REVIEW: KLIPSCH STREAM WIRELESS MULTI-ROOM AUDIO
Click below to open the StereoNET Digital Magazine review, otherwise read on.
Wireless Multi-Room Audio
Let’s face it, Sonos had a good run. It must have been a solid ten plus years before any real competition was offered up in the multi-room audio market.
Nowadays, if a brand doesn’t have a wireless audio offering in their product portfolio then they’re likely missing out on a big slice of the pie.
Klipsch, a brand renowned for its horn loaded speakers, is the latest to break into the wireless multi-room segment that is still dominated by Sonos. But more recently, the category includes rivals in the form of Denon’s HEOS, Bluesound and Yamaha’s MusicCast.
The Klipsch Stream range consists of two compact speakers (the RW-1 and The Three), two Soundbar models (RSB-8 and RSB-14), the Gate (Wireless Preamp) and the Powergate (Wireless Stereo Amplifier).
For the purpose of this review and an introduction to Klipsch’s range I have focused on the Gate and the RW-1 Speaker which retail for $349 and $499 respectively.
The Gate acts as a wireless hub for all your locally stored music as well as any music services you may be subscribed to (supporting the majors including Spotify, Deezer, Pandora and Tidal) while the RW-1 is a two-way compact speaker.
As I mention in every review regarding a wireless multi-room product, the accompanying control app is what effectively makes or breaks a streaming and multi-room system.
You can offer stellar performance sonically, but if the controller isn’t up to snuff, everything else seemingly falls apart.
Klipsch Stream uses a stylised variation of the growing in popularity DTS Play-Fi open platform controller.
For full disclosure, my initial experiences with DTS Play-Fi has not been overly positive. I have used it with Polk Audio and Paradigm wireless products and recall being less than impressed, primarily due to instability, as well as frequent dropouts.
Fortunately, it seems now though that the app has improved since I last used it. While it’s certainly not up there with the likes of Sonos, Bluesound or the most recent favourite of mine, Roon Essentials, it is in the very least, functional.
Switching zones and grouping proved to be a little bit more complex than I like, but I did find that once the zones were grouped, playback was stable.
One other point to consider is that there are more settings located within the actual music service you subscribe to. For example, with Tidal this is particularly important as it means the difference between hearing CD quality or heavily compressed MP3. On one occasion, the streaming audio quality had lapsed back to ‘Normal’ (low quality MP3 option) on its own.
After unboxing and starting the setup process, my first observation with the Gate is that there is no digital connectivity at all. There’s just a single analog in and analog out via 3.5mm sockets, so for those of you looking to utilise your external DAC in a HiFi application, you had best look elsewhere.
After rummaging around, I finally found a Wireworld Luna 3.5mm to RCA stereo to connect the Gate to my Vincent SV-237 amplifier.
It seems an Ethernet connection too has been omitted in the design brief, instead opting for Wi-Fi connectivity exclusively. Upon connecting to my local network, I was notified to update the player which only took about ten minutes.
Once complete I logged into my Tidal account while the Play-Fi app was quickly able to locate the music stored locally on my NAS drive.
Like the Gate, the RW-1 Speaker features a 3.5mm analog input but with the added bonus of an ethernet connection for those that have the ability to use the (preferred) physical connection.
There is also a USB socket on the back, but playback via USB is not supported. It’s only for charging portable devices and firmware updates.
While the Gate was relatively simply to set up, the RW-1 was a somewhat different experience.
On my first connection attempt, it dropped out forcing me to restart the setup procedure. This happened despite the RW-1 being placed within three meters of my router.
The second attempt yielded the expected result and like the Gate, prompted an update. Once that completed, I was ready to go.
Listening – Gate
Considering its $349 RRP price, a whole $200 cheaper than Sonos’ Connect, the Gate performed admirably.
At the other end of the scale and compared to ELAC’s Discovery, the Gate offered noticeably less depth and a far narrower sound field. The Discovery however retails for $1799, just over five times the price, so that wasn’t unexpected.
Hitting up my own ‘High Fidelity’ playlist streamed via Tidal, Noah Gundersen’s ‘Day Is Gone’ sounded good, but didn’t have the intimate, stripped back nature to it that I am used to.
