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Klipsch RP-280F vs. KEF LS50 vs. ELAC F5 vs. SVS Ultra Bookshelf


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So I have ~$1000 to spend on upgrading the fronts on my AV setup. I decided on four speakers to compare.


The ELACs arrived on a Friday, the KEF on a Saturday, and the Klipsch on a Monday. The UPS guy knocked on my apartment door and told me he had to meet me at the elevator in the underground garage because the boxes were too big and heavy to lug up the stairs. 


This didn't happen with the ELACs. Though those were delivered by USPS rather than UPS. Interpret that as you will. 


These things. Are. Huge. And very, very handsome. I'd provide pictures but my dinky iPhone and terrible lighting wouldn't really do them justice. It's a great mix of form and function. The wood finish on the enclosure is fine, and the front face has a nice bevel around the edge. But what I love about them is how clean they look. My GF prefers to have the grille on, but when she's not around I take them off, and when I do I can't help but take a close look at the silicone tweeter horn and run my fingers over it. The copper-colored woofers look great and (unlike the SVSs) there's no exposed hardware anywhere. Even the grilles are magnetic so there are no holes to ruin the face of the speaker. They're just so clean. 


I invited some friends over to help me audition the three pairs. As you can see from the photo in the original post the ELACs were most inboard with the KEFs placed on top. The Klipsch were placed on the outside. All speakers were given a small amount of toe in. We were seated on the couch about 11' away from the plane of the speakers (in the dreaded couch against the wall setup so often seen in small apartments). 


The very first track we tested was Die Young by Sylvan Esso. Unfortunately I was kind of running around trying to get things set up while my friends listened from the hot seat. If you haven't heard this track I envy you, because you get to hear it for the first time. It's a great track. It starts out simply with some vocal samples and Amelia Meath singing in her somewhat slurred kind of way. When the synth and saxophone comes in... holy cow. 


The KEFs sounded good, of course. But like I mentioned before, the ELACs had that same quality in the mid-high and treble but would fill out the middle and bass so much better. 

I reconfigured my AB switcher to compare the ELACs to the Klipsch for this track, since the ELACs won the first comparo. 

The Klipsch blew us away. First of all, these things are LOUD. Klipsch claims they have 98dB of sensitivity, and while that's probably overstated a bit, they are still much louder than the ELAC and the KEF. It became a tricky, two person job to switch from the ELAC to the Klipsch: one person switched the speakers and the other changed the volume on the AVR. If the Klipsch were at a 22, the ELAC would have to go to 30.


In my research I learned that Klipsch speakers aren't really neutral. They're trying to achieve a specific Klipsch "sound". Mark Casavant, Sr. Vp of Global Product Development at Klipsch explained that 



In a few words, Klipsch sound is akin to the live concert experience -- powerful, detailed, and emotional... Klipsch sound is moving. It involves the listener quickly into the musical performance and is unique in that it seems to breathe with the life of the original live performance.

I can say that I get what they're trying to achieve. During Die Young whenever we switched from the ELAC to the Klipsch it sounded like Sylvan Esso transported into the room with us. Imaging was fantastic, the clarity in the mids and highs that was already there with the ELACs became even clearer on the Klipsch. And that fuller feeling that the ELACs had over the KEF? The Klipsch did the same to the ELAC. 


I decided that trying to AB test all three speakers against each other for every track was going to be too much of a pain, so we kept the comparison to the ELACs and the Klipsch for the rest of the night. 

At one point my friend made the observation that the ELACs sounded like they were playing a recording while the Klipsch sounded like they were playing a live performance. And I think that really captures the difference (and is a testament to the effectiveness of the goal Klipsch is trying to achieve). The highs especially had crystal clarity. All of a sudden you could tell that the saxophone in Die Young wasn't just another instrument, but a reed instrument made of brass being played by a real person. 


