Klipsch is one of the best-known speaker brands in the US and is virtually synonymous with horn-loaded designs intended for home use. The company's signature Klipsch orn speaker has been in continuous production for 69 years, a world record. Klipsch is also a major player in the commercial-cinema arena.

The Reference Premiere series of ten different speakers replaces Klipsch's Reference II series, with performance-enhancing improvements in design and materials. The new series is the top of the Reference lineup and the core of the company's business.

This review is about the flagship RP-280F tower speaker ($675/each) used in a 2-channel system, with and without the addition of subwoofers. I will follow up with a 7.1 system review examining surround-sound music and home-theater applications. For now, the focus is on 2-channel music playback.

Features

The RP-280F is a 2-way tower speaker featuring a horn-loaded 1" titanium-dome tweeter and dual 8" aluminum-cone woofers. A large, ported, internally braced cabinet holds all the drivers. Each speaker weighs 62.5 pounds and measures 10.5" (W) by 43" (H) and 18.3" deep.

The MDF cabinets of the review samples came in an ebony finish; Klipsch also offers a cherry option. According to the company, the chamfered front baffle helps reduce diffraction effects. A magnetic grill attaches with ease, but these speakers look particularly great with the grills off, thanks to the spun-copper finish of the woofers.

Klipsch claims a frequency response from 32 Hz to 25 kHz (+/- 3 dB) for the RP-280F. Rated sensitivity is 98 dB/2.83V/m, and each speaker can handle up to 150 watts of continuous power (600 watts peak) with 8 ohms nominal impedance. The crossover frequency is 1750 Hz, and the speaker supports bi-amping as well as bi-wiring. A tuned Tractrix port vents to the rear.

Here's a view of the rear-mounted Tractrix port

The 1" titanium-dome tweeter sits in a newly developed Tractrix horn made out of compressed, molded rubber. The new material is designed to dampen the resonances that sometimes make horn-loaded tweeters sound harsh or colored.

The horn on the RP-280F is made of molded rubber.

Setup

The RP-280F towers arrived in perfect condition, protectively packed in massive boxes. Unpacking was quick and easy. There was no assembly required aside from the installation of spikes or rubber feet—I went with rubber feet.

A Crestron Procise PSPHD decoded the digital audio for all of my 2-channel listening. Amplification came courtesy of a Crestron ProAmp 7x250, and I used a miniDSP DDRC-88A with Dirac Live for room correction and EQ.

I connected the towers using a pair of 12-gauge speaker cables. My source was a DIY Windows PC running iTunes and Tidal, connected to the PSPHD via HDMI. The RP-280F offers the option to bi-amp, but the Crestron ProAmp produces more than enough power to negate the need for that approach.

In order to accommodate the rear-mounted Tractrix ports, I allowed two feet of space between the backs of the speakers and the front wall. The centers of the drivers were 28" from the side walls and 70" apart from each other, in a symmetrical arrangement. Measured from the main listening position (MLP), my head was approximately 76" away from each speaker.

Twin Klipsch R-115SW subwoofers ( which I reviewed here ) provided low-end reinforcement and extension for 2.1-channel listening. I placed the subs in the front left and right corners of the room and relied on Dirac Live room correction in the DDRC-88A to deal with the inevitable peaks and dips in frequency response.

Performance

The RP-280Fs are gentle giants. From the moment I plugged them in, they impressed me with their smoothness, detailed imaging, and capacity to render fine detail. Sure, they play loud and have dynamic impact—everyone expects that fromKlipsch. Even so, the speakers' finesse was what dominated my first impressions.

Using nearfield frequency-response measurements, I estimated that the RP-280F's port-tuning frequency is approximately 36 Hz.

With a rated sensitivity of 98 dB/2.83V/m, the RP-280F is an easy speaker to power. Furthermore, it offers a sufficiently wide frequency response that a subwoofer is not a necessity—once EQ'd with Dirac Live, I enjoyed nearly flat bass response down to 24 Hz. The RP-280Fs are quite competent when it comes to bass reproduction—not only do they dig deep, but they have plenty of headroom when playing loud.

Between the ProAmp's 250 watt/channel output and the efficiency of the Klipsch towers, I had no problem getting the volume up to party levels and even live-concert levels. Yet, I did not have to blast music to appreciate the power of the RP-280Fs—even at modest volume levels, I could feel the music.

