Klipsch is not a company that makes speakers for shy listeners. The brashness is part of their charm. The company makes speakers that play loud and clean, which counts for a lot. You’ll find all sorts of speakers within the Klipsch family, from the gorgeous Heritage lineup to powerful commercial cinema solutions, to speakers that are thoroughly modern and powerful and capable, which is where Reference Premiere II comes in.
Reference Premiere is the premium, popular line of full-size standalone speakers that delivers in terms of looks, performance, and value. The current iteration is the third generation of the series. The new design includes larger horns, better cabinet bracing, upgraded binding posts, new aluminum feet, and discrete connections for add-on Dolby Atmos modules. In other words, a significant update to an already lovely speaker line, and not just cosmetic.
The provided review system includes a pair of RP-8000F II towers, one RP-504C II center channel, a pair of RP-502S II surround speakers and a pair of RP-500SA add-on Dolby Atmos modules. The subwoofer for this adventure is the Klipsch SPL-150, a 15” ported beast. Running the show is an Onkyo AVR, the TX-NR7100, which has built-in crossover curve presets fine-tuned for use with these speakers.
The components in this system are well-matched in terms of overall capability. This is especially true for the left and right front tower speakers in the center channel, which need to be very similar in capability if they are going to deliver a proper surround-sound experience. After all, the center channel does a lot of heavy lifting while watching a movie. But when you're listening to music, you want tower speakers that can effortlessly handle high-fidelity audio.
One of the most notable features is one shared by all the speakers: Klipsch's proprietary Tractrix horn, which is a 90x90 degree dispersion square design. The latest Reference Premiere speakers have new horns that are basically as large as can fit within the cabinet's dimensions.
To see the full description and specifications for each model in this system, we recommend checking out the product pages on Klipsch.com. Here is a summary:
RP-8000F II: 150 W RMS power handling with 600 W peak, 8-ohm compatible rated nominal impedance. Half-space anechoic sensitivity (measured at 1 M) is listed as 98 dB. The frequency response is listed as 35-25kHz +/- 3dB. This tower speaker features dual 8-inch woofers and a 1-inch titanium Tractrix horn-loaded tweeter with a crossover frequency of 1630 Hz.
RP-504C II: 150 W RMS power handling with 600 W peak, 8-ohm compatible rated nominal impedance. Half-space anechoic sensitivity (measured at 1 M) is listed as 96 dB, so 2 dB less output than the towers with equal amplification. The frequency response is listed as 50-25kHz +/- 3dB, plenty of room to cross over to the sub.
This center speaker features four 5.25" woofers and a 1-inch titanium Tractrix horn-loaded tweeter. It it is a 2.5-way design that has dual crossover frequencies, centered around 650 Hz and 1950 Hz. The purpose of this configuration is to reduce the combing artifacts—uneven response due to phase cancellation—that can be an issue with horizontal driver arrays like you find on center channel speakers. But the main thing here is it's a powerful center that will keep up with the towers.
The RP-500SA II: 75 W RMS power handling with 300 W peak, 8-ohm compatible rated nominal impedance. Sensitivity is not listed and the crossover is only referred to as conforming to Dolby standards. It is, first and foremost, a Dolby Atmos add-on module. The frequency response is also listed as conforming to Dolby specs. The tweeter on this speaker benefits from the controlled dispersion of the horn, helping it control the directivity for an effective bounced-height elevation channel.
The RP-500SA II is a special kind of surround speaker. It can serve dual roles: On the one hand, it is an add-on Atmos module that neatly sits on top of the tower speaker and takes advantage of the new integrated terminals for a clean install and consistent look. or you can use these speakers as angled wall-mounted surrounds, it just depends on the needs of your installation.
The key to Dolby Atmos is its ability to create a three-dimensional soundscape. This means that you'll feel like you're right in the middle of the action, whether you're watching a movie or listening to music. And because the sound is coming from all around you, it feels much more natural and realistic than traditional surround sound systems.
RP-502S II: 100 W RMS power handling with 400 W peak, 8-ohm compatible rated nominal impedance. Half-space anechoic sensitivity (measured at 1 M) is listed as 94 dB, so 4 dB less output at a given wattage than the towers and 2 dB less than the center, with equal amplification. Add in the power handling limitation and that leaves the surrounds about 5 dB behind the towers and 3 dB behind the center. The frequency response is listed as 62-25kHz +/- 3dB, so like the other speakers, plenty of room to cross over to the sub.
And last, but assuredly not least...