We turned on my Pro-Ject Tube Box S and switched the AVR to the TT input and spun up Death Cab for Cutie's I Will Possess Your Heart. Again, the ELACs sounded good, but the Klipsch sounded like a live performance. You could hear every pluck of the bass guitar. And just like with the saxes on Die Young, the bass guitar became a steel string instrument with coiled steel strings. Ben Gibbard's vocals -- for better or for worse -- became much more distinct and present.


We went back to streaming Spotify and switched styles. Deadmau5's Ghosts 'n' Stuff was next. The clarity of the Klipsch was less important on this track which didn't really feature any vocals or have any real instruments. The fullness from the big 8" drivers on the Klipsch did give it the advantage though. Pairing the ELACs with a decent sub may make this a more even fight, though. 

Rodrigo y Gabriela's Hora Zero was next, and again the Klipsch ran away with it.


We tried Yosi Horikawa's track Bubbles after that. The imaging, clarity, and precision of the Klipsch made it the clear winner. "Well now they're just showing off" one of my friends said during the opening measures of the track. 


My favorite band is Pink Floyd so of course we tried some of their tracks. Surprisingly, the Klipsch didn't have a clear advantage on a lot of tracks like Wish You Were Here or Great Gig in the Sky. I think the ELACs actually had a slight advantage due to their warmer, more subdued nature. That said, if the ELACs outperformed it was only infinitesimally so. Or perhaps it was just that I had such high expectations of the Klipsch. 


The ELACS also clawed back some ground on Rage Against the Machine's Take the Power Back. It seems that on crunchy rock tracks tracks or tracks where clarity isn't key the ELACs could catch up to the Klipsch. But what was happening was that the Klipsch were coming down to meet the consistently decent ELACs. On tracks like Die Young or Bubbles the Klipsch would just run away with the win. The Klipsch had more variance but on average was higher.


One of my friends made an Excel spreadsheet to try and objectively asses all speakers. But there wasn't really a need to analyze it. The Klipsch were the clear favorites of the night.



Edited by mikasaur
clarity and grammar
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After the Klipsch won the first comparison I decided to put SVS's Ultra Bookshelves in the ring. 


The SVS arrived and I put them on 24" stands just outboard of the Klipsch and I did one hell of a listening session. Something like 3+ hours switching back and forth between the two pairs of speakers. As a clarification:


  • Used an SPL to level set the Klipsch with the SVS to within ~0.2dB to reduce "loudness" bias
  • Initially started with the sub set for an 80Hz crossover
  • Eventually set the speakers to "Large" so the subwoofer was out of the mix. I did this at Get Lucky and left it off for the rest of the tracks.


Here are my listening notes. 


Sylvan Esso - Die Young - Echo Mountain Sessions 
SVS had a wider soundstage, one that went wider than the speakers themselves. The Klipsch had a narrower sounstage but individual instruments came from a more discrete direction; this is especially true of the sax and lead vocal. The SVS was fuller but at the expense of being diffuse. Vocals and instrumentation was close, with the Klipsch getting an edge due to its better imaging and more "presence". No clear winner on bass


Yosi Horikawa - Bubbles 
This is where the Klipsch really shines. They allowed me to track the bouncing of the balls in 3D space, not only where from left to right but also a little of forward and back. The SVS also did a good job here but the directional nature of the Klipsch let it run away. 


Marian Herzog, Chris Jones - No Sanctuary Here feat. Chris Jones 
The Klipsch did a much better job at bringing the hi-hat and the vocals to the center stage. And the vocals were better featured. The Klipsch also had a very slightly tighter bass. 


Metallica - Nothing Else Matters 
Each had their usual strengths and weaknesses. Notably, though, where they hi-hat was a welcome addition in No Sanctuary Here, on this track it was a little distracting. The vocals and high hat together were almost thin, I'd say. I'd also rather be enveloped in Hetfield's vocals and the whole band in general in a wall of sound rather than hear each instrument separately. Here is where the SVS's widened soundstage and poorer imaging actually did itself a service.


