One of the biggest complaints about 5.1-channel speaker systems, beyond, you know, all those speakers, is the necessity of running speaker wire everywhere. With Klipsch's latest system, no speaker wires are required.
The RP-440WF surround set -- or to give its official name of the Klipsch Reference Premiere HD Wireless 5.1 Speaker System -- is a tidy all-in-one which offers ridiculously easy setup, and the cohesive home-theater surround sound only a matched multispeaker system can provide. No, it's not completely wireless, because you'll still have to plug each of the individual speakers into power outlets, and connect your gear to the base station via HDMI or whatever, but it's a heck of a lot closer.
The biggest drawback? The price. The $999 list is for one of the RP-440WF speakers, and you'll need at least two. The price of the entire system including all five surround speakers, sub and control center is $5000. For this kind of money, you can assemble a much better-sounding wired speaker system from Klipsch or ELAC or any of a dozen other speaker brands, and get a full-featured AV receiver to boot. Until the price of the HD Wireless 5.1 Speaker System comes down and the feature count goes up, it's just not worth it for most people.
While "WiSA" sounds like it could be a Jar Jar Binks' catchphrase, it's actually short for "Wireless Speaker & Audio." It's a new standard designed to simplify setting up a multi-speaker home theater by ditching the wires.
In Klipsch's system, it means you don't have to run wires from an AV receiver or amplifier to each speaker. Instead, each speaker has its own built-in amplifier and must be plugged into a power outlet. Sound is transmitted wirelessly from a small box Klipsch calls the HD Control Center ($499), into which you plug your components. It has four HDMI inputs (one with 4K compatibility), optical and coaxial digital, analog and Bluetooth.
The speakers we received consisted of the slim, statuesque Klipsch RP-440WF towers ($1,999), largish RP-440WC center-channel speaker ($799), RP-140WM bookshelf/surround speakers ($999), and substantial RP-110WSW subwoofer. Based on looks alone, the Klipsch HD Control Center was a bit of a letdown -- it's a no-frills plastic slab. In addition, we had no love for the slender remote's nearly impossible-to-read control buttons.
Take note that the system is supposed to be modular, and you don't need to start with the full 5.1 setup. If you like, you can start with the $999 bookshelves and mandatory $499 HD Control Center if you want to build the system out slowly.
At the moment the system is limited to 7.2 channels (though no Atmos), but theoretically the system could incorporate overhead speakers with a new Control box. However, the existing speakers will be locked to 7.2 as it's controlled by a--nevertheless cool--switch on the back that lets you assign where in the system each individual speaker sits (rear left, center, etc). While WiSA was designed to be an brand-interoperable system this is yet to manifest itself. Most brands are designing for themselves right now.
While the HD Control Center offers both Dolby and DTS decoding, sadly the Klipsch system lacks advanced Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio lossless processing. This is an unexpected development given the Control Center has the letters "HD" in it. Klipsch's omission is especially surprising given nearly every receiver we've tested over the past five years has featured both formats.
After unboxing, system setup proceeded quickly and without a hitch. Not having to run wires was as satisfying as you might imagine.
We started auditions with the "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" Blu-ray. The RP-440WF system was definitely competent, clear and clean; this system can play loud, and dialogue intelligibility was decent.
Keeping in mind that it retails for just north of $5,000 (AU$9,999), however, we expected better sound quality. We compared the Klipsch with a much less-expensive wired 5.1 system: Elac Debut F5 tower speakers, Debut C5 center speaker, Debut B5 surround speakers, Klipsch R110SW subwoofer, and an Onkyo TX NR646 receiver. That system's full retail price was $2,218 -- and it sounded more dynamically alive and dialogue was clearer, than with the Klipsch.
Continuing with the rockin' street drummer scene "Birdman" Blu-ray, the Klipsch system inhibited the drums' impact while the Elac/Onkyo system unleashed it. Surround envelopment, while acceptable on the Klipsch system, was surpassed by the more spacious sounding wired system.
Issues with surround weren't a concern when we listened to stereo music, however. The sound of Klipsch's towers and subwoofer was easy on the ears and detail resolution was fine.
Rocking out first with Keith Richards "Talk is Cheap" solo album, the Klipsch kicked butt, bass impact was very decent, and cranking up the volume only increased our respect for the towers. Switching over to the Elac towers, however, the music rocked even harder, and bass impact jumped a notch or two.
Continuing with Frank Sinatra's "Only the Lonely" album, the wired Elac towers produced a deeper, more three-dimensional soundstage, but Sinatra's vocals were equally good over both towers.
The Klipsch RP-440WF is a very competent system with a bombastic home-theater sound, but its sky-high price raises certain expectations. The wireless feature will appeal to a lot of people, but all things considered the RP-440WF system is relatively poor value. Our less-than-half-the-price wired Elac/Onkyo 5.1 system handily outperformed it, and if you actually spent $5,000/AU$9,999 on wired speakers and a receiver, you'd get even better sound. In the end, enthusiasts and people on any kind of budget are better off putting together their own home theater, wires and all.