Sean Killebrew began his writing career in the '90s, covering football for UCLA (his alma mater). His first foray into publishing was in 2000, with the below-the-line film- and TV-production guide books LA 411 and NY 411. For the past decade, Sean's passion for audio/video has been poured into writing for HomeTheaterReview.com. When not chasing A/V deals, Sean spends time skiing and losing to his son in basketball.
When friends ask me to name an audio company that "doesn't make any crap," Klipsch is always the first name out of my mouth. From the company's lowest priced offerings to its more wallet-pinching reference line, quality and superior sound quality reign supreme. Case in point: Many moons ago, I was gifted a pair of Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 computer speakers. Roughly 15 years and multiple moves later, they're still giving. The bass response and the coherence between the sub and satellites are truly remarkable, especially given the $149 price point. But alas, we're not here to talk about computer speakers of yore; we're here to talk about a pair of powered bookshelf speakers with some fresh 2016 tech sprinkled across their feature set.
The R-15PM monitors are part of the Klipsch Reference Line and retail for $499/pair. In this day and age, and especially in this product category, manufacturers simply must innovate in order to compete. In the case of the R-15PM, Klipsch wisely listened to the marketplace in terms of the vinyl resurgence and added what I feel is the most striking feature: a phono input. I'll dive into more detail on this feature later, but I wanted to make a point of it right out of the gate.
The R-15PM measures 12.5 inches high by seven inches wide by eight inches deep and weighs 10.3 pounds. Taken directly from the Klipsch spec sheet, each monitor features a one-inch aluminum diaphragm compression driver mated to a 90-degree by 90-degree square Tractrix Horn and 5.25-inch copper spun magnetically shielded IMG woofer. The built-in amp is 50 watts per channel, and frequency response is 62 Hz to 24 kHz, +/-3 dB.
Inputs are many. In addition to the aforementioned phono input, you get optical digital, USB, 3.5mm mini-jack, and Bluetooth connectivity. Conveniently for bass junkies, Klipsch also included a sub out. Lastly, Klipsch includes a handy remote that, while small, can handle all necessary functionality. Needless to say, the company has covered the bases and then some in terms of connectivity.
Simplicity is all the rage these days. Between the ubiquity of Bluetooth and the proliferation of soundbars and powered speakers, most people want to be up and running with as little effort as possible. Klipsch has embraced this trend, making setup of the R-15PMs very simple. The two speakers connect to each other via supplied speaker cable, and one needs to be plugged in to power the internal amplifier.
As for sources, I started by seamlessly pairing the monitors to my iPhone via Bluetooth. Next, I connected my trusty Music Hall MMF 2.2 turntable. Lastly, I connected my old-school Oppo DV-980H for CD and DVD playback. So that's three different music sources, all of which were ready to go in less than 10 minutes, including hassle-free vinyl playback. Sweet!
As I stated in the beginning, you won't find any weak product offerings in the Klipsch lineup, regardless of price point. As such, I'm thrilled to report that, while the quality of the sound did fluctuate based on source material, by and large I was exceedingly impressed with the R-15PM's sonic signature.
I began "critical listening" (in quotes because it's a bit of an oxymoron to say you're listening critically when streaming via Bluetooth) with Run River North's album Drinking from a Salt Pond (Nettwerk Records) via Apple Music. In my notes I wrote that it sounded simply passable; the sound was a bit thin, lacking depth and coherence. That said, I'd just as soon pin this on the inherent compression associated with Bluetooth and the possibility of a mediocre recording before pinning it on the speakers. Such are the limitations we're faced with when playing back audio from a less-than-desirable source and with less-than-desirable playback technology. What we sacrifice for convenience, eh?
Before switching to vinyl, I also streamed a couple of 311 albums via Apple Music--including their self-titled album and From Chaos (Volcano Records). Songs like "Beautiful Disaster" and "Amber" provided me with a good sense of the R-15PM's ability to provide compelling sound, even through Bluetooth. Also, if you're familiar with 311, you know their songs tend to be bass heavy, and I was impressed with the bass response on the Klipsch, especially given the fact that the low-frequency driver on the R-15PM is only 5.25 inches.