SPL-150 ported 15" subwoofer: A serious statement in subterranean sound, this is the sub that keeps Klipsch in the conversation when it comes to hardcore home theater. 400 W RMS, 800 W peak power. 18 Hz to 125 Hz response. A solid 75 pounds of front slot-vented subwoofer that is not shy about shaking things up. Just keep in mind, unlike some competing subs the SPL-150 largely depends on your AVR for bass EQ and management, more so than some DSP-and app-equipped subs from other brands. But as long as your AVR has room correction chances are that's what you will use anyhow.
(A quick note on sensitivity ratings: Klipsch states in the specs that what it lists is in-room sensitivity, and this figure is typically higher than a fully anechoic sensitivity rating, which is commonly used by other brands.)
The main thing to know about this review is it's something I treated as a hands-on, experiential review. To that end, it is strongly influenced by the room it is in. I'm sure others will measure these speakers in detail and provide fodder for the objective performance discussion. My concern is more about the totality of the experience, I'm never going to use speakers like these to their full capability, not as long as I'm living in a multi-unit building.
Klipsch did provide an Onkyo TX-NR7100 to go with the system, and it is true that Onkyo explicitly supports Klipsch speakers with custom crossover configurations to integrate the speakers based on known performance parameters, rather than leaving room correction to guess. The Dirac Live room correction used by this AVR is top-notch and renowned for how well it handles bass EQ, so that's a potent combo and it should be noted that the AVR is a non-trivial component in the total system performance.
But here's the thing, for most of my speaker reviews, I don't use a separate AVR; rather I use my own Denon AVR-X8500h, which is equipped with Audyssey MultEQ XT32, and I have the new MultEQ-X software to run it. The truth is there is more similarity between the results delivered by Dirac and Audyssey, but what I have is a record of how different speaker systems measured on my AVR. And yes, that is all just a long-winded way of saying that I used my own AVR to run room correction on this speaker system, in addition to the AVR provided by Klipsch.
I found that Klipsch's speakers need a little more taming than some of the other speakers I recently reviewed. However, it's worth noting that those speakers all cost considerably more than the Klipsch, sometimes several times more. And it's not uncommon for pricey speakers to exhibit smoother response, which is often achieved through crossover tinkering at the expense of some sensitivity.
Here's the thing to note, regardless of what form of EQ or room correction system is utilized, the room has so much influence on the sound that you're going to wind up needing room correction if your goal is accuracy and if you have that room correction at your disposal, is a good chance that it can also iron out the more minor fluctuations in a speaker's response curve. An effective room correction system's ability to tighten up the response of a speaker system should not be underestimated.
I had this system in my living room for all of summer 2022, which has been a lot busier than anticipated. The upshot is this allowed me to put in hundreds of hours of listening time, including dozens of hours of intensive, focused listening. And if there is one thing that I can say about the system, it's that it handled everything I threw at it. It never once faltered, regardless of the genre or format or mix. From plain stereo music to Dolby Atmos movies and video games, and even Atmos music, the word that defines the system is "headroom."
Headroom in audio is like the gap between the fastest you drive a car on a regular basis, and its actual top speed. The larger the gap, the greater the headroom, the better the system (or vehicle) is going to handle. And with this Klipsch rig, especially with the subwoofer lightening the power load on the AVR by taking care of the deep stuff, what you get is an openness that is the direct result of the speakers not having to struggle to belt out a crescendo, or render an action scene. The enemy here is what's called dynamic compression, and with this rig, the headroom is such that the AVR is going to run out of juice before the speakers give up.
While I can't measure power output to individual speakers, I have a Kill-A-Watt connected to the AVR and can at least monitor the total power draw from the wall, and that is how I know that running this system—even full-tilt with a blockbuster action flick at “I’m risking getting a note from the building management” volume levels—is not at all stressing the AVR, not even close. But there is a caveat to that. It's only the case when the subwoofer is in the mix and the system is using bass management.
Turn that off and run the speakers full-range with a movie full of deep bass rumbles, and it's quite a bit easier to start stressing the AVR. And that’s really the theme here, this is a system that strikes a proper balance for the application at hand, with each component exceeding the performance needed to play its role.
Response graphs for each channel, created by the room correction system, tell the story of each speaker in surprising detail. The more locations I measure, the more the character of the individual speakers begin to emerge, ultimately painting a picture of the in-room response that I can compare to another system.
Let’s start with the RP-8000F II. The front left and right channels are the pillars upon which the rest of the system is built. The most capable speakers in the system, they can be called upon for traditional 2-channel listening, or 2.1-channel playback that's genuinely full-range, covering 20 Hz to 20 kHz. I tend to use surround upmixing even with stereo, and I run a phantom center when I do, so for music, even with surround sound, it's the towers doing most of the heavy lifting.
