Posted Fri Jul 31, 2015 at 12:30 PM PDT by Michael S. Palmer
Klipsch and Dolby recently invited a few home theatre journalists to demo their newly announced Reference Premiere Dolby Atmos speakers. Across the highway from Warner Bros, Dolby's Burbank Lab, Burbank One, is home to Southern California's first Atmos mixing stage; this is where Dolby brought filmmakers and studio executives to demonstrate the technology for theatrical use. Burbank One is also home to the near-field mixing stage where many Atmos-enabled Blu-rays are re-recorded for the home by our good friend, Tim Hoogenakker.
In addition to those facilities, Burbank One houses a "home theatre". An odd sensation given that, aside from the mixing and presentation amenities listed above, it's an otherwise standard office building. Dolby's home theatre is a smallish sized room (12' by 15', give or take) with black-out curtains hiding glass windows, angled walls betraying an optimum rectangular design, and a flat 9' ceiling with numerous air conditioning vents. That is to say, this home theatre is often loaded up with the best of the best home cinema gear, but isn't some acoustically perfect environment shielded from the rest of the universe. It's a very good, well-equipped room, but one that mirrors what it's like for many home theatre enthusiasts.
It's the perfect, imperfect place to demo the real-world potential for new speakers.
The first stop on our tour was a power point presentation regarding current Atmos benchmarks. As you can see in the photo above, Atmos has been, or will be soon, installed in over 1,200 cinemas around the world. Over 300 Dolby Atmos titles have been announced. And there are over 100 Dolby Atmos mixing stages available to filmmakers worldwide. In comparison to Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Atmos released more titles and featured installations in more screens during the first 12 months of the format's global rollout.
On the home front, 35+ Dolby Atmos Blu-rays have been released and/or announced worldwide (not all are domestic, US releases). While this weekend you can head to the cinema to see 'Mission Impossible Rogue Nation' in Atmos, next week you can pick up the 'Insurgent' Dolby Atmos enabled Blu-ray at retailers nationwide. Shortly thereafter, Warners will be rolling out 'Mad Max Fury Road' and 'San Andreas' encoded in the object-based surround format.
For me, personally, the most exciting Atmos announcement is the re-release of the 'Game of Thrones' Blu-rays. Seasons one and two hit retailers this November, while three and four will follow in the spring. Blu-ray television is something of an anomaly because it's the first time in the history of visual storytelling that the home entertainment release bests an original content release (aka broadcast). Think about it. When we watch features at home, we're chasing that theatrical experience, but it's really hard to put something of IMAX caliber in one's basement. Unless you're Elon Musk. Then there's Television. Even in modern high definition, broadcast and cable presentations are not only limited to 1080i, but the data rate is much smaller than Blu-ray. Blu-ray offers full 1080p, more bandwidth, a more filmic experience, and uncompressed sound. TV Blu-ray is an absolute upgrade and I've been hoping one would make the leap to Atmos. I can't wait.
Dolby's last general Atmos comments focused on the release of the first Dolby Atmos enabled video game, 'Star Wars Battlefront', and to note that there have been 31 new Dolby Atmos products in 2015 so far. This includes speaker products as well as AV Receivers, the most affordable costing around $479. I know that's only for a 5.1.2 configuration, but that's entry-level pricing for sure. And thanks to products like Atmos-enabled speakers and add-on modules, it's entry-level pricing for people who can't cut holes in their ceiling.
As the gentlemen for Klipsch said, Dolby Atmos has become The Standard for theatrical and home entertainment surround sound.
And as Nux from 'Fury Road' said, "Oh, what a day. What a lovely day!"
Following in the footsteps of Premiere II, Klipsch introduced the Reference Premiere Series at CES 2015. Floorstanders include the RP-280F, RP-260F, and RP-250F. Centers include RP-450C, RP-440C, and RP-250C. Surround options include the RP-160M and RP150M monitors, as well as the RP-250S "dual array monopole" surrounds (ie, they look like bi or dipole speakers, but are not). Lastly, sub options include R-115SW, R-112SW, R-110SW, R-12SW, and R-10SW front-firing subwoofers. All dressed up with classic Klipsch bronze or copper colored woofers.
But wait, there's more!
Three new Dolby Atmos speakers, the purpose of our demo, just joined the Reference Premiere series and, in Klipsch's words, reinvented and redefined the whole line.
The RP-280FA is the new flagship floorstander. The "A", of course, standing for Atmos. Klipsch adapted the 280F -- with its dual 8" Cerametallic cone woofers and 1" titanium dome LTS tweeter with the Hybrid Tractrix horn -- and added a Dolby Atmos Elevation Channel. This speaker angles upwards to reflect off ceilings and includes a 6.5" Cerametallic cone woofer, 1" titanium dome LTS tweeter with the Hybrid Tractrix horn, and Controlled Directivity Technology. They are designed to be a system's front left and right channels, but one could add a second pair to the back of the room for an ultimate 7.1.4 system. It costs $1,200 per speaker, a $525 premium over the original RP-280F.
The RP-140SA is Klipsch's Dolby Atmos add-on module. It features a 4.5" Cerametallic cone woofer, 1" titanium dome LTS tweeter with the Hybrid Tractrix horn, and Controlled Directivity Technology. Designed for those who want to add Atmos to an existing setup, Klipsch is so confident in the RP-140SA's performance, they said you could pair it to "any system" (yes, even other brands). Secondly, if mounted on the wall above listeners, the RP-140S can act as a traditional side-surround speaker. These speakers retail for $499/pair.
Lastly, we have the RP-450CA center channel. It boasts quad 5.25" Cerametallic cone woofers, and a 1" titanium dome LTS tweeter with the Hybrid Tractrix horn. This speaker costs $850, a $200 premium over the original RP-450C because it has been hand crafted in real wood (not a polymer) and color matched, in black or walnut, to the RP-280FA.
