Even at the height of home surround sound, there was a problem so evident that it’s astounding we’ve waited well into the 21st century to get a solution. At one end of the room the equipment rack holds the sources and amplification, then long snaky cables had to run from there to each and every speaker. You could tuck them under carpets, you could drill holes through your walls. But there was no getting away from the messy cable conundrum.
These days we have wireless technology suitable for sending source signals, but not the more powerful currents needed to drive loudspeakers. So one answer, then, is to send the signals wirelessly and put an amp inside each speaker. But the wireless transmission has to be quick (see below) and it has to be robust — and those are the defining characteristics of WiSA technology, developed by an association in the US which has been working on this idea for the last five years.
Here, at last, we can enjoy the results, in this impressive system from Klipsch, one of the WiSA member manufacturers. Active speakers, no external amps and no signal cables — please welcome the Reference Premiere HD Wireless.
Of course each speaker still has one cable — built-in amplifiers need a mains cable. You will need to plug each unit into a power point, so do take that into account when deciding whether wireless is for you. If it is, this is one impressive system.
There are a number of variations. The review system was supplied as ‘5.2’, or what we’d call 5.1 with two subwoofers (the same 0.1 signal is provided to both subwoofers). The front speakers are floorstanders, the surround ones are bookshelf-sized. You can go to seven channels if you want to buy the extras. A very compact ‘HD Control Center’ acts as home theatre surround processor and preamplifier, plus wireless transmitter.
All the speaker connections are via wireless only to the Control Center. There is no option for physical wiring. Indeed, the only output on the Control Center is the HDMI socket for passing through video to the TV. There are four HDMI inputs, optical and coaxial digital audio, and a stereo analogue audio input. Plus Bluetooth with support for the aptX codec (though not for AAC).
The WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) technology supports 24-bit 96kHz multichannel uncompressed audio. It uses 5.2GHz to 5.8GHz, avoiding the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum. Crucially it boasts fast error detection, and a very fast 5ms latency. With wireless speakers ‘latency’ (the delay to the audio signal) becomes an important issue when they’re used with video equipment. Klipsch says that the latency of this system conforms to the WiSA 5ms standard. So no problems there.
All the speakers use the same titanium-dome tweeter mounted in a ‘Tratrix’ horn for high efficiency, and the same 115mm ‘cerametallic’ cone midrange/bass drivers. The front floorstanders and centre channel get four of the 115mm drivers, two of each acting as woofers alone, the other two as bass/midrange, making them 2.5-way units. The compact surrounds get one of the large drivers.
In power terms the front three speakers each score 125W (continuous) of built-in power, and the surrounds are each fitted with 50W. All the speakers are bass reflex loaded with rear horn-loaded ports.
The subwoofers are mid-sized and each is fitted a 254mm cerametallic cone driver, forwards facing, with a slot port under it also facing forwards. Each has 250W of power.
Before performing, your speaker system must first be set up. Of course our test room has cables from AV receiver to speaker positions already in place, so connecting a conventional speaker system is pretty straightforward. So, how hard was this wireless system in comparison?
A little easier, if anything. We put the Control Center on top of the AV receiver and transferred the HDMI cables for the TV and four input source devices to it. Then with all the speakers in place, we connected them to power points and (except for the subs — they already know what they are) used the selector button on each speaker to mark its position. Each can be set to any of the seven positions of a 7.1 speaker system.
Turn on the TV, power up the Control Center and follow the on-screen instructions to link up to all the speakers, which takes a minute or two. Test tones are delivered from the front left and right and surround left and right speakers in turn, asking for confirmation that the sound was coming from the correct speakers. (It presumably expects no confusion with the centre speaker and subwoofers.) And that was it.
For time alignment and level balancing, the ‘menu’ key on the remote control brought up a four-item menu, one item of which provided access to a deeper menu for adjusting those items (plus choosing the subwoofer environment: Wall, Corner, or Other). We had some issues with getting subwoofer levels right, but the system operated entirely reliably from that point.
The sound produced was marvellously well balanced, with truly brilliant impact and frankly astonishing surround imaging.