Janis Ian - Breaking Silence 
This was a surprisingly close one, especially for a track that I thought would showcase the Klipsch. The SVS added a bit of warmth to Ian's voice while the Klipsch did the opposite -- and if anything Ian needs more warmth not less. The Klipsch did a great job of placing the center, left, and right versions of Ian in the beginning of the song. Funilly enough, the Klipsch had a wider soundstage; the guitar noodling on the left channel was further to the left than with the SVS.


Fleetwood Mac - The Chain 
This track was auditioned after I received the speaker stands for the SVS and they were placed outboard of the Klipsch with a fairly significant amount of toe. Somehow the Klipsch had a better soundstage than the SVS. Instrumentation was great in both, but with the hi-hat on the Klipsch just barely reaching into that too-bright area. Imaging was good on both (though where the instruments were placed changed slightly). 


Daft Punk - Get Lucky 
Speakers set to large; I turned the sub to get a sense of the bass capabilities of the speakers. Again, the soundstage seemed wider AND the imaging was better on the Klipsch. Williams' vocal part was front and center and ultra clear with the Klipsch while on the SVS it seemed to float slightly to the right (and was a bit broader) and seemed to be behind something. The details on the guitar noodling were also much clearer on the Klipsch than on the SVS. On this track with the sub off the Klipsch is very much the winner.


Snoop Dogg - California Roll 
Speakers set to large; Again no sub in the mix (this goes for the rest of the tracks). Taking away a sub definitely makes a huge difference as is to be expected. Both speakers did very well, with the Klipsch once again bringing the vocals front and center. Not much instrumentation so to speak in the whole track, but the harmonica and keys sounded good on both the SVS and Klipsch.


deadmau5 - Ghosts 'n' Stuff 
Without the help from the sub the Klipsch definitely stole this one. The kick drum sounded much more present and contained a "fullness" that didn't exist with the SVS.


Muse - Supermassive Black Hole 
Sub off; I toed in the SVS a bit more which seemed so help with soundstage somehow. Imagine was still the Klipschs' domain. Switching from one to the other seemed to "snap" vocals and instruments into place. The Klipsch seemed to introduce a bit of harshness into the S sounds from spaceships, superstar, and super massive. 


Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here 
Sub off; So this is a tough one. I love Pink Floyd and have listened to this song countless times; it still gives me goosebumps. For that reason I've grown accustomed to hearing it on lower-quality speakers that give it some muddyness and fuzziness -- and I kind of like that. The Klipsch were definitely technically better. Gilmour seemed to be singing in the room with me, and I could hear the fretwork and each pluck of the guitar string. But the SVS brought a warmth to the track and the dispersion of the imaging allowed me to be sort of wrapped up in the song like a blanket of sound rather than feeling like I was watching a concert. This is a tough one. Do you want the "right there" sort of experience or do you want to hearken back to hold memories and feelings? 


Pink Floyd - Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 1-5) 
See above.


Massive Attack - Angel 
The Klipsch rocked the bass -- a clear advantage is had being a tower. It really did everything better (besides soundstage which they both did well in). The drumset felt much more present. Again though, on a track like this you may prefer warmth and dispersion to sort of swaddle you. If you want accuracy then take the Klipsch I think the Klipsch won this one by a lot.


Adam Ben Ezra - Can't Stop Running 
For being such a bass-heavy track the SVS really held their own here. I suspect it's because they only need to handle a few frequencies at a time and don't have to blend a lot going on at once. I could hardly tell a difference between the Klipsch and the SVS here. Slightly more tightness on the Klipsch but not by much.


Swedish House Mafia - Greyhound 
Tower vs. bookshelf = not a fair fight. The Klipsch ran away with this. I turned the sub back on to try and even the playing field but it was still the Klipsch by far. Whether that's the smaller speakers' inability to blend well with the sub or the cheap sub's fault I'm unsure. That main synth that plays actually sounded way better on the Klipsch as well.


