During a recent trip to Klipsch headquarters in Indianapolis, I had a chance to hear the WiSA-enabled surround system the company first announced at CES 2015. Unlike the brief demos I usually hear at shows, this audition was held in a dedicated, quiet room. Crucially, I had full control over the demo, including the volume. The experience left me more enthused about the potential of WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio Association) than ever.
I took a trip to Klipsch HQ in Indianapolis.
I first heard a WiSA-enabled surround system—from Bang & Olufsen—at CES 2014, and the impression left by the sound quality I experienced that day has stuck with me for two years. However, the cost of that system was steep—$25,000 for four speakers and a sub. At the time, I wished for a system that offered the precision and dynamics of the B&O rig, but at a price that was more approachable.
Fast forward to October 2015, when I had a chance to visit Klipsch and see the company's R&D facilities. Based on what I heard there, Klipsch has brought the cost of a high-performance wireless surround system down to earth. There are five self-powered speakers in the new WiSA-enabled line, and all of them are priced under a grand.
The RP-440WF floorstanding speaker ($999 each) is a slim tower that features four 4.5" woofers in a tapered array—the two woofers closest to the tweeter are crossed over at 1800 Hz, while the two lower woofers are crossed over at 200 Hz. The tweeter is a 1-inch titanium dome mounted in Klipsch's signature Tractrix horn. Frequency response is rated from 45 Hz to 25,000 Hz, and the speaker is powered by 125 watts of amplification (250W peak).
Klipsch's Reference Premiere HD WiSA wireless speaker system.
Klipsch's RP-440WC center-channel speaker ($799 each) has a low-profile cabinet—similar to a soundbar—and the same complement of drivers as the tower model. Indeed, the center also features precisely the same specs as the tower, so it's a perfect match. It also uses a tapered driver array, crossing over the two outermost woofers at 200 Hz and the woofers closest to the tweeter at 1800 Hz. As with the tower, frequency response is rated from 45 Hz to 25,000 Hz, and the speaker is powered by 125 watts of amplification (250W peak).
Rounding out the speaker lineup is the RP-140WM monitor ($999/pair). This compact bookshelf-style speaker uses a two-way design that pairs the same Tractrix horn tweeter found on the towers and center with a single 4.5" woofer. The rated frequency response extends from 60 Hz to 25,000 Hz, and it is powered by a 50-watt amp (100W peak).
No surround-speaker system would be complete without a subwoofer. Klipsch offers the wireless RP-110WSW sub ($799 each) that has a 10" driver mounted in a ported cabinet. The specified frequency response is 27 Hz to 125 Hz, and power is rated at 200 watts (400W peak).
The brains behind this WiSA-enabled system is the RP-HUB1 Control Center ($499 each). It offers four HDMI inputs (one is HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2), Bluetooth, digital optical and coaxial audio inputs, analog stereo RCA audio inputs, and surround-sound processing, and it creates its own 7.1-channel hi-res audio wireless network using WiSA technology. The system supports audio resolutions up to 24-bit/192 kHz for 2-channel and 6-channel content, and 24-bit/96 kHz for 8-channel content. You can use the Control Center in conjunction with a pre/pro or AVR, but it's also capable of running a system on its own—all you need to add are source devices.
The Reference Premiere HD 7.1-channel system I heard featured the towers and the center up front, and four of the monitors acting as surrounds. It also featured dual subwoofers, which were placed up front against the wall. It's worth noting that you can use multiple subwoofers with the WiSA system, but you are limited to a single distance (timing) adjustment.
The back of each speaker has a foolproof interface that lets you assign it to a channel.
What I heard during that demo set a new standard for price versus performance in wireless audio—with a strong emphasis on performance. This is not just some lifestyle audio system, it's a hard-hitting, home theater-worthy powerhouse that offers crisp, dynamic sound reproduction.
Freed of the usual constraints of the show floor at CES—where exceeding 85 dB during a demo can earn an exhibitor an infraction—I spent quality time at Klipsch's facility blasting music through the system. It brought out the thrilling dynamics in tracks like "Drums Stop, No Good" from the album VTT2: Vital Tech Tones, Vol. 2. I also fed it Massive Attack, Adrian Sherwood, and Daft Punk (from the Tron: Legacy soundtrack).
Of course, I also checked out some multichannel Blu-ray content on the system. Make no mistake, this is proper home-theater sound—no soundbar or Sonos-like wireless system can do what this Klipsch WiSA system is capable of when it comes to fidelity and sheer output. Wireless or not, it is a powerful surround system that delivers a true home-theater experience to the listener.
Speaking of power and performance, one of the best things about self-powered speakers is that they don't share a single power supply, unlike the amps in a multichannel AVR that can experience a drop in per-channel output when all channels are blaring, as in an action scene during a movie. Wireless speaker systems avoid this trap because each speaker features a discrete amplifier with its own power supply. That means you get full output from each speaker with all channels driven.
The slender towers are rather deceptive in that you hardly get a sense of how powerful they really are—AV fanatics who crave a high-performance system that looks good and sets up in 10 minutes are bound to be thrilled with this system's spousal-acceptance factor. And yet, without question, one of the main selling points of this system is its raw power and fantastic fidelity. It really is the best of both worlds. The only thing missing at this point is an 11.2-channel Atmos-compatible variant; hopefully, such a system is in the cards for the future.
Typically, my home studio is a mess of wires because I'm constantly swapping out speakers and electronics for the sake of writing reviews. I literally can't wait for the day when wireless, self-powered speakers are the norm, and passive wired speakers are considered an anachronism. Thanks to its attractive pricing and aggressive performance, this WiSA-enabled speaker system is a crucial step toward that goal.
The Klipsch Reference Premiere HD wireless speakers will be available at Magnolia stores starting this January. Way to go Klipsch, and way to go WiSA.