After profiling the RS-280Fs, I played a 24 Hz sine wave measuring 96 dB from the MLP; there was no sign of strain and no audible distortion. All I heard was deep and powerful bass.

The RP-280 does a great job with the midrange and treble as well. Midrange frequencies came through with precision and clarity, even though the speaker is a 2-way design. The tweeter was smooth and precise, with no sign of the "honkiness" that sometimes afflicts horns.

When I added a pair of R-115SW subs to the system, the combination really shook things up at higher volume levels. With the addition of subs and Dirac Live room correction, the system's bass response extended down to 18 Hz. In my 1800-cubic-foot studio, it was trivially easy to achieve an SPL of 100+ dB when using the subs—even at 18 Hz.

I used a 50-Hz crossover to eliminate any possibility of localizing the subs. This freed up the RP-280F woofers from having to deal with the deepest bass—after all, the subs have a lot more headroom at low frequencies than the speakers do.

Listening

The RP-280F towers make you want to listen to more music, which is the most crucial quality for a speaker to possess. All the characteristics of a great speaker are present in abundance, including precise imaging, wide dynamic range, crystal clarity, and transparent neutrality.

During critical listening, I sat precisely centered in the MLP. I played each track at least twice, once with the speakers running full-range and once with the twin R-115SW subs. I used the DDRC-88A with Dirac Live processing during all of my listening sessions.

Bill Laswell's "Thomupa" from the album Sacred System Chapter Two provided the Klipsch towers an opportunity to show off their speed. Tabla and sitar open the track but give way to jazz drums, a trumpet, and Laswell on electric bass. The lush and expansive recording has a captivating groove and possesses exceptional fidelity. Deep layering and attention to production detail results in a very precisely delineated soundfield where every instrument is clear and distinct—the RP-280Fs did a great job painting a clear aural picture.

Comparing the track with and without the subs, the difference in bass response was minimal at best. Laswell's bass lines had a tiny bit more heft during the lowest notes with the subs, but it verged on statistically insignificant. Much to my surprise, the RP-280Fs had enough gusto to handle the track on their own.

Snoop Dogg's new album Bush—produced by Pharrell Williams—is a funky disco-tinged rap romp that often sounds sublime. The first track, "California Roll," features Stevie Wonder in a laid-back groove that begs to be turned up. The recording is full of energy and very resolute. While the RP-280Fs sounded good on their own, adding subs provided a significant boost to the bass in this case—let's face it, Snoop and subwoofers are always a good combo.

I needed a couple of tracks to show off how the speakers handle fast, thick, aggressive rock. I chose Ministry's "Just One Fix" and "TV II" for the task. I've heard Ministry play live—one of the great things about the band is that it sounds just about the same on stage as it does in the studio. With a good system playing loud and clear, listening to Ministry is a lot like being at a live show. The RP-280Fs kept the sounds separated, delivering the authentic Ministry experience—for a moment I felt nostalgic about mosh pits and crowd surfing.

"TV II" is fast, minimalist, brutal, and ugly. It's also an example of virtuoso drumming and incorporates ominous, cavernous feedback along with blisteringly fast guitar work by Mike Scaccia. The Klipsch towers are just about the perfect speakers for reproducing fast, complex, aggressive music.

I could not sense any discernible difference between playing Ministry with and without subs—the RP-280Fs had all the bass response needed to play back Ministry properly.

"Inertia Creeps" by Massive Attack—off the album Mezzanine—is a fine example of the band's impeccable production style. I'm at a loss to describe exactly how the mix comes across, but if you have any doubts about the capacity of the RP-280Fs to handle well-recorded and complex music, then you should play this track on 'em.

Notably, "Inertia Creeps" benefitted quite a bit from the addition of subs—there's a physicality to 2.1 playback that's missing from the 2.0 rendition. Even at lower volumes, the subs shook things up a bit.

The Beastie Boys' album The In Sound from Way Out is full of funky instrumental gems. "Ricky's Theme" is a blast to blast on the Klipsch towers. Thanks to liberal use of reverb, big drums, and bigger bass lines, it has an all-consuming effect—the band is in your face. The production is top-notch, and speakers' imaging delivered the sense of three-dimensionality that comes through when you are playing the track on a great speaker system.

