How did hi-fi begin? It was created by a handful of pioneering companies in the decade following the Second World War. Some of the great pioneer names are still around: Fisher, Marantz, H. H. Scott, Quad and Klipsch. Of these, only Klipsch is more than just a name. A descendent of Paul Klipsch remains at the helm, and Paul himself, now 96, still comes in to work, and he sits through long autograph sessions at shows.
He even participated in the design of the new Klipschorn, an updated version of the huge speaker of 1945 which made him into an audiophile hero. However the modern company is more than the Klipschorn. The company offers a dazzling array of speakers for all uses. We've reviewed them before. One of them, the Kg2, was one of the most entertaining speakers we had ever tried (the supposedly related Kg4 was easily the dullest). Since then, we've been shown models -- not all of which reached production -- which had the potential to trigger panic in the audiophile competition.
The RB-5 is part of the Klipsch Reference series, which also includes powered speakers. It may not have the efficiency of the Klipschorn, but its 96 dB sensitivity figure is nearly unheard of for a bass reflex speaker. The 20 cm woofer cone is not copper, despite its color, but aluminum. The tweeter dome is titanium. And the tweeter is placed at the back of...what is that thing anyway?
"That thing" is a horn, like the ones frequently found in sound reinforcement speakers because they are so efficient. In a typical horn tweeter, the cone is coupled to the large air mass in the room by an exponentially-flared metal horn which acts as an acoustical transformer, to allow efficient transfer of energy from the dome to the much larger air space.
This one is different, however. Some years back, Klipsch engineers provided mathematical proof that the exponential flare was not optimum for efficiency. The company's modified (and patented) version is known as the Tractrix horn, and that's what this is.
The reflex port is at the rear, and it is far wider than the usual one. The reason: small ports whistle when the speaker is driven hard. Not this one, though.
Inside the enclosure is the crossover network (tuned to 1950 Hz), made with air core coils (and not metal cores, which saturate and change characteristics) as well as metal film capacitors. The four binding posts are excellent, but two of ours came loose at the rear, necessitating a minor repair.
The wood veneer is attractive, and indeed it is rare to find real wood on speakers of this price. The grille is unusual, held by pins at a certain distance from the baffle surface (see the next page). Klipsch says this "floating grille" minimizes reflections. It can, of course, be left off, but don't be surprised if the speaker's unusual innards draw questions from visitors.
We placed the RB-5's on our Target HJ-24 stands and positioned them in our Omega system, just like our reference speaker. We then did a first audition with A Chorus Line (from Beachcomber on Reference Recordings RR-62CD). First conclusion: the bottom end was quick and tight, but too thin. The position wasn't right.
Experienced audiophiles will easily figure out why. When a speaker is placed out in the room, bass energy radiating to the rear is either absorbed or blends into the general ambience. If it is brought closer to the wall, the wall-floor junction acts like a horn and funnels the bass energy forward. It is fitting that this product, from the company founded by hornmeister Paul Klipsch, should work best in conjunction with the room's own horn effect. We pushed the speakers back as much as we could, and heard them improve considerably. In our room we can't place them right against the wall, but we suspect that would have been even better...albeit with a little room for the huge rear port to "breathe."
We played the selection again. We were again impressed with the tightness of the bottom end and with the dynamics. The numerous instruments of the Dallas Wind ensemble were not as cleanly separated as they were with our reference speakers -- no surprise there -- nor was the image as clear. Reine complained of a lack of airiness around the instruments. The speaker's top end was excellent, though, with lots of detail in the smaller percussion instruments, without the harshness or the screech of all too many speakers.
We continued the listening session with that other Reference Recordings powerhouse, the Stravinsky Firebird. Not only does it have a busy climactic ending, but there is an eerie atmosphere projected in the soft passages. Many speakers muck up both dynamic extremes, and we wondered whether the RB-5 had the subtlety to handle the soft passages, and the dynamic range to follow the ending.
We weren't certain of our conclusions with the first audition. As you may know, we don't match levels by measurement, preferring to select volume as you would do it at home -- turning the volume up until it feels right. We've tried instrument level matching in the past, and this "objectively correct" method clashed violently with what we as listeners preferred. In this case the volume had seemed right in the first selection, but now made the speakers seem weak and undetailed. We raised the volume 3 dB (which requires double the power) and tried again.
It was better louder, by and large...
Model: Klipsch RB-5
Price: C$1100, US$800
Warranty: 5 years with original bill
Dimensions: 43.3 x 23 x 26 cm
PARTIAL TEXT: Reproducing Extreme Lows, Acoustics for Surround Sound, Monitor Audio Silver 9, Klipsch RB-5, Coincident Triumph Signature, Mirage BPS150i, Audiomat Solfège, Gossip
FULL TEXT: The Digital Radio File, Reference 3a MM De Capo, State of the Art
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