Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Klipsch Icon W 5.1 Speaker System

ARTICLE INDEX


Introduction

The Klipsch Icon W system here is based on the compact Icon WB-14 satellites and the Icon WC-24 center speaker. These 2-way speakers have newly designed horn tweeters and woven fiberglass woofers.
I opted to review this system with the larger (10") matching XW-500d subwoofer. This 500-watt powered sub has some unique design characteristics which I will describe on the next page. The whole 5.1 system is available at an affordable MSRP of $2,696.

Specifications

  • WB-14 Mains and Surrounds
  • Design: Two-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Titanium Compression Driver with 3.75" Tractix Horn, One 4.5" Fiberglas Woofer
  • MFR: 82 Hz - 23 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Sensitivity: 92 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Crossover Frequency: 2.4 kHz
  • Power Handling: 40 W Continuous / 200 W peak
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 100 W
  • Dimensions: 11" H x 6.5" W x 6.5" D
  • Weight: 10 Pounds/each
  • Finishes: Furniture Grade Wood Veneer available in Cabernet and Espresso
  • MSRP: $599/pair USA
  • WC-24 Center Channel Speaker
  • Design: Two-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Titanium Compression Driver with 3.75" Tractix Horn, Two 4.5" Fiberglas Woofers
  • MFR: 85 Hz - 23 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Sensitivity: 94.5 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Crossover Frequency: 2.5 kHz
  • Power Handling: 90 W Continuous, 300 W Peak
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 100 W
  • Sensitivity: 94.5dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Crossover Frequency: 2,500Hz
  • Dimensions: 6.5" H x 18" W x 6.5" D
  • Weight: 11 Pounds
  • Finishes: Furniture Grade Wood Veneer available in Cabernet and Espresso
  • MSRP: $499/each
  • XW-500d Subwoofer
  • Design: Sealed Enclosure
  • Driver: One 10" Fiberglas, Front-firing
  • MFR: 21 Hz - 120 Hz ± 3 dB
  • Amplifier Power: 500 Watts RMS, 1,200 Watts Peak
  • Maximum Acoustic Output: 110 dB @ 30 Hz 1/8 Space, 1 Meter
  • Inputs: L/R Line-level RCA jacks
  • Outputs: None
  • Dimensions: 14" H x 13.25" W x 17.5" D
  • Weight: 48 Pounds
  • Features: DCS Control and Feature Set with Three System Presets
  • Finishes: Black Vinyl w/ High-gloss Black Accents
  • MSRP: $999 USA
  • Klipsch

Design

According to the white paper on the Icon W speakers, Klipsch set out to design a new line of speakers that would complement modern consumer lifestyles and spaces. They wanted to develop a speaker line that would mate well with flat screen televisions and that would fit gracefully into small, contemporary living spaces. They also wanted speakers that would blend well within a transitional décor. So the Icon W speakers needed to be compact and good looking.

Concerning the compact part of the equation, there was the problem that Klipsch speakers feature horn-loaded drivers which are difficult to size down. Horns work by matching the mechanical impedance of the air to the mechanical impedance of the driver, much in the same way that a piano's sounding board matches the impedance of the instrument's strings: it is a way to improve the system's efficiency and optimize the propagation of the sound waves. The horn must occupy a certain volume of air in order to function appropriately and that is one reason horn-loaded speakers tend to be rather large.

The Klipsch engineers worked for 3 years developing and refining the Icon W's new horn-loaded tweeter, the XT Tractix Horn. This new driver is designed to provide a bi-axial 80° x 80° dispersion pattern. The Klipsch XT Tractix Horn is based on an earlier design, the original Tractrix Horns which have a horn that is not precisely exponentially shaped. This Tractrix shape ensures that sounds will exit the horn with minimal reflections back into the horn. Such reflections would introduce distortions or smearing. The updated, or "XT", version of this tweeter has series of "mumps" which modify the profile of the horn's shape to prevent lower-frequency sounds from "pulling away" from the horn's boundary. It's designated as the "XT" because the speaker can have either four or three mumps arranged in an "X" or "T" configuration. Klipsch says that this all new horn technology allows the Klipsch signature sound from a smaller, more aesthetic cabinet. It also provides wider dispersion patterns to expand the sweet spot. (You may think of it as a controlled directivity because too wide a dispersion pattern can lead to negative effects whenever reflected sounds combine with direct-radiating sounds. ) The new horn also provides better integration with the mid/bass drivers which can improve vocal clarity.

