ONE sound bar can come pretty close to emulating home theater sound, but there’s really no substitute for a dedicated surround sound system. The Klipsch Reference Cinema System 5.1.4 with Dolby Atmos combined with a AV receiverfor example, it’s a direct upgrade to yours home theater. And you can find it at an outrageously low price.
The relatively compact system delivers excellent home cinema sound. It’s also one of only two Dolby Atmos lifestyle packages I’ve seen in the last six years — surprising considering how long spatial audio format was around. The other Atmos system, the Focal Sib Evo, is more expensive and has fewer channels, making the Klipsch setup more recommended. It even sounds great with music. Its only possible drawback is its flawless installation.
- Loud home cinema sound
- Effortless surround control and steering
- It sounds great with music too
While home theater obsessives may be a “theater in a box” solution, there are some real benefits. The first is inclusion. Since all satellites are the same size, this means that surround effects can move seamlessly from one speaker to another. The result is greater immersion because the sound quality doesn’t distract when the action moves to the (smaller) rears, for example. Second, these petite speakers can be discreetly placed and offer a sleeker look than most soundbars. Most people don’t have room for four or more identical speakers in their living room, and the Klipsch’s compact construction solves that.
The Klipsch Reference Cinema System 5.1.4 — that’s 10 channels in total — is a Dolby Atmos speaker set that offers a “just add a receiver” solution. The system consists of three main components: four Dolby Atmos-enabled satellites, a central dialogue channel and a 10-inch active subwoofer.
The satellites include the company’s proprietary 5.25-inch rotating copper driver paired with a 1-inch LTS aluminum 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 you up. Each of the speakers is 3.5 inches tall and 6.5 inches wide. The center channel features two 4-inch copper rotary drivers and a 1-inch tweeter in a 17.6-inch wide cabinet.
The subwoofer features a 10-inch driver in an approximately 15-inch square box. It offers the usual controls, including volume, phase and a low-pass filter. The sub doesn’t have any of the fancy inputs or outputs of more expensive models with just a single set of RCA-in sockets, although what there is is plenty for most people. The secondary is rated at 150 Watts and is capable of a frequency response of 32Hz-120Hz (+/- 3dB). Compare this with Klipsch’s new $750 subwhich goes as deep as a claimed 22Hz!
The package includes enough cables for all the speakers, which is a nice touch, although it’s quite necessary, as the speaker “connecting posts” will only accept thin, bare wires, not banana plugs. I found it very easy to connect the wires securely and not work. The connection inside is hard to see and it’s easy to push the cable too far in. This results in the post contacting the insulation instead of the bare wire and ultimately no sound. If the handle at the end of the post was metal instead of plastic, this wouldn’t be a problem.
Also, when connecting the units, I found that you have to be methodical about the wires you connect as they are not labeled. (I marked Atmos Heights with a green tape, for example). Note that there are 10 sets of cables — and each Dolby speaker has two sets each — so allow at least an hour to wire everything up.
I connected the system to one Onkyo TX-RZ50, which offers Klipsch presets for popular speakers — and while it doesn’t have one specifically for the Reference set, it does offer the all-encompassing “Klipsch>Other.” I used a Decibel meter app to set levelsand then I was ready to rock!
How does it sound
One of the best home theater test scenes I’ve come across is the Thanator Attack scene from the original Avatar. From whispered dialogue to expansive jungle soundscapes to powerful dynamics, this scene has it all. When fed through the Klipsch Reference Cinema system, the sound was coherent, clear and easy to understand. 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 Mad Max’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack, however, I had chills from the first few seconds. I loved it. Surround effects swirled effortlessly between speakers — including treble — and dialogue was crystal clear. When Rockatansky fired up his Charger’s engine, it had the punchy roar you’d expect — thanks to the deft handling of the 10-inch sub.
With music, the Atmos mix of Red Right Hand by Nick Cave Apple Music it was initially a little one-sided. The bottom note of the bass riff sounded “floopy”, to quote a technical term. To put it another way, the deepest note was distorted and I found I had to adjust the bass to better integrate it.
After that, a series of tunes flew out: Grand Salvo’s Field of Flowers was punchy and familiar; The life of the Beta Band was impressively deep. and Okkervil River’s For Real sounded fun and entertaining. In the end, I had to leave, but I wanted to stay and listen more.
Should you buy it?
Aside from some setup quirks — something the Klipsch shares with its Focal Sib Evo competitor — the Klipsch Reference Cinema System 5.1.4 with Dolby Atmos is a thoroughly enjoyable set of speakers. 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 ever there was a product available for the widest price range, this is it. I’ve seen this set for anywhere between $400 and $1,400. Obviously, you should try to get it for as little as possible, and with up to $1,000 off, that’s quite a steal.