Is bigger better when it comes to subwoofers? Mark Henninger investigates the capabilities of a powerful ported 15-incher from Klipsch.
There's more than one way to build a subwoofer that plays loud and deep. With its R-115SW ($900), Klipsch succeeds in delivering full-range performance for under a grand. The sub is a perfect accompaniment to Klipsch's new Reference Premiere line of speakers, which are next up in my review queue. But since it's more than suitable for use with any brand of speakers, I'm giving the sub a stand-alone review.
Klipsch is no newcomer to the subwoofer game; its subs are in many electronics stores across North America and throughout the world. It's a mainstream brand, and as such it enjoys the economy of scale that translates to aggressive pricing.
Klipsch made a name for itself with horn-loaded speaker designs that offer high efficiency and dynamic performance. Nobody buys a Klipsch system to play background music—typically, the company's speakers are the life of the party.
Glancing at the R-115SW, it's obvious the sub fits the Klipsch mold. Its no-nonsense design is all about putting an evil grin on your face while triggering seismometers two counties away.
Klipsch sent two R-115SWs for review as part of a 7.2-channel surround system. (I've made it a standard practice to request dual subwoofers for all reviews because I feel two subs—of the same model—are almost always better than one.)
The R-115SW is a 75-pound, 15-inch, 400-watt (800 peak) vented subwoofer that offers a frequency response from 18 to 125 Hz +/-3 dB. It's a sizeable sub, measuring 19.5" (W) by 21.5" (H) and 22.3" deep. Klipsch offers it in one finish, a brushed black-polymer veneer.
Each sub includes a detachable cloth grill, which removes to reveal the 15" Cerametallic aluminum cone with its signature copper-colored finish. The design employs a slot-shaped, forward-venting tuned port.
The sub's rear panel sports a rather minimalist set of inputs and controls. There is no speaker-level input, and the R-115SW does not offer audio pass-through with its stereo RCA line-level inputs. One knob adjusts the crossover point, and a second adjusts gain. There is a LFE setting that disables the crossover. It's clear this sub is for use with a modern AVR offering built-in bass management.
The minimalist rear panel has what you need to use the sub with an AVR or pre/pro. 2-channel options are minimal.
On the back, you'll also find one toggle switch for phase and another for power. A DIP switch lets you chose between 120V and 240V. Last but not least, the sub includes a WA port that works with the Klipsch WA-2 Wireless Subwoofer Kit to provide a wireless connection.
I placed the twin R-115SWs so they flanked the Klipsch RS280 towers that are part of the 7.2-channel system sent to me for review. The system took up every last inch of space in my studio—I cannot fit a larger system in this room.
This Klipsch system tested the outer limits of what I can fit in my studio, as well as my neighbors' patience.
Crestron's PSPHD 7.3-channel pre/pro handled digital audio-decoding duties. I used an 80 Hz crossover when integrating the subs with the tower speakers.
Taking measurements of sine-wave sweeps with REW, I found the bass response was uneven around my main listening position—more so than with other subwoofers. I measured a 12 dB spread (+/-5 dB) between the peaks and the nulls. My guess is the front-firing ports on the Klipsch subs make them sensitive to less than optimal placement.
I have few other options for placing such large enclosures. Fortunately, I was able to use EQ to tame the subs and bring the spread between peaks and nulls down to around +/-3 dB while seated in the main listening position.
The R-115SW is a big sub that belts out prodigious quantities of bass. I'm confident many people would find the output of a single R-115SW more than adequate for music and movie watching. The sub is especially generous when it comes to doling out bass in the 20-30 Hz region. Whether it's rattling the rafters reproducing the upright bass on Dawn of Midi's Dysnomia or disturbing the neighbors by telegraphing the infrasonic percussive soundscapes of Meat Beat Manifesto's Answers Come in Dreams, the R-115SW delivers a bone-rattling performance in terms of sheer output.
I ran sine-wave sweeps and was able to energize the entire room with one sub. I achieved room lock (that physical sensation you get from the bass) from 18 Hz on up, and with plenty of headroom to spare. However, pipe-organ fans should take note that the ported design means that the response drops off a cliff below 18 Hz.
Sine waves at 20 Hz coming from dual R-115SWs measured 110 dB at my main listening position—enough to make my vision blurry and trigger nausea. Seriously, that's more bass than I need. However, when I tried to reproduce 16 Hz, the port started chuffing, and there was very little energy. Klipsch's 18 Hz low-frequency rating appears to be 100% accurate.
I wasn't able to sense the micro-dynamic nuance I've heard from some other subs, such as the GoldenEar ForceField 5
or the JL Audio e112 (review coming soon), but that's unsurprising, since both those subs have more powerful amplifiers attached to smaller drivers—and cost more. I don't have measurements, but I'd guess damping factor—the amp's ability to maintain control of the cone's movement—comes into play. Nevertheless, neither of those subs offer as much output per dollar as the Klipsch R-115SW.
I'll discuss R-115SW again when I publish the Reference Premiere 7.2 system review. For now, suffice it to say that these subs provide a gratifying amount of deep-bass punch.
From a price/performance perspective, I gladly and strongly recommend the R-115SW for bass addicts and movie lovers. While I typically suggest holding out for dual subs, one R-115SW offers so much impact, it's almost a no-brainer for home theater use—you can always add another one later if (when) the cravings get to be too much.
My review of the entire Klipsch system is coming soon, and in it, I'll describe extensive movie and music listening experiences featuring these powerful yet affordable subwoofers. Stay tuned!
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