The tweeter behind the horn is a 1" Titanium Diaphragm Compression Driver. The main drivers are 4-1/2" woven fiberglass with inverted dust caps. The woven fiberglass material is lightweight and stiff. The drivers are ventilated to improve power handling. I know the WB-14 speakers are very sensitive, but I was still a little surprised at their lowish (40 watt continuous) power handling specification. You can rest assured, however, that these speakers didn't flinch in the least even though I drove them with a THX Select 2 Plus receiver, the Integra DTR 50.1, which is rated at a very robust130 watts per channel into an 8 ohm load. And I like to play it loud sometimes.

On the aesthetics side of the equation, these speakers are really nice looking. They have real wood veneers made from Berlinia wood which is an exotic, non-threatened species of wood from the Western part of the African Continent. The Icon W's are available in two finishes, Espresso or Cabernet. Besides the sound of these names making me thirsty, these names are very descriptive of their respective finishes. The review samples I received were the Cabernet finish and they are a lovely reddish brown with a satin polyurethane top coat. The wood grain really shows through, too. Since Klipsch speakers are widely available, I was able to see some of the Espresso speakers first hand at a local shop. They are a pleasant dark grey, also with reddish highlights. Like the Cabernet finish, the Espresso lets the wood grain show through. This is a nice change over the common "black ash" finishes that typically look a little like black spray paint.

The speaker front baffles are free of fasteners of any kind. The grilles attach magnetically and the baffles are internally attached through the rear ports. This gives the Icon W's a clean and classy appearance. There are threaded inserts on the back of the satellites if you want to wall mount the speakers.


Setup

I have always liked Klipsch subwoofers and the XW-500d is no exception. This sweet little unit features a 10" woven fiber driver in a sealed enclosure and driven by a 500 watt BASH amplifier. It only comes in one color: gloss black. The grille was a little workmanlike in appearance, with its plastic lattice frame which is covered by acoustically transparent fabric. The woofer does look real nice without the grille, though. The rear panel is a striking deviation from the norm. There is a power toggle, an IR sensor and stereo RCA ins. That's it. I wasn't expecting that . . . and it made me stare in amazement briefly, until I saw the control panel on the top of the sub's cabinet. This panel had a rubbery arrow keypad and a nice little backlit LCD. This is how you control the beast! Pressing the Up/Down arrows lets you scroll through the menu which includes Volume, Recall Settings (presets), EQ Mode (preset contours), Lowpass Frequency, Phase (0° or 180°), Save Settings, Display Brightness, Power (Auto or On) and Keypad Lock. The display backlight times out after 10 seconds of inactivity. The infrared sensor can be controlled after downloading and installing the remote codes to a third-party IR remote.

The Klipsch WB-14 satellite speakers are pretty compact and I crossed over all the satellites at 100 Hz. This crossover was selected on the advice of the Klipsch engineers. I did experiment with other crossover frequencies, but wound up leaving it at 100 Hz for all my serious listening.


In Use

Klipsch Icon W system

The talking guinea pigs in "G-Force" make this movie seem like a really far-fetched fantasy. But I have read about scientists who use mice, rats, bees, cockroaches and other creatures to infiltrate secure areas and either deliver weapons or retrieve intelligence data. So, besides the fact that the guinea pigs could speak perfect English, the premise of this film is a real possibility. Right off the bat, I noticed that the Icon W speakers did not have the undesirable "cupped hands" effect which is commonplace with horn-loaded speakers. But they did have a slight "hi-fi" sound with a subjective rise in the upper mid band. Outside of that, these speakers impressed me a lot. The bass integration was very good. The hip-hop parts of the score had a nice "poing, poing, poing". This movie features great voice acting from an all-star cast and the Klipsch Icon WC 24 center speaker did a really great job passing this along clearly. I have always enjoyed the dynamic and unrestrained qualities that are typical of horn-loaded speakers. And that is a major trait of the Icon W's.