Calyx & TeeBee - Long Gone 
There is definitely a sense of "snapping into focus" that occurs on every track when switching to the Klipsch, and that's especially present here. Another high energy dance track that the Klipsch runs away with.


Glass Animals - Gooey 
During the chorus there's layered vocals that sound really great on the Klipsch. There's a clear dominance coming from the center and the layered parts coming clearly from either side but somehow blend really well. The SVS somehow doesn't get it as right. It blends them so much that it almost sounds like the center and sides are the same part. 


Anne Bisson - September in Montreal 
Both speakers did very well here, with the vocals and imaging of the Klipsch edging out a victory.


Norman Greenbaum - Spirit in the Sky 
Here is where the "it sounds like your there" ability of the Klipsch really help it shine. The only thing I could fault was that the backup singers had the very slightest "piercing" sound to them. But they -- and the whole band -- was right in my living room with me.


Basement Jaxx - Hip Hip Hooray 
The soundstage on the SVS was pretty incredible here. You're enveloped in the sound. 


Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox - All About That Bass 
The Klipsch is always going to sound better on these simple, well-produced songs with just a few real instruments and a talented vocalist. It sounds like you're there. That said, the SVS weren't far behind.


Vitamin String Quartet - Californication 
This was pretty much a tie. Yes the lead violen had a bit more "presence" on the Klipsch but the warmth and blending of the SVS served them well.


Andy McKee - Everybody Wants To Rule the World 
Again, very close here with the Klipsch taking a slight lead. 


Iron & Wine - Boy With a Coin 
One large difference I could hear from the Klipsch was its ability to separate the lead vocal from the high harmony (or is that a full octave?). It was a nice touch. Though the SVS's ability to provide warmth was welcome.


Rodrigo y Garbriela - Hora Zero 
Surprisingly the tower vs. bookshelf factor made a big difference here, I think giving the Klipsch a sense of "fullness" that the SVS couldn't provide. There was also a marked difference in bass presence in the palm slaps against the guitars.


Rage Against the Machine - Take the Power Back 
Klipsch did the deep bass better as well as the plucks of the bass/guitars. Vocals again were way more present in the Klipsch.


Green Day - American Idiot 
This was very close, with even the vocals being very good on both. The Klipsch had the slightest of edges over the SVS when it came to the bass in the kick drum though. I actually liked the subdued-ness of the SVS when it came to Billie Joe's vocals. Though maybe that's due to a bit of listening fatigue? Certainly something to keep in mind...


In Flames - Trigger 
The double kick drum all but disappeared on the SVSs. Both speakers did well though. Again, do you want a dispersed wall of sound coming at you for your metal tracks or a more focused approach? 


Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek 
This is a really good example of what each pair of speakers brings to the table. The details of the layering and the breathiness in Heap's vocals came through nicely on the Klipsch, while on the SVS that sense of warmth and breadth really shined. 


SOHN - Conrad 
Any track with a multiple-octave synth chord and featured vocals is going to go to the Klipsch. Again the "fullness" is there and Taylor sounds like he's right there with you. Listening fatigue is very slightly setting in, though, as it's almost a relief not to have the presence of the vocals so much, as good as they sound.


Propellerheads - History Repeating 
The Klipsch was able to capture of the details in the bass better than the Klipsch, but surprisingly that was the only real big difference. Vocals and even imaging were very similar. 


Tracy Chapman - Give Me One Reason 
While the location of Chapman's voice was more defined with the Klipsch, it was ever so slightly to the left of center, which was interesting. Both speakers did very well, with the details on the reverb coming through a little better with the Klipsch. The Klipsch also achieved better presence and detail in the bass.


Norah Jones - Don't Know Why 
This track follows a similar formula as All About That Bass which makes you think the Klipsch would run away with it. But I have to say that there was definitely a piercing quality on the Klipsch that was ever so slightly unpleasant about Jone's voice. That was really smoothed out on the SVS.


Bipolar Sunshine - Major Love 
Another demonstration of the strengths and weaknesses of each speaker. The Klipsch provided more bass detail and extension as well as put the vocals front and center. The SVS were a bit smoother and blended the vocals into the rest of the track.


