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Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-440WF review: Six surround speakers, zero speaker wires

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.

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RP-140WM bookshelf/surround speakers

Sarah Tew/CNET


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.

Performance

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.

Conclusion

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.

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