne, George Thorogood, Michael Jackson . . . you get the idea. And I thought the Klipsch Reference II system had such nice layering in this music. I also liked the transparency on voices that I heard on this system. The bass from the small form factor of the SW-311 subwoofer was more than acceptable. The closing song in the finale was Michael Jackson's I'm Bad. This song had an awesome surround bubble.

Klipsch 5.1 Reference II speaker system for the Home Theater

I just love my Stevie Wonder Live at Last Blu-Ray. Stevie and his large band come right out and show everyone how to "do" music. And this disc has excellent picture quality too. It is amazing how far Blu-Ray can take the quality of a concert video over what we had just a few short years ago. Now all my old DVDs sound and look so cruddy. I drove the Klipsch Reference II's with an Anthem MRX-500 receiver. I engaged Anthem Room Correction (ARC) while watching this disc. With ARC engaged, the thickness in the lower mid-bass was vanquished.

The highs sparkled and there was a ton of detail in the music with first rate ambience. On the songs with an upbeat tempo like "Sir Duke", I wanted to dance along with the London audience. The bass lines were very nimble. This system, with the Anthem Receiver and the Klipsch Reference II speaker system, sound way better than you would think for the price. I mean the five Klipsch satellites retail for around $2,500 plus the sub retails for $1,500 for a total MSRP of about $4,000 for the whole 5.1 system. And another great thing about the Klipsch speakers is their high efficiency so that a receiver like the Anthem MRX-500 had plenty of juice for just about anybody. The only thing I didn't simply love about these speakers was the finish and the plastic trim. They are not to my personal taste.

One last point on the subwoofer – it was this sub where during the chase scene at the end of The Next Three Days the grille cover blew off and vaulted across the room. So it was powerful, but the bass was also clean and tuneful, sounding as if it rolled off starting around 28 - 30 Hz. Don't laugh when you see it, because this little sub means serious business.


On The Bench

All the below measurements are in-room response. The frequency response tests were performed at 1-meter and the distortion measurements were on-axis near field measurements.

The on-axis frequency response is very smooth above 300 Hz. The response below 300 Hz was not as flat. The Anthem receiver's room correction identified and corrected this unevenness.

The off-axis response has a little more unevenness in the range below 300 Hz and the treble starts to roll off quicker than the on-axis plot.

The 1 kHz tone was produced by the mid/bass drivers.

This 5 kHz tone was produced by the horn tweeter. You can see how horns have characteristically low distortion.

At 10 kHz and 100 dB, the RF 82 II's horns had less than 0.8% THD+N.

At 0.09%, this was the lowest THD+N measurement I got from the RF 82 II's. It was the upper cone driver.

I ran the RF 82 II's at 80 Hz to show that it is clean down to the typical HT crossover.

This is the in-room plot at 1m on-axis. The sub was in the corner and the room correction was turned off. The sub has strong response to 30 Hz. The included ARC system was able to easily flatten this curve.

At 60 Hz and 100 dB, the THD+N was 0.95%.

This is still very low distortion for a small sub.

The distortion was actually lower at 30 Hz. The distortion rose substantially as I dropped the signal below 30 Hz.


Conclusions

The engineers at Klipsch have really outdone themselves with the RF 82 II system. These speakers are clean, dynamic and very efficient. The efficiency means that they can be driven by a moderately-sized receiver. Still, the RF 82 II system has enough detail resolution to let you experience the benefits of moving up to quality separates as well.

The entire system wraps you in a convincing surround bubble. And, maybe more than most any other sub out there, you may find that the SW-311 will genuinely surprise you. The system did perform at its best below 300 Hz with good room correction. Let the sub's routine smooth response for the sub and your receiver or pre pro's system for the rest of the audible band. Then you'll be in tall cotton.

This system will impress you well beyond its $4,000 price tag and it gets my strong recommendation.