Josh Turner - Your Man 
Listening fatigue is setting in. I should also say that I went on a long hike today and am a bit dehydrated so regular fatigue might be setting in as well. Turner's bass voice is almost in your face in the Klipsch. I feel a sense of relief when I switch to the SVS and he takes a step back to blend in with the rest of the track. With a fresh set of ears this would sound great on the Klipsch, though.


Easton Corbin - Lovin' You is Fun 
Turning the volume down helped with the fatigue. The presence of Corbin's voice on the Klipsch was welcomed, and when he faded into the background on the SVSs he was missed. The Klipsch also contains a fullness that the SVS don't have. I love the bluesy piano licks on the Klipsch as well.


Barenaked Ladies - Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank - Live 
At this volume and this track the SVS have a real thinness that stems from their lack of bass. It was fairly dissapointing. Vocals were decent, but it just seemed like I was listening to the top 4/5ths of the track on the SVS. 


Tiësto - BOOM 
Again not even close. The bass on the Klipsch kicked the SVSs' butt. 


Five Iron Frenzy - Cannonball - Live 
On a live track I definitely want to "feel like I'm there" which of course the Klipsch can dole out. Bass extension on the Klipsch also helps here a lot. I'm not sure why I'm noticing the bass so much more now. I wonder if it's a function of listening for so long. I'm cranking the volumes back up to what they were in some of the previous tracks as well to check if it's a volume thing. 


Katy Perry - Dark Horse 
Bass extension and clarity on vocals gave the Klipsch a victory here. You could better hear the details of Perry's mouthing and the reverb engineering into the track as well as more fullness across the entire thing.





So the gist of it is that I prefer the Klipsch. 


Klipsch Pros

  • Fantastic imaging
  • Incredibly clear and present vocals
  • Incredible sense of "fullness" though that's likely due to the tower vs. bookshelf
  • "You feel like you're there"

Klipsch Cons

  • Vocals can sometimes be piercing or harsh
  • Very little "warmth".
  • Listening fatigue sets in more quickly

SVS Pros

  • Warm and potentially a bit more balanced
  • Better for tracks where you want to feel enveloped or you want the instrumentation to blend into each other
  • Listening fatigue comes in slower
  • Better for music playing in the background

SVS Cons

  • Imaging not as clear/concise
  • Sounds more like a recording than a live performance

I will say that the Klipsch reward you for paying attention and punish you for not. During a listening session like this the Klipsch definitely run away with it. But when I was listening to music in the background I found myself often switching back to the SVS. 


So what am I going to do? Well I'm going to return both and wait for the next Klipsch Reference Premier line to come out in August! D'oh! 


That said, does anyone else hate those copper rings added to the RPs? I think they look awfully gaudy. 

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Welcome to the forum.


Very entertaining, comprehensive, and informative reviews.  Glad the Klipsch edged the others in the contests.  


Klipsch can be in your face especially from the upper midrange on up but you can combat those shrill female vocals some with a little off axis listening.



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  • 8 months later...

Forgive the late response, but I'm curious as to what became of the KEF LS50 in your comparisons?

I've been eyeing them as potential music-only monitors for my rather small condo living room.

(My beloved CF-4s are too overpowering and don't play well in that room, but still shine as HT speakers.)

However, Klipsch's RP-150m & RP-160m have recently piqued my interest as potential bargain LS50 alternatives.


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Thanks willland. 
I definitely turned the treble down a little on my AVR's equalizer. Unfortunately the Sony STR-DN1080 has a fairly rudimentary eq so all I can do is turn down "treble" by whole dBs. 
Wondering if you picked up the new RP series? Looks like we have something in common. I have the Sony 1080 and the rp8000f/rp504c. I just picked them up 2 days ago. Haven't really had a chance to let these speakers loose yet. Did you feel the 1080 had enough power to drive the RP 280?

Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

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