In an effort to better gauge the speakers' sonic mettle, I upped the ante on source material by spinning some vinyl. The choice was simple, as I went straight for Gary Clarke Jr.'s live album (Warner Brothers). If you're unfamiliar with Gary Clarke Jr. but enjoy stellar blues-inspired guitar play and soulful rock-and-roll, I encourage you to check him out. Before I get into some detail on how the record sounded, I'll provide fair warning: I'm going to drone on and on in this review about how cool it is that Klipsch was savvy enough to include a Phono input on these speakers. I cherish my admittedly pedestrian but great-sounding Music Hall turntable, but fret over setting up a proper system--specifically, due to receivers that lack Phono inputs. To be able to simply connect a pair of adequately powered and transparent (enough) speakers to my turntable and be off to the races is a godsend for a vinyl guy. Anyway, Gary's popular "Don't Owe You a Thang," a frenetic, guitar-charged tour de force, sounded fantastic. The Klipsch captured the majority of the nuance and decay of Gary's guitar, and I ended up playing it several times. The R-15PMs captured the soulfulness of his voice and projected the visceral nature of his guitar play with a palpable edge. That said, the vocal quality was no match for my reference system, but it was certainly in line with this price point. Having recently seen Gary live at Coachella, I wasn't expecting to be blown away, whether through the Klipsch or even my reference system for that matter. Yet there I was, in a sort of blissful audio trance, unable to think of anything beyond the music.
In an effort to up the ante once more in terms of resolution, I played the DVD-Audio disc of Donald Fagan's Morph the Cat (Reprise). That's right--DVD-Audio is alive and well, at least in my house. With the R-15PMs, as with most speakers, feed them well, and you'll be justly rewarded. This turned out to be the highlight of my listening experience, especially as it related to overall coherence, vocals, and bass response. Vocals were well resolved, with plenty of texture, and the horn play was bright and engaging without any noticeable etch. Overall, it was quite the showing, especially given the price point.
Well, let's suss this out, shall we? Great sound, category-leading connectivity options, a solid price point...what downside? Well, since all of our reviews here at HomeTheaterReview.com include this section, I'll have to get nitpicky. I'd say that, if you're having a party in a large room, you might want to look at something with a beefier amp that would play a bit louder. As a matter of fact, it would be compelling if Klipsch were to offer a version with a 75-watt amp for an additional $100. This is not to say that I was unsatisfied with the power here; I'm simply stating that a large room full of people might drown out these speakers a bit.
Comparison and Competition
Here we are in the latter part of 2016, and Bluetooth speakers are ubiquitous. So how does a manufacturer stand out in a sea of products? It's actually quite simple: you make a great-sounding speaker, price it right, and include a phono input. That said, Klipsch does have some competition, and the first that comes to mind is the Polk Hampden powered speaker, which I reviewed in the latter part of 2014. The Polk speakers were a pleasure to review, although they lack the power of the Klipsch, as well as the phono input. That said, they win by a country mile on aesthetics; so, if that's your bag, check 'em out. As a matter of fact, I was so taken by their looks I gave a shout out to their designer in the review. If you're intrigued, the Hampdens can be had online for $249.
Another manufacturer worth your time in this product category is Audioengine. While I've never reviewed an Audioengine product, the general consensus is that this company is a formidable player in the powered speaker category. More specifically, the top-of-the-line HD6, which retails for $749/pair, has been well reviewed and ups the ante in terms of power, with 75-watt-per-channel A/B analog mono-block amps. They, like the Polks, are also easy on the eyes and come in walnut, cherry, and satin black finishes. While I certainly think they're worthy of consideration, a jump in price of $249 is going to be, for some, a bitter pill to swallow.
Another player in this realm is Sonos. The Sonos Play Series of speakers is worth a look, with the compelling feature of being able to connect additional Sonos speakers throughout your home and stream the same (or different) music to all of them. The Sonos PLAY:5 is the flagship in the line, and it retails for $499 each. If you're looking for a stereo pair rather than a single-speaker solution, you can mate two PLAY:1 speakers ($199 each) or up the ante with two PLAY:3 speakers ($299 each) while keeping the cost in check.
I'll say it again, kudos to Klipsch for respecting the resurgence of vinyl enough to include a phono stage. I cannot underestimate how fun and simplistic it is to spin vinyl with so little effort and no intermediary. What a crazy swing from my old reference setup that included a processor, an amp, and a separate phone stage. That said, maybe due to sheer laziness or a palpable lack of free time, most of my listening came straight out of my iPhone via Bluetooth...not that there's anything wrong with that.
The bottom line is that Klipsch has engineered a purpose-built product that's easy and flexible to connect, sounds great, and has a solid price-to-performance ratio. I can envision many a scenario in which the R-15PMs would fit quite nicely: a college dorm, a man cave, a dedicated listening space in a den, etc. Imagine these as a gift for your parents (or even grandparents) who have hung on to their vinyl collections. What a great excuse to blow the dust off one of the old Dean Martin records while at the same time negating the hassle and expense of a full-blown vinyl playback system.
My point is that, at this level of quality and simplicity, the R-15PMs should have as much appeal for a 65-year-old as they do for a 20-year-old. This is an easy product to recommend: whether you're an audiophile or a casual listener, these will put a smile on your face time and again.
• Check out our Bookshelf Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Klipsch Introduces the R-15PM Powered Monitor at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Klipsch Debuts $400 R-4B Soundbar at HomeTheaterReview.com.