Klipsch Icon W system

"There Will Be Blood" is a smarmy tale about some extremely reprehensible characters. I loved it! This movie has a generally sparse soundtrack that is interspersed with various loud effects-filled scenes. During the sparse scenes, the background orchestral music involved a lot of minor chords. I liked the way the Klipsch Icon W's passed along the creepy, discordant emotions in this music.

The Klipsch Icon W's were capable of wide dynamics and the louder scenes were quite impressive. Check out the scene near the beginning of the movie where the roughneck falls into a mine. Even I felt the impact in my shins with the sound of him landing at the bottom of the shaft!

The music in the gusher scene had great clarity in the upper registers and I felt that the Icon W's did a good job of preserving the air in the soundtrack. Nevertheless, Daniel Plainview's voice thundered mightily in the bowling alley scene!

Klipsch Icon W system

"Star Trek" has already become one of my all-time favorite movies. Yes, I know it is a little campy and it's interspersed with a little too much divine machination. (I mean what are the chances that the entire crew would be assembled by almost pure happenstance?) But all this can be forgiven, because it is "Star Trek", right?

The Klipsch Icon W's created a nice surround bubble on this movie. Thanks to the Icon W system, I really felt "transported" to this amazing future world. The XW-500d sub was not at all bloated sounding the way my reference system can get. And the bass extended to the low 20 Hz range.

The screams, shouts and growls of the Delta Vega creatures were very intense. By the time the Earth attack sequence was in full swing, I could totally see why commercial theaters use horn-loaded speakers almost exclusively. This is what Home Theater is all about!

Klipsch Icon W system

The DTS HD Master track on KD Lang Live in London Blu-ray is an excellent choice of program material because it includes all types of instruments as well as female and male vocals. Once again, I heard a slight peak in the lower treble/upper mids. I also felt that the bass was not quite as distortion free as the very best subs out there. But these criticisms are a little nit-picky because the Icon W's generally laid down a really satisfying performance: unrestrained dynamically and with a rare sense of palpability. The mournful steel guitar sounded live and there was real nice air surrounding the brush work on the drum kit.

Klipsch Icon W system

I concluded my critical listening with the multi-channel SACD of Weather Report's Mysterious Traveler. SACD is a superior format, even on older recordings such as this. This simultaneously funky and sublime master work really shone through on the Klipsch Icon W system.

The surround layer on this disc is a total trip. It has direct, antiphonal and synthesizer action coming from the rear channels. For my set up and room, however, I would have liked to have bipolar surrounds or some surround back speakers. This is not a fault of the Klipsch speakers as I have felt this way with many other speaker systems. With Icon W's, I only felt this way when listening to SACD's that had discrete surround information that places you in the middle of the band. A contrasting example would be the KD Lang live disc which was mixed from an audience perspective. I had zero concerns over the surround performance on that disc.

The Icon W system did a very decent job of sorting out the complex passages on Mysterious Traveler. There was detail resolution down to the molecular level. The XW-500d sub did an amazing job preserving the pitch and timbre of the rollicking bass work on this disc.


Conclusions

I was really impressed by this Klipsch Icon W surround system. The satellites had a certain degree of air and transparency in their sound that was thoroughly seductive. I especially liked the system's overall dynamic capabilities. The sub is capable of producing substantial output to the low 20 Hz range. The sub is equipped with a unique and clever control interface. The whole system integrated nicely and produced a nice surround sound field.

The satellite and center speakers are compact and elegant with a super nice real wood veneer. The quality of the finish is reminiscent of fine furniture. The grilles are magnetic and there are no visible fasteners on the front baffle.

I think Klipsch really hit their mark when they designed this speaker line to blend with modern systems and lifestyles. These speakers should be on your short list if you are in the market for a quality, affordable and compact surround system.