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Klipsch Reference Theater Pack review: Teeny tiny speakers will blow your house down

The Klipsch Reference Theater Pack may not be the cheapest of 5.1 speaker systems but it offers a very agreeable sound from a tiny footprint.

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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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4 min read

Any number of sound bar systems can significantly improve your TV's audio, but if you really want to take advantage of rear-channel surround sound effects, your best bet is still a separate AV receiver and 5.1 speaker system. Even though that means a room full of speakers, they don't have to be huge to create impressive sound.

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7.6

Klipsch Reference Theater Pack

The Good

The Klipsch Reference Theater Pack offers excellent sound from a very compact set of 5.1 surround speakers. The included wireless sub has plenty of low-end muscle. Klipsch built in similar components to its full-sized speakers.

The Bad

It's expensive for a small system, and not as attractive as some competitors. You can buy a better-sounding, full-sized system for the same money. The spring clips at the back of the satellites are a little fiddly.

The Bottom Line

The Klipsch Reference Theater Pack offers impressive sound for such a tiny footprint, but lacks cinematic power compared to bigger-box speakers.

The $999 Klipsch Reference Theater Pack is a perfect example. Each of its four satellite speakers is tiny, yet together they can fill a small or medium-sized room with a surround sound field that no sound bar or stereo system can match. Especially since Klipsch includes a hefty wireless subwoofer. 

At a grand, though, the Klipsch is a little expensive for what it does. It's also sonically eclipsed by larger systems, so it's really best for people who demand the smallest of satellites. If that's you, the well-matched Klipsch is worth a listen.

The Klipsch Reference Theater Pack is available for $999, with Australian and UK pricing and availability to be confirmed. Expect somewhere in the realm of £999 and AU$2,200, though.

The Klipsch look

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Sarah Tew/CNET

While competitors are falling over themselves to produce Atmos-compatible surround sets, Klipsch is keeping it simple with a 5.1-only setup. The Pack appears to be an update on the older HD 500 with some important tweaks. 

The system consists of four identical satellites which feature those iconic, brassy IMG drivers in a 3.5-inch size combined with a 0.75-inch horn-loaded tweeter. The black, plastic cabinets are small, just 7.75 inches high, 4.5 inches wide and 5.5 inches deep. Like the more expensive Focal satellites we saw recently, the Klipsch features a set of spring clips, so don't expect to use 12 gauge or thicker wire unless you install pin plugs on the ends.

The satellites are paired with a center channel which loads a second 3.5-inch driver into a larger cabinet. Lastly, the package includes an 8-inch wireless sub set in a box roughly a foot square. The kit comes with a wireless transceiver for the subwoofer which you connect to the power and the LFE channel on your AV receiver.

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The wireless Klipsch subwoofer features an 8-inch driver.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Setup

The Klipsch Reference Theater Pack satellites are really tiny, so the speakers don't make much bass -- they're 3 decibels down at 110 Hertz, if you're keeping track. That means it's crucial your AV receiver's bass management/subwoofer adjustments are correctly set to at least 100 Hz for all the speakers. What's more, the speakers' sound is fairly directional, so we recommend aiming each of the five speakers toward the main listening position for best sound quality.

We used a Sony STR-DN1080 AV receiver and an Oppo UDP 205 Blu-ray player for all of our listening tests. Even with the sub just a few feet from our listening position we had no trouble achieving a smooth blend between the sub and the sats.

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The Klipsch Reference Theater Pack includes grilles for a more discrete look.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

We were pleased by the way the five satellites together created a coherent, room-filling sound. Considering the sats' ultra compact size, dynamic range was also impressive, even when we pushed the volume fairly loud with the battle scenes in "The Revenant." Clarity was also solid, and dialogue intelligibility in the midst of combat never sagged. 

When the frontiersmen made their way over a waterfall, the sub delivered the thunderous roar of the moving water without sounding like it was working very hard. The hushed quiet of the forest scenes, with buzzing insects and birds, had excellent resolution of fine detail. With the room lights turned down the Theater Pack sats disappeared as sound sources.

Then we brought out the $1,300 Focal Sib Evo system for a round of comparisons. The Sib sats may not be very big, but they are considerably larger than the wee Klipsch sats, and the difference was audible. The Sibs sound was fleshed out a little more, they sounded more "alive", and when we returned to the Klipsch the sound flattened out. The Sib Evo's sats sound is less directional, so as we moved around the room, the sound balance was more consistent with the Sib Evo system.

We preferred the Sib Evo sound, but buyers looking for the smallest possible, but high-quality satellite speakers, should consider the Performance Pack.

We next played Kraftwerk's "3-D" Blu-ray, and the Klipsch delivered the band's trademark synth-pop with surprising gusto. Basslines bounced, the synth textures and steep transients belied the sats size. We played the music loud and heard no strain or increasing distortion, this little system's sound can loom large. This Blu-ray's surround mix is one of the best we've heard from a music program in a long time, and the Klipsch Performance Pack only made us appreciate it more.

Should you buy it?

Don't for a second underestimate the pint-size Klipsch Reference Theater Pack's capabilities; this system can deliver a heavy punch in a small room. Still, if you have a large room or crave chest thumping bass, you need to step up to a larger system. For less money, a combination of the ELAC Debut B5 ($230/pair), Debut C5 ($180), Debut B4 ($130/pair) speakers, and a Hsu Research VTF-1 Mk3 subwoofer ($399), and that system would soundly trounce the Klipsch Reference Theater Pack. 

Of course, the big difference is that the Klipsch speakers virtually disappear into a room when you put those grilles on, and the bigger Elacs don't. If you're looking for a full surround system that's even more compact than the Evo, the Klipsch is definitely worth a listen.

003-klipsch-reference-theater-pack
7.6

Klipsch Reference Theater Pack

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Sound 7Value 7
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