The only catch with the RP-280Fs' rendition of "Ricky's Theme" was the clear improvement offered by the addition of the subs. The bass became thicker and fatter—in an entirely good way—and the drums had more impact. It's curious to me that some tracks benefitted a lot more from the addition of subs than others.

I'm not sure how many audiophiles buy Klipsch speakers to listen to classical music, but if they do, they won't be disappointed.

The 1975 Deutsche Grammophon recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, conducted by Carlos Kleiber and performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, is considered an all-time classic. I've heard quite a few speakers struggle to reproduce it with both finesse and gusto, but the RP-280Fs survived the challenge. There's a lot to be said for the extra headroom the speakers' high sensitivity brings to the table.

To my ears, there was zero difference between using subs and running the speakers full-range. Notably, the subs did not detract from the overall sound quality. Woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion all came through the mix in proper proportions. All the instruments in the orchestra came through with proper timbre and dynamic impact, while the soundstage was cohesive and appropriate in scale.

Most importantly, the Klipsch towers have the dynamic headroom to handle classical playback, which tends to be demanding because of the wide range between the quietest and loudest passages. Have I heard better renditions of the recording from other speakers? Sure. Just not from tower speakers that cost less than the RP-280Fs.

Turning toward jazz and funk, I queued up Herbie Hancock's album Head Hunters. From the first bass lick on "Chameleon" to the last drum hit on "Vein Melter," the album had me bobbing my head and tapping my toes thanks to the tight, solid, and faithful rendition of the tracks by the towers.

Interestingly, using subwoofers did nothing to improve the bass on Head Hunters, even at very high volume levels. The real surprise was how well the horn-loaded tweeters handled the sharp sounds from Herbie's keyboard . The biting, cutting quality of the synthesized sounds came through, but without excessive sibilance that would make it unlistenable.

Recoiled is an unofficial remix EP containing five Nine Inch Nails tracks remixed by industrial-music legends Coil. "Closer (Unrecalled)" is equal parts NIN and Coil, mingling melodies, squeaky sound effects, drums, atonal drones, and Trent Reznor's voice in a deeply layered psychedelic audio stew. The mix is thick yet precise with bass deep enough to demand the use of the dual subs. As is typical with Coil's mixes, sounds seemed to expand beyond the speakers, creating a tangibly three-dimensional soundfield. The speakers totally disappeared.

Conclusion

Klipsch's RP-280F is an excellent tower speaker that's a great choice for 2-channel audiophile-style listening, as well as for pumping up the volume at a house party. It is a refined-sounding speaker system that can also rock like a PA.

The RP-280Fs are a viable choice for a standalone 2-channel system. The primary caveat is that such large speakers might produce too much bass if used full-range in a small room and without EQ. Unless you have a near-perfect listening room, I recommend using a bit of EQ to get the most out of any speaker system.

When paired with one or more competent subs such as the R-115SW , the RP-280Fs offered an abundance of dynamic headroom, without suffering cone-excursion limitations in the deepest bass notes. Thanks to 8-ohm impedance, they are a good match for almost any amplifier, AV receiver, or integrated amp.

By using rubber for its latest Tractrix cone tweeter, Klipsch appears to have eliminated any resonances that would give it away. I heard no coloration; the treble from the RP-280Fs is as clear and smooth as anything I've experienced from a tower in its price range. Anyone who thinks Klipsch means harsh highs is in for a big surprise when they hear the new horn on the Reference Premiere towers.

This review tells only half the RP-280F story. I'll have a full 7.1 system review that adds the RP-450C center-channel speaker, RP-160M bookshelf/monitors, and RP-250S surround speakers to the mix. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to suggest that the towers are a good choice for home cinema as well as 2-channel audio.

REVIEW SYSTEM

Sources

DIY PC ( Windows 8 ) running Tidal and iTunes

Amplification and Processing

Crestron Procise PSPHD pre/pro
Crestron Procise ProAmp 7x250
MiniDSP DDRC-88A Dirac Live processor

Cables

Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cables
Mediabridge Ultra Series subwoofer cable
Mediabridge Ultra Series HDMI cable

Subwoofers

Klipsch R-115SW subwoofers (2)