Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Klipsch Icon W 5.1 Speaker System

ARTICLE INDEX

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.