Klipsch Reference R-51M review: Exciting rock and roll sound dressed up retro

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The Good The Klipsch Reference R-51M offers excellent build quality with attractive "retro" flair for an affordable price. Sound quality is dynamic and punchy, especially with rock and pop. The speakers are very efficient and can play loudly without strain.

The Bad Some buyers may prefer the more stately looks of the Q Acoustics or Elac competition, which also offer warmer sound and better bass.

The Bottom Line The Klipsch Reference R-51M combines throwback looks and thoroughly exciting sound in an affordable package.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Sound 8
  • Value 9

Klipsch is in the middle of a reinvention. It's attempting to hearken back to the past by focusing on its own "classic" designs. In the past few years the company has delved into its substantial archives to bring back speakers such as the Forte and Cornwall.

Those are high-end speakers but the company is also going retro in its affordable models, including the new Reference line. The R-51M is the "baby" of the series and packs a 5.25-inch spun-copper driver and Klipsch's signature horn tweeter into a small stand mount speaker.

As you'd expect with a retro-futuristic Klipsch speaker, the company hasn't meddled with its established sound. It's still on the brighter, more exciting side, and yet offers enough bass for modern music. Of course, it sounds even better partnered with the subwoofer of your choice. If you like your rock or pop music loud, the Klipsch can inject a dose of fun into your system for an affordable price. The Klipsch Reference R-51M is available for $249, £249 or AU$549 a pair.

Back to the future

Klipsh R-51
Sarah Tew/CNET

The R-51M is the second Klipsch product we've seen this year, but it couldn't be any more different from the Reference Theater Pack. While the Theater Pack's satellites were tiny and made from plastic, the R-51M offers up a moderately-large cabinet handsomely constructed from MDF. The R-51M is a "real speaker". This design also signals a return to wooden vinyl wraps after the dreadful "brushed" finish of previous speakers. Completing the Klipsch's homespun look are copper-colored fasteners and a cheesecloth-like magnetic grill.

Klipsh R-51
Sarah Tew/CNET

The specifications of the R-51M include:

  • Single 5.25-inch spun-copper IMG woofer
  • 1-inch aluminum LTS tweeter with a 90 by 90 square Tractrix Horn
  • 62Hz - 21kHz +/- 3dB frequency response
  • High 93 dB sensitivity
  • 13.3-inches (337 mm) high by 7-inches (178 mm) high by 8.5-inches (215 mm) deep
  • Bass-reflex design with rear-firing port
  • Gold-plated binding posts

How does it sound?

Considering the Klipsch Reference R-51M's diminutive size, it made a big impression on us. While this little guy may not produce enough deep bass to shake your room, its low distortion and freewheeling dynamics belie its compact dimensions. All of that and its budget price should make it attractive to speaker shoppers.

The feisty R-51M proved its mettle first by pounding out the big bass drums and percussion instruments on the Isle of Dogs movie soundtrack. The R-51M handled those drum transients with assurance when we played these little speakers loud, and as we raised the volume the sound remained clear. The CNET listening room isn't all that big at 11 by 20 feet, and we weren't trying to play the drums at realistic volume. But still, the R-51M's lively sound, even when compared with the much larger Elac Debut B6.2 speakers, better communicated the drums' impact.