The main thing to know is these speakers can easily handle the dual roles of home theater left and right channels in a 5.1.2 system, but also act as true stereo speakers for music lovers who appreciate the rewards of critical listening, sitting centered to the speakers at an optimal distance to create a triangle. The resulting sound, with its expansive and three-dimensional soundstage, does not depend on any processing or any other speakers; it is the pure result of the towers being overall good performers.
I've yet to meet a Reference Premiere tower speaker I do not like, but this pair is simply fantastic. Hyper-detailed, non-fatiguing, and in-room measurements reveal that the bass response more than meets the specs, especially with a boost from room gain.
The RP-504C II works hard when I'm watching movies, cacophonous action has a way of masking dialog, and a good center channel should cut through all that, without having to boost its output artificially. You can have a system with all the channel levels set perfectly, and the center channel blends in seamlessly. This is not always the case, but the front L/C/R stage is highly cohesive in this system. I'll readily credit the controlled directivity of Klipsch Tractrix horns for keeping the sound focused on the listening area, which is a big plus for home theater.
The in-room measurements for the center channel clearly met, and perhaps slightly exceeded the performance expectations set by the specifications, with in-room response down to about 45 Hz.
Klipsch may not publish performance specs for the The RP-500SA II but the room correction system measured them, and from what I saw, you get bass response all the way down to about 50 Hz, but the roll-off starts to kick in at around 110 Hz. The overall response curve of this speaker is well behaved, it may in fact be the best-measuring speaker of the bunch, if judged by the smoothness and quality of the downward-sloping curve, and this is a measurement that includes the ceiling bounce!
The main question with the Dolby Atmos modules is if they work to create that illusion of sound from above. And the truth is this is the most variable aspect of the system. Although it can be extremely effective in rooms that are optimal for taking this approach, There are quite a few variables that can complicate a reflected sound Dolby Atmos installation.
Fortunately, I do have the essential ingredient, which is a flat and acoustically reflective ceiling, although mine is rather high, 13 feet. But here's the truth, 2 channels of reflected-sound Atmos can only do so much. It’s good at creating extra ambiance, but it won’t track a helicopter flying overhead the way a four-channel Atmos system will, and especially not one with the speakers physically placed above the listener. But that's just a matter of buying more speakers, and or installing these speakers directly on the wall and using them as height surrounds
The RP-502S II surrounds offer the requisite performance needed to keep up with the rest of the system. More than enough bass (down to about 50 Hz). The treble does rise a bit above 10 kHz, perhaps a result of the dual tweeters. But not egregiously, these surrounds sound detailed and blend well with the rest of the rig, and certainly handle high output with confidence.
Which brings us to the SPL-150 sub. Look, I know there are some crazy subs out there. And it is a fact that the Klipsch really needs to be on sale to be a good value. But it's also no joke, this is a proper 15" sub that puts some welcome physicality into the listening experience. Without getting to deep into a subwoofer debate, the measurements show that like the rest of the speakers in this system, the sub meets its specifications in real-world use. So, you can expect robust output to 20 Hz and even a bit below. It's not the tightest-sounding sub I have ever heard, but it is powerful, it responds well to room correction, and it does offer an aesthetic match to the rest of the system.
And really, that's the crux of this review: I found, through much listening and some measuring, that Klipsch has put together a system that is "just right" in terms of balancing price/performance/features. Well, at least it's just right if you want a big, powerful system and have the space to accommodate speakers engineered with that in mind.
This Klipsch system is a great example of a design that keeps it simple while focusing on what matters. After all, a 2-way speaker pairing a horn tweeter with a capable mid/bass driver does not reinvent the wheel. But this iteration certainly refines the recipe in order to get more performance out of a proven combination.
Klipsch keeps refining a formula that works and presents it in an aesthetically appealing package. I enjoyed every minute of listening to this system, even if my next-door neighbor did not! Yes, I got in trouble for the bass, and from the moment I set the system up I suspected that I might have trouble because right away, I could feel the bass. Even at modest volume levels, it was tangible.
Extracting tactile sensations from the sound of music and movies and video games is precisely why you'd get a Klipsch system. These are big speakers with a big sound, that beg you to turn it up. This capability is no coincidence; Klipsch Reference Premiere II speakers can play loud for good reason: Physics consists of laws, not suggestions. And the bottom line is if you want powerful sound, you need large speakers! Not Sonos or Bose or whatever other little lifestyle speaker system that's popular these days; you need some kicks-ass full-size Klipsch speakers plus the badass 15" sub that together rattle your bones!
Overall, this Reference Premiere II rig is an Editor's Choice for an unapologetically loud, capable, AVR-friendly Atmos-capable surround-sound speaker system.