A soundbar might get extremely close to emulating cinema sound at home, but there really is no substitute for a dedicated surround sound system. The Klipsch Reference Cinema System 5.1.4 with Dolby Atmos paired with an AV receiver, for example, is an instant upgrade to your home theater. And you can find it at an outrageously low price.
The relatively compact system offers excellent home cinema sound. It's also one of only two lifestyle Dolby Atmos packages I've seen in the past six years -- surprising considering how long the spatial audio format has been around. The other Atmos system, the Focal Sib Evo, is more expensive and has fewer channels, making Klipsch's setup more recommendable. It even sounds great with music. Its only potential drawback is its fiddly setup.
- Punchy home cinema sound
- Effortless control and surround steering
- Sounds great with music too
- Not so easy to hook up
While home theater obsessives might pooh-pooh a "cinema in a box" solution, there are some real benefits. The first is integration. Since all of the satellites are the same size, it means that surround effects can move seamlessly from one speaker to another. The result is greater immersion because sound quality doesn't dip distractingly when the action moves to the (smaller) rears, for example. Secondly, these petite speakers can be positioned in an unobtrusive way, and they offer a sleeker look than most soundbars. Most people don't have room for four or more identical speakers in their living space, and the Klipsch's compactness solves this.
What it is
The Klipsch Reference Cinema System 5.1.4 -- that's 10 channels in all -- is a Dolby Atmos speaker set that offers a "just add receiver" solution. The system consists of three main components: four Dolby Atmos-capable satellites, a center dialogue channel and an active 10-inch subwoofer.
The satellites include the proprietary 5.25-inch spun-copper driver paired with a 1-inch aluminum LTS tweeter in the company's Tractrix Horn. For Dolby Atmos duties, the top of the cabinet features a 4-inch polyfiber driver designed to bounce height effects off the ceiling and back down at you. Each of the speakers is 3.5 inches high and 6.5 inches wide. The center channel features twin 4-inch copper spun drivers and a 1-inch tweeter in a 17.6-inch wide cabinet.
The subwoofer boasts a 10-inch driver in a roughly 15-inch square box. It offers the usual controls, including volume, phase and a low pass filter. The sub doesn't feature any of the fancy inputs or outputs of more expensive models with only a single set of RCA-in jacks, though what's there is plenty for most people. The sub is rated at 150 watts and is capable of a frequency response of 32Hz-120Hz (+/- 3dB). Compare this to Klipsch's new $750 sub, which goes as deep as a claimed 22Hz!
The package includes enough wires for all of the speakers, which is a nice touch, though it is quite necessary as the speaker "binding posts" will only accept thin, bare wires and not banana plugs. I found it is really easy to connect the wires securely and for them not to work. The connection inside is difficult to see, and it's easy to push the wire too far in. This results in the post contacting the insulation instead of the bare wire and ultimately no sound. If the catch at the end of the post was metal instead of plastic, this wouldn't be an issue.
Furthermore, when connecting the units, I found you have to be methodical about which wires you plug in as they are not labeled. (I marked Atmos Heights with a green piece of tape, for example). Keep in mind that there are 10 sets of wires -- and every Dolby speaker has two sets each -- so set aside at least an hour to get everything hooked up.
I connected the system to an Onkyo TX-RZ50, which offers Klipsch presets for popular speakers -- and even though it doesn't have one for the Reference set specifically, it does offer the "Klipsch>Other" catch-all. I used a decibel meter app to set levels, and then I was ready to rock!
How it sounds
One of the best home cinema test scenes I've yet encountered is the Thanator Attack scene from the original Avatar. From whispered dialog to expansive jungle soundscapes to pummeling dynamics, this scene has everything. When fed through the Klipsch Reference Cinema system, the sound was cohesive, clear and easily comprehensible. It was a lot of fun, too! Surround steering was flawless, and there was even a sense of height as the Thanator approached -- even though it's not an Atmos soundtrack.
Switching to the Dolby Atmos soundtrack of Mad Max, though, I had goosebumps from the opening seconds. I loved it. Surround effects swirled effortlessly between the speakers -- including heights -- and the dialogue was crystal clear. When Rockatansky fired up his Charger's engine, it had the full-throated roar you'd expect -- thanks to the deft handling of the 10-inch sub.
With music, the Atmos mix of Nick Cave's Red Right Hand on Apple Music was initially a little lopsided. The bottom note of the bass riff sounded "floopy," to quote a technical term. To put it another way, the deepest note distorted, and I found I had to adjust the bass to integrate it better.
After that, a succession of tunes flew by: Grand Salvo's Field of Flowers was dynamic and intimate; Beta Band's Life was impressively deep; and Okkervil River's For Real sounded punchy and fun. Eventually, I had to leave, but I wanted to stay and listen more.
Should you buy it?
Apart from some setup quirks -- something the Klipsch has in common with its Focal Sib Evo competitor -- the Klipsch Reference Cinema System 5.1.4 with Dolby Atmos is a wholly enjoyable speaker set. It's dynamic with movies and can sound great with music, too.
While it's not unfair to ask people to pay the full $1,400 retail price, you should be sure to get this system while it's on sale. If there was ever a product available for the widest price spectrum, this is it. I have seen this set for anywhere between $400 and $1,400. Obviously, you should try to get it for as little as you can, and at up to $1,000 off, this is quite a steal.