Klipsch Reference RF-83 Speaker System
In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit up front that I have a thing for big speakers. Not because they can play louder, reproduce much wider dynamics, and make more bass than smaller speakers—it's that the big ones are just more fun to listen to. Yes, a lot of them come with big price tags, and Klipsch's full-size Reference RF-83 Home Theater definitely sounds pricey. Its formidable transparency and resolution are a big part of that; you hear subtleties that other speakers gloss over. When I turn up the volume, the sound's character doesn't change, and there's no sense of increasing distortion or strain; the sound simply grows louder. No small speaker I've used, and certainly no in-wall speaker I've heard (no matter how advanced or expensive), has matched the big References' ease under pressure. The six-piece Klipsch Reference RF-83 system sells for $6,394, a slam-dunk bargain, at least by high-end standards. Stereophile magazine reviews interconnect cables with a price tag higher than that.
Klipsch's top-of-the-line RF-83 tower stands nearly 50 inches high. All Klipsch speakers feature horn-loaded tweeters, and the RF-83's is a scaled-down version of the designs that Klipsch uses in their professional theater speaker systems. Three copper-colored, 8-inch Cerametallic woofers complete the driver array. The RC-64 center-channel speaker uses the very same horn-loaded, 1.25-inch titanium tweeter, flanked by four 6.5-inch Cerametallic woofers. Both speakers are available in your choice of real Cherry or Black Ash wood veneers, and Klipsch makes both speakers in their original factory in Hope, Arkansas.
With its grille in place, the RS-62 surround speaker looks like your average bi/dipole design, but it's not. The speaker instead features Klipsch's Wide Dispersion Surround technology that uses a pair of horn tweeters and two 6.5-inch Cerametallic woofers to deliver a claimed 180-degree horizontal arc of sound. The speaker has four rounded slot-shaped ports on its sides to extend bass response to the point of an almost full-range design. The Reference speakers are all extremely efficient, so they can make a big sound even with a low-powered A/V receiver (50 watts would do in many rooms), and they'll still accommodate powerhouse amps as well.
The Bigger Bottom
If you want a medieval feel on the bass, the bigger the sub enclosure, the easier the task becomes. Yes, a large number of 1-foot cube subs descend fairly low in frequency, but they often sacrifice definition and detail. The RT-12d subwoofer has three 12-inch Cerametallic drivers (one front-firing woofer, two rear-firing passive radiators) and an 800-watt amplifier. The sub's triangular shape makes for a snug corner fit, so it looks less imposing than a cube sub. The RT-12d's cabinet orients the passive radiators into the corner walls for maximum output. Then again, you don't have to put the RT-12d in a corner; I didn't, and I still achieved excellent results. The sub also features a patent-pending processor that Klipsch dubbed Adaptive Room Correction. Just plug in the included calibration microphone, initiate the tests via the top-panel-mounted display, and the processor does its thing. You can use the panel's cursor buttons to access the volume controls, three equalization modes (flat, depth, and punch), and five user-adjustable presets (music, movie, night, and two custom settings).
Admittedly, I'm a bit skeptical of these sorts of room-correcting schemes, because, in my experience, they so rarely improve the sound. More often than not, they just sound a little different, but not really better. Not this time. After I ran the tones, the bass was significantly tighter and deeper when I played the Dr. Chesky's 5.1 Surround Show SACD. This disc is loaded with well-recorded drums and church organs, and the RT-12d's low-end detail and transient attack sounded so much more realistic with the room correction turned on. While some correction systems can smooth one or two room response peaks, the Klipsch can handle up to eight room modes. Thus, you hear a remarkably smooth-sounding bass response. The RT-12d also features a rear-panel-mounted IR sensor that you can use with a learning-capable remote and an IR repeater system. That's cool, but I wish Klipsch had included a remote with the sub.
I used my Sunfire Theater Grand III surround processor and Ayre V-6x amplifier for all of my auditions. Starting with just the RF-83 towers in stereo, I was taken aback by their wide-open soundstaging. These big speakers seemed to totally disappear, without so much as a hint of boxy coloration that some audiophiles still believe to be an inherent coloration of horn speakers. The References will change a lot of minds on that score. The sound is also warmer and richer in its balance than it was in previous generations of Reference designs. As I listened to some of Jimmy Smith's Hammond B-3 organ recordings from the 1960s, I noticed something really interesting; the recording's noise and distortion seemed to be separate from the music. The rejuvenated "liveness" of these legendary jazz-funk sessions came as a shock, but the recordings' flaws, while clearly audible, didn't compete with the tunes. The References put the music first. Oh, and even without the sub, the RF-83's low-end slam was superlative—deep, tight, and as nimble as they come.
The References unleashed the ragged glories that run through Neil Young's Red Rocks Live DVD on a grand scale. The sound's sheer enormity, especially Jim Keltner's lumbering drums, was a feast for my ears. These speakers translate drums like nothing I've heard in their price class; I hear so much more of the attack, punch, and weight of the real things. Young's vocals and soaring guitar grunge were nothing short of astonishing. Neil was, it seemed, right there. The acoustic tunes like "Peace of Mind" offered a golden-glow midrange that made it impossible for me to take detailed listening notes, I was having too good a time. I have a newfound respect for the DVD's performances, which, up to now, I wasn't all that thrilled with. The References keyed into Young's magic, and now I can't get enough of this disc.
Nicole Kidman's biopic of the famous art photographer, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, looked and sounded surreal. The score, by Carter Burwell, is loaded with dark melodies and jittery rhythms, adding to the film's quirky quality. The subtle detailing of Burwell's percussive accents, even at late-night listening levels, was superb. During the day, all of my DVDs with the more explosive soundtracks had the exhilarating impact I've heard in the best movie theaters.
Bigger Is Better
Sure, using small satellites with a powerful subwoofer can sound great, but it's not the same as using a large system. The big ones sound more of one piece, complete, and therefore more "correct." It was an easy enough theory to check; I just went into my Sunfire pre/pro's bass management and switched back and forth between the Large and Small speaker settings—and Large sounded more together. Klipsch's director of product planning, Jim Garrett, summed up the appeal of big with this: "There's no replacement for displacement." It's true—big systems really do possess huge performance advantages over even the better small ones. If you've got the space to accommodate the Klipsch Reference RF-83 speaker system, by all means, check it out for yourself.
Room-correcting subwoofer really lets you feel the shake and quake