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Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-160 Home Theater System review: Rock and roll in the surround

The Klipsch Reference Premiere speakers and subwoofer deliver maximum home theater dynamics and power with ease, and sound great with music, too.

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Ty Pendlebury Steve Guttenberg
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Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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5 min read

As one of the biggest names in American home theater, Klipsch created some high expectations when it released something called the Reference Premiere system. It turns out this system is more than worthy of the new name.

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Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-160 Home Theater System

The Good

All of the Klipsch Reference Premiere speakers feature horn-loaded titanium tweeters and copper-toned cerametallic woofers. These speakers are unusually efficient, so they can make a big sound with even modestly powered receivers. They're decently priced compared with the competition.

The Bad

The speakers and sub have a big and bulky design. The system is lopsided in terms of cost as the bipole surrounds are the most expensive part.

The Bottom Line

The Klipsch Reference Premiere speakers and subwoofer deliver maximum home theater dynamics and power with ease, and sound great with music, too.

With new cosmetics and a completely redesigned tweeter horn -- Klipsh's signature driver -- the company's latest speakers are both striking-looking and accomplished performers.

When we reviewed the Premieres' forebears, the Klipsch's Reference II , we loved their dynamics but found them occasionally too brash and less refined, especially with classical music. The Reference Premiers kept their composure even at volume, and sounded at home with all types of material.

At $2,599, the system isn't what you'd call a "budget buy," but for the price the Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-160 Home Theater System offers generous performance -- whether you are looking for musical richness or home theater bombast. If you just want stereo speakers, the RP-160M Monitor is a steal at $600.

Design and features

The Klipsch Reference Premiere uses the company's tried-and-true black-and-copper color scheme, but the cosmetics have been simplified.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're familiar with Klipsch speakers, then you will have come to know the trademark Tractrix Klipsch horn. It gets a workout again here but in new and unfamiliar ways.

The company has surrounded the 1-inch titanium "LTS" (Linear Travel Suspension) driver with a brand new enclosure it calls the Hybrid Cross-Section Tractrix Horn. It forms an organic part of the speaker, spiraling out from the tweeter to meet the stylish "Brushed Polymer Veneer Baffle Finish." But the old-school Tractrix horn isn't forgotten: it now serves as a bass reflex port on the rear of the enclosure.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The main RP-160 Monitors are fairly large for stand-mounters at 16.67 inches tall and 8.81 inches wide. The striking 6.5-inch woofer is composed of the company's "cerametallic" material and helps the speakers achieve a claimed frequency response of 45Hz to 25kHz (+/- 3dB).

While the RP160 is the star of the show here, the system also includes the supporting cast: the $450 RP-250C center channel, the $900-a-pair RP-250S bipole surround speakers and the $649 R-110SW subwoofer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The R-110SW subwoofer has a 450-watt amplifier and 10-inch cerametallic woofer. The speaker is quite large at roughly 16 inches square and heavy at 39 pounds.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The striking RP-250S bipole speakers have a pair of 5.25-inch cerametallic drivers and 1-inch tweeters each. These speakers are designed to be placed on a rear side wall and by firing sound forward and back are designed to create a diffuse sound field behind you -- best for movies. If $900 for surround speakers is a little rich for your blood, you could always substitute them for the $500-a-pair RP-150M monitors that will also create a more localized surround effect and great for music.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The RP-250C center is a relatively compact speaker at 6.81-inches high, 10 inches deep and 18.5-inches wide, so it should fit over or under more TVs than some of its kind. It features two 5.25-inch Cerametallic Cone Woofers and a single horn tweeter.

Setup

Setup and calibration of the Klipsch Reference Premiere speakers and subwoofer proceeded without hitches. We connected the system to a Marantz NR1605 AV receiver and performed a manual speaker calibration. We used "small" bass management settings with a 60Hz crossover point for the bookshelves, and 80Hz for the center- and surround-channel speakers.

Performance

Powerful. That's the best one-word description of the sound of the Klipsch Reference Premiere system. There's a surefooted ease to that power, and the system never sounded like it was working very hard, no matter how hard we pushed it.

When we played the pumping "heartbeat" that opens Kraftwerk's "Elektro Kardiogramm" from their "Tour de France" album, the bass was super-solid with the RP-160M bookshelf monitors and R-110SW subwoofer. Even with the sub turned off and the RP-160Ms run "full-range," the heartbeats were still surprisingly authoritative. These speakers can put out a lot of heavy bass on their own.

Next we popped in Steven Wilson's spectacular new "Hand.Cannot.Erase." high-resolution music Blu-ray. Wilson isn't just a great musician, he's also a master of surround mixing; no one does it better. The five Reference Premiere speakers all but disappeared as sound sources.

With this Blu-ray there was a tremendous sense of height; the sound seemed to arrive from above our heads, coming close to what we experienced from some of the better Dolby Atmos 7.1- and 9.1-channel demonstrations, but without relying on separate upward-firing speakers . We credit the V-shaped, forward- and rear-radiating RP-250S surround speakers for the unusually enveloping sound. Unlike most CDs and high-res downloads, "Hand.Cannot.Erase." had big dynamic swings, and the five Reference Premiere speakers gave them full rein.

This Blu-ray's mix keeps lead vocals "hard" in the center speaker, so even when you're sitting over to the left or right side of the room vocals stay planted in the middle. The Klipsch RP-250C center channel speaker sounded good, but switching over to the Pioneer Elite SP-EC73 center speaker, they were even better. Where the RP-250C sounded closed-in and had less body, the SP-EC73 center was open and more natural overall.

Listening to movies and music, the RP-150M bookshelf speakers sounded more dynamically alive than the Pioneer Elite SP-EBS73-LR bookshelf speakers we used for comparison. On the other hand, the Pioneers were clearly more transparent and detailed, especially with a high-res FLAC file of Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" album. We could hear more layers of percussion, and the acoustic piano stood out more in the mix with the SP-EBS73-LRs. The RP-150Ms blurred those details somewhat in comparison. That said, before we compared the two speakers, we were perfectly happy with the RP-150Ms.

Taken as complete 5.1 systems, the Pioneer and Klipsch are both excellent and play loud without strain. The Klipsch Reference Premiere has more of a rock & roll heart, while the Pioneer Elite is more refined and transparent. The Pioneer speakers need more power than the Klipsches, so we had to turn up the Marantz NR1605 receiver's volume to a higher setting with the Pioneers speakers to play at the same volume as the Klipsches.

Watching the first "Saw" film where two strangers meet and are tortured by an unseen psycho, the five Klipsch Reference Premiere speakers really put us inside the creepy tiled room with its buzzing light fixtures, dripping water, and the prisoners' rattling chains. The system heightened every aspect of the tension-building mix. As for the R-110SW subwoofer, it filled in the low bass so seamlessly we never really noticed its existence, and that's a compliment. In comparison the Pioneer Elite system was more again more transparent and refined sounding.

Conclusion

The Klipsch Reference Premiere system's power and grace, with even the most challenging home theater and music auditions, was hugely impressive. Granted, the speakers' and subwoofer's imposing bulk may rule them out for some buyers, those who can accommodate the Klipsch Reference Premiere system are in for a treat.

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Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-160 Home Theater System

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 8
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