Next up, Jay Lawyer, a Klipsch acoustic engineer, was on hand to talk about the new Reference Premiere speakers. He and his partners relayed a good amount of the technical information, but then he mentioned taking a pair of RP-280FAs home with him to test out in a Klipsch 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos configuration. Makes sense, right? Of course engineers take the product home to test. Here's the incredible part:
Mr. Lawyer has a vaulted ceiling.
Meaning, despite Dolby's recommendation that Atmos-enabled speakers (and add-on modules) are best used with a flat ceiling, Mr. Lawyer tried it out on an angled, way too tall, ceiling with spectacular results. I guess we'll thank Klipsch's control directivity for this, or perhaps these height channel sounds aren't bouncing off ceilings as much as being projected over our heads. I'm not sure. Assuming this is true for other listeners, it could open up Atmos to a whole new field of customers who have been reluctant to upgrade because they can't install in-ceiling speakers and don't have a flat ceiling. Let's see how this develops.
[Side note: not the point of this demo, but if you're looking to put together a Dolby Atmos system with in-ceiling speakers, the Klipsch CDT-5800-C II will match the Reference Premiere series well. They cost $400 each and feature an 8" pivoting Cerametallic cone woofer, which you can aim at your listening position. The 6.5" version, the CTD-5650-C II in-ceiling speaker, sells for $350 each. Plus the cost of wiring and installation.]
After the speaker introductions, it was time to test them out in the Burbank One Home Theatre. Powered by a Denon AVR-X5200W (plus an external amp), we were treated to a 7.2.4 Dolby Atmos configuration. This consisted of two RP-280FA floorstanders, one RP-450CA center channel, dual R115SW subs, two RP-250S side surrounds, and two RP140SA Atmos add-on modules atop two RP-260F floorstanders in the back of the room. This setup costs less than $8,000, which is not cheap by any means, but it's also a system designed to outperform speakers costing well into the double digits.
We demoed three clips from three Atmos Blu-rays, though I'm not sure about the time codes or chapter numbers.
'Insurgent' is the second film in the post-apocalyptic YA 'Divergent' series and stars Shailene Woodley. This sequence begins with Shailene charging out of an observation room (cell?), and punching through a glass wall to grab Kate Winslet's character. But as the two women collide, hurtling through the air, the whole world begins to tear itself apart. As Shailene bursts out of a skyscraper and begins to fall and fall, we reveal that she is in a controlled dream, and then watch as she explodes downward into the street below.
In short, it's a fantastic demo because it mixes immersion, high fidelity, and rumbling LFE. What struck me most was the tinkling breaking glass. You could pick out each bit of flying debris. Next, as more and more of the buildings imploded and exploded in a combination of hurricane winds and tumbling bricks, the soundstage wrapped around on all sides and directly overhead. Lastly, the whole scene climaxes with a Matrix-esque human thundering into the ground and the resulting shockwave rippling outwards. The Reference Premiere subs were a little too loud for my taste, but they sounded excellent and never distorted.
In fact, this system is far more likely to rattle your listening space than their own internal components.
'Unbroken', directed by Angelina Jolie, is a biopic about the amazing Louis Zamperini, an Olympic Athlete and World War II veteran who survived, among many other things, a plane crash and years in a Japanese prison camp. Our demo was the film's opening sequence. It chronicles a bombing run and the subsequent attack on the bombers by a Japanese Zero.
Another excellent demonstration and sound mix, this sequence mixes airplane engines and high-speed winds with crystal clear vocals and incredibly accurate sound effects panning. The highlight, despite the real world tragedy of it all, is the aural carnage of strafing bullets tearing through the plane's metal cabin. In Dolby Atmos, the effect is nothing less than total audience immersion. It sounds like there are fighter planes all around you.
'Game of Thrones: Season Two', Episode 9 -- aka 'Blackwater' -- might be the second most famous 'Game of Throne's episode after 'The Red Wedding'. SPOILERS for those who have never watched the show. In this, the second season's penultimate episode, Peter Dinklage's Tyrion has been charged with protecting King's Landing and its tyrant boy king from Lord Stannis Baratheon's fleet of warships. No one believes in Tyrion. Everyone believes the city to be doomed. Until Tyrion loads an empty ship with a green explosive liquid called wildfire.
The resulting explosion is an LEF-lover's dream. It's an extended series of smaller explosions and splitting wood and soldier's screaming. The dual Klipsch subs produced a pressure wave felt in the chest (and probably shook ceiling tiles in the offices above and below). The Atmos immersion was all around as well. As POV's changed, as we witnessed the explosion from afar and within, so too did the world around us. It will be fascinating to see how aggressive they've re-mixed this series as a whole, but this once sequence will surely make it on the list of All Time Dolby Atmos Demos. This is the scene you play to convert the uninterested.
Klipsch Reference Premiere Dolby Atmos Speakers are efficient and powerful. While the 7.1.4 would cost less than $8,000 to replicate, the whole series is versatile, with plenty of options to mix and match and customize more modest budgets, particularly if you stick to one sub and go for a 5.1.2 configuration. And, if you don't own Klipsch, but your brand doesn't make add-on modules for Dolby Atmos, these might be worth a demo of your own (remember, I can describe how things sound to me all day long, but what matters to most is how these speakers sound to you).
More time with the series is needed to render a full verdict, but I'm thus far impressed. The Klipsch Dolby Atmos Reference Premiere speakers were crisp and clear and, wow, did they lay on the LFE. Overhead sensations were certainly there. We'll be getting a system in-house to test shortly, so be on the look out for a follow-up, in-depth review.
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