We used it as our main system for movies, music, stereo and surround. If the sound quality was impacted in any way by the wireless connection to the speakers, it was likely a positive impact. Having the amplifiers built into the loudspeaker enclosures seemed to add a sense of immediacy and speed beyond those with more conventional arrangements. The timing of everything was spot on, and the control over the sound was excellent, even as the volume was raised to ridiculous levels.
Concerned that the surrounds might be a little small and a little underpowered for real heavy-duty surround work, out came our go-to disc for this: the Blu-ray version of The Who’s ‘Tommy’. The surround mix has Keith Moon’s drums entirely in the surround left channel. The smaller Klipsch speakers had no difficulty at all delivering this at extremely satisfying levels. And with The Who, satisfying means loud.
More surprising still was the remarkable sense of height — appropriate height, that is — imparted to surround movie audio. At a couple of points in the DTS-HD Master Audio on the ‘Children of Men’ Blu-ray, the clear overhead sound was actually quite startling.
The unit accepted all our music via HDMI or optical in PCM format up to 192kHz. Even though WiSA is supposed to support only up to 96kHz, the status screen produced by the Control Center suggested it was using 192kHz with various 192kHz jazz recordings. The same screen indicated 44.1kHz as the ‘WiSA Sample Rate’ for CD-style PCM, so we presume that there isn’t unnecessary internal resampling (the WiSA system is claimed to match its sample rate to the incoming rate). For analogue input signals it reported the ‘WiSA Sample Rate’ as 96kHz.
The unit decodes Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus and DTS, but neither Dolby TrueHD nor DTS-HD. However it does support multichannel PCM (up to 192kHz for six channels, 96kHz for eight), so if you have a decent Blu-ray player, set it to do the decoding to PCM.
The unit passes through video all the way up to 2160p/60 and will overlay its volume control and menu on video up to 1080p/60, plus 1080p/24 in 3D. For UHD signals the volume control doesn’t show and the menu replaces what’s on the screen.
Can the choice of wireless over wired for practical reasons be implemented without loss of quality? The Klipsch Reference Premiere HD system shows that it can. And when considering value for money, remember that this system effectively includes the cost of the AV receiver — and cabling.
Klipsch Reference Premiere HD Wireless active speaker system
+ Great wireless solution
+ Excellent all round audio performance
+ Useful Bluetooth functionality
- Remember mains cables are required
Price: $10,999 as reviewed (5.1 with twin subs)
HD Control Center
Inputs: 4 x HDMI, 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x coaxial digital audio, 1 x stereo analogue audio (2 x RCA), Bluetooth
Outputs: 1 x HDMI
Other: IR in, USB for service
Dimensions (hwd): 49 x 237 x 153mm
RP-440WF front speakers x 2
Drivers: 1 x 25mm horn-loaded titanium dome tweeter, 2 x 115mm cerametallic
cone bass/midrange, 2 x 115mm cerametallic cone bass
Amplifier power: 125W continuous, 250W peak
Dimensions (hwd): 1043 x 220 x 298mm (1018 x 153 x 255mm without plinth)
Weight (each): 16.6kg
RP-440WC centre speaker
Drivers: 1 x 25mm horn-loaded titanium dome tweeter, 2 x 115mm cerametallic cone bass/midrange, 2 x 115mm cerametallic
Amplifier power: 125W continuous, 250W peak
Dimensions (hwd): 144 x 661 x 343mm
Weight (each): 12.6kg
RP-140WM surround speakers x 2
Drivers: 1 x 25mm horn-loaded titanium dome tweeter, 1 x 115mm cerametallic cone bass/midrange
Amplifier power: 50W continuous,
Dimensions (hwd): 332 x 182 x 279mm
Weight (each): 5.9kg
RP-110WSW subwoofer x 2
Driver: 1 x 254mm copper spun cerametallic cone
Frequency response: 27-125
Amplifier power: 250W continuous,
Dimensions (hwd): 414mm x 356mm
Warranty: Five years (two years for subwoofer, one year for Control Center)