It was a touch more congested, highlighting less separation in the instrumentation, but it wasn’t by any means bad sounding.
Listening to FKA Twigs’ ‘Two Weeks’ pinpointed a little more of that congestion in the mix.
There is far more going on in this track and it was evident that it was just a little much for the Gate to comfortably break down and portray.
Upon extended listening it became clear that there wasn’t as much midrange presence when compared to my typical source, a MacBook Pro running Audirvana and connected via USB.
Again, that isn’t to say it didn’t sound listenable, and I am judging Klipsch’s Stream from a HiFi perspective. BYO amplifier or powered speakers and the Gate is an affordable option to add music streaming to the mix.
Given the Gate’s limitation to analog only connectivity, Klipsch needed to include a reasonable quality in-built DAC and while certainly not class leading, it certainly gets the job done.
Listening – RW-1
At no fault of the speaker, the RW-1 and I didn’t get off to the best of starts. As mentioned previously, Tidal had defaulted to the ‘Normal’ quality setting in the Play-Fi app and what I’d heard through the RW-1 didn’t seem deserving of the $499 price tag.
After discovering the issue and setting the quality back to ‘Hi-Fi’, the difference was quite significant. The RW-1 began delivering substantially better sound.
Take Maggie Rogers’ track ‘Alaska’ for example, the RW-1 had a nice, full-bodied sound and had a taste of the airy beauty that I’ve come to love about that track.
I had the RW-1 positioned on my bedside table, roughly 20 - 30cm or so from the corner walls which helped to reinforce the bass response.
Playing back Vienna Teng’s ‘Say Uncle’ was enlightening.
This track features very intimate piano and vocals. It’s a go-to track of mine when testing traditional hi-fi systems. On a great system, it offers wonderful depth and the vocals carry amazing body to them.
Translated though the RW-1 speaker, the experience wasn’t quite the same, but ultimately, I wasn’t expecting it to be.
If I were to describe the overall tonal balance of the RW-1, it would be on the warmer side of neutral; nice bottom end, with a rounded off top.
I could see the RW-1 being a good option for a bedroom speaker, which is essentially the way I utilised it. I would of course suggest something more substantial as a primary speaker system.
For now, the industry standard for wireless multi-room is still of course Sonos.
As mentioned before, the Gate falls well below the price of the Connect ($349 vs $549) and its performance is very good for the relatively low investment.
Where Sonos pulls ahead is with the option of digital outputs which allows an easy way for owners to improve the sound with an external DAC. Which is course the way many HiFi enthusiasts are utilising Sonos products.
As for the wireless speaker, the Klipsch RW-1 is competing almost directly against the Sonos Play 3 ($499 vs $449 respectively).
Although the Play 3 has the advantage of an extra driver, I would suggest that the sound between the two, while different in the way they present themselves, offers similar performance for the money. In my opinion the Play 3 errs on the side of a more neutral sound.
Where Sonos comes out on top though is with their control app. There is no doubt that their controller is up there as being amongst the best and while the Play-Fi app has certainly improved and is functional, it’s still playing catch up. It’s just not as intuitive or as slick as the Sonos app, or Bluesound’s interface which received another interface update this week.
The key advantage of Play-Fi however is flexibility.
You are able to mix and match with other brands such as Paradigm, Polk, Definitive Technology and any others that use Play-Fi as a control interface, which means you’re not locked exclusively into any one brand, like you are with Sonos.
Wireless multi-room audio is the future and that cannot be denied.
With the Stream range of products, Klipsch have made a reasonably successful first entry into this category.
The Gate offers a decent sounding, cost effective access point to the world of music streaming, even if it’s connectivity is somewhat limited.
The RW-1 is a solid little complimentary speaker for those looking to build their system around the Play-Fi or Klipsch Stream platforms.
As a whole, they are a budget conscious entry points into the world of wireless multi-room audio and worth considering if shopping at that end of the market.
For more information visit the Klipsch brand page.
Lover of Hi-Fi, Music and Recording Engineering. I particularly like the affordable and value-packed products; finding that diamond in the rough.
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